I still remember my first breath underwater. You might think I’d let that memory pass long ago. Since that first day, I’ve logged hundreds of dives and spent hundreds of hours breathing with a scuba regulator in my mouth. But that first breath was special.
I wish I could say it went smoothly, but it didn’t.
It was 1990 and I had just graduated from college with a degree in Journalism from Marshall. Like a lot of new graduates, I looked at my resume and realized just how bare it was. And, of course, I had grand aspirations of going to work for National Geographic, but that’s a different story. Anyway, I looked at my resume and wondered what I could do to beef things up a bit. I thought to myself, I could learn to fly a plane or learn to dive. I checked into both. Learning to dive seemed a lot more practical at the time.
So, that was how I found myself at the West Virginia State University (then college) pool kneeling in the shallow end with 40 or so pounds of dive gear on my back. I put my face in the water and looked around at my fellow students for a moment. We were all smiling behind our masks. And then it came time to breathe. I couldn’t do it. I choked. My throat locked up and I couldn’t inhale. I quickly rose up out of the water and spat out my regulator. After a few minutes of thinking through the process and telling myself I could actually breathe with my face in the water, I tried it again and was successful. The rest, as they say, is history. (Not really, but no one is interested in all that detail.) It has led to several books and a career in diving. Not bad for a goofy kid from West Virginia.
“So how was it?” “Pretty cool!”
Local Charleston dive instructor Bob Sharpe was teaching a class and I was hanging around to get in the pool for a bit. It was fun to watch and brought back a lot of memories for me…from my own experiences as a diver and some of the students I taught along the way.
You never know if a new diver has just discovered something that will end up being a life-long passion or if they will dive a few times on their own and then move on to other experiences. It’s funny though, I often wear dive t-shirts or other logos (it makes up quite a bit of my wardrobe) and people stop me and say “Are you a diver? Me too.” Even if they haven’t been diving in years, they still identify with being a diver. And when they talk about diving you can still see that look in their eyes from their first breath. It is a look of excitement and wonder.
Tonight, I plan to spend some time in the pool with my daughters helping them learn to snorkel. Neither one of them has been all that interested in it to this point and I know better than to push it on them. Maybe next year, they will want to get scuba certified. Who knows? I won’t teach the class, but I know some very good instructors who will do it for me. I do want to be there, though, and watch that light in their eyes for the first time. I think they will say it was “pretty cool” too..