I hope I got your attention with SCUBA in Wisconsin. It kinda sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But, it is true. As I am sitting inside observing the plummeting temperatures around the U.S. and even in Florida and dreaming of warm waters, fins, and masks, I remember how I learned to SCUBA. As you may already know, most learn and practice SCUBA in Cozumel, Australia, California, Florida, or other great tropical spots, however, in typical Ms Traveling Pants’ style, I took the road less traveled or better said the colder road to becoming a SCUBA diver.
Always being a lover of the ocean from a very young age, in my first year of college at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (Go Badgers!), I took an elective course for Open Water Certification to be able to SCUBA during Spring Break in Cozumel, Mexico. It was a five week long course with classroom work explaining of the severity of decompression sickness, the importance of signing, and the names and functions of the components of the SCUBA gear (regulator, BCDs, fins, masks, tank, etc.) We then advanced into a couple of classes in the pools, indoors luckily, because it was mid-Fall.
The last step for completion of the course, each learning diver was to do an open water dive with a master diver. The check out dive was scheduled towards the end of October. Despite the typical Midwest weather, there wasn’t a trip planned to the Caribbean or the Great Barrier Reef, but a trip to a local freshwater lake in Watertown called Clyde Quarry. Yes, as you can guess from the name, it was once a quarry and not a lake. There are many of these quarries transformed to deep lakes in Wisconsin that are very clear, allow for dive training, and even have wildlife. On that October morning, it just turns out that I saw flurries. At that moment, I had to question my reasoning behind my desire to go through with it. Was getting this cold worth it?
With the weather, wetsuits were needed for all students. I skillfully or with as much skill as necessary crammed my body into something that said it was for a small to medium sized body but was more suited for a small child. With my body into the wetsuit and feeling like a human sausage, it was time to go two by two with the master divers into the cold water. Let I remind you that it was now up to forty degrees. Earlier I had seen snowflakes so it was “balmy” by comparison.
Although wetsuits were helpful, the instructors knew better and had to spend all day in the water; thus, they wore drysuits which do not allow any of the cold water to have access to the skin. These are the suits that divers use in ice diving. However, my only option was to get into the water and warm the wetsuit up with my own, scarce body heat. Fun!
The only way that I can explain the cold of the water was of sheer pain and shock followed by the complete lack there of. It was amazing how the initial cold was taken away by the numbing effects of the temperature. I guess it was a survival tactic. Despite this, both myself and my partner were determined to find fun or at least a PADI certification out of the event. We kept active until at least our suits had been warmed sufficiently to go down.
The descent and ascent of diving is crucial as you must release pressure from your ears on the way down and slowly ascend on the way up to prevent decompression sickness commonly called the Benz. At the shallow part of the lake, maybe thirty feet down, we went through buoyancy tests, removal and clearing of the mask, and removal of the regulator (air source). Once completed, we were able to surface.
Upon completion, I was no longer cold, I was a comfortable temperature having survived and almost masterfully completed the test. However, there remained one more feat, the removal of the wetsuit. I can attest that getting into a wetsuit was difficult, but so was removing a wetsuit. I would suggest the couple approach where one tries to peel oneself independently like a banana from the suit and then when necessary the partner helps the other by pulling the partner’s suit off.
Was the experience worth it? Yes.
I say so because I was able within months to dive three times in Cozumel. There I was able to see the impressive coral reef walls at depths around 60+ feet. The colors were vibrant and so majestic that I don’t remember colors like them or even hues similar that exist outside of the depths of the ocean. Then just one trip later, I did similar diving in Zihautanejo, Mexico, a Pacific Ocean dive, which is much darker, deeper, and pretty chilly. This dive taught me more above the tides and current. One must gage this and use it to one’s dive advantage to ride the current. Since, I have not dived as much as snorkeled where in Key West I swam amongst huge grouper and a sea of jellyfish. After, I witnessed the underwater beauty of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and swam around an underwater zoo of large hammerheads sharks and sting rays.
If you have any doubts about learning to SCUBA, go ahead, just do it! It has been too long since I have. I miss the adventure. So, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get back into it!!