By some fucking miracle, I finished my PADI open water certification down in Marathon, Florida. And no, the open water dives weren’t any easier than the confined dives at the YMCA.
The morning started off just fine. The sun was shining, the previous day’s wind had turned into a light breeze, and I woke up plenty early enough to eat and hydrate before my afternoon dive. Most of all I was beyond excited to finally get out on a boat and see some marine life. But when I showed up at the shop, the morning dive was running pretty late. Excitement turned into boredom and slight agitation that I was wasting a warm, sunny day sitting inside.
Two hours later the boat came back to the shop. A few teenaged divers ran in ecstatic from their first open water dives. Then a much less enthused man came in, appearing unable to shake his sea legs.
“How was it?” the shop owner asked.
“Ha! Rough!” the older man laughed. “Nah it was okay, just…yeah, rough.”
The younger kids seemed unfazed, and at this point so did I.
This was my last day of training since I had already done my first two open water dives in a muddy canal the day before. That’s right, the ocean was way too rough, so me and Captain Bob headed to “the secret area” to practice my skills in a dirty ass creek. My mother would’ve killed me had she known I showed up to this dive shop, jumped in a truck with a strange old man, went to his house on another island to get a bunch of rope, drove out to a wooded “top secret” area that even the guys at the dive shop knew nothing about, parked on the side of the road, and walked through several yards of thick grass and trees to a muddy body of water far from where any human would ever hear my cries for help. Thankfully Captain Bob wasn’t a serial killer after all, but diving in those conditions kind of sucked. The visibility was less than 5 feet in some spots so all I could see was a murky green all around me. It was even worse when I accidentally turtle-rolled with my snorkel in and inhaled a giant mouthful of disgusting ass swamp water.
After that experience I was convinced that finally going into the ocean was going to blow my mind. I couldn’t wait.
Seven of us headed out on the boat—five divers plus the two instructors. Of the five, I was the most advanced by one day. The other four were a family of brothers and sisters in their late teens/early twenties who were all cousins of the shop owner. My instructor was Nick, a loud surfer-boy looking 26-year-old whose aquatic tattoos made him blend in perfectly under water.
The bay going out was a little choppy. The boat crashed over top of the growing waves for about 35 minutes before we got out to the reef. Once the engine stopped, I heard one of the girls throwing up off the far side of the boat from motion sickness. I started to get annoyed, hoping that her weak stomach wouldn’t prevent me from getting certified. Especially since we were already running two hours late and sun was due to set in about another two hours.
She was first to jump in the water in an attempt to quell her upset stomach. Everyone else was still getting their gear on, but I suited up in record time the second I realized my stomach felt a little queezy too. It wasn’t that bad though, so I chalked it up to sympathy sickness from seeing her blow chunks overboard. Without hesitation I put the regulator in my mouth, grabbed ahold of it and my mask, held onto the rest of my gear and took a giant stride into the water. I didn’t even double check to make sure my air supply was on. Getting in that water was my only concern so that I didn’t end up throwing up on my wetsuit. After signaling that I was okay, I swam the line out to the buoy we had tied off the boat so none of us got carried away in the rolling waves.
And holy shit were they some waves. While I was bobbing around at the surface waiting for the others, the waves would come and fully obstruct my view of the boat before going over my head. I inflated my BCD even more to make sure I was able to stay afloat as much as possible. I finally understood how people could drown in the ocean. When I looked back at the boat I realized that these waves were breaking well over the bow, and scenes from Deadliest Catch began to run through my mind.
Despite the fact that getting off the boat was helping everyone else, being in the water was no better for me. I was still feeling a bit nauseous, but not to the point where I thought I’d actually get sick.
After about fifteen minutes of trying to get everyone in the water we began to descend. Since I was the most experienced, I went down first with Nick about 25 feet to the sandy ocean floor alongside the reef. He went back up and I waited at the bottom while the other instructor, Greg, brought down the others one by one. Nick and pukey McGee were still at the surface.
Greg carried on and began walking us through the drills they’d needed to do for their first two dives. Mask flooding and clearing, regulator recovery, things I’d already done. I didn’t have time to redo all of that and complete the rest of my skills, so when he pointed at me to complete these, I was more than convinced he had me confused with one of the other girls. But of course it’s imfuckingpossible to communicate this under water. So I went with it.
It was hard to stay put on the ocean floor because the current from the waves would come along and push me and all the fish around me a good ten feet, turning it into a fun game of “don’t crash into the reef.” I’m pretty sure that added motion started to get to me. I was still feeling a bit uneasy, but was focusing on completing the shit I had to do to get certified.
Nick finally came down basically dragging the pale seasick girl latched onto his arm. She had her face buried into his arm and her limp body could’ve easily been mistaken as dead. But somehow she managed to spring to life and complete every drill with ease when her turn came up.
Finally Nick and I took off on our own to finish my skills. After I’d completed most of them, I still had about 1000 psi in the tank so we went exploring. We went over and through some reefs, past dark purple sea fans and schools of neon fish. One fish swam right up to my mask and tried to eat my bubbles. For a few minutes I actually forgot about feeling ill. I couldn’t wait to go up and get a new tank for a leisurely second and final dive of the day.
Before long we began to ascend slowly before practicing a CESA. My mind started to go blank and I couldn’t focus though I wasn’t exactly sure why. My stomach was still upset, but still not enough to get sick.
The second my face came out of the water I ripped the regulator out of my mouth and threw up. All over Nick. Thankfully he laughed it off while I kept emptying my guts in between waves.
