In collaboration with Jyväskylän Sukelluskeskus (Jyväskylä Scuba Center). Includes an offer!
Saturday morning in the swimming hall.
You can hear the cheerful voice of all the children celebrating their Winter vacation in the warm swimming pool waters. In contrast, you also see the stern-faced athletes honing their skills right next to them. But there’s on pool that is completely empty.
Suddenly, bubbles from the deep! A proper frog man surfaces!
It’s the weekly rehearsal of the Jyväskylä Scuba Center members.
The lovely founders of the hiking blog Rinkkaputki (the main blog of this very site), asked if I was interested in giving scuba diving a shot, since the Center had reached out to them. The plan was to go through the introduction and practice the essential skills as a group and in a supervised environment.
One would go through a short theory session about the basics, get to know the gear and give them a try in the pool with professionals.
Equipment and theory
I woke up before 6 A.M even though the class wasn’t until 9:30. I was so damn nervous.
As we arrived to the parking lot, we noticed a van parked up front. Our job would be to carry everything inside: boxes full of hoses, wetsuits and flippers. There was a lot of stuff to carry.
“Let’s just agree not to get too much into this, okay?” I told my husband, Arto.
“Agreed”, he said. “We’d have to build a second garage for all this stuff alone.” The first, and so far the only, garage is starting to be a little bit full of all kinds of hobby equipment.
After we managed to get everything inside, we sat down in the café for the theory portion of the morning. Our teacher, Olli Lappi from the scuba center gave us a very detailed intro. In addition to me and my husband, Anne and Heikki from Rinkkaputki took part as well. Heikki would be diving with us and Anne was in photo duty.
Olli had sent us study materials beforehand to look through, so we had some idea what we were getting ourselves into.
The effects of pressure and water to the human body were covered, though briefly, but in great detail. Communication underwater was also a necessary skill to learn, not to mention how to use one’s equipment.
The breathing apparatus consists of a regulator that goes in your mouth, a spare regulator and a pressurized tank. The tank, of course, is full of oxygen, which is why it’s also fitted with an oxygen gauge. It lets you know how much air you have left. The spare regulator is for emergencies – for example to share with your diving partner.
The diver also has a balancing vest, which inflates and deflates, depending on which button the wearer presses. The goal is to achieve sort of a zero gravity situation.
There are also lead weights for added control you can strap around your waist.
If physics 101 taught us anything, it’s that heat always travels from warm to cold. Water is an efficient heat conductor, which is why bodyheat is so eager to escape our skin and into it.
This is why you need to be aware that the cold (or in worse cases, hypothermia) doesn’t settle in too much.
A regular sightseeing dive doesn’t require too much strength, which means your muscles don’t produce enough heat. Which is why you usually wear a wetsuit/drysuit.
Olli guided us through all the different exercises we’d do in the pool. You need to know how to let your partners know if you’re in trouble. We went through the “A-okay” sign and the “something’s wrong with my ears” multiple times.
He wanted us to keep in mind that this experience is meant to be fun.
No one should go too far out of their comfort zone, should it start to feel too extreme or something. It’s perfectly fine if the only thing you do is put your face underwater with the regulator in your mouth. After theory we all had a shower and advanced toward the pool.
Into the pool!
We all had our separate sets of equipment lined up and ready at the edge of the pool. We did a quick inventory check and tested that everything worked. The first time breathing through the regulator was surreal but surprisingly easy. Walking around with all that gear on you on dry land, however, wasn’t. The whole set weighed like a heavy tube backpack on a week long hike.
Once we got into the pool, we started our exercises. Regulator in mouth, breathe calmly. I always thought it would feel heavy and forced underwater but it was basically like using a snorkel. Except you get clean air with every breath. But in short, breathing felt easy.
After this, we practiced how to find your regulator, should you lose it. We also rehearsed how to drain your goggles, should water pour inside them. We all passed with flying colors and received permission to go toward the deep end.
I was so focused on my own performance that I hadn’t realized that the whole pool was full of divers. You couldn’t see any of them from the surface but once you dove in, the bottom was packed. It was so surreal!
All you could see was gentle rippling on the surface of the water as bubbles ascended but underneath you could see someone flipping through their waterproof notebook, another collecting a string from the bottom. They appeared weightless.
The deep end, with the jumping towers, was 4 meters deep. Which means the pressure goes up to 0,4 bars over surface pressure. To give you an idea, a bicycle tire has under 2 bars, a car tire 2,5 and a motorcycle from 6 to 8.
Even if 0,4 bars seems low, the human body can detect such a change immediately, especially in parts where there’s more air – like lungs and ears. You know when you land or take off in an airplane? Yeah, that.
Yawning, “popping” your ears or moving your jaw around helps steady the pressure. Under water all you can do is squeeze your nose and pop those ears.
We newbies descended slowly. You need to remember to steady the pressure every now and then when going down. I didn’t and felt a sharp pain in my ears which forced me to go back up and try again. Now with frequent depressurization.
It was incredibly silent and peaceful under the surface. The only sound was my own breath, which sounded like that of Darth Vader. It was meditative and I felt my entire body slipping into a very relaxed state.
I’ve done my fair share or snorkeling and had my own presumptions about scuba diving. All of which were blown out of the water. It was amazing to be able to move in all directions without trouble. You simply can’t achieve this on dry land.
I can’t even imagine how great it would be to do this in open waters. To see a pike or a school of fish swim by. To dive into your local rapids. Not to mention to find our long lost fish trap… what kind of a world is waiting for us below the surface?
There was 1,5 hours worth of oxygen in the tank (200 bars). One needs to keep an eye on the gauge and once it hits red, it’s time to surface. During those 1,5 hours we practiced “floating”, inflating and deflating the vest and draining the goggles over and over again.
Heikki had his GoPro camera with him and with the teacher’s permission he took some footage in the water. Anne was documenting all this behind a surveyor’s window and they turned out great too!
Me? A scuba diver?
After we got out of the pool we gathered all of the equipment back into their containers, took another shower and sat down in the café for recap with Olli.
My mind was clear and I was tired but very, very happy. It was as if we inhabited another dimension, free from mortal shackles and worry. I can see how someone would get addicted to this.
I like to think of scuba diving in the same way I think of mountain biking: it’s more fun and approachable to try out in a group or with a friend, not to mention safer. This is because people like to help each other out when doing things together.
We got so many words of encouragement from fellow divers and they all wanted to see us again.
Jyväskylä Scuba Center would like to offer anyone reading Rinkkaputki, a reduced introduction fee of 35 euros (normally 50). All you need to do is mention the blog’s name when you sign up the intro class. The shifts are on Saturday mornings at AaltoAlvari swimming hall.
Anyone can sign up (if you’re underage, permission from a guardian is required) and in the application they make sure you don’t have a condition that would endanger you in any way. Should you have one, you need to consult your personal physician.
Scuba diving is an experience I can’t find a comparison to. The feeling of weightlessness, the freedom of movement, the silence. Feeling present but so far away at the same time.
So come on down and give it a shot! I’ll be there, training to become an open water diver. Yes, we did get into it. Hard. I suppose we should start planning for that second garage.