This weekend I escaped the heat wave crashing down on the Davis area and headed to Lake Tahoe in Northern California to complete my Advanced Padi Open Water scuba diving certification. I also learned to dive Nitrox, or enriched air (air that has more oxygen than typical air). Incidentally, it was also my first freshwater dive and my first dive at altitude.
Over two days I made 5 dives including adventure dives for altitude, navigation, search and recovery, and peak performance buoyancy. If you are debating about getting the advanced certification, I would heartily encourage it. I feel like I learned some really useful skills which will be important every time I dive, namely underwater navigation and buoyancy control. I am by no means an expert at either, but I feel much better already after a weekend of focused practice.
It is exciting to be getting back into scuba. I learned to dive 4 years ago while I was studying abroad in Australia. Although I was already planning on applying to graduate school to study the evolution of diversity in fishes, my experiences diving put the nail in the coffin (or treasure chest?), so to speak. I’ve been to aquariums that surround you with floor to ceiling fish tanks, letting you feel immersed by the sea life around you, but it is not the same as diving. When you dive, you have an active, search-and-discovery experience with the environment and its inhabitants, whereas aquariums provide a more a sit-and-wait type of discovery. And, unlike snorkeling, there is no constant up and down, the immediacy to breath. Instead you are cruising around with the fish on their level, swimming in their medium.
Diving helped me decide I wanted to work on fish and, in return, working on fish is giving me more opportunities to go diving (but more on that later). This summer I will be working my way from Advanced to Research Diver certifications so that I will be qualified to go collecting for my research. It really is a shame to work on fish that live in some of the most beautiful and exotic dive sites in the world, huh?