Open Water Scuba Certification (AKA Underwater Badassery!)

**Disclaimer** This post is pretty word heavy in the beginning. Stick with me for a little bit ’til the pictures kick in! ** Also, there’s some photo credit due to Krista as our resident photographer/ puppy sitter/ beach glass collector on the dive weekend.

One of my bucket list items is to see an octopus in it’s natural environment. It seems the best way to accomplish this is to get in there where they live (duh). Since I can’t breathe underwater and don’t foresee any reverse-Ursula-type-mermaid deals coming my way, I decided to learn to SCUBA!! Conveniently, the wife of my friend Krista owns a DIVE SHOP! Obviously, she’s a badass, and- even better – we really like her a lot! Gene wanted to get certified with me, so we decided to get our basic Open Water Certification (at least to start with).

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The amazing and talented Gretchen, owner of Under Water Works dive shop in Tigard.

Gretchen owns Under Water Works, located in downtown Tigard, Oregon. We got to take private lessons with her, which was really wonderful, but the group classes also look great! The sessions are split into two parts- classroom and pool. You get your materials ahead of time and have a reading assignment to accomplish before each class. That material is reviewed and you are tested on it, and then you get to go to the pool! At the pool, you start out with basics- how to put together your gear, how to use it, how to communicate under water – you get the idea. Then, you get to breathe underwater! OMG!

I’ll be honest. I freaked out. I was so sure I was going to be better at this than Gene (humble, I know). But, of course, he was amazing and I’m the one having a panic attack. Ok, not quite a panic attack (we’ll get to that special kind of fun later on). But I have to say, my almost-30-year-old-body was REALLY not cool with breathing underwater at first. I mean, we spent three decades NOT breathing underwater, lady, come on! The fact that you are in the shallow end of the very comfortable Tigard pool means that if you freak out, you stand up and “you good”- seems designed that way for a reason, eh? After a little deep breathing-without-a-regulator-above-water, I tried again. My brain and I had a mini battle that went something like this:

Brain: WE ARE UNDER WATER WE CANNOT BREATHE HERE PANIC PANIC PANIC SHOOOOOT LADY WHAT ARE YOU DOING –

Me: Stop it brain! We CAN breathe. CHILL! Slow dowwwwwn.

Brain: What? Really?! Are you sure? Oh… Ok. We can breathe. Cool. Hey, it’s cool down here.

Me: I know!! Hey! I’m underwater! There’s Gene! THIS IS SO COOL!

Ok, you get the gist. The second attempt was successful! Then we got the joy of trying to figure out neutral buoyancy – the idea is that you want your body to sink but NOT touch the bottom, and you hover there. That way, you get to see everything, but you won’t disturb anyone/squish anything. Sounds simple, right? WRONG. SO WRONG.

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Here’s a picture of the Suki boop, to keep you interested! 😀

Neutral buoyancy is BY FAR the hardest part (in my limited experience). As you descend, air compresses, which makes you descend faster. As you ascend, air expands, making you ascend faster. Taking a breath in expands your lungs, making you ascend some, and breathing out can make you sink some. Kicking your legs also makes you ascend slightly. Can you imagine how (in an untalented/unpracticed individual) any one of these things could combine to send you shooting up to the surface, or crashing to the bottom? It’s all good in the Tigard pool, where the only thing you’ll hurt is your knees, but in the real world you might squish someone, or destroy a home/coral, or stir up silt and ruin visibility – not to mention get stung/cut/bit by someone or something who does not appreciate you squishing them! I’m pretty sure Gretchen might actually be some kind of water creature, because she made this look effortless. Granted she has done thousands of dives, but I’m just sayin’… I might be friends with a mermaid guys!!

We got to play around practice neutral buoyancy in the deep end by going through weighted down hula-hoops (made it through a couple times, but mostly got my tank stuck). We got to play “catch” with an underwater toy – it’s harder than you think under there because water distorts your depth perception and throwing abilities quite a bit! Practicing in the pool was a great way to learn and familiarize ourselves with diving in a controlled environment.

**Be aware, there is a swimming capability test. PADI requires that you tread water/float for ten minutes AND swim 200 yards without fins/snorkel/mask (any stroke, any speed, just no stopping). **  I’ll have you know, Gene started out strong on the laps, but I totally beat him in the swim test. It is NOT a race. As Gretchen reminded us… a couple times… But, I’m just sayin’.

After all this, there’s a BIG test. We aced it. Easy peasy (jk, we studied A LOT). Then you get to do the fun part – Open Water Certification!!! We were scheduled to do this in Hoodsport one weekend in May. I, being of weak immune system this last winter, came down with ANOTHER cold, this one impacting my sinuses and I wasn’t able to clear them, so we had to cancel. We got rescheduled for June, and headed up there bright and early on a beautiful Saturday morning!

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Gretchen recommended The Glen Ayr Resort, where they usually stay. They allow pups in some rooms, so the girls got to come too!! They loved it! The Glen Ayr is right on the water, and our first dives were there, off the beach next to the dock. We just walked our gear across the street and down the stairs. Our room was very nice. It was clean, tidy, and 100% dog friendly! They had sheets to throw across the beds in case of muddy pawed & cuddly puppies (of which we have no experience, obviously), a doggo bed, water bowl, and treats! We ended up buying the girls a giant cow femur to chew on from the grocery store (best $15 I’ve spent on dog treats, since Suki and Luna are still chewing on it over two months later!).

