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Learning to Dive

There was a week in my junior year of college where I binge watched every nature documentary having to do with water. I've always been a lover of water, and I'm also a photographer.

During this time, I called my dad and told him how I wanted to combine these two loves and take underwater photos. He asked how I would do this. We then talked about how we both wanted to go scuba diving. My dad wanted to ever since he learned about Jacques Cousteau.

My parents ended up getting certified before I did, but I finally signed up for my open water class when I was in Georgia. I went to a place called The Dive Shop on McEver. It was in the middle of nowhere. But it had a shop covered in pictures from their adventures and a pool in the back.

This was outside Atlanta, and it was pretty clear that I was stepping outside the liberal bubble of the city when the instructor made a "joke" about how he can tell you what bathroom to go to if you were confused.

After passing the testing in the pool, we went to the Blue Grotto in Williston, Florida. I arrive late on Friday night and drove up to my small cabin a little bigger than the size of a bed, sink, and toilet. The walls were thin and I could hear the people next to me fighting. Turns out they were in my scuba class.

I woke up the next morning, threw on my swimsuit, and drove my car 20 feet to the pavilion where we were meeting to set up our gear. The divers leading the certification were a half hour late and arrived in a yellow jeep.

We set our gear up and walked to the big wooden stairs leading to the fresh spring. It was natural, but it was specifically designed for people getting their certifications.

Once we got in the water I saw schools of small fish, three groups with about 20 divers, and some metal platforms. It was my first time being 20ft underwater. We practiced our skills and resurfaced before diving again that day.

After the two dives, I went to a local diner and had some of the best Apple Cobbler I'd ever had. Christmas story was playing on the TV. Two people who I think were strangers were talking politics.

I had the sense of tiredness that only comes from spending an entire day in the water. I slept soundly that night, and woke up early the next morning.

Some of the students getting certified went to go snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River including myself. It was dark before we left, and the sun rose on calm water as our boat made its way to a place to see manatees. After going to a place with low visibility, we dropped into the water where we saw three of them.

I also saw some lone fish and a ray. The small brownish ray moved in an impossible way, its fins waving in the water to move it forward. The manatees were unbothered by us. They actually don't have the capacity for fear because they haven't had predators in a long time. They're too big and have no good meat. I think our tour guide said that their body was 80% organs or some outrageous number like that.

We got back and I bought a long sleeve shirt and some Fritos. For some reason I thought I would not get cold in Florida in October while swimming all day. The shirt ended up being nice though.

On the drive home in the late afternoon, I was a certified scuba diver.


I probably would not have gone on this adventure, getting certified in the fringes of Atlanta, if it weren't for the trip my parents were taking me on to Cozumel, Mexico for Christmas.

I flew by myself, and after a long process of waiting under the roof in the rain, I was finally united with the rest of my family. After a never ending bus ride to the resort with the worst pop music playing, we got to the resort. Almost.

We flew into the mainland and missed the last ferry over to the island of Cozumel. After room service and a shower, we woke up early, ate breakfast and took the first ferry to the island. It was a choppy sea, and my sister may or may not have puked.

The water was too choppy for the boats to take us out to dive, but we had a cozy day getting settled and eating food. We even went for a rainy swim in the pool.

The next morning we woke up early to do our first dive. Before the sun broke over the horizon, we made our way to the little boat dock with multiple dive shops. We stopped at Scuba Tony's booth and got signed in. When we were able to get on the boat, the dawn was breaking as we road into the choppy water. We got soaked before getting into the water.

When we got to the dive site, we rolled off the back of the boat and into the ocean. Once plunging into the water, I get a taste of the other world underwater. It was so quiet. We grouped together, bobbing in the waves before descending.

As we slowly go down, the silence of the ocean envelopes me in muted blues. Our dive was a drift dive so we barely had to swim as the oven current carried us along. It was a flat surface with grass and the occasional burst of coral. We saw so many small schooling fish and big lone fish. We saw lobsters. We even saw a sea turtle eating the grass on the sea floor.

I slowly got used to how to control my body, still waving my hands around to stay as deep as I wanted. As we waited near the surface for our safety stop I needed to be held down by the instructor to not pop up. After emerging, taking my first breath of fresh air again, I felt new.

