Shark Diving was an unintended consequence of my actions!

My daughter sent me a link to this site Fiji Shark Dive and photos while I was at work the other day.  It looks fantastic, but for one little thing . . . .

Did you notice as fast as I did what’s missing – yup – CAGES!  In any normal world I can think of, there would be serious steel bars between me and/or my  nearest and dearest and any man-eating predator of the deep.  But no bars anywhere.   Oh no . .it’s free diving with sharks in Fiji.  But I guess I have only myself to blame, since this is clearly an unintended and unforseen consequence of my own actions a couple of years ago.

I was lucky enough to have my house used as a movie location shoot back in the fall of 2008.  And this wasn’t a one day thing – we moved out to a hotel for a month and my little old townhouse became one of the two main locations in the film, Tooth Fairy.   Not an Academy Award winner, I know, but it was an experience . . .and it paid well.   So well that it made it possible for me to take my daughter to Australia for a month, where we took our Open Water diving certification on the Great Barrier Reef.

We did the school and pool portion of the course here in Vancouver through the Diving Locker – they were fantastic.  Pool time was in the dive tank at UBC.   My daughter was a natural at it; she may be a quiet young woman, but she takes to adventurous activities like a fish to water – pun fully intended.   Her mom . . .well let’s say that although I really want to love scuba diving, and once I”m 40′ or 50′ down I do love it, getting there has been a challenge for me.  PADI training means that we actually do a live exercise (and self rescue) of any possible problem that might happen while you are “down below”.   PADI instructors tell you over and over that there is no problem that can’t be resolved underwater and that learning to overcome the (very natural) desire to shoot to the surface at top speed is the biggest lesson new divers have to learn.  Hmmmm, that’s a tough impulse to overcome.  

One of the drills involves completely removing your mask (while on the bottom of the pool, or better yet sitting on the bottom of the Coral Sea), continuing to breathe through your respirator for a minute, then replacing and clearing your mask.  This was a challenge that almost stopped my scuba career in its tracks.   The first time I tried it in the pool, I had a moment (or several actually) of sheer panic.  And despite the fact that my instructor (who was by the way a completely gorgeous hunka hunka burning love from South Africa) grabbed my nose (so I would breathe through the respirator in my mouth, not drown myself by panicking and breathing through my nose) I solved that little problem by kneeing him in the family jewels and shooting at top speed to the surface.  I looked like a dolphin at the Aquarium in the middle of a show – shooting wildly into the air.   He popped up a few seconds after me and managed to calm me down and gave me the option of trying it again.  Unable to contemplate the humiliation and scorn of my offspring, who had performed the skill without a qualm, I bravely donned my mask and respirator and headed to the bottom again, where by sheer strength of will I managed to complete the exercise. 

Needless to say, it was a dark moment when, several months later on the Great Barrier Reef,  our instructor on the dive boat announced that we would all have to go through the mask removal drill  40′ down and not only did we have to sit there breathing, we had to swim 100′ with only the respirator, no mask.    Sweet Jesus.   As I am now proudly a certified Open Water diver, I can say that I did manage to get that done, but the look on my face did prompt  my hunka hunka burning love Australian dive instructor (they are all gorgeous, it seems to be another PADI rule) to reach for my nose – but I waved him off and managed to suffer through it.  Done.  It’s weird, but the running out of air drills, the rescue swim drills, none of them really bothered me, only the mask removal drill. Go figure.  My daughter sailed through it all like she was born with gills.  The little darling.   Here we are hanging out at the safety stop.

Hanging out at the safety stop

That and terminal sea sickness almost ended my diving career.   In my own defence we have hit some hideous weather.  You know all those gorgeous shots you see of diving in Australia – not us.  We had big seas – even the crew were downing sea sickness pills like candy –  wind and rain.  It was warm, but on a dive boat 30 miles offshore for 3 days there is nowhere to go when you are throwing up endlessly, you just suffer.  Actually the only time I didn’t feel sick was when I was down below.   It was calm down there – and I might add, incredibly beautiful.  Once I’m down there I absolutely love being in a 360 degree world – it’s like having an extra sense.  Diving up and down a 60′ coral wall is simply amazing.   I just have a couple of problems to overcome . . . .  

Trying to dry a whole boat of wet dive gear

We went diving again in Key Largo last year – same damn problem – it was so cold the manatee’s were getting frostbite and the fish were dying – literally;  it was windy and rainy and the seas were huge.  Paige had no problem, she did a swim through cave dive, saw a shark, had a blast.   I found out that it really is possible (they told me but I didn’t believe it) to barf right through your respirator underwater and not drown.  I am doing something wrong, I know. 

Here is a picture of my daughter and I just after we came up from our certification dive.  I wasn’t going to include it, because (also contrary to advertising) diving is not a glamorous sport and the photo is not really my best . . .really not!   But then I thought, what the hell – I should be proud of what I had just accomplished, not ashamed that I didn’t look like some airbrushed model at the time.  So here we are on the Great Barrier Reef, certified Open Water divers.

Open Water Certified, Cairns, 2009

And now, having spent all that time, money and effort introducing her to diving, my daughter is off in Fiji, diving with sharks. An unintended consequence of my actions.   She left yesterday for a three-month solo backpacking trip to Australia, with a week in Fiji on the way there.  We had a heart-rending goodbye at the airport, with much sobbing on both sides.  I had a moment, as she walked through the departure gates and I watched my one precious daughter, who looked so little and so fragile at the moment, when I wanted to yell “Wait, I made a mistake.  You are far to precious to me to let you go and do all these crazy things on your own.  Come back, I was wrong”.  Now that would have been a fine Mom Moment.  I did manage to not do or say  any of that, I just walked sobbing back to my car and drove home as she winged her way to the adventure of her young life.  I encouraged her to be adventurous, courageous, to push her limits all the time.  And I have definitely led by example, but I didn’t know the consequence to me would be so traumatic.  I miss her and worry about her and I’m counting those 90+ days till she comes home.

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