Let’s be honest, you are likely a little nervous about your first scuba dive. This will be your first time in the ocean breathing underwater and exploring the underwater world. What will it be like? What will you feel? What will you see? We wanted to tell you about your first dive so you have some idea of what to expect.
If you’re preparing for your first open water dive, then you’ve probably already done the classroom and pool sessions in your course. The pool sessions have given you an idea of what your open water dive will be like; but it’s similar to trying a chocolate chip cookie and knowing what all cookies are like.
First, you are going to be wearing a lot of equipment and it will at first feel restrictive and bulky. You won’t have your usual dexterity with your hands and your body will feel restricted, bulky, and even a bit clumsy. In addition, the neck and wrist seals on your drysuit may feel tight. This will keep water out and once you’re in the water, you won’t realize they’re there. As with all of things that give you pause or concern, if it’s really uncomfortable, make sure to tell your instructor. Taken all together, you may feel awkward and a bit uncomfortable. This will all change once you get in the water.
You will do a thorough equipment match and gear check under the watchful eyes of your instructor and once you have made sure that all your equipment is on and working correctly, you will be able to enter the water. The walk into the water will be different as you’ll be wearing several layers, a hood, gloves, and about 75 pounds on your back. Initially you will feel the pressure start to squeeze your drysuit along your legs and once you get out into the water that is deeper than your waist, you will start to feel less and less “heavy” as the water starts to make you buoyant. This will affect your balance a little bit as you will weigh less as the water gets higher. This is one of diver’s favorite moments though, as weightlessness is an incredible feeling, especially after hauling ~75 pounds down the beach!
If you’re learning to dive through Eight Diving, you will be pleasantly surprised that you’re not cold once you enter the ~55-degree water since you’ll be dry with the exception of your face and head. If you’re learning elsewhere, you’ll probably be in a wetsuit and, well, you’ll be wet and thus, most likely cold.
Depending on where you are diving, when you put your regulator in your mouth and put your face under water, you are going to be amazed with what you can see! You may see fish and crustaceans right away and there will be various kinds of underwater flora. Remember that everything you see will be appear nearly 1/3 closer and larger than on the surface. Sound also travels hundreds of times faster in water than in air, and you may hear boats and other sounds from far away as if they were right beside you. But the loudest sound you will hear will be the bubbles from your exhalation from your regulator!
As you descend a little deeper, you will start to feel the pressure on your ears and you will feel your mask sticking on to your face a little tighter. This is easily fixed by exhaling slightly through your nose and it will become second nature to do this before your first dive is over. You may need to clear your ears several times as you descend. For most divers, this will also become second nature.
Throughout your descent, and every descent from this point forward, you will feel your drysuit squeeze tighter and tighter. As the drysuit squeezes, you will press your drysuit inflator to add some gas into your drysuit which will decrease the squeeze. You will also have to put some air into your wing or buoyancy compensating device (BCD) to compensate for the volume of gas will also shrink as you descend, much like your drysuit squeezed tighter. Managing your buoyancy is challenging so don’t worry that you are all over the place\. Maintaining neutral buoyancy will remain a focus for you for nearly all of your diving career, so do not expect perfection on your first dive. Don’t fret, controlling your buoyancy and trim will get easier with practice and your instructor will help you learn some tips and tricks.
Now that you’ve descended and you’re swimming close to the bottom, you will see an ocean aquarium at your fingertips! You’ll also notice the feeling of “weightlessness” and you can move in three dimensions with hardly any effort. It’s an amazing experience and one that will continue to bring you back into the water forever.
In addition to the new sites and sensations you’ll notice your field of view may seem a little restricted. The strangest thing will most likely be that you are now looking at the world from the horizontal perspective of a fish instead of the vertical perspective of an upright bipedal mammal! This may encourage you to want to try and get more vertical, but you’’ need to resist that temptation. Fish are horizontal because that is the way they present the least amount of drag to their environment. We want to copy the way they move but it takes time to do it well. Have patience and enjoy the learning experience!
Remember, it is totally normal to feel a little overwhelmed on your first dive, and potentially second, third, and maybe even forth. You are breathing in water, surrounded by changing pressure, different sights, different sounds and even different temperatures than what you have become used to. You’re moving around horizontally versus vertically. This all takes time to get used to it and you will love it! One of the coolest things about diving is that you will be able to breathe through your regulator at any depth just as if you were on the surface. It wouldn’t hurt to just stop and think about how cool this really is! You are actually breathing underwater!
At the end of your dive as you start to head back to the surface, you will notice that now the drysuit starts to feel like it is inflating. This is just the laws of physics operating. Your gas volume in the suit expands as the pressure decreases as you ascend. As this gas expands, you will need to vent some of that gas out of your drysuit through the drysuit dump valve on your top left shoulder. You will also need to release some gas from your wing or BCD as that volume expands. Just follow your instructors prompts and pay attention to his instruction before, and during your dive, and you will be fine.
Once you surface and start to exit the water, gravity starts to be your enemy again and you will feel all the weight of your equipment again. You will wish you were turning around and heading back into the water! This can be a bit challenging depending on what type of shore you’re walking and how far it is back to your starting point.
Think about what you just did: you were breathing and swimming underwater just like a fish! Every dive from this point forward will give you the opportunity to learn and see something new. It will also open the door for you to explore 70% of the world that most people never get to see. Enjoy your diving and keep exploring!
A couple other things you should be aware of.
- After a couple of days of back-to-back open water dives, you will be tired. Don’t be surprised.
- Diving can make you thirsty and possibly even dehydrated, and being dehydrated does not go hand and hand with scuba diving. Drink a lot of water after your dives, always.
- Just in case; bring some dry clothes. You’ll probably not need them, but it never hurts to be prepared.
- If you have long hair you may want to consider braiding or tying it back. It’s also been recommended to get your hair wet and put in some sort of conditioner or coconut oil or something before diving to help fight the tangled mess afterwards.
- Have fun and don’t expect to have everything go perfectly. It won’t, and it takes a lot of practice.
Welcome to a whole new world!