Non-Swimmer Training for the PADI Scuba Diver Certification Course
It’s ironic that I have a mermaid tatted on my arm yet I SUCK at swimming. Well, not anymore at least.
I started fall semester of my senior year of college thinking to myself: “What the fuck am I going to do with my life? Where will I be this time next year?” and more importantly I thought: I haven’t left the country at all this year – let alone studied abroad.
Around October course registration opened for Spring semester and I saw postings for courses in Bonaire, Guatemala, Austria, Hungary, etc…
With it being my senior semester – it was either now or never.
So, I decided I will spend my last semester studying abroad as much as possible. This meant traveling over spring break to Austria/Hungary and to Bonaire in May (it still counts as spring semester although our travels will be after graduation).
The only problem was the Bonaire trip consisted of becoming scuba certified to fully participate in the coral restoration. I wanted to help restore coral more than anything (OUR EARTH IS DYING!!)
Anyway. The obvious solution was to learn how to swim to meet the PADI requirements.
I had no idea how I could do this knowing that I hadn’t “swam” in years. The extent of my knowledge of swimming was that of knowing to doggy paddle and somewhat knowing how to swim underwater. Just hold your breath and kick right? That’s what I always did. My parents even enrolled me in swimming lessons as a child. I was so terrified I didn’t learn anything, except for when my dad brought his trunks and we stayed later to practice things. I lost the little that I learned as I grew up.
My first plan of action was stopping by my local dive shop – they were the ones who would provide the PADI course training. Lucky for me, the shop owner Ralph of “The Scuba Shack” was there the very first time I visited the shop. He offered so much encouragement and also the logistics of how scuba training went down. After speaking with him I learned the PADI requirements: ability to float for 10 minutes and swim for 200 meters. I’ve never in my life done either and I had less than 3 months to figure it out. I was reassured that I had more than enough time yet it was all still so intimidating.
My first day in the pool a lady was really helpful: she offered me some goggles, a swim cap, and some tips from her 20 years of swimming. In that moment, however; I only wished I could swim as well as her.
I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t realize it’d be as difficult as it really was for me. I took what I knew about swimming (kick and move your arms) and then hopped into the water… this was a horrible plan. My first few weeks consisted of me just flopping around the water.
After feeling I just couldn’t possibly learn this on my own I considered swimming lessons.
Realizing I didn’t have the money for swimming lessons I took to YouTube as any other millennial would. I organized the top videos that helped me the most into a folder in my bookmarks. You can check out the playlist here.
I finally determined my direction: I will learn to freestyle swim. As for the 10 minute float – it’ll be on my back (I’d worry about treading water in due time). But first, I will conquer the back float. This way, if I do not conquer the freestyle swim for my pressing January deadline then as least I can float on my back the entire 200 meters. Not reaching a goal just isn’t my style though… I had to conquer the freestyle swim. Period.
Week after week from October to January I practiced my swimming and floating. I spent roughly 2-3 days a week at my gym doing swimming drills that I had made up based on tips found online mixed with what I realized to be my weak points as a new swimmer.
There were weeks where I actually got sick swimming during the winter months of November and December. I swam even when I was sick. I was afraid to miss valuable training sessions. I thought if I didn’t figure out how to swim quick then I’d miss out on becoming certified, miss out on an island trip after graduation, and miss out on helping restore coral, miss out on help saving the Mother Earth even! Ultimately, I decided to take it easy and just take much needed rest days. I chose not to stress so much and I ended up missing a lot of swim days.
So, there were many weeks where I only swam just once a week!
Even missing many swim sessions I found, weeks later, that my legs felt strong enough to kick a few laps straight.
Eventually I understood how to side breathe.
At some point I figured out the best way to move my arms, using them to assist in propelling me through the water.
I developed a drill to bring it all together. I hit this drill hard. Swim after swim. With this drill, after mastering the building blocks, I freestyle swam my first lap the next week.
Finally, It was all so simple.
Once I swam my first lap – it was over. There was just no stopping.
At this point I had finally went from not being able to swim half a lap to swimming 4 laps nonstop. I took it slow and easy but I built my stamina up. Not bad for someone who couldn’t swim about 8 weeks prior and missed several practices.
Despite feeling like I conquered something huge in my life, the end was nowhere in sight.
Learning how to swim was only the beginning. Successfully completing the PADI scuba certification course is the next big step (and even that isn’t the end!!) I did manage to make it through the PADI course – I only have to complete my open water dive now.
Once I become a certified diver, the next stop is Bonaire to learn how to restore coral. From there the possibilities are endless with diving all around the world and partaking in coral restoration globally throughout my travels.
A long journey is still ahead of me and I am so ready for it all.