My Last American Adventure
Ultimately, this post is about me getting my PADI Open Water Diver Certification last weekend, which means I can go scuba diving wherever and whenever I want for the rest of my life. But first, we have to talk about Robby. Because he was supposed to get certified too. “Was” being the keyword there. If you want to skip the horror stories (they’re totally worth reading, though!), and read about my actual dives, go here.
Robby gets hurt on my watch, Part II
Saturday morning, 8am. Along with six other people, we get fitted for all sorts of gear. We’re diving in the freezing cold waters of Monterey Bay (they actually hit 60° that weekend, which is huge). Basically, cold water means thick neoprene wetsuits, hoods, gloves, and booties in addition to our masks, fins, dive computers, BCDs, and weight belts. Poor Robby is too small to fit well into any of the gear, so he has the hardest time getting suited up.
But we finally get out into the water, and start our first descent. I get to the bottom, look back and see Robby. Start swimming forward along the rope as instructed, look back, and don’t see Robby. By the time I get our instructor’s attention, I’m panicking. I’m supposed to be his buddy! I’m supposed to be responsible for him. John (our instructor) goes up to the surface to look for him and is there for what seems like hours, but was probably not even 60 seconds. He then comes down, and signals for us to all swim back to the surface.
Then we’re swimming back in. Nobody really knows what is going on, but John is pulling Robby in using the tired diver tow we all had to master in the pool dives. Robby’s mask and fins come off. I take them. Robby’s weight belt comes off. Someone else takes it. Robby’s BCD comes off. John carries it, and tries to get Robby up the beach. He can’t even walk in a straight line. He’s got a headache. He’s exhausted and out of breath. I have NO IDEA what happened.
While we walk him slowly up the beach, up the stairs, across the parking lot, and into the dive shop, I get the story out of John. He came up to the surface and saw Robby, mask halfway up his face, regulator out of his mouth, starting to swim back down. He swam over, shoved the regulator back in his mouth, inflated Robby’s BCD, and got him back to our group’s buoy before coming down to bring him back up.
When we get to the dive shop, they get the oxygen tank for Robby. I find my phone and call Dad. The dive shop insists on calling the paramedics, though I beg them not to. (As soon as my Dad shows up, he’ll know all the questions to ask. If he needs to call them, he will.) To no avail. First the fire truck, then the ambulance, then the minivan. By that point, Robby’s kicking me again from annoyance, so I know he’ll be fine.
My dad gets the lowdown from the medics, loads him up, and takes him back to the hotel. I continue diving. He’s lethargic, which indicates a head injury, but there is absolutely no way he hit his head in the middle of the ocean.
So they come to pick me up. We go to lunch. Robby promptly pukes. Five times. (Another indication of the non-existent head injury, by the way.) We go back to the hotel. He continues puking any time he puts a piece of food in his mouth for the remainder of the night.
Poor kid got the 24 hour flu, but got over it in time to start school on Monday.
And I think it’ll be a while before he tries scuba diving again.
Robby gets hurt on my watch, Part I
I have to mention this, because this was the story running through my mind the ENTIRE incident above. From the moment I couldn’t find him underground until we decided he’d just gotten the flu. It happened about five years ago, up in Tahoe.
We were skiing with close family friends, and the boys (Robby and his friend Kai) wanted to do one more run, while everyone else wanted a break for lunch. I said I’d take them. On the way up the chairlift, they decided to hit the terrain park. If you don’t see where this is going already, you’ve clearly never been skiing with crazy daredevil children.
Kai is a gymnast. And a daredevil. He broke his leg a couple summers previously skateboarding down our hill. So, naturally, I went to warn him. Don’t do anything crazy. These are big jumps, be careful. Turned to Robby to tell him the same thing, but he’s not there.
He’s already approaching the jump.
You know how they say everything starts happening in slow motion in moments of disaster? It’s totally true.
I watched in slow motion (and black and white, strangely enough) as my baby brother went off a huge jump. As he started to rotate in midair. As he came down, head first.
