Just call me Jacques, as in Cousteau. Once a landlocked specimen, I'm now one with the water. It feels good — this new sensation — and I'm willing to share it. The secret boils down to one simple word: certification.
That's right, I learned to scuba dive and have the card to prove it. The point is, if I can dive, anyone can dive. As far as I'm concerned, everyone should. It's simple to learn, good for you, it can be pursued for life, and it offers access to some of the most incredible things you'll ever see.
I can wax poetic about all the great reasons to dive, but like all worthwhile endeavors, doing it is the only way to truly understand.
There are a number of routes to certification, the two most common courses are Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI).
A plastic card from these means you can rent or buy scuba equipment, obtain air for tanks, and participate in a range of other diving activities around the world. Now that I have mine, I'll never leave home without it.
The certification process is straightforward and painless. It is divided into three parts: classroom (using a book and visual aids), pool (confined water), and open-water instruction.
The classroom and pool sessions generally take place at the same time, while the open-water dives (at least four of them) serve as the final application of everything you've learned. The entire process can be completed over several weeks, or packed into several days at one of the numerous vacation scuba schools.
The basics of scuba diving are simple. Divers use specialized equipment that adapts them for the aquatic environment. The scuba system (it stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) is focused around a portable air supply and the accessories that make it possible to spend extended time underwater (from a few minutes to several hours, depending on factors like depth and breathing efficiency).
The tank is a high-pressure cylinder that stores compressed air (never oxygen), which is released through a valve.
- The air passes from the valve through a "regulator," which delivers a controlled amount of air with each breath.
- The tank and attached regulator are typically held in place with a buoyancy control device (BCD) — an expandable bladder that can be inflated or deflated to control buoyancy.
The mask is the window to the underwater world, creating an air space that allows you to see.
- A snorkel is attached to the mask, allowing you to breathe at the surface without lifting your head.
- Fins allow you to move through the water with greater efficiency.
- And a weight belt is also worn to allow neutral buoyancy (since most of us, with all this gear on, will float like a cork).