Day 1: Scuba diving refresher course (20th November 2010)

Boys Jono and Ben have been talking about doing the Open Water scuba diving course together for awhile and finally booked in their practical course for this weekend. Awesome! Both Rissa and I already have our Open Water certifications so once the boys have theirs, we’ll be able to go diving together :) The boys have chosen to take the course with The Dive Guys, a small dive shop based in Hataitai – they had to first complete their e-learning course and pass the final test, and obtain a medical clearance before the practical sessions which included 1 pool session and 4 dives in the sea. When I did my course with NZ Sea Adventures back in 2006 when they were still based in Kilbirnie, there was no e-learning option so I had to attend a full day of classroom work, going through a textbook full of new information and take the test at the end of the day (god, it felt like such a long day…); I reckon the e-learning option is way better as you can study the modules at your own pace in the comfort of your own home and take the final test when you’re ready. Jono and Ben spent last weekend studying most of the modules together, discussing any sections they weren’t clear off together and occasionally ask me or Rissa questions when unsure. I would ‘secretly’ test Jono before bed, slotting in random dive questions in our conversation and have him explain them to me, just so I know he’s understood and remembered what he’s learnt ;) The boys completed the last few modules on their own and Jono took his test earlier this week (we worked through the dive planning questions together, comparing our answers before he submitted his final answer to the online objective test) passing with flying colours. His doctor signed off his dive medical so all he needed to do now is complete the practical part of the course!

The last time I dived was in early 2009 when I went did a live-on-boat diving trip with Helbert in the Great Barrier Reef, and with all the talk about diving in the last two weeks (including my fear for water and buoyancy issues in most of my dives), Jono suggested that I take a refresher course to sort out these problems so I would feel more confident and enjoy my future dives. Hmm, that’s a really good idea though when it comes to diving, much like snowboarding, I’m often apprehensive about attempting the sport due to previous bad experiences or accidents. With diving, even though I love life under the sea, I still have my moments when the panic button flicks on because of my previous drowning incident when I was 18 (was fished out from the deep pool in a water theme park in Malaysia) – I’ve since learnt to swim and swim regularly but I guess with me being much older when the incident occurred, the memory lingers in the back of my mind, triggering the panic attack without my control at times when I’m in the water. Plus I often break into hives or couldn’t sleep the night before diving the next day just because of the fear. In saying all that, I do want to sort out these problems so I can truly enjoy diving. I have fears but I’m not one to let them stop me from doing something. “Come diving with us this weekend for your refresher. It’ll be good for you before we take the Advanced Open Water course together, maybe this summer,” Jono suggested. Hmm, well, if that’s the case, then I had better do the refresher BEFORE the Advanced course. So I contacted The Dive Guys to find out whether I could do the Scuba Tune Up course this weekend while the boys were doing their practical – Steve Journee, PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and owner of The Dive Guys responded promptly to my email and said I could do my tune up with the boys for $160. That’s $160 which included full gear hire, a pool session and 4 dives, which is a really amazing deal given the Scuba Tune Up course is usually a one-on-one course with only 1 dive. Well, looks to me I’m going diving this weekend!

“Argh, stop annoying me…let me sleep…” I grumbled and pulled the sheets over my head as Jono drew open the curtains and started to tickle me at 6am on Saturday morning. “You lied…you said we’ll be up at 6.30am…argh! Stop it – fine, I’m awake now!” Grr…Normally I’m the early riser and have no issues getting up early; Jono must be wide awake from all the excitement. We made ourselves porridge for breakfast (for slow release of energy) with coffees, then packed up our bags with a towel and clean change of clothes. A quick stop at Jono’s office for him to print out his test results and collect his dive medical, we stopped to pick up Ben before heading to Freyberg pool to meet Steve at 8am. Interestingly, most dive masters I’ve met to date are quite big in size (think rugby player) and have rather broad chests (more lung capacity), and Steve was no exception. Ben, Jono and I were the only students today – cool, small group means more face time with the instructor :) Steve seemed like a really cool guy, briefing us on what we will be doing today and talking us through the skills he would be showing us and later testing us on. Oh no, he’s getting me to do them too as part of my refresher!!

