I haven't written much here about diving other than the cool thrilling stuff. While chatting about the more mundane with a friend, they encouraged me to post more about my discoveries. While I am always looking up and not wanting to sound like a n00b idiot to those I aspire to, she pointed out that others, like herself, may be encouraged to take the step over the threshold by seeing my experience. Well alright, then!
One excellent benefit from scuba diving (aside from the thrilling sense of adventure, the most excellent exercise, the wonderful things you see and the incredible sense of calm centering it brings) is the people you meet. It's a family, similar to motorcycling or other group activities. But... deeper. No pun intended.
You have to earn it but the initial threshold is low: show up and try. From day one in class you drop pretension and make a connection with your partners and classmates that can quickly grow. My first group trip to Cozumel in January was an interesting sociological experiment. Most of the people on the group trip were unknown to me. There are a few specific points initially where my usual social outgoing nature was rebuffed (similar to other situations where being a fat, 30something woman clearly isn't the "in" thing). But those very same people, after they saw me exit the water in full gear and a big-ass grin on my face, suddenly smiled at me and proactively connected with me at the water's edge, in the hallways, in the dining hall. I'd earned my spot as a diver, one of them.
It means you have something instantly to talk about together; there's never a dull scuba conversation! But it's something beyond that. Something unique you share together that others just can't understand.
The environment fosters quick, deep connections. When in training and as a new certified diver, you rely so much on the people you dive with for all manner of things. You'll expose yourself to them in many ways--both physical and mental. Just get over it: your seawater soaked hair will look like a rat died in it when you pull off your hood, and at some point you're going to have to push breasts one way while someone else pulls a zipper the other way. (Or vice versa; what are good friends for if they can't get up in your junk?) For added glamour and glory, exiting the water is almost always accompanied by a belch that rivals Booger and Ogre in Revenge of the Nerds*, and if you are lucky you won't have a huge glob of snot on your face when you remove your mask.
That's if you are lucky.
Of course, scuba is a cross section of the population and has its fair share of malcontents, whiners, whackos and assholes both male and female. In life in general I tend to rush in with a big smile on my face, my arms waving in the air and yelling, "Weeeee!" until I step in some shit, and this new family is no different, I'm sure, but I endeavor to avoid drama, as always. Thanks to the net you can meet divers all over; I've got a list of dive date offers with people in the Puget Sound that could keep me busy for months.
Now for the reality check. Diving is still a male dominated activity. Women are coming on board like never before, and women diving buddies seem to bond pretty quickly. As a woman, though, you have to be careful; your initial choices and actions in a group will form a first impression that can be hard to change or overcome. This is especially true if you are young and/or attractive. As a big girl, I've often become "one of the guys" and this saves me from that judgement (but also robs me of the attention which can sometimes be a benefit).
There are some men in the sport who will have sexist attitudes about your abilities, potential or place. (What's worse sometimes are the men that think they don't have those... but do.) If you run into those, smile politely and go elsewhere, they aren't worth your time and there are SO many other wonderful people to connect with and support who will do the same for you.
And, as always... trust your instincts.
I have many dives and hours to go before I can even consider myself a okay diver. But the initial butterfly thrill is wearing off and maturing into something much more... powerful. I'm becoming drawn to technical issues, and my mind does NOT work that way, and usually I'm more than happy to throw the curtain over all that stuff and let someone else handle it. The fact that I'm dying to take apart my regulator just to see what's inside (yeah, I've seen the drawings, but that's different) is a new feeling for me. It feels kinda funny.
This is interesting, indeed. The ride is just beginning.
* Why? With a reg in your mouth you don't swallow often, but when you do you're getting a nip of air compressed to the depth you are at. I tend to swallow more at depth because by then my mouth is getting dry. Compressed air in the stomach grows as you ascend, and results in belchorama.