Officially Certified - My Scuba Journey!
I can't swim.
How many times have we heard that phrase, especially throughout the Black community? For me, that sentiment was no different. I couldn't swim. Now for clarification, I wasn't afraid of the water by any means. I've always been an avid lover of the oceans and everything marine life. I could comfortably jump into a pool, and my doggy paddling skills were next level. However, I had never had any formal swim training ever in my life.
Ironically enough, one of the many adventures listed on my bucket list was scuba diving. I had this thought in mind for years, but never had the distinct push or motivation to pursue. That all changed this past August after spending a month at sea on board E/V Nautilus. This experience was not only life changing by giving me my first opportunity to be part of a scientific research team, but it also gave me the drive I needed to elevate my marine skillsets. I left this mission feeling inspired, motivated, and excited to see how far I could continue spreading my love for ocean conservation and marine exploration. I told the team at OET (Ocean Exploration Trust) that had granted me the chance to go on this expedition, that scuba diving would be one way I could continue to drive home the importance of our oceans and discoveries. I was blessed with an incredible donation that helped cover my expenses for receiving a scuba certification, and I was all set to go.
I researched local dive facilities in the Southern California region and narrowed my search down to the Dive 'N Surf center in Redondo Beach, CA. This facility had amazing reviews, a long history of diving credentials, and also offered the most versatile training package. I booked my training session, spent a couple of days on Amazon purchasing all the budget friendly gear I needed, and began taking my 15 hrs of required online training in preparation for my first pool session. Then about a week and a half out from my first class I remembered - I can't swim.
Now, that realization may seem absolutely ridiculous, and trust me....as I'm writing this now and reflecting, it does seem crazy. For some reason, in my scientific head I assumed that being equipped with an oxygen tank and breathing apparatus meant the ability to be a skilled swimmer was pretty negligible. As long as I could easily wade around in water and do my makeshift freestyle stroke, that would be enough to begin exploring the ocean's depths right? Upon further investigation (which pretty much was just a call to the dive center asking what the requirements were to begin) I realized that the first part of training was a swim test. Twenty laps in the pool non stop, and 10 minutes of survival floating. I got this right?
I went to my local pool in Van Nuys the next morning just to see where exactly my skills matched up. A quarter of a lap, and about 30 seconds of survival floating. Oh boy, I had a long way to go. This realization hit me suddenly, and hard....I was not a good swimmer. However, with my funds already invested in the class and my mind set on a goal, I said give it a week. I'll figure this swim thing out like I do with every other daunting task that comes my way. One week later, still....a quarter of a lap, and about 30 seconds of survival floating. I can't swim. There was no way I could show up to my first class in this condition. The only option left was to reschedule and figure this challenge out.
I've always been a driven individual, and anything I put my mind to - I find a way to accomplish. All I needed was some focus and time. After a week of solo training in the pool with no progress, I realized youtube videos and self discovery wasn't going to get me to where I needed to be in a month and a half. Through a great friend I found a personal trainer who gave me the basic fundamentals I needed to work on. Skills that I could put to the test on my own on a regular basis. I set a calendar of Tue, Thur, Sat mornings in the local pool for 1.5hrs each day. With patience, practice, and a lot of chilly fall mornings - I progressed. Twenty laps, and a modified survival floating technique that gave me the 10 minutes I needed. Bring on the scuba training.
My first two pool dives in scuba training were a breeze. I almost walked out of the dive center after finishing my swim test (the very first test) thinking that was everything I had trained for! The skills tests were just like everything I had encountered online, and the very first time taking a breath underwater with my scuba gear was just magical. Two days in the pool, and then 2 days in the ocean was the set schedule. The following weekend was my first ocean dive where I was to implement everything I learned in the pool. Although I was not nearly as swift and fluid as my training partners in the class, I was able to perform the necessary maneuvers and skill tests to a T. I was enjoying the rush of every moment underwater, and even the process of putting together my gear, and mapping out a dive. One last test to accomplish on my 4th day of training - buoyancy. Now, this test I had done in the pool, but quite honestly it was one that my trainer did not put much emphasis on and that I wasn't truly observed to master. This came back to haunt me in the worst way.
My partner on my last ocean dive was clearly not prepared for the moment. For some reason, simple instructions and directions from our instructor were not registering with him, and this subsequently led to a lot of miscommunication between us underwater. Excuse or not, the last skill that I needed to master escaped me. I failed. What a disappointing feeling coming back on shore and watching the others around me getting acknowledged for completion, and then hearing my instructor say...."unfortunately".... That was all he needed to say, and I knew I was a failure. Although disappointing, I knew that I couldn't expect this process to be that smooth. Nothing good comes without some challenges. I simply scheduled a makeup session for the following wknd, and began reviewing where my flaws were. Refocused and ready to complete the mission, I went back in the ocean with my instructor and then did what I wasn't prepared to do - I failed again.
For some reason, this skill that seemed to be the most standard element of scuba diving was the one that continued to elude me. My leg kicks were inconsistent from inexperience of swimming, my breathing was off, my orientation and comfortability at a much deeper depth were out of sync. I couldn't swim. Coming back to the surface again, and then doing the long return back to shore was one of the most sinking feelings I had ever felt. I knew I had failed. Even my instructor seemed at a loss of what to do or say to explain why I wasn't good enough. Luckily the suggestion he came up with was the one that I ultimately needed. Go back to the pool, and get back to the basics.
We scheduled a return to the pool so that I could rework my fundamentals. The only unfortunate part was the timing. At this point it was already December. Holidays were approaching, and then weather and cancelled flights affected my return, then COVID hit my instructor, and I had nothing but more time to think. Thinking about whether or not I was truly cut out for this sport. Why did I want to scuba in the first place? My lack of confidence in my skills already prevented me from sharing this story on my science platform - even though I share every other story or journey that I go on in life. I didn't want to have to tell the world that I was a failure. A walking stereotype. Every Black trope was creeping around in my mind and filled me with more doubt. Yet still I knew - failure was not an option.
I was back in the pool, reinvigorated and determined to turn this goal into an accomplishment. It turns out, just a little step backwards into the fundamentals was all I needed. I knocked out my buoyancy test in the pool with no problem, and two days later was back in the ocean. I knew it was going to be a great dive when the first thing I saw upon descent was a seal whiz past us curiously, followed by a giant crab that posed in attack mode as I slowly hovered over it. This is why I wanted to scuba dive. The rush of being immersed in a new environment, surrounded by wildlife. The feeling of adventure and exploration of a thriving, biodiverse ecosystem. This was my happy place. As I made my final ascent and reached the surface, I already knew - this was a success.
I spent the following hour laying out on the shore after thanking my instructor multiple times for his patience and willingness to support this goal of mine. I thought about all the moments I wanted to quit, all the realizations that I had that made me feel inferior, all the doubt that I had in myself throughout the entire journey. Then I also thought about what this meant for people that look like me. What this meant for my Hip Hop Science platform to be able to show another Black stereotype being broken, another barrier lifted, and another lane that didn't normally include people like myself being filled. This accomplishment was more than just for me, but everyone else who had a goal, a fear, a dream....This was inspiration for the masses, and another reason why I do this outreach work on my platform. I CAN swim. And now I'm also an official Certified Scuba Diver.