Wiser in Wellington

A year ago I was working in New Zealand. I was interested in what the local diving had to offer, so I signed up for a small trip off the local coast of Wellington. What happened on that trip turned out to be a valuable learning experience.

It was a cold morning when we pushed off from shore in a small fishing boat, six divers and two crew. I was a little nervous since I knew the water would be cold---it was winter there, after all. I wore an old, uncomfortable rented wetsuit. A farmer john that had seen more than his fair share of divers. Add in the unfamiliar equipment and all weights and cylinder measured in that odd system known as metric, and I was in an uncomfortable place to start a dive.

Once on the water the captain asked us each to introduce ourselves and briefly outline our experience. As we went around, I quickly realized I was the most unseasoned diver on the boat. Everyone else had hundreds, some thousands, of dives, most in the murky Wellington waters. Despite having recently completed my rescue diver certification, I was feeling a little intimidated when I had to announce my meager dive experience.

Safety Stop
I was teamed up with Tom, one of the highly experienced divers, and a nice guy to boot. We did backrolls into the choppy water. With the new equipment and unfamiliar waters I was unsure of my weighting. When grabbing my weights in the shop, I had no idea how many to use. Not only were they in kilograms (although I knew the rough conversion), I had all new equipment and did not have a good starting point. I asked around what others were wearing, but I couldn't use anyone remotely close to my size's weights as a guide (for example, one diver had a steel plate in his BCD).

Time to descend. Instead of stopping Tom and doing a proper weight check, I didn't want to look like an amateur and descended anyway. As soon as I slipped beneath the surface I knew I had made a mistake. Not a great way to start a dive.

Despite this ominous feeling, the dive went off without a hitch. I was cold and burning through air faster than Tom. I felt bad that I was limiting our dive time, but when my air got low, it was time to end the dive, but first, a safety stop at 5 meters.

During the safety stop I started to feel the effects of not being properly weighted. As my tank emptied, it became more buoyant, requiring more weight to stay underwater---weight that I didn't have. Only a minute in and I was struggling to stay underwater. In fact, I was completely upside-down kicking to stay at safety stop depth. Unable to fight the buoyancy any more, I floated to the surface right before the end of the requisite three minutes, while my confused buddy watched from his safe depth.

In an attempt not to embarrass myself and look like an "amateur", I ended up embarrassing myself far worse. Fortunately, my dive buddy was gracious and did not say anything as I found more weight for the next dive. I realized my stupid mistake and swore I would never put myself at risk again for the sake of looking more experienced. This time it wasn't a big deal, but next time it may be in a more unforgiving environment.

No matter how little or how much you dive, there is nothing embarrassing about being safe and comfortable on all your dives. If your buddy or anyone else has a problem, then it is their problem, and you can rest assured that they'll be the ones who end up looking inexperienced. No diver worth their salt would belittle you for being a safe and cautious scuba diver.

Photo by JennyHuang