From Try Dive to Open Water and Beyond.
I’m sat here a little under a week since returning from my first diving trip and having an opportunity to reflect on one of the most amazing experiences I think I’ve ever had, I’m putting my thoughts to paper.
A little about me?! I’m married to my husband (Craig) of nearly 11 years, my best friend and partner in crime. No offence to my husband, I’d describe us as your typical couple, nothing special about us, like to eat, drink and of lately, try new things!
Meeting Mark, this came from off the cuff remark my husband made at the time of the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics; “I recon I’d rock at snowboarding, how hard can it be?”. Leading me to think, right put your money where your mouth is. This can also be said for Scuba diving
One day at work last year, out of the blue, Craig dropped me an email, with an email exchange he’d been having with a dive centre in Portugal where we were due to be flying out to for a holiday. Initially I thought he’d been asking about paddle boarding but as I started reading I realise, no he’s asked about scuba diving and actually booked a try dive.
The try dive, within the first 5 minutes of being in the pool I thought this is not for me. I’m getting out and Craig can have this experience. My mind was telling me it’s not normal to be able to breath underwater and then watching Craig roll straight onto his back as soon as we lowered to our knees, completely freaked me out. I stood up out of the pool and said to the assistant instructor “no, this isn’t for me, I need a minute”.
At my own admission, I am stubborn and I’m not a quitter. The other side of my brain was also telling me this was my experience, Craig’s fine, get your head back in the water and see this through! So, I did.
The try dive went well, not being satisfied by this one experience I asked Craig if he was interested in pursuing it further. I got a typical Craig response of “whatever, if you want to.”
When we returned home, the dive centre in Portugal had told us we’d been registered with SSI. I honestly had absolutely no idea what that meant, so I took to the internet. I was like a fish out of water (no pun intended) I was so overwhelmed with the information I was trying to read.
I thought remember, SSI was mentioned. I navigated to their website did a look up of Dive Schools close to me and there it was; Bespoke Diving Adventures. Ok, Let’s give Bespoke Diving Adventures a go. Dropped an email, with a few questions on and got a response inviting us over to the shop for a coffee and Mark will answer all of the questions we had.
I know there is a saying that you know whether or not you like someone within the first few minutes of meeting them. I knew pretty much instantly I wanted to give scuba diving a go and Mark was the man for us. I just needed to make sure Craig was on the same page, I wasn’t doing it without him.
We were there a few hours, Mark’s passion and enthusiasm was awe inspiring, listening to all of the stories on how he tailored learning based on his student’s needs, appreciating everyone was different, the adventures he’d had, that we could learn in the UK and very much getting the sense of this is something really special.
Mark gave us full breakdown of everything, said we could go away think about it. Like I’d mentioned earlier, I knew I wanted in, it was Craig I needed Mark to convince so was happy to keep dropping a question in every now and again to make sure Craig was being convinced too.
I wasn’t willing to leave the shop without a decision from Craig, I laid it all out there. Just a few words to Craig “what do you think?”, “Yeah, looks ok, if you want to”. “Mark, where do we sign?”
This same day we also got to meet Mark A, he’d turned up with wife Sharon and Grandaught Ellie-May (apologies if I’ve spelt Ellie-May’s name wrong Mark). When you see the pair of them in action, they just need a spot light. I could listen to the pair of them all day, very funny, very caring, very passionate, on our wave length.
Our classroom sessions, we were introduced to Mark’s wife Charlotte and Buddy the dog. Seriously, I’ve never been look after so well in my 33 years on this planet. We managed to knock our classroom sessions out over the August bank holiday weekend and at the start if someone had told me I could put kit together and take it apart again, yeah whatever. Hold on a sec, I’m doing it!
Classroom sessions, Craig and I are not the most academic of folk. I tried at school, but was slower than everyone else to learn, I don’t read too fast, I cannot spell for s**t. Craig didn’t try, we both had mixed feelings. Honestly, we’d have never of known we were class room learning. Mark told us he’d had similar experiences and hope he doesn’t mind me sharing that when he said he was dyslexic, I felt comforted.
