by Brian on December 28, 2007

in A Parent in Israel,Just For Fun

I’m generally not one to shy away from adventure. I’ll be the first to travel to exotic locations like India and Egypt. 20 years ago I jumped out of an airplane. But there was something about SCUBA diving that freaked me out. After all, human beings can’t naturally breathe under water. So the idea of submerging even just a paltry few meters with only a flimsy air tube separating me from imminent drowning led to great discomfort if not outright fear.

At the same time, I felt like SCUBA diving is something I ought to do. Many of my friends swear by it. An introductory dive, they reassured me, where an instructor accompanies you every step of the way, is not in any way dangerous.

So, on a recent trip to Eilat, I decided to take the plunge. The whole family, actually. It was a typically warm Eilati December day when we headed over to the Red Sea Sports Club to give it the old college try. The following is a primer for any other chicken littles deciding to go all the way.

The dive process actually can be divided into two parts: suiting up and the dive itself. Getting into our wet suits would prove to be the most difficult part of the entire experience.

I’d be generous in calling the wet suit a tight fit. The suit is so form fitting that the only way to get it on is to wiggle around in a hot shower while pouring buckets of liquid soap up and down your legs and arms as you struggle to pull the darn thing over surprisingly bulbous limbs.

The scene was vaguely tragic-comical as the entire Blum family tugged and grunted in the communal shower, standing, sitting and panting heavily. It took us 20 minutes, but we were ultimately successful. Then there was another surprise waiting for us to complete the getting dressed part of the dive: weights. Our instructors tied a belt with virtual barbells around our waists, strapped on a backpack with a heavy air tank and instructed us to walk across the road to the sea.

We must have been some sight – strutting like stiff penguins in our form fitting suits as if we were lugging a walrus across the heavily trafficked highway leading to the Egyptian border.

Eventually we got to the water and climbed in, holding on to the fence that leads to the Coral Beach diving area. We were given our masks, told to spit into and rinse them to keep them from steaming up (still, the steam came up and fogged like a mask from would fog my glasses) and given last minute instructions on what to do if you accidentally smile while submerged (water gets into the mask which you can exhume by pressing the top of the mask and blowing out with your nose). We were reminded how to “pop” our ears as we descended and taught various hand signals that our instructors would use to guide our dives (up, down, spin like a top…OK I made the last one up).

We had now reached the point of no return. Still, I had a hard time shaking my apprehensions. What if I had a panic attack and couldn’t breathe? What if I opened my mouth too wide and I swallowed water instead of air? What if they’d neglected to fill my oxygen tank all the way and I found myself sucking on nothing (never mind the fact that the tank holds a full 2 hours of air, more than enough for our brief introduction).

But there was no time to contemplate further. My dive instructor nearly pushed me under and then there I was floating and breathing and being pulled down, deeper and deeper.

Well, not that deep. The introductory dive doesn’t go very far out or down – no more than about 5 meters. Still there was plenty to look at – brightly colored clown fish, some lovely striped lion fish, a couple of big blue parrot fish, multi-colored anemones plus plenty of yellow and orange coral waving in the still water with little white eels poking their heads out. It was all absolutely charming and enough to give a good impression of what a full-fledged dive is all about.

We stayed down about 25 minutes before returning to our starting point then trudging out to the shore and back across the road where we were faced with the equally laborious task of removing our wet suits. All told, the entire dive experience lasted just under two hours.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I felt like my friends under the water – free, weightless and at peace. Maybe that comes with time – and space. During the introductory dive, you’re never alone; your guide holds your hand – literally – pointing out interesting fish, and does most of the propulsion for you. Not that I’m complaining. For a first timer, a little help was greatly welcomed.

After the dive, I asked the family if they’d like to do another one. The kids answered with an immediate yes. I was less sure. I hadn’t shaken off my fears entirely. And then there was that wet suit to contend with. But I was certainly glad we’d tried. It was worthwhile experience if not entirely SCUBAduper.

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