I know that sounds cliché, but it's true. I looked over the choppy waves, occasionally putting my eyes with goggles still on into the water to look at the world I just left.

We got back on the boat, all beaming with smiles, and drove to our next dive site. This time, I saw my first nurse shark. I immediately shot up because I started breathing hard out of excitement. I was most excited to see these elegant creatures. The shark was sleeping in a small cave for the day. It was hard to make out all her details, but I could see her gills slowly moving as she rested

This dive had some more larger structures where we could look in the cracks and crevices for little creatures. There were hardy lobsters staring out in groups. There were all sizes and colors of fish. There was one fish, the Juvenile Spotted Drum that was black and white with huge tendrils behind them. It looked other worldly.

After we surfaced, on the boat ride home, the ocean spray hitting my face, I felt like I had found somewhere I belonged. I'm far from mastering buoyancy and the skills of SCUBA, but I was more than comfortable with the water. The dive instructor told me it looked like it was my fifth or sixth dive which more than stroked my ego.

I've been thinking a lot about my connection with water, and diving confirmed that. It felt so natural ... like the ocean didn't mind me being there. I know that's a little ego centric (I'm a writer, what are you gonna do), but it at least confirmed that I wanted to be in the ocean.

We spent the rest of the day at the resort, reading in the sunshine and eating food. We watched the sunset as a cruise ship passed through the star slowly dipping into the ocean. I went to bed early that night. A day in the water and sun makes you tired in a special way.

The next day we went on an evening and a night dive. On the first dive, I could feel a difference in the animals' behavior. Everyone seemed more bold. We even saw a grouper and a moray eel out in the open hunting together.

We emerged and headed to a dock to wait for the sun to set for our night dive. We ate fresh fruit and rice crispy treats as we looked out over the calm ocean. We stood in the shallow ocean shore. The water was warm and the sky was starting to glow.

When we went back into the boat and went out for the dive, the sun was well below the horizon and it was starting to get dark. We each got a flashlight to attach to our wrists for the dive. When we took the plunge off the side of the boat, I could see how truly different the under water world had become.

When we descended to the sea floor, flashlights searching for octopuses, tiny sea bugs swarmed around the beam of the flashlight. It got so infuriating at times that I would turn off the light. I used to be very scared of the dark, but the dark of the ocean was almost comforting. Especially since the bugs would leave me alone.

As we slowly floated down the reef, we scoured the environment for the beautiful color shifting creatures that came out at night. Buried in the sand, I spotted a shimmering green and rusty red blob. It was hard to make out, but the guide confirmed that it was an octopus.

We found many more clinging on coral, hiding in cracks, moving languidly across the sand in hunt of their next meal. There were quite a few run ins as we all swam to keep watching these alien like creatures. When we would get moving, I would hang out in the back, taking my time searching the landscape.

The dive master called us all around by tapping a metal something on his tank. He pointed his flashlight on what looked like a piece of plastic that was floating in the water. But then it lit up. It was a comb jelly.

As it ate little sea bugs, it lit up around its body. I found one on my own, and turned my light off to watch it glow.

Before we emerged, we all turned our lights off and waved our hands around. In the wake of our palms, tiny bioluminescent creatures lit up around us. It was magical.

When our heads emerged into the night air, the lights of the boats reflected on the glittering surface of the water. I huddled in the windbreaker they provided as the wind whipped my hair around. I lowered my hand into the wake of the boat, feeling the warm ocean water filter through my fingers.


The last dive I went on featured giant coral structures that we dove in and around. The diversity of color was breathtaking among the different anemone. While swimming through an open tunnel, a barracuda was waiting as we all passed by single file. That was the most scared I had been ... other than the constant fear of ruining the ecosystem with my slightest touch.

After we emerged again, and after I attempted to dive a second time but was stopped by my clogged up sinuses from a cold, I hung out on the boat communicating with the captain in our limited knowledge of each others language (I knew more Spanish than I thought I did).

He offered deliciously spicy crackers and performed magic tricks as we followed the bubbles of the divers. In this moment, I was both grateful for the opportunities that diving gave me to spend in and above the water.


I have a couple of things to say post blog post. First, you can find resources on ocean conservation on my advocacy blog page.

Second, my dad took all the underwater photos and videos. I will include something I am so sad I missed because I missed because of my cold. He captured a nurse shark swimming right under him.

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