Next, to the pool! I felt ok about the pool, it was a “Safe” place, if I wanted to “lose it”, was ok, I knew I could stand up again like I did in Portugal earlier that year. Didn’t though; was re-capping on some of the skills we’d learnt in Portugal and learning new ones. Was really good fun.
Next lesson, 8 Acre in Hull. I was excited, nervous, it suddenly felt like things were getting real. Luckily, I had ignorance on my side, getting into the lake, giant stride, yeah cool. Only after jumping in did I think, that’s a big jump with all that kit on, good job you floated back to the surface.
We’d descended down to 6 metre platform to do some skills and then have a swim about the lake. For anyone who has never been to 8 Acre, visibility isn’t great and probably the only two things on my mind was, please don’t lose me and I need something to grab so I feel “anchored”. This manifest when there was the smallest of bumps on the lake floor to swim over, Mark A had just picked up a frying pan on the bottom, I smiled to myself and then suddenly I went into “nope, I need out now”. Giving the signal that I wanted to go up, Mark stayed with me, calmed me down, took my hand and we carried on. Suddenly I was ok again, but felling embarrassed at my outburst. When we resurfaced nothing was even mentioned, like it was normal. Instead of having to talk about my outburst, we laughed over lunch at inflating Craig’s dry suit.
I’m not sure if Mark and Mark A realise this, those hand holds on those dives in 8 Acre stopped me from throwing the towel in. I don’t think I’d ever be able to repay that back and I don’t think either realise just how much that meant to me, I’ll forever be indebted to those two!
One other piece of advice for myself or anyone reading this, any thoughts, feeling, share it. For fear of failure, I didn’t always share what was on my mind or if I’d felt pain. On the second dive I had a pain in my ear and didn’t let anyone know. I remember feeling a pop and something warm run into my ear. I’d not said anything until we got home that night and asked Craig if his hearing was muffled. After his response of I’ve not had that all I knew I’d done myself a little injury. I “fessed” up to Mark the following Monday after a Dr’s visit confirmed it, but not once did I think that’s it I’m done. I wanted to carry on.
A few weeks later we were back at 8 Acre; this time more nervous than the first. I never told Mark this but I’d been up the night before with the “tom tits” over my anxiety and had instructed Craig not to say a word. First dive was great, Mark A held my hand this time, didn’t even have to ask. Mark was so careful with me as we descended and constantly checking I was ok with my ear.
We got to laugh at Craig having his dry suit inflated and him shooting to the surface and his fin popping off. Second dive of the day, I let go, no hand holding it was all me. Third dive, we surfaced and then asked to descend again where Mark was holding a slate congratulating us both on becoming qualified open water divers. I didn’t believe him and after processing what had just happened, then getting the feeling of “I’m nowhere ready to go off and do this with just Craig and I. Mark, you sure?!”. I was incredible proud of what Craig had achieved and so thankful to Mark and Mark A taking time out to teach us their craft and share their experiences with us.
We both qualified in October and not long after got a text message asking if Craig and I would like to join Mark and Charlotte in Fuerteventura to dive in November. It’s only at this point I realised just how much I wanted to progress as I was instantly heart broken when we couldn’t go because of our colleagues already having the time booked off meaning we couldn’t get the cover needed. The legend that Mark is though, said they’d be coming out again in early 2019 and could we join them then. Yes! Absolutely!
We met the full team who were going out the weekend before and I remember thinking there is so much experience in this room, will I hinder their experience?
When we met at the airport very early morning a few days later it was non-stop laughter after that.
First dive straight from the plane things just started to click. I didn’t feel panicked once and was a real comfort knowing there were 4 real experienced divers who got my back and I could play with my buoyancy. Craig did a great job too and we were both raring to go again next day. One thing Mark had said throughout was, there is no rush, we do things in our own time, do not dive stressed.
