Mahurangi Matters editor James Addis decided to have a crack at scuba diving for the first time this summer.
One of my former hobbies was watching YouTube videos of the training of elite troops – paratroopers, SAS, marines and so forth. I found their exploits breathtaking – the physical fitness, mental stamina and agility required seemed to require superhuman qualities. But as I watched and admired, I was only too aware that it was not something I could do myself. Even if I could develop the psychological attributes, a certain physical clumsiness would hold me back.
This was emphasised to me once during an attempt at water skiing. Try as I might, I simply could not get on my feet. On my final try, the skis (with my legs attached) rocketed upwards almost perpendicular to the ocean. This meant my backside hit the deck with almost unbelievable force, and I was given an involuntary, painful enema, the like of which I will never forget.
Nevertheless, the more adventurous sports have maintained their appeal for me. This summer, I thought I would have a crack at scuba diving, and I contacted New Zealand Diving in Warkworth to help me out. I think when I made the approach, I vaguely imagined they could give me a tank, a wetsuit, a guide and a few tips and I could then happily swim around underwater like Jacques Cousteau. Of course, it’s not that simple. My Scuba Discovery experience started with an online course that outlined some basic principles, the equipment I would be using, underwater communication and what to do if I got into trouble.
The course looked a little daunting at first. There were six chapters to wade through with questions to answer after each one. But the chapters are brief and the questions not too taxing. I sailed through it in about an hour and was chuffed when I scored 100 per cent in the final exam.
Having some background knowledge proved a boon when I reached Matheson Bay for my first dive with my instructor Ellie. When she said BCD – I knew she was referring to the buoyancy control device – designed to keep you afloat at the surface when fully inflated and at a suitable depth when partially inflated. Ellie also talked me through checking the pressure in the tank and attaching the regulator. After a few more safety points and tips, we don the equipment and head for the ocean.
My excitement at heading underwater for the first time was tempered by an inability to control what my body did.
At first, I could not seem to stop myself rolling on my back and involuntarily rising to the surface. Once I gained a bit of control, thanks to managing my breathing a bit better and listening to Ellie’s patient instruction, I settled down. We ran through things like how to clear your mask if it fills with water, what to do if your regulator tube falls out of your mouth and how to stop painful pressure building up in your ears. You do this by “equalising” blowing through your nose while pinching it at the same time. I was amazed by how quick and effective this is.
We head back to shore for a breather and a muesli bar and then back into the ocean. The idea is to head into deeper water and perhaps spot some schools of fish under the surface. But I struggle with the swimming to get there. Doing it on my back seems most comfortable, but I make little progress. “Kick from your hips not from your knees,” Ellie urges, but I’m not feeling good. I’m not usually seasick, but I soon start throwing up.
We do a little more diving, but to be honest my heart is not in it at this point, and I’m glad to accept Ellie’s suggestion that we call it a day. When we reach shore, I wonder if a bit more fitness might have helped, but Ellie says not especially. She says one of the joys of diving is that it is best done at a relaxed, slow pace. It’s really all about technique.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. There’s a wonderful world to explore out there and the waters off the Mahurangi coast are surely a great place to start. I’m certain all that’s needed is patience and persistence. I ask Ellie if she dives to spearfish or gather scallops, but she tells me that’s not her thing. She’s noticed a sharp decline in marine life over recent years. It does not seem right to take even more from the ocean. Instead, she dives to marvel at the magnificent life that remains. I like that sentiment. If I do return to scuba diving, I think I’ll follow her example.
Mahurangi Matters would like to thank New Zealand Diving for the supply of equipment and instruction for this story.