The Ordeal – Open Water 101

It was time for me to take the swimming tests for open water (scuba) certification. The drive to Ginnie Springs is not a long one for me, about a half an hour and I arrived at about 3pm, which gave me a couple of hours to walk around and take a few photographs before my instructor arrived. The temperature was barely 50 degrees this day, but I was comfortable in a sweatshirt, we Floridians pride ourselves on our ability to withstand the biting cold of winter!

When the time was near for the meet up with John, my instructor, I headed back to the main spring. On the way, I spied what was, for me, a very unusual sight to see as far out in a wooded area as I was, a black cat, laying on a fallen tree, warily eying me as I passed by. I could not resist and I snapped an image. It wasn’t until later that I realized the significance of seeing a black cat like this, and if I hadn’t taken this photograph, I might now think that I had imagined seeing it. It was, in fact, an omen.

John arrived at the prearranged time and handed me the promised loaner wetsuit which I was to wear for the tests and I headed off to the shower room to don a wetsuit for the very first time. What follows would have been a great source of entertainment for anyone unfortunate enough to be a “fly on the wall”.

For those who have never had the dubious pleasure of putting on a wetsuit, I will attempt to describe the torturous event. Torture, you ask? Come on! Yes, torture. I would rather be water-boarded than relive the humiliation and suffering needed to force my aging body into a wetsuit, although now that I have learned what to expect, I am planning to pray, light candles and do whatever else is needed to assure there is never a replay of my initiation into the dark world of putting on a wetsuit.

First of all, in order to fit properly, which is skin-tight, wetsuits are made of a material which will expand – wearing a wetsuit is like wearing a full-body girdle! At least I think it is, having never worn one myself (no, really!), but having seen my mother’s struggle with them as a young lad, I now have a much greater respect for the extremes she went through to make herself beautiful for my father.

And there is more. The design of the wetsuit is such that in order to make the diver aerodynamic and have the least resistance to the flow of water as is possible, it must fit exceptionally tight around the ankles and wrists. This tightness of the wetsuit is also to allow a very narrow space around the body, which is filled with water and then retained there – you do not want the water to leak out since it is part of the thermal protection. Once your body warms that water up, it stays put and keeps you that much warmer.

But it also means that only superman or superwoman has the strength to pull a wetsuit over the feet and hands! And because wetsuit manufacturers are all sadists, they guarantee that the material used in wetsuits is of the least slippery material they can find. The one I have is made of sandpaper with small hooks that are designed to dig their way deep into the skin, not far enough to cause bleeding mind you, but just deep enough to make me wonder several times whether I would ever get this wetsuit on or off again or would I have to be wheeled into the hospital to have it surgically removed? (At one point, later, while removing the wetsuit, I got my hands stuck as if in some diabolical finger-puzzle and had to use my teeth to pull one sleeve over the hand far enough to extricate myself!)

During my ordeal, I had to stop several times. I was exhausted. Surely, this was the real test. If the prospective student can survive the wetsuit, they are then and then only worthy of joining the ranks of those who are deserving of certification to dive. Finally, I rose to the challenge and, bruised and otherwise maimed, I sadly struggled out to where John was waiting for me to perform my swimming tests.

I had to sit a few minutes to rest up for my tests, I was that tired, but determined to continue. It was then that John walked over to me and quietly and politely informed me that I had put the suit on backwards… the zipper should be in the back, like a woman’s dress. I tried not to show my horror and slowly made that dreaded walk of shame back to the bathhouse. I will not report what followed as it would be cruel just to hear it described, instead, I will finish by saying that I somehow managed to complete the swimming tests successfully and although I am most certainly emotionally scarred for life, I did survive… I think.





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