Category Archives: Ocean Conservation

Well, I’m going for it – Rescue Diver certification

Well, gang, finishing up AOW last week in the Keys led me to a crossroads.  I know now for certain that I want to be a professional diver and instructor.  My next step to this is getting Rescue Diver.  Before I begin that process, I need to do a LOT more diving and further develop my situational awareness.  At this point I have about 15 dives total under my belt.  I am only just now becoming comfortable with myself in the water – I have a long ways to go before I am able to focus on others and keep a constant eye out for problem areas, what could go wrong, and what is going wrong – and then solving the issues.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been worried that I am too old to start down this path.  Here in my 40s, maybe this is all just too crazy and I should go back into an office building and just keep cranking out spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.  Put on some pants and go to some board meetings. I have devoted my life to a career in communications, writing and editing.  My background is in the energy, defense, and cybersecurity industries.  But I’ve been talking to a lot of dive instructors who are quite a bit older than me who went pro at my age.  And they are happy, happy people.  So, negative thinking must be banished.

My dive shop here in Raleigh doesn’t offer the Rescue Diving course until next April (our quarry here is just too cold and gnarly in the winter).  And that timing is perfect for me.  That gives me 5 months to just keep diving.  So that’s what I plan to do.

I am going to read everything I can about diving, start on the content part of the coursework, and, like I said, dive.  Also, I plan to take a Zen, wellness approach to diving so I am going to take some coaching, meditation and wellness courses to round myself out as a supportive, inspiring, safe instructor who leads by example and helps people find their path to happiness in the water.

Ah, but where to do all of this diving during the winter?  I think the cheapest, easiest way to clock the dives and see wonderful sea life in reasonably warm water is to do my diving in Florida.  So, now the hunt for where I’m going to dive for the next three months begins…I need to find a dive shop that isn’t focused on the cattle call of packing a ton of transient divers and cranking them through.  The hunt begins…Yee haw!
If anyone has a dive shop they love and recommend down in south Florida, let me know – hit me up on this blog’s Facebook page –  https://www.facebook.com/scubadivingdivaadventures/ –  or email me at scubadivingdivaadventures@gmail.com.

A new diver’s reflection on getting Advanced Open Water certified

I can’t sleep – it’s 4:20 a.m. and I have been up all night online planning out my next dive trip.  Here I am, after only having completed 15 dives in my life, completely and utterly addicted to swimming and breathing underwater.  And this brand new temporary Advanced Open Water (AOW) cert card is burning a hole in my wallet.  Even though it has only been a week since my last dive, I am hell bent to get back into the water to continue improving my diving skills.  Alas, I live in chilly North Carolina in the center of the state where we only have a freezing cold, nearly-no visibility dank quarry to dive in.  True, we’ve got a lot of world-class wreck diving on our coast, but in November, nah, not going to happen for this heat-seeking Southern gal.  For now, I’m all about the warm water diving in clear, calm seas.

I will confess something to you – I am deeply regretting not having discovered diving sooner in life.  I’m in my 40s and I feel like I don’t have enough time left in life to catch up to folks who have been diving since they were little kids.  I would love to build a life around diving, but I worry that I have aged out of developing a career around my new passion.  That I can never catch up to match the professionalism and experience of folks who have been diving their entire lives so I will not be able to compete at a professional level because there just ain’t enough time.  The thing is, though, that worry has me more determined than ever to develop my skills and confidence in and under the water.  I am inspired and I aim to roll with that – into oceans the world over.

So, what went down in the Keys for my final adventure dive – Deep Diving – to finally finish up AOW?  I went down with my instructor and two other experienced divers who were along to take pictures of the reef and sea life.  One of the dudes in my group was sporting a $20,000 camera.  That’s right TWENTY THOUSAND dollars.  So, as you can imagine, he was hell bent to get the money shots while down in the deep water to get his money’s worth out of that set up.  On the boat, his gear was laid out at my feet and I kept thinking, “Holy shit, I could buy a brand new car with this bag of gear.”  But then I thought, “Nah, I’d rather buy plane tickets to go to Indonesia to dive.  But still…”
This guy with the expensive camera is a lawyer in Ft. Lauderdale.  He told me that he once took a year off from lawyering to live on his boat and dive.  But, alas, he lamented, his diving habit forced him back to his highly paid job.  Plus, he said he’s got a beach house in Key Largo he’s gotta pay for.  Life can be so difficult, can’t it?  I will say, he was really encouraging and never made me feel bad about the new diver in the group.