“Get it all out girl,” he said while holding onto me. “That’s disgusting, but shit happens.”
I puked harder than I’d ever puked in my life, heaving into the ocean so hard that I was actually worried about popping a blood vessel in my eye.
“I’ve been there, it sucks. Just get it all out, you’ll feel better,” he continued.
The rolling waves were enormous, tossing me up and down a good ten feet with each swell. What the hell was going on? I’d never been seasick in my life, and I was completely fine on the boat, but now, after 40 minutes of diving I was experiencing it?
I became irrationally angry and started yelling. Yelling at the ocean, yelling at the situation, yelling at myself.
“Fuck. FUCK! What the FUCK body, man the fuck up! Pull it together!”
Nick laughed and commended my attitude, and after some tough talk he asked me if I was ready to go back down. I told him to go fuck himself and that he was out of his damn mind if he thought I was doing another dive. He laughed some more as salt water hit my lips, causing my body to begin puking up burning, yellow, foamy bile from the pits of my stomach. My abs ached, but after about another minute they’d finally stopped convulsing.
Then he got serious.
“Hey, look at me.” he said looking me square in the face as he grabbed onto my shoulders. All you have to do is go back down long enough to do your CESA. Then that’s it, you’re done, you’re certified. Okay? You got this!”
I looked at Nick and took a few deep breaths. Seeing his persuasive blue eyes behind that mask suddenly made me feel like I could suck it up and do this. I put the regulator in my mouth, but that first breath of compressed air had me puking bile again.
What the hell. I’d studied my ass off for this. I’d also spent a whole day in a pool, and another day drinking in murky green water to get here. My scuba experiences hadn’t exactly been enjoyable yet, but damnit I wasn’t going to give up with so little left to do. I couldn’t tell people that I didn’t get certified because I’m a sissy who gave up over a little seasickness. Once I felt a little better we went back down. But as soon as I got back under water I felt loopy, lightheaded and spacey. Not necessarily ill, but I couldn’t focus. I tried to tough it out and work past it, swimming around a bit to see if it would go away. After a few minutes I realized it wasn’t going to, so we went for that final CESA to get out of the water. Again, right when I got to the surface I got sick again. I finally understood what hell was, and I looked over at the shore that was miles and miles away. I wanted nothing more than to be curled up on dry land and I seriously considered swimming there.
Then everybody else came up and got into the boat to swap tanks while I stayed in the ocean floating around, thanks to my BCD, dotting the water with a trail of puke piles to feed all the fish.
All of a sudden three of the girls were puking off the side of the boat, and once I realized the waves were bringing it my way I headed for the boat too. Everyone tried telling me that the boat wasn’t going to be any better, but I didn’t see how it could be any worse than throwing up directly into my only source of oxygen 25 feet below the surface. They tried to get me to swap out my tank and go back down for another dive, but before I could even get both feet on the boat I felt ill, and my 70 or so pounds of scuba gear suddenly felt like 200. I couldn’t get out of my gear fast enough.
Hell no. I didn’t care if I was uncomfortable on the boat, it looked like I was going to puke regardless of where I was, so I’d much rather do it where I can breathe freely than risk clogging up my regulator with chunks.
At first I sat upright on the edge of the boat, staring at a tower far off on the horizon. I half-jokingly wished a shark would come by so I could jump into its mouth and just end this torture. I tried to keep it together but every five minutes I was hurled over the edge of the boat dry-heaving my organs out. And I’m a loud puker. I was trying my hardest to puke more lady-like, but after about twenty seconds of that I gave up trying to retain any sort of dignity. I was wailing deep hulk-like sounds from the pits of my guts, similar to what I’d imagine an exorcism would be like. I got sick of moving from upright position to bent over, so I found myself hunched over the side permanently, my face only inches from the waves. I cursed some more and gripped my hands into the side so that I didn’t flip over. Finally when I stopped puking for more than three minutes, I slouched down inside the boat and laid there.
Bad idea. Do not lose sight of land. I puked again, this time barely making it over the edge of the boat and right onto a gigantic moon jellyfish. The way it moved my puke to its center convinced me that that sick bastard was having a delicious feast off of my vomit. I puked on it again, then I slouched back down, keeping my head above the ledge just enough to keep my sights on land. Every time a swell would come and make land invisible my stomach would drop for those two seconds.
After what felt like a week and a half, everyone resurfaced. Thank God. They kept asking how I was doing, at which point I didn’t even have enough energy left to respond. I just sat there staring at land, snot and puke remnants running down my face. But I didn’t even care. I’d passed the point of looking like a normal human being around the 10th pile of vomit.
I kept my sights on land for the entire half hour ride back in, quietly mumbling things like “Oh God,” “oh shit,” and “come on Kim,” to ease any more feelings of nausea. Nick tried to raise morale by yelling a big “congratulations to the newest Padi certified diver” in my direction, to which I just raised my hand slightly and zoned right back out. Right then I’d decided that I would never scuba dive again in my entire life.
When we made it back to the dock I couldn’t wait to get out of that boat. I helped carry some gear off and gave it a proper rinse down before going into the shop to be photographed for my certification card. Thankfully they at least let me rinse my face off before posing for the picture.
I’d done it. I left the shop feeling less than enthused or accomplished, but I’d done it. And I’d never have to go scuba diving again.
I went back to the condo and re-hydrated with a few bottles of water and fueled up with a chicken sandwich. Before long I was feeling back to my old self again. I was no longer an immobile waste of whiney space.
And I couldn’t wait to go diving again. This time in calmer waters though.