Youth Odyssey, Margo Peyton of Ocean Wishes, and board member James Gourley partnered together to give our youth mentors the opportunity of a lifetime. Recently two lucky mentors received free PADI SCUBA certifications. Just in case you aren’t aware, a SCUBA certification never expires so they are set to dive for the rest of their lives!In order to be considered, contestants had to write a series of two multi-page essays. One essay was to explain what it would mean to the contestant to become a SCUBA diver, and the second essay was to explain how the contestant would reduce the amount of plastic waste they produce in their everyday lives (and eventually ending up in the oceans).The winners would receive full certification and academic materials along with all of the pool and Open Water Training for their lifetime PADI Certification from Copeland’s Dive shop. The winners would also be provided with a mask, fins and snorkel as a gift from sponsor Gourley Contracting so they can continue to explore the underwater world long after their classes are over.
Upon reviewing the essays, two stood out among the rest and were chosen to receive this exciting prize. Youth Odyssey mentors, Chris and Ruvi, were awarded this honor as a surprise at our annual fundraiser last October and, here we are, in March, with them both having finished all of the qualifications and now are fully certified PADI Open Water Divers.I had the opportunity to talk to both Chris and Ruvi about their experience and it was pretty obvious that they had the time of their lives. In her own words, Ruvi told me that “she had never experienced something like that before and it was the most fun she’d had in a very long time.” I asked the obvious question of what was their favorite part of the training and both said being underwater. Chris said he really enjoyed the sensation when he was”neutrally buoyant,” essentially floating in mid water to where you are neither going up nor down (zero gravity). Ruvi, on the other hand, enjoyed the “mid-dive” experience, where you have already adjusted to the water environment and have time to take in what is all around you and observe the underwater world.
Never being a certified SCUBA diver, I was curious as to what they found to be the most difficult part of the learning experience (so I could mentally prepare if I ever take the plunge into SCUBA). Chris mentioned that “equalizing and establishing neutral buoyancy” were the hardest aspects for him. When I asked about equalizing he said it was the feeling of pressure you get in your ears when you are more than a few feet under water and needs to be alleviated, or equalized. According to Chris, you can either wiggle your ears (which not everyone can do), burp, or utilize a method called Valsalva, where you hold your nose and blow your mouth full of air, in order to relieve the pressure. He specifically made sure to say that the Valsalva method, though can work, is not the recommended approach since it can cause damage to the ear canal. Trying to establish neutral buoyancy was tricky for Chris. He shared that in order to create the stable buoyancy you need to do a couple of things; involving weights, letting air into/out of places (using a BCD), and how to position your body. Ruvi had a completely different aspect of SCUBA that held her up; she didn’t know how to swim. Ruvi mentioned she had a fear of being in water when she can’t touch the ground, which makes sense since she never learned how to swim. Once she started looking into when she’d be able to take the in-class SCUBA lessons she realized she should probably let us know she didn’t know how to swim. It put her in-water classes on the back burner until she completed her one-on-one swim lessons, which she really enjoyed because it took a lot of pressure off of her to learn with just one other person than in a pool of people. Ruvi said it took about two months until she felt truly confident in the water by herself and it felt amazing to overcome that fear. She has more confidence and know-how, to pursue her goals down the road.
Both Chris and Ruvi shared stories of what they did underwater and the different games they played. Chris mentioned how the fish were constantly nibbling on their fins and he was surprised how fast time seemed to go by underwater. He said that 2 or 3 hours felt like 30 minutes (probably due to the old adage “time flies when you’re having fun”). Ruvi expressed how her depth perception of where things were in the water really threw her off at first. There would be a platform that she was supposed to reach and she would miss her landing because objects appeared to be further away than they really were. She enjoyed swimming through a series of hoops that were set up for their underwater training. “It felt good to swim though and be able to avoid touching them”.
It’s obvious that both of our mentors overcame obstacles and worked hard to fulfill their requirements, while having a blast in the process. Both Chris and Ruvi intend to continue diving in the future. Chris has been throwing around the idea of becoming a marine biologist and Ruvi has been interested in underwater photography and working with marine animals. There’s no doubt that they will get good use out of their SCUBA certifications if they commit to those fields of study. Being the curious person I am I asked if I were to go sign up for SCUBA certification classes tomorrow, what are some words of advice, and they were very helpful. Chris stressed to “pay attention to everything because you will end up using all of the skills they teach” as well as to “always put your wetsuit on when it’s wet or else it will be a struggle.” Ruvi joked about how “knowing to swim is probably a good idea” and to focus on “breathing through your mouth underwater to stay calm and not to freak out.” Which is some sound advice from some very hard working mentors.
Congratulations Chris and Ruvi on your accomplishments. I look forward to hearing where they take you from here! A special thanks to Gourley Contracting, James Gourley, Mckinna Gourley, and Margo Peyton of Ocean Wishes Foundation for all of your help. This opportunity would not have become a reality without you all.