So, for the Deep Dive, we went down to about 85 or 90 feet.  At this point in time, I’d only had about 12 dives total in my life.  And I had only started boat diving a couple of days before.  So, yeah, I confess, I was nervous as fuck.  I kept telling myself – hell, girl, you’ve already been to 60 feet for Open Water, what’s 20 or 30 more?  My nervousness had me breathing hard.  And I realized that I didn’t really have a dive buddy down there – the other 2 divers were focused on taking pictures of all of the nurse sharks and sea turtles swarming around.  And my dive instructor was focused on picking up some lobsters and spearfishing lionfish.  I realized on this dive that there comes a time when you have to be comfortable with people darting around you and accept that you are no longer the center of your dive instructor’s universe – you will not be getting your hand held anymore. People get distracted and you have to be able to rely on yourself and no one else.  I realized that I need to always make sure that I have ALL of the equipment I might need (safety sausage, knife, etc.) to handle things on my own – and not count on my divemaster or buddy to have packed it all.  Of course, PADI teaches you this in the training courses – but no amount of reading compares to learning “in the field” and realizing out of sheer practicality what you need and what you need to do to make sure you live to dive another day.  You gotta always stay focused should you find yourself on your own.

On this Deep Dive, I also realized how vocational AND psychological this hobby is (is diving a hobby or a sport? I’m not sure).  There is something very deep and existential and intellectual about this exercise.  That combined with the practicality and vocationality of it really appeals to me.  God, I love diving.

So, anyway, I was breathing hard on this Deep Dive and, as you experienced divers know, I was using up air a lot more quickly being down so deep.  I checked my air and noticed I need to go ahead and head up to my safety stop.  But the other two divers and my instructor had about 15 more minutes of solid air time left and they were staying down.  My instructor signaled for me to go up by myself.  This was my first time on my own under water and my first time relying ONLY on my dive computer (and not an instructor pointing out to me) to make the safety stop at 15 feet for 3 minutes.  I thought I would be panicked as hell, but, to my surprise, my knowledge training and past experience (limited as it was) kicked in and I thought, just follow the process you’ve learned and trust your computer.  I was really calm and hyper focused on doing everything correctly.  I will say, hanging there alone in that water with nothing to look at did make me start feeling like I was in a sensory deprivation tank.  Not fun.

So, after 3 minutes, I ascended to the surface on the line.  One of the boat crew informed me to wait a minute – don’t come to the ladder just yet BECAUSE THERE WAS A MASSIVE MAN OF WAR hanging out next to me.  Sweet Lord have mercy.  And, yet, I was calm and it didn’t bother me – I surprised myself.  I simply trusted the crew to tell me when it was safe to come on board and floated calmly at the surface.  Bottom line, throughout the entire dive, after many unexpected things happening, I waited for panic and stress to grip me – but that never ever happened.

If you had been with me back in April when I couldn’t even descend 2 feet without completely panicking and freaking out, you would not believe this was the same woman in the water now finishing up her AOW.  The flip switched for me when I finally conquered mask removal.  I know, I know, crazier things will eventually happen in the water and real stress and panic can happen at any time – but I no longer let the worry of that deter me.  I’ll deal with it – and I WANT to deal with it so that I can become a safe and skilled diver capable of teaching others.

So, what’s next for me?  I’ve got to get around to finishing up my Enriched Air course.  And, I am ready to start looking at the Rescue Diver course.  I’m going to go ahead and get re-certified in CPR in the next couple of weeks (my certification lapsed last year) and start the online coursework for Rescue.  I definitely plan to go professional.  I cannot help myself – I can think of nothing else but diving.  I am humble about my (lack of) ability and experience and grateful for being able to dive – and I want to maintain both that humbleness and gratefulness throughout my diving life.  Diving has, in fact, changed my life – caused me to push myself in ways I usually don’t do in the daily grind.  And I’m gonna chase that thrilling and magical feeling to…ah, well, dear reader…I shall go where the current takes me.

