Not many of you are aware of a little-known fact about me: i am a certified Rescue Scuba Diver.
You can stop laughing any time now.
Yes, i have taken all the trainings and done all the things to become certified as a Rescue SCUBA Diver.
Why, you ask? It all started with my love of manta rays.
Now, i have never ever seen one for reals. At least, i don’t think i have. The only ones at that time were in the Atlanta aquarium and i’m sure i would remember if i had ever been to Georgia!
My love for these giant, gentle creatures began with Jacques Cousteau – i loved that show as a kid! And when i first saw him dive with manta rays, i couldn’t believe what i was seeing. Birds! Under water!! (yes, i was “special” even then). These graceful, harmless, huge sea creatures flap their wing-like bodies and seem to gently “fly” through the water. The first time i saw them on tv, i knew i wanted to be a SCUBA diver so i, too, could be like Jacques Cousteau.
Flash forward many years later, and i finally have the time/inclination/money together to take some diving lessons.
The first thing i learn is: Pacific NW water is COLD!!
The first time our class went to a lake to try out our new skills, i thought my face was going to freeze off – right before the rest of my body slowly died, bit by bit, from hypothermia.
The ocean wasn’t any warmer and i wondered at the power of my desire to dive with mantas being just slightly stronger than my will to not DIE in this freezing, murky water full of brown fish and sea lions that like to come out of nowhere and scare the living bejeezus out of you. (Ever scream underwater?? If there’s no-one around to hear you, you still scream. And you lose your respirator, suck in a couple of lungs worth of water and nearly DIE. Ask me how i know.)
At this time, i was diving in a borrowed wet suit.
They call this a “wet” suit, because you first have to get completely wet – as in pulling at the neck and wrists and letting the sub-arctic water IN to your wet suit – then theoretically, your body heat warms that now trapped water, and it works as a sort of insulator from the water OUTSIDE your suit keeping you warm enough to enjoy your 30 minutes of diving.
That must be some kind of urban legend or long-held secret joke by those salty dog older divers used to haze the newbies, because again and again i crawled out of the water on all fours, shivering uncontrollably and looking like a Game of Thrones’ White Walker had just turned my eyes blue. The only times i exited the water only slightly less like a zombie-on-ice was when i took the advice of senior divers (“Pee as soon as you get in!! Your pee is warm! It will warm up the water in your suit”!).
And so, pee i did.
i am not sure this is how Jacques Cousteau did it, but if he did, he never told.
Now, perhaps there is something inherently WRONG with a sport that requires the act of peeing on oneself then wallowing around in it in order to survive the ordeal, but those visions of manta rays in my future kept me going.
Urine bath and all.
i kept showing up, diving, peeing, and getting my certificates – first the initial certificate (hooray! you didn’t die!) and then the Advanced (hooray again! You didn’t die even harder!) By then, i had become adept at rinsing and washing the borrowed wet suits and hoping with all my might that the person who borrowed them before me was too. Ewww. But by this time, i also had my second major insight:
MANTA RAYS LIVE IN WARM WATER.
Now, i don’t know why i didn’t put this together before i invested precious time and money into pee-diving, but somehow, the fact that waters off the coast of the Pacific NW are too cold and do NOT contain any manta rays somehow escaped me.
i’m from Oregon and warm waters are many miles and even many more dollars away.
Diving is an expensive sport even without adding tropical trips to it. There are rental/purchase costs for everything – gear/tools/air/suits/fins/masks/classes/travel and really really good anti-pee-smell soap – and i was already living on the very limits of my wallet with just local diving. The closest i could get to diving with real live mantas was Hawaii and unless i figured out a way to get to Hawaii on a budget (and when i say “budget”, i mean stow-away/beach hut/beans and poi kind of budget) then Hawaii was going to be a bucket list item and not something i could do regularly. And somewhere between draining my wallet and draining my bladder every weekend, i had really fallen in love with diving.
So, i decided i needed to make a really big, hard, adult-like decision.
Either i continued diving on the cheap (car trips to the coast, borrowed wetsuit, pee diving) and saved every dollar i could for the occasional tropical trip where i could slather on some sunscreen, rent the gear and pay for a guided dive with other tourists who may or may not have put in the time and energy to become an adept pee-diver like me, OR i could continue diving on the cheap and save every dollar i could for a DRY SUIT.
A dry suit is an oversized suit with seals at the neck, wrists and ankles. The suit connects to your air and you blow it up until you kinda look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. The AIR (not pee water) works as an insulator between you and the kill-me-now cold water. No water enters your suit and you stay toasty and dry while you dive. This means you actually have to exit the water and use a bathroom to pee, like a normal non-diving human, but it also means you can dive longer and enjoy your dive more without being distracted by the nagging feeling that you are JUST. ABOUT. TO. DIE.
This changed my life.
It also changed my wallet as, at that time, a dry suit was about $2000 and i had to hock a few things and convince the shop i was worth letting me make payments (heck-hadn’t i just put in about a year and a half of pee-diving? C’mon man! i gotta have earned some street cred here!) but when i finally left the shop with my brand new dry suit altered just to fit me, i couldn’t be more ecstatic. This was when i had my third major diving insight:
Brown fish and prankster sea lions with an “I got your nose!” sense of humor were kinda cool.
i mean, they weren’t in the same ballpark as freaking MANTA RAYS for crying out loud, but they were cool as in they were the animals living off of the coast right HERE.
i could just take a short drive, get into my gear, jump in the water and see these neat things.
And when you look a little closer (which is pretty much the way you see anything as these waters are rarely more than 6 feet visibility…it’s kinda like diving as Mr. Magoo) you see that there are a lot of variety in these “brown fish”. And the sea lions grow on you, in a red-headed, freckled, annoying little brother way. As i continued to dive the waters of the Pacific Northwest, i also learned to hunt for crab, find elusive and protective species of fish amongst the kelp “forests” and survive an expected but completely-overlooked-by-me-because-i-am-too-lazy-to-check-weather-forecasts storm.
But that’s a story for another day.