“Alright, let’s get our gear together and into the pool,” said Steve and we each went to our designated tank that had already been assembled in advance. Brave Jono didn’t have swimming trunks so stripped down to his Icebreaker Men's Beast Brief for the pool – I would be blushing in embarrassment if I wore my bra and undies in the public pool, even my nicest ones, but he didn’t care at all…Okay, so long as you’re comfortable in it…

Geez, remind me again why I’m doing this? I had forgotten how heavy the tank and all the gear were and it didn’t help being small in size. I felt so clumsy, trying to get to the edge of the pool with my gear and having to bend down to pick up my fins and mask. So much effort! We spent the next hour or so going through a series of skills – Steve would show them to us first and one by one, we would repeat the skills until he was satisfied we did them correctly. I had a major freak out in the water when it got to my turn to do the mask removal, replacement and clearing – water was going up my nose and I felt my throat choke, the panic button immediately triggered and my automatic response was to head up to the surface. My head was going “I need to get out of here, I need to get out of here” all the time when I was in panic mode. Sigh, why is it that I’m still so afraid of the water? Steve managed to calm me down on the surface and we returned to the bottom of the pool and continued with the other skills, leaving this one for later. Strangely enough, when I had to do the no mask breathing exercise i.e. swim underwater without the mask towards Steve, I was alright and replaced and cleared my mask with no issues. Huh, I was expecting another freak out…Check and check – passed more skills! My fin pivot wasn’t as good as I would have liked (I didn’t seem to go up much when I took in deep breathes) and had to do it several times before Steve shook my hand (when we successfully carry out each skill, Steve congratulates us by shaking our hand). I managed to do the hover and a somersault though the latter got water shooting up my nose causing a brain freeze-like sensation. Ouch. Oh, and we had to do the tired diver tow on the surface which was hard work for me even though I towed Jono, who was the lightest of the 3 men. That really got my heart racing and warmed up – I was beginning to shiver in the heated pool (that was because we were underwater and not moving all that much most of the time). I was spared the 10-lap swim (thank you, Steve!) and got out of the water to warm up, wrapping myself in my towel while I watched the boys do their laps with mask, snorkel and fins.

Woo-hoo, pool DONE! The boys did a great job with the skills in the pool – they were naturals, carrying out the skills with ease. Great job! We left the pool around 10.30am and headed over to the dive shop in Hataitai, stopping at the nearby bakery to pick up some pies and pastries before meeting up with Steve again around 11.30am.

The dive shop is tiny! This is by far the smallest dive shop I’ve seen to date!! Most dive shops would have a wet area to wash and dry the used gear, a storage area and a retail shop – this shop was all of that condensed into a small garage. Less items, of course, and the shop gave a feeling of “Let’s go diving” rather than “Check out what we have in store” which is a plus because it really is about the enjoyment of diving, not so much forcing the students to buy gear and sign up for more courses. Oh, and you wouldn’t miss the shop driving into Hataitai Village because it’s purple!

Each of us were given a large plastic box with dive gear and were instructed to check that we’ve all got everything by taking all the items out and putting them back into the box in order of what we would put on first in last – fins, mask and snorkel (I had my own – most rental masks do not fit my Asian nose), gloves, wet suit, vest with hood, reg-gauge and lastly, BCD. Weights were kept separate so that the heavy leads wouldn’t destroy our gear. I was given 9kgs of weight (same as Jono) though Steve reckons I probably only need 7kgs (rule of thumb is 10% of your body weight + 2kgs which makes 7kgs sound about right). And because I don’t consume much air, I would be using a cylinder with 150-bar for my dives today instead of the normal 200-220 bar.

Around 12pm, we headed to Princess Bay where we would be doing the dives today, the first, a leisure dive just to get used to being underwater and the 2nd dive for some skills. I wore my Icebreaker Merino long-sleeved top and pants on top of swimsuit before putting on the wetsuit – that should prevent me from feeling cold in the 15 degree Celsius waters. Gah, the wet suit was rather tight for a size 10 (I’m usually a size 8!). “We don’t get many female divers your size so the wet suit hasn’t been properly worn in yet,” laughed Steve as he watched me jump around to get myself into the wet suit. Argh, I can’t get my hand through the sleeve!! Help, please…

