SCUBA Diver - From Zero to Sixty Feet In Three Days
 
Hello, I'm Alex Martin and this is Camp Thing. Today I'm sitting outside in the rain in Panama City, Florida and I just completed my first dive as a certified Open Water SCUBA diver.

Several years ago I was surfing the web (there's a phrase I haven't heard in a while) and came across an image of a beautiful blue grotto spring with a platform in the center of it. the Sun shone through a hole in the cave ceiling and green vines hung down through the hole making the opening look like a chandelier as it lit up the shockingly clear blue water below.

I'm talking about Devil's Den. Just outside of Gainesville, Florida, this incredible spring is accessible only to snorkelers and scuba divers and when I added it to my itinerary for this trip I was determined to see it the right way... from as close to the bottom as I can get. That meant I'd have to become a certified SCUBA diver before I got there. No problem.

I have family in Panama City, Florida... which also happens to be home to the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center and a popular spot for recreational diving as well... so I arranged to stay for a few days and take a dive class. Selecting one of the four local dive shops at random (I'm NOT a big fan of online reviews) I walked in and asked about scuba classes. Honestly I expected it would take a lot longer than the amount of time I had, but it turns out the shop I chose was starting a three day Open Water certification class the next day so I signed up on the spot.

Bright and early at 8am the following morning, I turned up at the Dive Locker for class. I won't go into all the details of the class except to say that we spent half the first day doing book work about the effects of water pressure, the parts of a SCUBA system, safety considerations and so forth. These are all important things you need to know before strapping on fifty pounds of gear and a 3000psi air tank that could end your life if you don't know how to use it right.

The second half of the day we spent in the "kiddie pool" near the jetty at Saint Andrews park. Nicole, our instructor, showed us how to set up our equipment, checked off that we understood what everything was, what it did and how to use it, and then we went out into the protected area of the Gulf water to demonstrate our skills. Within an hour we were all underwater, swimming around the rocks and chasing after fish like we'd been born there.

On days two and three we drove an hour north of town to dive at Vortex Spring near the town of Ponce de Leon and I can't say how glad I am that we did. Despite the drive and the $20 entry fee, diving in the spring was, for me, far more exciting than the gulf... at least the part of it we saw. Once I get to the point where I'm exploring sunken boats and airplanes, maybe I'll change my mind, but the spring offered clear water, deeper dives and the chance to get closer to some caves, though not actually in them as I'm not certified for that yet. Cave diving is exceptionally dangerous and requires more training which I will get as soon as I can. The rest of the class seemed to enjoy the glorified snorkeling in the shallow gulf water but I'm ready for greater challenges.

Becoming a certified SCUBA diver turned out to be a whole lot easier than I expected. I read the coursework and took the practice tests each night before the day's lessons so I passed the tests without any difficulty. The equipment was simple and obvious in its use and it took me only two or three tries to master even the seemingly difficult skills like compass navigation, clearing a flooded mask underwater and assisting a fellow diver who had run out of air. To be honest, doing complex and potentially dangerous things underwater felt totally natural to me.

At the end of our last training day, having been officially registered as a certified diver, we were free to make a dive on our own. I paired up with one of the other students (as it's unwise to ever dive alone) and we spent another hour in the spring, sitting on the bottom, looking up at the mirror-like air pockets in the cave opening and chasing fish around for fun. As of now, I have over three hours of underwater time... that may seem like a lot, but given that my instructor stopped counting when she got to a thousand, I've really barely gotten my feet wet... so to speak. Nevertheless, she took me aside after the rest of the students had left and invited me to join her and her class the next day back at the gulf so that I could get in some more time underwater and observe her teach.

I could continue my training, she told me over hamburgers and beer after our dive the next day, and become a Master Diver and instructor and make a pretty decent living at it too, if I wanted. Like with any complex hobby, I suspect teachers can tell right away who's just there for a day of fun and who's got what it takes to go the distance. It was really nice of her to say that and I have to admit I was surprised and more than a little bit proud.

And to think, just five days ago, I was worried that I might not be able to do this at all. Not only has this achievement been decisively unlocked, but now I have my own entire SCUBA rig. Wet suit, mask, snorkel, booties and fins, buoyancy control vest, weights, first and second stage respirator, dive computer, knife, flashlight and camera housing. All of this stuff cost me less than a month's rent and I'm thrilled to be able to dive with my own gear... particularly this camera housing, which I'll do a separate video about soon.

Next come Devil's Den and Blue Grotto... two spring dives in North Florida... and then whatever spring, ocean, lake or aquarium I happen across where I can get a tank of air. I hear there's a World War 2 bomber at the bottom of lake Meade... and a million gallon aquarium at the Mandalay Bay where you can dive with sharks. We'll see. And they say a good dive instructor can pull down $250 a head for lessons, more if you find someone who's got their own boat and a lot of money. Maybe being a dive instructor wouldn't be such a bad retirement plan after all, huh Nicole?

All of this from one pretty picture I saw on the internet. I can't say how rewarding this particular experience has been. They say diving changes people's lives and now I can understand why. Thanks for watching and remember that anything you sent your mind to... and are willing to spend a bit of time and money on... you can achieve. See you next time!