We’ve all been there, wide-eyed and excited on the first day of our dive course. This excitement is often mixed with a bit of anxiety, uncertainty and fear of the unknown, but armed with the right knowledge, the prospect of descending beneath the waves becomes more exciting. Here are five things every new diver should know as they begin their dive career.
Try and try and try again
Divers sometimes think of courses as pass/fail. They may also think that because they paid for the course, they deserve the qualification. This often happens in holiday destinations, where resort courses average about four days long and students have limited time to complete the dive course.
Dive qualifications are earned and the only way you can certify is to become proficient in the skills required for each level. Because diving puts you in a strange environment, doing things that you wouldn’t do on the surface, you must train your body and brain to adapt to the new setting. This might come quicker to some than to others, and that is perfectly okay.
Not being able to do a skill or finish a training dive does not mean you failed; it means you need more practice. Get back into the pool or book a one-on-one session with an instructor. Practice until you feel comfortable enough to perform the skill on your own.
No more fogging
You finally got your own mask — one that fits you well and feels comfortable. You’re excited to take it for a test spin, but there are a few steps you must complete before hitting the water. There is an invisible silicone film on your mask when it comes out of the box, which will cause it to fog up no matter how many times you clean it. Remove it before your first dive with an abrasive agent like white toothpaste (not gel). Add a small amount of toothpaste to each lens and get scrubbing. Use your thumbs and some elbow grease to work the toothpaste onto the lenses for a few minutes. Try to get as close to the skirt as possible to keep the edges of your mask from fogging up. Rinse your mask thoroughly afterwards.
Before the dive you can put a drop of baby shampoo on each lens. Rub it around and rinse it before you put on your mask. Many dive boats and operators also have dedicated mask defog for you to use. Make sure to choose an environmentally friendly, biodegradable product to protect the reef from harmful chemicals.
The tried-and-true method for defogging your mask will always be spit. No need to be embarrassed — we all know diving is more “wipe-snot-off-your-face” than surfacing looking like one of the models in dive magazines.
If all else fails, you can burn the protective layer off of the inside of your mask with a lighter. This is a bit controversial method as some say that the heat of the flame could compromise the strength of the tempered glass lenses so proceed with caution.
Even the most well-prepared mask can fog up if it or your face is warm when you get into cooler water. Keep your mask out of direct sunlight and splash your face with cool water before putting your mask on to minimize fogging.
You panicked…now what?
Because we are in a foreign environment with little idea, and probably experience, of how to deal with certain situations we might end up in a place of anxiety, fear or even the dreaded word — panic.
There is a split second before an uncomfortable situation turns into a panic situation. The moment where you either stop, breathe, think and act, or find yourself panicking. In that split second what you tell yourself can either help you to take control or escalate the situation.
As a new divemaster I had an experience that left me extremely anxious, especially with mask skills. I felt that students were looking up to me and I wasn’t supposed to show that I was scared — panicky even — especially when I needed to remove my mask. I faced my fear and practiced mask skill after mask skill until I felt confident and the skills became second nature to me.
Most divers experience these moments of panic during their dive careers. While some people can take control of the situation, others might have a full-blown panic episode. That is okay. Do not judge yourself and your experience. Get back in the water with someone you trust and work on overcoming the negative thoughts and feelings that the experience created. Doing so will make you a safer diver. Most important — don’t give up. There are many, many wonderful dives awaiting you.
Trouble clearing your ears
How easily you equalize could change from one day to the next. There are two primary ways to equalize: pinching your nose and blowing lightly or pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth and swallowing. Sometimes neither of these work and this could lead to frustration. The worst thing you can do is ignore the pain and continue down or forcefully blow to try and equalize.
If your ears do not equalize while using one of the above methods, ascend a few feet and try again. If this solves the problem, slow down your descent rate and equalize more often. But if this doesn’t work, try wiggling your jaw and tilting your head from side-to-side. You can also rub the bit of skin at the opening of your ear or tug on your ear gently and try to equalize again.
Sometimes divers clench their jaws without realizing it. This tightens the muscles around your Eustachian tube, which could make it more difficult to push air into it for equalization. Focus on relaxing your jaw muscles and try again.
Finally, make sure your nasal passages are clear before going on a dive. A saltwater rinse works well, although it is a bit uncomfortable. If you’ve got a cold or are feeling congestion, it’s best to skip the dive. Most importantly, equalize early and often — before your ears feel the squeeze of increasing pressure.
What size wetsuit?
You’ve decided to buy your own wetsuit, but don’t know what size to get. Your wetsuit should fit like a glove — not too tight, nor too loose. It is normal to feel a bit uncomfortable in your wetsuit while you’re on the surface. It is, after all, a rubber suit designed to fit snugly and keep you warm. If, however, you feel too much constriction of movement or any difficulty in breathing, try a bigger size.
On the other hand, if your suit is too big and has air pockets in some places, water will circulate through. This will cool you down very quickly, making your wetsuit nearly useless.