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The view from the resort (Room #1, not our room)
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Pretty creek next to Glen Ayr, with dog walking paths.

One thing you don’t realize when you practice in the pool is how exhausting it can be to get all dressed and loaded up before the dive. Plus if it’s sunny and warm, and you are wearing 7mm of neoprene (with overlap some places) and all the weight it requires to sink in salt water, you get HOT and SWEATY and TIRED. This was probably the first time in my life where I was worried I physically couldn’t accomplish something. Not my favorite feeling. It may or may not be the reason I’m back at the gym more regularly…

So, we get in the water. We get our fins on. We inflate our BCDs as instructed. Then, we go under water, as a group! It’s weird and disorienting and cool and amazing!!! And then, all the sudden, Gene is gone. I’m serious. G-O-N-E. I can’t see him anywhere. Gretchen is looking, but obviously we can’t communicate well. So I grabbed her hand (I’m sure I was squeezing the hell out of her hand, I can’t remember), and trying to tell myself not to panic. Here’s how it went:

Brain: SHIT. Gene’s gone! He died! He’s drowning somewhere and we can’t see him!!!!! ALL MY WORST FEARS ARE HAPPENING RIGHT NOW AND I CANT DO ANYTHING! *heart beating crazy fast*breathing too fast*crazy eyes*

Me: Stay calm. Gretchen knows what she is doing. Just breathe, don’t do anything stupid. Breathe in, breathe out.

Brain: BUT WHERE IS GENE IS HE DEAD I KNOW HE’S DEAD HOW WILL I GO ON WITHOUT HIM?!?

Anyway. You get the point. VERY quickly (to me it felt like eternity at the time, but I’m pretty sure it was about 30 seconds or possibly LESS), I saw his fins, swimming at the surface. I’m sure Gretchen had eyes on him all of that time, but I didn’t, and I did NOT like that! We get to the surface, and I’m just trying to control my breathing while my brain (and my lungs) are hyperventilating! Gene calmly (CALMLY, are you FREAKING KIDDING ME) explains that his ears wouldn’t clear. Since we had turned to swim away, he couldn’t signal us, so he just decided to go back up to the surface. (Side note: this is NOT what you do when your ears won’t clear. AGAIN, I’m just sayin’. We reviewed this in class and on the way up earlier in the day) – learn this before you dive, and try to remember!

Back to the panic attack…Gretchen had to have me lay flat on my back in the water, while she held on to me, so that I could do deep breathing exercises (expertly led by her) to calm myself AND my breathing down. (Later in the weekend we decided some of my gear may have been a little too tight, which was impacting my ability to take deep breaths, so that wasn’t helping either). However! I got my shit together, and we went underwater for the second time! This time it went really well. I may have held tight onto Gene’s hand as much as possible buuuuut can ya blame me? This may or may not have impacted our ability to regulate our buoyancy, but honestly we wouldn’t have been very good at it anyway!

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Once we were down there, (almost neutrally buoyant- HA, in  my dreams!), it was AMAZING! We’ve gone to aquariums, we have watched documentaries, we both LOVE animals and have a special love for the underwater ones. All that being true, there has been nothing in my life so far that can compare to how beautiful and fascinating it was under there! The sea plants are gorgeous, the creatures are fascinating, and it is unlike anything above sea level!

I could not stop smiling. It was so exhilarating! Our second dive went even better, especially because at no point did I think Gene was dead/dying/gone. We saw a bunch of gorgeous sea stars, fish, plant life, crab, shrimp, and more! By the end of the day we were truly and thoroughly exhausted, but it was the definition of awe-some! Since we were done diving for the day, the rest of our day was lovely, relaxing and delicious!! Lunch was at the yummy El Puerto De Angeles, followed by a little Pokemon walk and shopping.

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We all did a little resting, Gene took a nap, and I hung out with the group, and later the others did another dive. We had dinner at the local pub, and then crashed for the night!

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The pier while the others dove again

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The next day was sunny and bright!

We packed up, headed north (stopped for breakfast at the cute and delicious “The Tides Family Restaurant” where Gretchen is a regular, and then made our way to the dive spot- “Octopus Hole”! (Beach not recommended for puppy paws.  😦   We learned the hard way.)

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The original plan was to have two dives on Sunday. We did our skills check offs at the beginning of our first dive, and then headed down for the dive. Visibility was not great, but we got to see a nudibranch and more jellies, and we even got to see a sculpin – one of the relatives of Gretchen’s favorite kind of fish, which was wonderful! Sadly, no octopus though. Maybe next time…

While we were on the dive, Gene had to help me fix my mask because it kept leaking. Helping each other with a problem underwater is one of the things required to be certified. Since we accomplished that and our skills, and the visibility was so poor, we didn’t do another dive. That was kind of disappointing, but I was also exhausted, so I didn’t really fight it. On the other hand, it meant that we were officially certified to dive in open water!!

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Beach glass at Octopus Hole

Krista insisted we get some lunch down the road at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon, and I have to say, I’m really glad she did. This place has a great atmosphere and fun setup- you order at the register outside, take your number to one of the picnic tables outside (either close to the building or further out by the live music), and they bring all your goodies to you. There’s beer and wine, and delicious seafood (and other) options, live music, games, and a gorgeous view.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and I am so glad we decided to get scuba certified. We learned a lot about the world and ourselves, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Let me know if you have any questions, or are interested in getting in touch with Under Water Works!

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