P.S. I did decide that I don’t want to live in the Keys.  It is more expensive than living on a Caribbean island, there is no job market for my career experience, and the water visibility is good but nowhere close to the clarity I have experience in the Virgin Islands and Curacao.  That said, I am still considering a move to south Florida – I can easily get a great job, would be close to decent diving all year round and could easily get to the Caribbean from Miami.  I could definitely work up to all of my professional certs in Florida.  Decisions, decisions.

My very first boat dive, thoughts on newbie diving in the Florida Keys, and asshole divers on social media

Yesterday I finished up my very first boat dives as a new Open Water certified scuba diver.  I’m down here checking out the Florida Keys to decide if I would prefer to move here instead of Curacao.  It would be a helluva lot easier as an American to just pack up my stuff, put my dog in the car, and drive down to the Keys, where I could immediately start working without worrying about permits and residency.  So, this diving trip down to the Keys is also a reconnaissance mission. 

So, back to my first boat dive. Until yesterday, I’d only been shore diving in Curacao and in our murky nearly-no visibility quarry in Raleigh, NC.  And I only had seven dives under my weight-laden dive belt. I’ll admit, I barely slept the night before the boat dive. I was so worried – not about being in the water.  But about holding up the rest of the folks on the boat. I have trouble descending – it takes my ears forever to equalize. What if I panicked and had to ascend before everyone?  Would it hold up the show and piss everyone off?  

I will say, I was truly worried about being a new diver with a group of people I don’t know and who are focused solely on their own dive buddy or group. I was the only solo diver scheduled for the trip without a buddy.  Another thing that increased my anxiety was reading some of the threads in these Facebook scuba diving group pages. Some of these guys – and they are always male divers – can get really nasty and judgemental in these social media groups – constantly bitching about how much it sucks to have to dive with new divers on boat trips and how much they hate dealing with newbies, etc., etc., etc.  So many of these guys bitch and judge constantly in these groups – about being new, about the kinds of equipment people use (they are always bitching about and making fun of people who use split fins), about questions people have as they try to learn this new hobby. These nasty folks made me feel already more uncomfortable about diving – and I am in the phase of trying to build confidence in the water. I wonder if some of these people forgot that they were new once too.  And that one of the attractions of diving is the community and comraderie of diving. If you are going to dive, don’t be a fucking dick.

Anyway.  On to the boat dive.  The boat crew and captain calmed me down immediately.  My divemaster said he would be with me and we’re just going to focus on having fun and building confidence in the water.  His calm, open demeanor calmed me down right away. He made sure I felt no shame in being a newbie and that I must not worry at all about anybody else on the dive – that everyone is certified and they are free to go do their own thing.  So I am not holding anyone up. Also, all of the crew had tattoos so we spent a while comparing ink. Again, all of this made me comfortable and connected to the crew – which is important for me. 

I have no problem or fear about jumping into the water, that’s fun.  Except for the moon jellyfish floating all around – pretty common here in the Keys.  And the day was perfect for my 1st boat dive – the water was so damn calm and placid that it was like a swimming pool.  Unreal. The captain told me this is unusual for November in the Keys – that usually it gets quite windy. So, I wasn’t worried about my first time ever getting BACK INTO a boat with my dive gear on and trying not to be killed by a flailing metal ladder. 

So, once I got in and went down (with my divemaster going down the line with me as I slowly equalized – dammit, I cannot easily or quickly get those ears equalized).  I gotta tell you – I was FREAKED out by all of the people darting around me, above me and below me. I was so focused on not running into people and keeping people out of my space, I couldn’t focus on anything else – including the zillion beautiful nurse sharks swimming around me and the massive moray eel that was swimming up to and around the divers (evidently he gets fed a lot from other boats and isn’t afraid of people – he seems curious about them) and all of the lobsters hiding under the reef.  As always, I overthink EVERYTHING and was crazy concerned about staying out of the way of people. I didn’t expect that to bother me as much as it did. And since I didn’t know any of these people, I really didn’t want them to think I was an inconsiderate asshole all up in their grill. I did notice that some folks don’t give a damn about other peoples’ space and just dart around like hummingbirds, bumping into everyone. I never want to be THAT guy. 

