I grew up terrified of water.
Not all water. Tubs, showers and lawn sprinklers were never an issue. But lakes, rivers and the ocean – were.
Part of this was because I was a slow learner when it came to swimming. So slow in fact that I distinctly remember the day at the local lake when my parents, exasperated with the whole process of teaching me to swim, finally gave up and let my arms and legs go.
I now know that they had hoped my instincts would kick in and at the very least I would doggie paddle my way towards shore. Instead I sank and thrashed and screamed. And by the time I made my way to a spot where I could stand, I swore that I would never go near water again.
Around that same time we went to visit a good friend of my father’s who happened to be an avid sailor. He decided that the best way to cure my fear of water was to take me out on his Sailfish in high winds – without a life jacket – to show me how fun it was. Nowadays a kid could sue for that sort of dumbness, but back then it must have seemed like a smart idea.
And when I finally got safely back shore that time, I swore that I would never go near water again.
Fast forward to high-school. I can swim now. Not confidently. Not quickly. But I can swing off a giant ass rope swing and make my way back to the river bank without sinking, thrashing or screaming. Especially if there are girls around. But the fear was still in me.
And I hate fear. So I decided the only way to conquer it was to face down the two water related activities that scared me the most – and that looked like the most fun:
Surfing and SCUBA Diving.
Surfing came relatively easy. I was a fanatical skateboarder and skier and elements of both can easily be applied to surfing. Plus, you have this giant, super floaty thing attached to your ankle with a virtually unbreakable rope that you can cling to when the seas get rough. My surfboard was as much a piece of sporting equipment as it was a security blanket.
SCUBA Diving was harder. For starters we learned how to use all the gear in a swimming pool. Pools were traumatic for me thanks to a grade school incident where some older kids held my head under at the YMCA while the Lifeguard wasn’t looking. By the time anyone heard his whistle blowing I had already sworn that I would never go near water again.
So there I was, shivering in the pool with all this James Bond looking apparatus strapped to my back and wondering if I could trust the equipment with my life while I was a whole twenty inches deep, when our Instructor said something I’ll never forget.
He said, “never take the regulator out of your mouth. Even if you have to puke.”
Apparently regulators are so bulletproof that even if you puke in them, they’ll still pump clean, canned air into your lungs. In spite of my anxiety, I never put this to the test in the pool, but I almost did in the Florida Keys. It was years later on my final certification dive when I came face to face with six-foot Grey Shark.
There was a lot of thrashing and bubbly screaming, but no vomiting. And when I finally made my way safely back to the boat, I swore that I would never go near water again.