Saturday, January 21, 2012

Coca Beach - Quanacaste - Bad Scuba Diving Experience

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I choked scuba diving.  The manageress had recommended I begin with a refresher course in the pool when I told her. it was 5 years since my last dive. I didn’t want to go back to the pool. I equated it with being sent to the corner.  Not a good association really. Ego in place of brains.
Instead I asked to pay for and have an instructor one to one who would work with me on my first dive.  I’d hoped to be alone with an instructor. I’d made myself clear that’s what I wanted.
When I went out in the boat there was a group and the young master diver said he’d swim with me.   Unfortunately young women have a way with young men.  The young woman divemaster  said she needed him to help her find the way for her group.  He said he thought he was supposed to be with me alone.  She said she needed him.  What could I say? Things were going sideways fast.  He said he thought that he and I were diving alone and she said that he had to go with her and that he could just stay with me on the group dive.
I’d explained that when I’m anxious I breathe heavily and didn’t want to go with a group because I feared that my excess use of air initially would cause me to have the group returning early. This had happened once before and people complained they had to leave on my account even though we only rose 5 minutes at most before we’d otherwise would have. Most of my diving had been with just another person or three at most over the last few years.
I’d also bought the top of the line equipment some 10 years before and not used anything but my own equipment. New equipment makes me nervous. Alot of things about diving with strangers, in strange waters, makes me nervous.
Young adults who aren’t particularly professional and complain alot, talk negatively about a lot of things, about the pay,  about the day, like the coldness, the wind, the chop, etc. don’t inspire me.
Next thing I knew I was struggling in my scuba gear being rushed, really.  The fellow whose personality seemed lame began to give me some confidence as he reviewed safety matters with me.  Yet the girl was insistent that we get going and the rest of the group was obviously being held up.
I had my wet suit on with the tank and was standing about on this tossing boat thinking about how I’d hurt my back rolling my ATV in the fall and thinking this wasn’t comfortable and quite possibly not the best thing for any old guy given our backs in general.  Instead of sitting to get my flippers on I had to bend and put each on with the boat tossing and rolling and these people looking on at the slow old guy.  I was trying hard not to show how difficult standing up was but then I’d been hauling elk and deer out of the woods and doing a lot of hiking and climbing all year so figured I was probably ahead of the curve for age.  Probably I cover up very well and young party animals aren’t the most sensitive of people at the best of times.
Oh yea, I forgot to mention everyone on the boat was half my age. The instructors for sure were no more. The local fellow driving the boat may have  only been 20 years younger.  The rest might have been my children if I’d been lucky enough to know their mothers. The customers were very attractive and exceptional people I learned from talking with them.
Just to look at them the women were all hot in cute bikinis.  The men were definitely studsky.   I was thinking my pot was still there wondering how I  was I going to get rid of the mid riff bulge without being in the company of hard bodied youngsters.
Then the girl diver was telling me to step off. I’d done this 50 times years back.  Rolling off boats, stepping off boats.  Walking in from land.  I guess I would have liked to walk in from land.
It seemed I didn’t have buoyancy. I was kicking to stay up and very aware of my weight belt. The guy had told me not to touch my jacket equalizer and had said he wanted to manage my buoyancy. While he wasn’t and I was sinking. I had too much weight and I hate that feeling.  He was in the water with me and she was on the boat flashing A okay and I was flashing A okay back but feeling like I was being sucked down by my weight belt.
It was all I could do not to drop it. Meanwhile I couldn’t find the button on this gear and he’d told me not to adjust it last thing before we’d gone in the water.  I figured out later he was referring to when we deep but it was there in my head as a weird taboo.  I was hyperventilating too. The older guy on the ship told me  to switch to my snorkel to conserve air.  I did but it didn’t make things better.  I had one fellow on the boat asking me if I was okay. I was looking up at the PADI okay sign and giving it back.  Then my identified instructor was asking me the same thing.
I felt claustrophobic in the equipment.  I had an intense hatred for my weight belt. It was hard for me think I was just swimming in the water with this gravity reaching up from the very bowels of the earth to suck me in. There’s no poetry for such moments.
I figure with time I  would have settled down, got oriented. I had a hand on the anchor rope and was trying to tell my heart and lungs to cool it. Years back I’d had a panic attack and stopped it with all that yogi training I did.  I used to slow my heart for parties but I wasn’t having any fun and I didn’t trust these people.  I was work and it was clear they seemed to think that I was the problem rather than asking me about buoyancy or whatever the correct checklist was.  I was waiting for him to do something and he was all for getting rid of me.  I also felt the girl had considered me excess weight from the onset since she really didn’t seem to like old people.
I was having thoughts of having a heart attack then. I don’t know where they came from.  But when the guy in the water said let’s get him back on the boat I saw an end to my ordeal.
I think that’s when I panicked too.  Prior to that I was working to stay afloat. Now I had an out and I was glad to take it.
If I was going back then there was no way fast enough. I swam to the ladder.  I had the weight belt off and handed that up. I thought I would feel better then but I was still hyperventilating.  I got my flippers off and handed them up.  Then I was climbing the ladder out of the water with this big tank on my back .  The guy on deck was helping me with it.
