Lake Rawlings, Getting Certified

Lake Rawlings: Getting Certified Part I

As you already know, I am finally a certified diver. I finished up my training over the span of two weeks (two Wednesdays) down at Lake Rawlings, just south of Richmond. The anticipation up until the day we headed out was almost unbearable, I was about to have the opportunity to breath underwater for the first time in my life.

The drive down was nothing short of entertaining, with Tige. Monica, James, and myself headed out early on Wednesday morning. On our way, Monica at some point, for some reason, needs to take off her seatbelt, she presses the button in an attempt to unclick the buckle and…nothing. She’s stuck.

At this point, she let’s us know that her seatbelt has decided to hold her hostage, I’m in a fit of laughter on the verge of tears and the situation isn’t going to remedy itself. I can honestly say we tried to get her seatbelt off for a good 10 minutes before taking a break, since we thought that, worse case scenario, she could wiggle out and we could figure it out later.

A little while later, James, our resident genius says something along the lines of, “you need to tighten it so it will release.” I didn’t think this masterplan would work, but I obliged. Surprise, surprise…now she’s more stuck and possibly going to suffocate or some other terrible fate.

Regardless of this series of unfortunate events, Monica remains in good spirits. I’m now in tears laughing (I know, I’m such great help) and we’re all in this for the long haul. Finally, I redeem myself. With nothing more than a bobby pin and brute strength (the bobby pin part is true, the brute strength…not so much) I manage to free Monica from the seatbelt’s grasp.

And we haven’t even started diving yet! The rest of the ride goes down without a hitch, we make it to Rawlings, rent a pavilion and begin to unload the gear. Both feelings of nervousness and excitement were building, this was it: I finally get to dive. Even Steve (one of our instructors) met us there with one of his students, Mario…and Matt (a former student) showed up too. We had quite a crew!

So that day I was going to be working on my confined water dives one through three on the 4ft. and 10 ft. platforms and my first open water dive. We review skills before we get in the water, and then…we dive. I’ll tell you now, if you have a great instructor, doing your skills will be fairly simple. Your instructor will do the skill first and then gesture to you to do the same. With Tige being my instructor, a lot of laughing occurred (don’t forget to hold your reg in!) and I felt at ease and comfortable underwater, but any skill I had a challenge with, he helped me work through it. 

Speaking of challenges, one issue a lot of people seem to have is mask removal and clearing. Working in the shop, through and through I’ve heard about people having issues with this one particular skill so naturally I was a little nervous. The first problem with this, is people forget to relax, the second is people are more often, naturally inclined to breathe through their nose. Without the mask blocking the water, you’re more susceptible to inhaling through your nose and in turn, getting a whiff of H2O that well frankly, won’t be enjoyable. My suggestion, take a few deep breaths, and if your instructor allows it (which I don’t see why they wouldn’t) pinch your nose for a moment while inhaling through your mouth, before exhaling through your nose. This gives your brain the opportunity to say “okay we’re underwater, we can’t breathe through our nose like we normally do.” Remember, breathing underwater isn’t natural, it’s okay to be uneasy…just relax!

So we continued with skills, I was doing well, and managed to finish my first three confined water dives with ease, after our final surface interval it was time for my first open water dive, which Matt and Monica were going to dive with us.

We descend on to the platform, everything went smoothly….until I lost a weight, because I didn’t secure it properly. PADI has a skill of weight removal, but I’m fairly certain that losing a weight on the 10ft. platform and have to hang on for dear life is not quite what they had in mind. I didn't panic, but it's definitely something that you want to avoid on a dive, secure those weights! With Tige and Monica’s help…we got it taken care of. Fortunately it wasn’t at depth!

This brings me to a good point, one of the most important things new students should remember is to take care of their problems underwater instead of shooting to the surface as soon as something isn’t right. At 100ft. you can’t do that without putting yourself at serious risk for injury or worse, death. Diving is enjoyable, but it is imperative you treat your time underwater, whether it is at 10ft or 100ft. the same, regardless of how deep you are.

After the weight fiasco, we continue with our dive…making it to the wall, we hang a right, heading towards the A frame swim-through. As we make our way down the wall, I’m so busy concentrating on maintaining my buoyancy, keeping an eye on my buddy, and trying to get the hang of this whole diving thing, that I don’t really see much of my surroundings. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision I see a figure, which was a metal cut out of some random creepy guy. I jerk back and look at Monica who begins to laugh as she later informed me she was watching me for my reaction. 

Making it to the A-Frame, we swim through and continue on to the school bus, where we found Buzz Lightyear, who manages to end up in various areas of Lake Rawlings at any given day. Then we headed to the basketball hoop where I schooled everybody on the court…okay, not quite, but I made a valid effort. 

Around that time our group comes across Steve, James, and his student Mario. Tige chooses that moment to jump on the horses that hang out on the bottom of Rawlings and yell “yeeeeeehaw” loud enough so we all hear it underwater and I began laughing for what felt like the 100th time that dive, we head on. I notice it getting harder to maintain my buoyancy, so I adjust my breathing and do my best to stay closer to the bottom. I soon realize we were approaching the dock with the water being less than 5 ft. deep.

It’s amazing that half an hour underwater can often feel like mere minutes. But it was such a great first experience diving. I can’t stress enough how important it is to dive with a shop that you like and can feel comfortable with, it makes the experience all the more thrilling. So what are you waiting for…go dive!

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Lake Rawlings: Getting Certified Part II

Since I just got back from my journey to Key West, I felt it was only necessary for me to wrap up my experiences getting certified. My first experience diving at Lake Rawlings was beyond awesome. I got to breathe underwater for the very first time. It’s one of those things that you absolutely have to experience to truly appreciate. Finishing my confined water dives 4 and 5 and open water dives 2 through 4 was the objective of my final trip to Rawlings, well on my way to becoming a certified diver. We completed the confined dives on the platforms, and of course the open water we had the opportunity to take a swim around the lake. With the final dive, Jerry was divemaster and my “dive buddy,” but I was responsible for coming up with the dive plan and leading the dive. It definitely made me nervous, deciding all the factors that were to make up our dive, but it certainly was fun. Navigating; however, was not the easiest thing to do. For one, you’ve got to really be aware of your depth, which is why it’s good to have a buddy or a good eye on your computer. And though changing depths wasn’t really my issue, navigating was still a challenge where I would weave side to side trying to read my compass. So all I have to say is, if you ever wondered if there is a purpose to taking Peak Performance Buoyancy and Underwater Navigation, I assure you there is. The two things I had the most difficulty with was buoyancy and navigation, both skills that you can improve with diving consistently and it definitely makes diving more enjoyable. But sometimes it really helps to have an instructor guide you through those skills to make them much easier to master earlier on. So whether you dive now, or want to dive in the future...vow to be the best diver you can be and keep up to date on your training!

Happy Diving!

M.