Many people look up to the stars and wonder what the next otherworldly discovery will be in space. I, however, look down, in awe of the enigmas lying just below the ocean’s surface. Scuba diving grants me all the adventure and thrill I could ask for in life. When I gear up in my wetsuit, mask and fins, I prepare myself for the extraordinary sights and sounds awaiting me beneath the boat.
I have been fortunate to grow up in Jupiter, Florida, where some of my earliest memories as a kid are from weekends at the beach splashing in the ocean. At a young age, I learned to respect the environment and the life it supports. When I graduated from swim floaties, goggles and boogie boards, my dad brought me to Blue Heron Bridge, one of the most renowned snorkel sites in all of Florida. This haven of marine life humbled me; I was astounded by the biodiversity that crossed right in front of my eyes, but I felt somewhat restricted snorkeling at the ocean’s surface. I wanted to swim deeper. My sister, a marine biology major, was the first one in my family to get scuba certified. After three years of nagging from her, I finally took the plunge and enrolled in a certification class myself.
Throughout the course, I was honestly nervous. After a week of classroom instruction, our skills were put to the test in a deep pool. I felt a little claustrophobic and uneasy at first, and I questioned whether I was cut out for diving. Taking off my mask and calmly breathing through the regulator underwater was nerve-wracking. There is a lot of learning and practicing that goes into getting certified because scuba diving is, frankly, dangerous for beginners. When I took my first breath in the ocean, however, my whole mindset changed. It could never compare to snorkeling because it’s so much more immersive and exciting.
I did not realize how diving would impact my life; the two long weeks of training were worth a lifetime of exploration. Every time I hear “Dive! Dive! Dive!” and take a giant stride off the boat deck, my breath is taken away (figuratively). In Jupiter, goliath groupers aggregate, sharks circle, turtles glide and corals sway as the current carries me through the Atlantic Ocean. I feel at peace, for once.
The past few years have been overwhelming, to say the least. Entering college in the middle of a pandemic, I floundered in a sea of worry and loss. Fears of change, the future and the unknown still echo in the back of my head. Diving is one of the only things that makes me feel in control when the world around me moves at lightning speed. As I exhale underwater, I watch the bubbles surround me and grow more in touch with myself and my breathing. Time stands still and the world goes quiet. I think the silence is the most foreign part about diving. As I descend, a tranquility descends over me; I feel weightless.
Diving has become a hobby and an outlet where I can experience raw calmness. I won’t pretend like it is an instantaneous cure for the stress I and many others experience above water. However, listening to the sounds of my breathing, the white noise of the water and the swish of marine life around me, I can focus on just myself. There are few distractions or people nearby. I try to carry this peace onto land. My connection with the ocean has transformed my life, and it will for years to come.
If you need an extra push to enroll in a certification class, UF makes getting a PADI scuba certification extremely accessible. PEN1136, or the course titled Open Water Scuba Diving, teaches students compass navigation, dive preparation and open water diving. At the end of the semester, you can be nationally certified as an Open Water Scuba Diver and receive credits toward your degree, too. Go ahead, take a giant stride and enroll.