A Helping Hand

As he helps certify new divers, one divemaster reflects on his time as a newbie

By C. David Conner

“Everything looks good,” I said to the last student as I gave her shoulder a reassuring pat.

She smiled before turning to walk with that familiar, awkward gait of someone moving under an uncomfortable amount of weight. The students made their way to benches at the end of the dock so the instructor could go over final details.

I donned my equipment, ready to get out of this rising heat. The water 20 feet away beckoned with the power of a Siren calling up to unwary sailors. Cool water flooded over my skin as I sank in chest deep and put on my fins. With a few kicks I made it out past the pier and over to where I could watch each student enter and, as divemaster for this class, provide help if needed.

The horseshoe-shaped ridge surrounding Loch Low-Minn quarry in Athens, Tennessee loomed above us several stories with trees lining all sides. Everything was quiet and serene. Somehow the area conveyed the impression of a foreboding oasis lost in time.

As the instructor spoke, I wondered about the one thing that could trigger a reaction of fear or panic from someone new to diving. The Tennessee Aquarium helps stock this quarry with young paddlefish to give them a chance to mature without the threat of predators. Given the lack of visibility, to come across one of these feeding fish is to get a sensation of stumbling across a whale shark. This ancient species can look huge with no other visual references in these turbid waters. I didn’t think we had anything to worry about since the fish stay at the far end of the quarry, which wasn’t on today’s agenda.

My thoughts came back to the present as the students made their way into the water with varying degrees of grace. I hovered nearby, ready to lend assistance if needed. Watching them splash down and then bob back to the surface, I remembered my own training many years before and how I must have looked a lot like them. When the last student stepped to the platform’s edge, I didn’t have to remind her to hold her mask and regulator as she took her first giant step into a new world.