Learning to Dive
The first step in becoming a scuba diver is to enroll in a training program offered by one of several private agencies such as PADI, NAUI, or the YMCA. After completing the course, you'll receive a certification, or C-card — your key to the world of diving. Most dive shops won't sell scuba gear to uncertified divers, and nearly every charter boat and dive resort in the world requires divers to flash their C-cards before doing business.
Training programs cover both theory and practice and involve classroom learning as well as pool sessions.During classroom hours, you get a basic understanding of scuba equipment and how it works, and learn the protocols of safe diving. The instructor may give a brief history of the sport and will usually share practical tips on buying, using, and caring for your gear. You'll hear about finding your way underwater using a compass, kicking with fins, and entering and exiting the water.
In addition to these practical skills, you'll be taught some physical equations and medical facts that describe how your body reacts to submersion and to breathing compressed air. For example, a tank of air that holds an hour's supply of air on the surface lasts only 15 minutes at a depth of 100 feet. The instructor will also explain the importance of exhaling compressed air as you ascend. Don't worry — there aren't any complex calculations, and you don't have to be a medical expert to pass the course. In fact, simple arithmetic and the ability to read charts are the only skills required.
After the classroom comes five to ten hours of pool time. Under the supervision of your instructor, you practice breathing through a snorkel, clearing water from your mask, and swimming with fins. Then comes the magic moment when you don your gear and submerge for the first time. There you are, sitting at the bottom of a pool, wide-eyed like the rest of your classmates. Your respiration sounds amplified and strange, and you're conscious of the remarkable fact that you're breathing in water. Inhale and there's a long pshsht; exhale and an explosion of bubbles rises next to your face. After a while, it begins to feel natural.
Over the course of the pool sessions, you practice setting up your gear, entering and exiting the water with your gear on, clearing water from the regulator, and sharing air with your dive partner.
Once you've successfully completed both classroom and pool work, you're off to the open-water or check-out dives, which are made in a lake, a river, or the ocean. Supervised by an instructor, you demonstrate and practice the basic skills you've learned. There you are, 20, 30, 40 feet below the surface, excited and breathing loudly. Although your teacher is with you, the training wheels are off; this is the real thing. You're dependent on your gear and the skills you've developed. The instructor may lead the class on a tour of the marine neighborhood, pointing out a few life-forms. The marvel of underwater breathing is supplanted by the wonder of visiting another world. This is what you came for: You're living in an aquatic dream.
Continued In: Learning to Dive - Part 2
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