I didn’t see the beautiful girls at that time. They may have still had their brightly coloured bikinis on but for all I knew the world was a bit of a blur.  I was glad to get out of the claustrophobic gear and sit down.  Sitting I was calm and collected and happy once again.
I was happy to have the tank off.  The young people went off on their dive.  The guy didn’t stay with me.  I thought that interesting since I’d paid for his time and would have liked a de briefing. In my world we are very interested in something going wrong. Back when I taught students if one of them had a panic attack or anything like that I’d go over it with them.  Young and old. But I’d taught at universities, physical skills and academic skills.  Thankfully the boat operator, the older guy was there and turned out to be a really good guy.  Local and wise. I was happy in the sun on the boat an alive.
Come to think of it I was thinking about my 93 year old father in a home complaining that he’s useless and no one wants him.  His children do but I know what he means.  All the 50 year old women and 60 year old men who have come to me to talk about their apparent overnight invisibility and the facts of agism came to mind too.
The boat operator told me:
“I used to be a dive tour guide.  I started driving the boat. If I don’t dive for a year I feel a little panic getting back in the deep water. All the guys I’ve seen who have what happened to you happen to them hadn’t been diving for a year or two.  It’s the normal thing then.”
It was nice of him to say that. As the saying goes he may well have been just being a good guy.  I don’t think so.
I was wondering if I really wanted to keep up diving. I’d got sinusitis when I started my divemaster course in Canada 5 years ago.  It had taken nearly two years for my sinuses return to normal.  I’d remembered then that I’d been the oldest guy at that school.  My good friend though had been diving into until nearly 70 and he was the one who recommended Costa Rica.
Then I remember too, all the talk of sharks hadn’t helped. This was a heavily shark infested area apparently and the girl diver  was  looking forward to seeing sharks. I’d swum with the sharks in the Pacific Islands where they’d had a feeding fest on the Americans and Japanese after the war.  I’d seen my fill and wasn’t excited about meeting any here.  I had had enough to worry about strange equipment, loss of the dive master, suddenly thrown into a group and the prospect of being eatten by a shark thrown into the mix.  Maybe that didn’t quite set the right tone for me.
I’m getting older, 60 in a couple of months. While I like doing things that keep me in shape my work is so sedentary that I’m going from hardly moving to overdrive.  Weekends and for weeks at a time in the fall I’d been ATV’ing and hiking in the mountains.  Shooting the elk in the fall and spending a day packing out hundred of pounds of meat over bog  a mile or so through bog and uphill hadn’t been that appealing.  Shooting the two deer earlier had been a lot of work too. Solo sailing, even if I’ve not crossed an ocean in a few years, is still something on the pacific coast .I enjoy riding my Harley and have done days of long distance driving.  I’d guess I’m in pretty good shape given what I do.
So I enjoyed sitting on the boat thinking about life in general and where I was right that moment.  Sitting on a boat in a harbour on a sunny day bouncing about on anchor is always a great experience. When the group came up they went down again. I’d thought I might be asked if I wanted to give it another go. I would have gladly then.  But I wasn’t with the group and the group was what it was about. I knew that. I’d made arrangements and  paid for a very different dynamic but boys and girls will take a few years yet to understand.   I certainly wondered with grave reqret how many times over the years I’d been as insensitive to my elders.  It’s all I can do to show my father the respect he deserves.
He’s bent over with age now and walking is hard with his knees.  He’d rather sit or lie down and doesn’t take kindly to my brother or I pushing him to walk more.
I snorkelled while the group was down for it’s second dive.  THe boat operator told me where the best snorkelling was and encouraged me. I even got a couple of nice pictures. Lots of fish on the reef near by. No sharks, thank goodness.
I had anxiety diving and returning for air the first time I dove snorkelly.  I seemed not to have enough and couldn’t get my breath at the top. It was all psychological. A little while later I’d stilled my fears and was swimming and diving just fine each time staying longer and longer below the surface.  So much psychology to all this.  Memories of near drownings as a child and the close calls as an adult.  I’ll never forget getting caught in those rip tides.
I’m old enough too that I’ve got a near death experience tied to everyone of my outdoor activities. I don’t know why they’re coming back to haunt me now.  Something to do with aging. PTSD probably.
The police just walked by. A couple serious children in uniform and flak jackets and holstered  guns.  They looked  like teen agers.
The others were fine with me.  I was just a stranger who had had a personal trial. Cowardice would be what it’s marked up to. That and being old. I didn’t show well for the nearly 60 crowd.  My Dad was hang gliding in his 70’s.   My older brother Ron still plays competitive soccer.
I remember when I started out as a surgical intern, old people would be nervous with my  young age. My colleague who looked younger used to get, “Can you send in your father.”
I know what they mean now. Last thing I want to do is end up in hospital with kids treating me. Yet that’s not that far around the corner.
I think I need to go back out but with an old guy   An old gal would do too.  Someone who could understand.  At least relate to me.
I talked to the Resort Dive Shop at the Hilton Papalagayos Resort.  They’ve got one guy in his 50’s, an instructor with alot of experience, whose going to check me out in the pool and then take me out, just him and I in the boat.  I think it’s going to go better.
I'm  writing this now though unless it isn't.
(Addendum: I faced my fears. I didn't go back to the Coca Beach dive shop I'd gone to initially. I've specifically not mentioned their name because I think most PADI dive outfits are pretty good and I wouldn't want anyone turned off by my personal experience.  I would hope that older people would learn from it and that PADI outfitters would take some time to be more selective and do better training with their staff. It's not enough to just like diving when it comes to taking groups out and instruction.

