I recently had a chance to do something I have wanted to do for a long time, learn scuba diving. I attended a very good introduction to scuba class at the YMCA here in Elkins where we watched a short video and then spent the next two and a half hours getting familiar with the equipment - learning the basics and spending time underwater.
This was the first part in the steps to full certification, which I will probably complete in the next month or so. We went over most of the skills needed for full certification in the pool but need to take an exam after some bookwork and complete four open water dives for full certification.
Our class consisted of three students, our instructor Mark from Valley Scuba and Sport in Lewisburg, my friend Mike a dive master, and Janet who was completing her instructor certification. It was a very thorough and hands on class with a fully certified diver to assist each student get familiar with the equipment and techniques used when diving.
They provided all the gear we needed including a BCD (buoyancy compensation device) which is the most important piece of gear, it is basically a vest that holds your tank, regulator (the part you breath through), octopus (spare regulator), and gauges (so you know how much air you have left). The BCD also can be inflated or deflated to adjust for neutral buoyancy along with weights either on a belt or in pockets on some BCD models. Add a mask, snorkel, and fins, that is all you really need but a wetsuit is suggested for open water dives.
Even though I have been snorkeling many times, I have never had the chance to dive with scuba gear. The main difference that I found was getting used to the fact that you can breathe under water, something I'm not used to doing with a snorkel where you can stay down only as long as you can hold your breath. This was also the hardest thing for me to get used to when we practiced what to do if your regulator comes out of your mouth, my first reaction was to hold my breath.
In scuba with compressed air tanks, you want to release a little air from your mouth while retrieving your regulator to avoid an air embolism or the bends, not a danger in the pool but can be a concern on long dives or at depth when you ascend too quickly or while holding your breath.
The other thing that I found a little tricky was adjusting for neutral buoyancy where you want to suspend in the water to compensate for the weight of the tank and other gear. But when properly balanced you can actually inhale and rise toward the surface and exhale and descend toward the bottom in the same place, a really cool feeling.
The open water portion of the scuba certification will take place at Summersville Lake that apparently has platforms at various depths for divers and is one of the cleanest clearest lakes east of the Mississippi, I had no idea there were diving opportunities like this in the area. I also understand that Mt. Storm Lake also has platforms and is a popular place to dive because of the warm water in the lake from the power plant. In fact, scuba diving and snorkeling is permitted in all waters of the state and I look forward to exploring some of our lakes and rivers to see what is really down there.