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Scuba diving refresher course helps to scratch the itch to go deep again

I grew up in Florida. After years of snorkeling as a kid, I took the plunge in 1988 and took a scuba class. I was instantly hooked and spent many fun weekends in the Keys diving reefs and wrecks. But a new job took me across the country to the Puget Sound area near Seattle. It's an area of extensive waterways and extremely dark, cold water. Friends tried to get me to dive, but the thought of dry suits and visibility that dropped off near your hand kept me on shore.

After moving to the Northeast, the same scenario presented itself. Diving became one of those things you used to do when you were young.

Now I'm 48 and back in Florida. I've been snorkeling again in the Keys, but nothing compares to diving. Once you've spent time down deep, you want to go back. Floating on the surface just doesn't cut it. Since I hadn't gone diving since 1993, I needed to make sure I could still do it.

I signed up for a National Association of Underwater Instructors-sanctioned scuba refresher course for $75 at the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park. My personal instructor (it was a small class) was Michael Love. The refresher class lasts about 31/2 hours and features both classroom and pool time. Sitting in a small school chair listening to Love, it was all slowly coming back to me. His easy-going but direct style made discussions of the laws of physics (Boyle's Law, Charles's Law, Dalton's Law of Partial Pressures, Henry's Law and Archimedes Principle) as they relate to scuba diving easy to remember.

Next came the true test: time to get on all the gear and get in the pool. As part of the refresher class, a student has to demonstrate that he can perform all the necessary scuba skills. Students must provide a mask, snorkel and fins. Bill Jackson's provides the Buoyancy Compensator Vests (BC), regulator and air tanks. After a few minor malfunctions — my mask had no snorkel attachment and the zipper on my dive boots had rusted shut — I was in the pool. Trying on the new BC was a shock. They are much lighter and better designed than the ones I used in the 1980s. No more hassling with a cumbersome weight belt, the weights are integrated into the vest now.

Love had me practice my mask and regulator clearing while sitting in 4 feet of water. This made it easy to stand up and get out of the water if I messed up. Next, it was a slow descent to the bottom at the 10-foot end of the pool. Remembering his words from the classroom, "clear early, often and easy," I held my nose and gently blew to clear the pressure on my ears as I drifted downward. Getting used to using my BC vest to adjust my buoyancy took me a little longer to remember.

But after a few laps of the pool I was reasonably able to hold my depth correctly. Swimming along the bottom of the pool, it all came back to me. This was the reason I loved diving. Even with nothing to look at but the bare pool walls I didn't want to get out. Now I can't wait to get back to the Keys.

Bruce Moyer is the Times' deputy director of photography.

Scuba diving refresher course helps to scratch the itch to go deep again 07/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 5:19pm]

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