After that experience I  approached the wonderful people at RESORT DIVERS in Quanacaste. I'd arranged a Saturday dive with them before leaving Canada. I had considered calling it off.  Fact was I was seriously considering never diving again.  RESORT DIVERS  have an office at the Hilton Papagayo. I've seen their name elsewhere in Quanacaste so think they may work out of other sites as well.  I explained to the beautiful women at the front desk  my problem, the sinusitis, the anxiety about diving after the sinusitis clearedt, the 5 years off diving and then the recent bad experience and panic attack.

They said Robert, their dive master, was in his 50’s, had 17 years of diving and instructing in this area with 10’s of thousands of dives locally.  They asked him. He said he’d take me out.  I watched him coach a couple of new comers in the pool later that day.  I was impressed.  So I went out with him.  He told me I’d been rushed and that anyone who is anxious gets more anxious when they are rushed. He’d go at my time.  Break it up in parts, slowly.  We did.  And I had the best dive I’ve had in years. I told Robert he wasn’t only a dive instructor, he was a psychologist.  He laughed. “I came here from Belgium 17 years ago and the best part is they pay me to do this.”  It was obvious he loved to dive, loved to teach and didn’t want anyone to have a bad experience diving.  His heart and soul was in what he was doing. I was very very thankful. )

1 comment:

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