Now, I can ski really fast. Even faster, apparently, when I had adrenaline coursing through my veins. I got there before he even realized he had hit the ground, just as he was starting to try to get up. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching my father do assessments on the mountain (he’s a ski patroller), its that someone with a possible neck or back injury does not move. So that’s what I did. I didn’t let Robby move. Not a muscle. I sent Kai up to the top of the jump to put his skis in an “X” to keep others from coming over and landing on us. Luckily, an employee also saw the jump (fall?), and immediately radioed for ski patrol, so it wasn’t long until I wasn’t in charge anymore.
I kept Kai back, answered their questions, and watched helplessly as my baby brother got loaded up. Neck brace, backboard, oxygen, sled. I figured out where they were taking him, and Kai and I followed the sled down the mountain. When we hit the lunch spot, I rushed in, crying, to tell my Dad what had happened. He ran out, like the patroller he is, and told the rest of us we might as well finish lunch. I got a hot chocolate – a rare occasion for my family in the realm of overpriced mountain food.
By the time we finished lunch and got down the hill, Dad had determined Robby was a-ok. He had thoroughly confused the patrollers by walking into First Aid and asking his son all their assessment questions, and relieved them by coming to the same conclusion. Thank God.
So…this is what this post was actually supposed to be about. Oops. I got to make four dives (including the aforementioned brother disaster). During the second and third dives, we mostly proved our abilities to complete tasks underwater, such as clearing our masks, sharing our air supply, and using an underwater compass. That said, I didn’t see the point of just sitting around waiting my turn. We were supposed to stay near a rope that John had anchored into the ground, so I did. But near includes fully stretched out on the sea floor having staring contests with fish, right?
In those first three dives, I saw a bunch of cool stuff, including a dinner plate sized twenty-three legged sun star that was using its little sucker tentacle thingies to move itself across the sea floor. I watched it until it came to a stop beside a similarly sized bright yellow starfish, which was absolutely gorgeous. It literally didn’t look real, and I wished then that I had brought a camera. I also saw a few brown and red fish hiding in the kelp, dozens of flounders, and a weird-ass worm. It was literally a worm, about twelve inches long, with no apparent head, that John pulled out of a hole in the ground. I literally stared at a fish for a couple of minutes (it had twelve spikes on its fin and an eerily black eye), and I watched an octopus about eight inches long slip out of one hole in the sand and into another. In addition, before we even got in the water, we saw three porpoises diving in and out of the water, a couple of sea otters, and heard dozens of sea lions and elephant seals. Plus the terns and other birds darting in and out of the water.
On our fourth and final dive, we got to go on a mini tour of the sea floor. We started out just swimming around in the kelp. I saw a huge crab, walking easily a foot of the ground, with a round body at least 18 inches in diameter. Imagine a daddy long legs spider, only underwater, and with a shell. And pink. It was pretty fascinating. As we swam around, I saw another octopus and two squid (you can tell them apart based on their body shape). We came to a spot where the kelp no longer grew. I suspect we got just a bit deeper, and there wasn’t enough sunlight anymore. There were hundreds of red starfish, with a six-legged star here and there. They were no more than a meter apart, and continued for as far as I could see. After a while, I noticed little black lines in the sand between the starfish, and realized they were sand dollars. Did you know sand dollars and black and hairy and mostly hidden vertically in the sand when they’re alive? Only the dead ones are white, because they lose their black fur-like stuff (which is actually pretty spiky). I found a few white sand dollars sitting around, and brought one out for Robby. I also found the jaw bone of some sort of animal, which was a little creepy, but very cool. It almost looked like half of a piranha’s jaw, with ten or so little spiky teeth.
Just before we surfaced and came in, we swam to an old ship’s anchor, which was covered in starfish. In addition to the little (six-inch diameter) reddish pink five-pointed starfish, there were a couple of giant white five-pointed starfish and a HUGE sunstar that made the one I saw in my second dive look tiny. Imagine the size of an anchor. This one starfish covered easily three quarters of the back side of the anchor. If I had to guess, I’d say it was between 40 and 50 centimeters in diameter.
So there you have it, my trip to Monterey in a nutshell. I am now a card carrying member of PADI (and HI, but that’s a different story) and am fully prepared to go scuba diving whenever and wherever I go next. Oh wait, that’s Prague. I doubt there will be much scuba diving there, but I suppose I’ll manage!
Also, apologies for floating between English and Metric units. I guess I’m part American, part scientist.