One more thing – in November, the water is about 75 degrees and everyone had on wetsuits.  I cannot stand to wear a wetsuit – I feel confined and like I am suffocating. So I decided to dive without one – I was never cold for one moment.  Though, I do have some good natural padding to keep me warm. Again, I didn’t want to add one more thing to my list of things that I was uncomfortable about.  Now, I only did shallow dives from the boat – not sure what a deep dive would be like. I am planning to finish deep and wreck diving here in the Keys to finish out my Advance Open Water cert.  I’ll let you know how that goes. And if I freeze my ass off. 

The problem with being so concerned about moving out of the way and being focused on where people are is that I also was trying to get a solid grip on my buoyancy.  So, let’s say, you are trying to move out of the way of some dude lumbering about with a camera who is about to kick you in the head, well, you want to jet left but there is a giant coral formation a couple of feet in your path – you gotta be quick in the way you breathe to ascend a bit so you don’t kick or hit the coral.  Again, as a new diver, multi-tasking is stressful – but it is so important to just jump into the fray and develop your skills. It’s like driving a car – you learn to do a lot of shit at once, operating on instinct to manage the obstacles around you. My entire first dive was focused on task managing so, like I said, I didn’t really fully get to appreciate the beautiful sea life teeming about me.  

If I ever end up teaching diving, I will talk with my new divers about the “swarm” factor for their first boat dives – about group etiquette and what it’s like when a gang of people are around you checking out the reef and give them some idea of what to expect – but assure them they can only really worry about what they can see in front of and below them.  And that over time, you’ll be able to immediately take in, assess, and appreciate everything going on around you – that includes people, sea life, and geography.  Whew, there’s a lot to process in diving, but, even after only 10 dives, I can tell you from first hand experience, it gets exponentially easier with every dive.

For the 2nd dive, I went down on the line a lot easier – I was much more comfortable and took on the attitude “I cannot control what the divers around me are going to do – I can only be conscientious about what I am doing.”  Once I accepted that mantra and accepted that yes, people will bump into one another and yes, you might get your mask kicked off, well, I was able to calm down and have fun. And I realized that I don’t have to follow my divemaster around like a scared puppy – as long as we can see one another and check back with “OK” now and again, I’m good to go.  I will say, at some point in the dive, my nose got completely congested and I could not blow to clear my mask. The thing is, I didn’t panic. I get now why the mask clearing exercise for OW certification is so important. The pressure in my head got too intense down on the reef so I just slowly ascended until it was relieved. Not sure how to go about clearing out a full blown snot stoppage while diving – I was worried to blow too hard lest I hurt something (why does everything you say in diving sound dirty and sexual – I love it).  

The captain and crew had also put out shark bait as part of some kind shark awareness program they are newly involved in.  But, alas, only the nurse sharks came to check it out. By the way, the shark bait was iguanas – apparently they are overrunning the island and wreaking all kinds of havoc.  So, I gotta say, it was surreal seeing iguanas floating all over the reef while I was down there. And, of course, you’re always a bit nervous waiting for a reef shark or a hammerhead to show up.  But I was thinking, hell yes, bring on the sharks baby!

Afterwards, on the way back to the marina, I chatted with one of the crew members about how much calmer I felt on this 2nd dive.  She told me she was watching me down there and that I look so comfortable and calm in the water. “I can see that you know exactly what you are doing, Angela, you’re just thinking too much about it.  You’re overthinking everything.” And she was totally right. I cannot tell new divers to not overthink – I know that if that is how your brain is hardwired, then you’ll do it. But I can tell you, just keep plugging along – every single dive is about building up that confidence and comfort zone.  About encountering some new element to diving, about dealing with the problems that pop up (and they will). What has been key for me is to take this slowly – do not get too ahead of yourself. You don’t have to get all of the certifications in 6 months (unless you, of course, somehow take to diving like a fish and have no issues – I am not one of those people).  For me, diving is helping me face so many fears and move out of my comfort zone – and the reward is this magical experience of free floating up close with beautiful sea creatures who deserve our respect and care. I’ve developed a new love and appreciation for the ocean. And my interest in the business and psychology of diving is developing.  

