Scuba Do: The Almost Undersea Adventures of Me

Laurie Sterbens with Jaws in illustration by Marianne Koch

This illustration by graphic artist Marianne Koch appeared with a March 30, 2006 story in The Daytona Beach News-Journal in which I described my dive into the shark tank at SeaWorld Orlando. In reality, I was standing in a plexiglass cage in the tank.

I have a tiny, barely noticeable but not imaginary bruise on my left shoulder. I got this injury in scuba class. Not as glamorous or exciting as a shark bite or the bends, but it does illustrate a fact about scuba diving that might surprise you: Scuba involves a lot of heavy lifting. They never show that on TV.

Scuba diving is a bucket list item for me, something I’ve wanted to do since childhood. I’m dragging my husband, Scott, along so he can be my dive buddy, though he has accused me of having him there to carry tanks and do the math. Yes, there is not only heavy lifting involved in scuba diving but math. They don’t show that on TV either. Little square-shaped problems that look suspiciously like algebra are used to determine how much nitrogen has accumulated in your blood and how soon and for how long you can dive again. I was born with an underactive math gland, so I’ll admit, having my husband along is helpful.

The heavy lifting occurs in the process of getting your scuba gear and tanks from your car to the dive site, which is apparently never anywhere close to where you have to park. In addition to a scuba tank or two that weigh about 50 pounds each, there is a bulky bouyancy compensator vest, or BC;  a weight belt that is about 10 percent of your body weight; an octupus-like configuration of hoses that attach to your tank; and your mask, snorkel and fins. All of this must be transported from the car to the dive site while, at least in this case, wearing a full wetsuit in 90-degree heat.

Like childbirth, however, once that part’s over with you forget how painful it was. Eventually we got into the water and the fun began.

We’re in the process of getting our open water diver certifications from Spruce Creek Scuba in Port Orange, Fla. Having already completed our written test and pool session, we ventured out last weekend for our first open water dive at Alexander Springs near Astor, Fla., which features crystal clear, 72-degree water and a pretty little picnic area. The spring is occupied by freshwater fish and turtles and there is rumored to be a small alligator, but on this summer Saturday the spring was primarily occupied by wall-to-wall swimming children. Navigating our way through the water was like being the underwater camera in the beach scene from “Jaws.”

In fact, I didn’t get to see the alligator or even a turtle. The most memorable sight from my dive happened as I was kneeling in about six feet of water watching our instructor, Brett, and Scott practice a skill. A very large — and by that I mean wide — boy with a serious case of “plumber’s butt” swam just above Scott’s head. I was wishing I knew a hand signal for “Hey! Plumber’s butt above!” when another kid swam up behind the first boy and pulled his swimsuit down to his knees. I really hope my diving future includes enough exciting scenery to knock that visual out of my head.

After we got the “okay” sign from our instructors for performing a variety of skills such as clearing our masks, sharing air and removing our BCs underwater and putting them back on, we did a “follow the leader” dive around the spring. Ideally, this would be an underwater tour in which the experienced instructor led us smoothly around and pointed out each feature as we nodded in rapt attention and absorbed the wonder of it all in Discovery Channel perfection. The reality was about a dozen divers bobbing around and bumping into each other at every depth level as we clumsily struggled with our bouyancy and balance.

Eventually our increasingly orderly school of divers made it around the spring and back to the shallows, then back up to the picnic area to do our math homework. Scott and I had packed sandwiches and eagerly devoured them after a morning of lifting, swimming and more lifting. You don’t see a lot of obese scuba divers; now we know why.

We have one more dive to complete before we’re certified. After that, I’m looking forward to a lifetime of underwater adventures.

Back to “Jaws”: Check out this hilarious short animated film, “Jaws in 60 Seconds.”

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