OK, I’m all kitted up now...Next, buddy checks following the BWRAF acronym for Buoyancy, Weights, Releases, Air and Final check – there are many memory joggers you can use for this acronym like Begin With Review And Friend or funny ones like Bruce Willis Ruins Action Films or Big White Rabbits Are Fluffy (or Bangkok Women Really Are Fellas, though I’m not sure Thai divers would appreciate the joke). As we waited for each other to get ready, a Jack Russell pup came along to check us out, playfully licking Steve’s face when he goo-gooed the dog and walking around, sniffing us and our gear. Hey, don’t lick my mouthpiece! Eew, now I’ve got dog saliva on my snorkel…The pup proceeded to sit on Jono’s snorkel, at the mouthpiece too. The little devil! Its lucky I’ve got so much weight on me that I couldn’t run after it…grr…Ben was laughing his head off at our predicament only to stop short because the mischievous puppy had run off with his gloves! Haha, brilliant!! We cracked up laughing as we watched Ben chasing the pup on the beach. The dog owner was most apologetic for her puppy’s misbehaviours, informing us she’s been trying hard to train her dog. "That was a first!" laughed Steve. Indeed unexpected and so funny!

The great thing about diving in Wellington is that you don’t need a boat to go diving BUT it also meant diving off the shore, having to put on all your gear and walk into the water, then swim out before descending. I was shuffling my way carefully on the beach to the water with all the extra weight on me, and by the time I was in the water, I was already huffing and puffing from the effort. And I’m NOT even underwater yet!

The first dive was cruisy, mainly for us to get comfortable in the water. It was quite calm today and visibility of 10 metres underwater which was fantastic. 15 degrees Celsius didn’t feel too bad – the Merino kept me comfortably warm, and the hood and gloves helped too :) I was panicking at the start as water kept leaking into my mask. Turned out I had to tuck the lip of my mask under the hood. Ah-ha, learn something new everyday! We did a tiki tour, swimming to a depth of 9 metres, checking out the underwater surroundings of kelp, sandy patches and a variety of fish including scarlet wrasse and blue cod. And we saw not 1 but 2 octopi (I spotted the first one)! This was the first time I’ve ever seen an octopus underwater, a sea creature I’ve always hope to see during my dives but had never seen in my past 23 dives – yes! The scarlet wrasse was funny, swimming up so close to Steve’s mask, ‘kissing’ it (I’m not sure if it was a sign of affection or aggression from the fish). I’m very impressed to see how much Princess Bay has changed over the last couple of years – it was once a barren and lifeless dive site (I did 2 of my Open Water dives here in 2006 and it was dead and gray) but since it became part of the marine reserve, it is now filled with life and colour. Just shows how much can be restored if we protect our waters :)

I needed the boys to help me up the steps to the van as I just wasn’t able to step up with all the weight :/ We were back on shore after the 23-minute dive, chatting away excitedly about what we saw as we swapped tanks, had some food and a break during our surface interval before dive #2. Photos taken during our break:

Boys Ben and Jono chopping away on their sandwiches

Diving - YEAH!

Having a fun day diving with the boys :)

Back into the water and this time, we swam out towards the dive flag then descended to about 8-9m onto a sandy patch were we did our skills. Jono had problems equalising so was stuck near the surface with Steve helping him out while Ben and I were hovering on the sandy bottom watching the fish. The blue cod was funny, behaving like a dog on guard – it would swim quite close up, then stop, planting its fins on the sand, securing a stance and just glare at you, as if protecting its territory. Quite amusing! Once Jono was at the bottom, one by one we did the skills as indicated by Steve. Oh no, mask clearing… I shook my head “No” when Steve gestured to me to flood my mask with water... he wasn’t going to let me off that easily. I had a mini-freak out doing so but he grabbed hold onto my BCD so I couldn’t swim to the surface and waited for me to calm down, knocking on my mask to tell me it’s ok to open my eyes. All is ok, all is ok, breathe...ok, I'm ok now!

We did a few more skills including air depletion exercise where we had to use our buddy’s alternate air source, as well as surface skills like cramp removal, gear removal and tired diver tow. Hmm, so nice to be towed by Jono, gradually floating in the water and have the sun shine in my face. Not so nice having to tow Jono (though better Jono than Ben or Steve) and I was quite tired after working out the whole day so we were worming our way to shore. I can’t go any faster…

We had to wash all our gear in the unisex toilets near the car park and help Steve pack them back into our boxes. Brr, it’s cold – I need a hot drink and shower! Everyone got changed and chatted more about our dives today. Steve’s a really cool guy and I enjoyed diving with him and the boys today. The boys did SO well for their first time underwater – I’m so proud :) Two more dives to go tomorrow and we’re done!


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