Why Learning to Dive Abroad is the Perfect Post-Pandemic Adventure #scuba #scubadiving #freediving #ocean #underwater

June 20, 2022 - Comment

In through the regulator, out through the nose.In through the regulator, out through the nose. This was my mental soundtrack as I awaited the most anxiety-inducing portion of my PADI Open Water skills tests: clearing a full mask. The tropical surroundings should have calmed me. I’d traveled to Bonaire, one of the Caribbean’s top scuba



In through the regulator, out through the nose.
In through the regulator, out through the nose.

This was my mental soundtrack as I awaited the most anxiety-inducing portion of my PADI Open Water skills tests: clearing a full mask.

The tropical surroundings should have calmed me. I’d traveled to Bonaire, one of the Caribbean’s top scuba destinations, to complete my open-water-dive certification. The Dutch Caribbean island’s protected reefs, abundant marine life, and accessible shore-diving options allure scuba enthusiasts from around the world. It’s also one of the best places to learn how to dive.

Yet there I was, etching an eight-word mantra into my brain instead of enjoying the colorful fish and coral in Buddy Dive Resort’s scenic open-water-training area.

To be clear: It wasn’t necessarily the act of clearing a mask that scared me. Breathe in through the regulator, out through the nose with a gentle back tilt of the mask, and voila—you’ve passed this portion of the test.

My problem? I was terrified of looking dumb.

Before the pandemic, I’d honed my risk-taking muscle. I quit my comfortable nine-to-five communications job to pursue freelance journalism in October 2018. I spent the next 16 months playing catch-up: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, reporting off-the-beaten-path stories in Egypt, attending top-tier NYC industry events despite glaring imposter syndrome, and backpacking the far-flung mountains of southwest China.

Of course, the pandemic changed all of that. Instead of living outside my comfort zone, I watched others do the same, binging documentaries of other travelers and adventurers. Month after month of paused travel turned my risk-taking muscle to mush.

During one of many armchair-travel, Thai-takeout nights in early 2021, I caught an episode of BBC’s Blue Planet. The ocean’s surreal magic left me with a post-pandemic resolution.

“When this is all over—er, at least better, I’m finally getting dive certified,” I told my husband. The resolution felt like a pipedream—a goal I could spout from my couch to feel like I hadn’t lost every shred of the risk-taker I’d once been. Follow-through was a future-me problem.

Then a serendipitous email hit my inbox 12 months later. Would I be interested in a learn-to-dive trip to Bonaire in April 2022?

I accepted before I could talk myself out of it, and embarked on a rigorous two-month process that was part learning to scuba, part honing my adventurous, “it’s-okay-to-look-stupid” muscle.

Step one, completing the online curriculum, came naturally to me. I’d spent nearly two years perfecting the art of sitting on a couch and staring at a screen.

Step two, going back into the world and potentially making a fool of myself in front of strangers? That was a different story. I knew I’d have to perform dozens of new-to-me skills to pass the confined-water portion of my PADI Open Water Dive test—and I’d do so in front of a scuba expert and PADI instructor from the Underwater Dive Center in northeast Ohio.

Gulp.

As I suited up for that first pool session, I felt a pit in my stomach. Except, a quick body scan told me it wasn’t actual fear. It was that old, long-lost feeling of jumping outside my comfort zone—two parts excitement, one part trepidation. That giant stride into my confined water training was a much-needed step toward reconnecting to my pre-pandemic self.

I nailed skill after skill, and embraced the confidence that came with it—that is, until I stumbled over my least favorite of them all: mask clearing. On try number one, I accidentally breathed in through the nose, not the mouth. I’d snorted what felt like enough to saturate my brain and sinuses with chlorinated water. An underwater in-regulator coughing fit ensued. My biggest fear, looking dumb, became reality. It came true again stage fright had me repeating the mistake yet again.

While my eight-word mantra eventually helped me master mask clearing back in Ohio, those butterflies returned as I bobbed with the gentle Bonaire current, waiting for my turn to perform the skill in front of our PADI instructor, Jack France, and the rest of our dive group. But the nerves didn’t last long.

There on the Caribbean Sea floor, surrounded by colorful fish and a diving group of strangers-turned-friends, I finally had my post-pandemic breakthrough. Who cares if I look stupid? I told myself. If I screw up, I’d—gasp—just try again.

Not only did I clear my mask, I went on to comfortably dive down 60 feet to admire Bonaire’s fantastical coral teeming with fish and sea creatures, then pushed myself to try free diving and even windsurfing later in the trip. I’d revived my wild side, and I was all in.

Looking back, I realize a passing compliment from France is what brought this transformation full circle. As we’d exited the water after our last open-water training session, he’d pulled me aside for a quick pep talk: “You know, you look really, really comfortable out there.” Then it hit me.

Before Covid-19, I’d felt the most comfortable when I traveled leaps and bounds beyond my comfort zone. The thought of armchair travel left me restless. One pandemic, a dive certification, and several mask-clearing coughing fits later, it sure felt good to be back.






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