Oh, and, and one more thing.  I LOVE boat diving more than shore diving – if you are doing multi-day diving, the crew takes care of everything.  And, with this particular dive center – I do mean EVERYTHING. You can even leave your boots, mask, and fins and they rinse all of that off for you and set up for the next day.  All you have to do is walk off the boat and grab a beer. Now that kind of service, well, that’s damn fine. So, onward and downward into the glorious seas shall I roam…thank you universe for turning me on to the world of diving. I only wish I has started as a kid and not here in middle-age – so much I have missed.  But, I plan to make up for those lost years.  

Angela’s Diving Diary – Building My Confidence One Dive At a Time

[Diary from before I went to finish OW – I was diving to gain confidence in the water.] Sept. 3 – I DID IT! Today I had my very first full dive just for fun my lovely divemaster Laura at Coral Estates in Curaçao. At this point I have the Scuba cert. Afterwards, she said I was so calm and comfortable in the water – that I did an amazing job. Though, I keep going a bit vertical which is making me kick harder. I felt so calm. And I will tell you why – 1) she frequently swam backwards and beside me to let me know her eyes were always on me 2) she had me review basic skills before we went out – I realized I was very comfortable with my basic skills which made me confident 3)she asked me to do something just for fun that will help later with Open Water – take off my mask and breathe with the reg while floating. It was so easy – I didn’t know I could do it. She then said – we don’t even need this today for having fun – but now you know you can do more than you need. I felt like a master when she said that. Again, she built my confidence. Before I knew it, we were at the reef and over the wall. I was able to completely relax and focus on the sea life. I saw a massive flounder undulating and dancing a full ballet in the water AND baby trunk fish and other stuff I don’t know what because I need a Fish ID course…I had so much fun and pure joy and I am at a new level of progress. I have never been so happy in my life. I cannot stop smiling. I sat at the beach bar after by the dive shop and sipped a gin and tonic, watching the sun set and feeling like a million dollars. One thing I have learned about diving for myself –I must build confidence at my pace – and that this whole process is one of building and scaffolding. Oh, Curaçao, I love you.

My last clear memory happened in Curacao

I am in a state of limbo since I left Curacao.  The last clear memory I have of anything is of a slow-motion stingray that could not be touched through the turquoise sea where, all afternoon, zippy parrot fish eyeballed me in a very desultory fashion. Ah!
I mean, this means I’ve lost my soul to the sea, correct?

Finally, after 5 months of trying, I got Open Water. Now what? Well, I’ll tell you.

Back at it. I LOVE LOVE my dive shop in Raleigh – but it’s dangerous. Came in a couple of hours ago to get an adjustment on my regulator – and left with new equipment, put down a deposit on a boat dive trip to Bonaire coming up, signed up for the Advanced Open Water cert, signed up for the Night Dive campout at the quarry in a couple of weeks, and a boat dive in South Carolina. I am officially hooked, line and sinker.

I’d better leave the dive shop before I sign up for the Honduras dive.  I have developed an addiction and I got it bad.  But I want to get AOW before I move to Curacao.  I want to be full-on ready to take advantage of all of the diving possibilities this island has to offer.

extraordinary me: does he take his pants all the way off to do it

Tonight, while creating categories within my new dive-themed move to the Caribbean blog (sex, dating, diving, all-things-Curacao), I decided to be true to myself – the flaming liberal, social justice side of myself – and include a section about that.  Much of this particular section will be focused on ocean conservation but there will be many jabs at Trump. Conservatives may freely enjoy the dive-instructor-dick stories, but might want to judiciously avoid the “From the Mind of a Flaming Liberal”  category. And, to kick off the new blog category, I will share a little poem I wrote just for such an occasion:

extraordinary me
by angela perez

when trump eats breakfast
who sits next to him does he
crack a hardboiled egg on the presidential plate and pick up
greasy fried hashbrowns with his little orange nubs
does he watch t.v. while some kind of brown man fills
a crystal cup with ice cold Diet Coke.
last night did trump dream of lady pussies with
no hair and no body cajoling him
to press his cheek against a frozen window pane
and speak of joy not monstrously stitched
to that gray-gold empire where a Slavic wife scowls
in gossamer Dolce & Gabbana

is there a tanning bed in the white house
and does he tweet while shitting in the toilet
when he makes love, in what direction does his hair flow
Mr. President, do you fuck all-the-way naked or just pull your junk through an open zipper

oh people, my people, my bony heart is a graveyard of fake news and tan liars
who run away but don’t get far and then wither. Believe extraordinary me.