I have never been particularly enthusiastic about swimming. I love hanging out in the pool, and I’ll swim a few laps every now and then, but that’s kind of the extent of it. I’m a good swimmer, but not a great one or a strong one. And I used to get swimmer’s ear all the time. (I actually missed the first two days of eighth grade because I had swimmer’s ear and ear infections in both ears.) For those of you who speak the Camp Ramah in the Berkshires lexicon, I don’t think I got a green tag until Machon or even Gesher. I can honestly say that I never imagined myself strapping on 70-or-so pounds of equipment and going for extended swims in the ocean.
And yet – last weekend, Yoni and I did just that.
When it comes to things people recommend doing in Okinawa, scuba diving is at the top of the list. For the one thing – the island is basically surrounded by coral reefs that are easily accessible from the shore – no boats necessary. For another thing, the sub-tropical climate is forgiving, making diving a basically year-round possibility. And finally – it’s cheaper to get certified here than it would be almost anywhere else in the world (thanks, military discounts). So, for all those reasons and more, diving is a popular pastime on our little island. Yoni felt strongly that we should both get certified, and so, this past week, we became PADI certified Open Water Scuba Divers.
To be completely honest, I was more scared than I was excited. I mean, there are SO many things that can go wrong. Almost all of the potential pitfalls are easily avoidable with the proper safety procedures and equipment checks, but still…
Also, during a class I took in college entitled “History of the City of New York,” I learned all about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Washington Roebling, supervisor of the project and son of the original designer John Roebling, spent the remainder of his life in paralyzing pain after contracting “the bends” from ascending and descending out of the deep water too quickly. I’m pretty sure that small piece of knowledge that stuck in my head did not help with the scuba diving fear factor. Today we call it Decompression Sickness instead of the bends, but the theory is the same.
Nevertheless, as part of our certification process, Yoni and I went on four “open water” (read: in the ocean, not the pool) dives last weekend. We stood on the side of the road in the very hot sun, assembled the approximately 70 pounds of equipment, put on neoprene wetsuits (no easy task), strapped on our gear, climbed up and down stairs to get into the water, pulled on our fins and masks, sank below the surface – and discovered another world, 50 feet below the surface. This world was calm, and quiet, and blue; it was full of neon-colored fish, sea snakes, and coral that was very clearly alive. It was scary, yes, but it was also amazingly cool. I can’t wait to get back out there.