Next day the sea was choppy, it was first time doing a boat dive and I felt nervous. I wasn’t sure if I was sea sick and that was playing on my mind too. The whole team had been fully briefed on what to do, what to expect and the dive itself was amazing. The water was so clear, different types of fish were coming into view and I loved just how curious they were of us as we them. Mark was guiding and checking constantly we were ok and I felt at ease, everything was happening how I wanted it to be.
Coming back to the surface, I freaked myself out on how choppy the water was. Seeing Craig let go of the rope (it attached the boat to the buoy where we had just dived from) to swim to the boat I wasn’t prepared to let go. I then heard how much of a state I’d got myself into with my breathing. Just stopping for that moment, I calmed myself down, let go of the rope, a swam to the boat. Everything then happened exactly how Mark had described it until I got a mouth full of sea water and felt instantly sick. I spoke to no one on the way back to the harbour.
Second dive, same day, so much better. The experiences of the morning, I was prepared for this. Craig and I were learning to swim closer to one another and check we were ok it felt great. Somehow my weight belt had come loose on the way back to the surface, and I felt fine about it. Mark supported my descent so we could knee on some rock and I stayed still whilst he fasten it back up.
The second day, we did two dives and got to swim through channels and swimming between rockfaces and I was loving it. I saw my fist Ray, Octopus, Sardines, nudy branches, eels, sponges, crab and loads of other fish I don’t know the names of.
The third day was just as much fun. A calm sea, we re-visited some of the sites from the first two days and it looked completely different again. Mark had arranged for a night dive that day, Mark A gave the brief and had a chance to learn some new things about the kit we had.
The night dive was incredible, we were split into two groups and I remember seeing the other group in the distance with their torches and it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. I felt at ease, being able to give signals to my buddy with the torch and him signal straight back, was brilliant.
The final day of diving, I was counting the dives I’d done since starting and remember thinking to myself that morning “Hm this is my 13thdive”. This dive Craig and I aptly named “Dive 13”. That day I’d pick up a hood too big and just after the descent went to adjust it and knocked my regulated in the process taking a huge volume of sea water and partially filling my mask, I was choking. The training Mark had put us through kicked straight in, I saw a rock and it had my name on it. I put the regulator back in my mouth, purged the water I had in my mouth, grabbed the rock, finished coughing then emptied my mask. To which then I thought to myself. I have my back to the group, I’m staying here, they’ll come back for me, and they did. Mark gave me the signal for ok, I gave it back, we carried on.
During this dive in our group there were 4 of us, and we should have descended down past 30 metre. We didn’t make it and I felt guilty that it was my fault. But Scott, on the ascent give me the ok signal and it was then I realised, wow, everyone has each other’s back here I absolutely love this.
On this dive Mark showed us how to send an SNB up and Craig and I held onto it until we got back to the boat.
When we got to the boat, I’d seen something purple wrapped around Craig’s thumb and then the captain of the boat gets his knife out to scrape it off. He’s been stung by a Portuguese man of war, only then to realise Scott had gotten it across his face by the same thing. It had swum between us without us even realising.
Once we were all on the boat I’d told the group this was Craig and I 13thdive, it shall aptly be named that. I talk about this dive more than the other ones as this was the one where past (limited) experiences and learning all kicked in. Believe it or not we went in for our final dive later that afternoon and for me was one of the best I had.
We sat out the final dive, but the group were treated to a seahorse on that one. I told Craig that’s our cue to come back and do this all again which he agreed without thought.
These experiences have been amazing. The effort Mark put into this and the team he has built around him is like a family. Craig and I have constantly agreed about how privileged we are to have shared in that experience and laughs we’ve shared together are enough for a lifetime. We’ve reflected together around what we’ve learnt, meeting Mark, Charlotte, Mark A, the experiences they have shared with us and the journey we’ve been on. I can hand on heart say if it wasn’t for Mark, Craig and I would have left scuba diving on that one experience in Portugal. Thank you Mark, we cannot wait for the next adventure!