For DMTs, the first day is a test

First days are scary. There’s no predicting who you’ll meet, what they’ll want, how you’ll get along or what will be expected.

My lesson #1: When you’re new, everything’s a test.

Everything.

I chose The Dive Shop on the basis of a friend’s recommendation and I’m coming in cold. I don’t know anyone, I haven’t dove with them before, they don’t know me and it could be the best or the worst 5 months of my life. There’s no telling.

I’m sure my day included multiple tests of which I was unaware. If I were an experienced diver watching a new DMT come into the shop, I can only imagine the things I’d be assessing. But I passed the first test, which was “Do you want to do the first dive or do you want go around the shop and learn the ropes?” For a person who lives to dive, this is an easy choice. For a person (me) who likes to know everything about everything so they can always make informed choices and rarely make mistakes and they know all the variables before they jump into something new, this is a hard choice. My instincts said ‘hang back, learn the ropes and go in slowly’. Instead I chose to dive.

The right choice is dive and my advice to future DMTs like me is: Always dive if you’re given the choice. The academics and the shop and the getting comfortable will all be there later. When you get a chance to dive, do it. Not only will it make you a better diver but it also gets you respect with the people you work with. Who wants to work with someone who doesn’t choose to dive when they can?

My first dive was a “fun dive” with a fellow DMT who is a month into her training. Let’s call her Goldilocks. She’s not yet at the point of leading dives so this was a training dive where she had to give staff members a briefing and then take them on a dive where they made as many mistakes and bad judgment calls as they could safely make in hopes that she would catch them. They dropped their weight belts on the sand, disconnected air hoses from their BCDs, separated and made her chase them, wandered off and gave her conflicting information about their air supply. It was the best first dive for me because I got to see what I’m going up against and also had all the pressure taken off of me because everyone was focused on her.

Winner!

Goldilocks did a great job, chased everyone down, fixed equipment underwater, got buddies together and never lost her cool. She also led the second dive, which included Da Bull, a big DM who arguably has the most experience in the shop and is the most fun person to dive with because he’ll show you all the exotic tiny things and weird out of the way places you might miss otherwise. About half way in to the dive he noticed that my mask kept fogging up (a chronic problem for me no matter what mask I use) and he picked up a piece of dead sea sponge and motioned that I should use it to clean my mask.

I thought, “oh, perfect. I’ll do it on the boat.” I started to put it in my BCD pocket when Da Bull shook his head and pointed at me. He meant, do it now.

It wasn’t really a request so I took a deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut and took my mask off underwater, which I’d never done before. There was an instant disorientation because I couldn’t see and had to remember to only breathe out of my nose, had to clean my mask by feel and had to maintain some buoyancy and keep from shooting to the surface or crashing into the ground. I did well for a few seconds until I started thinking about it and then I breathed in through my nose and freaked out. Just a little. It took me about 2 seconds to get my mask back on and clear it and then I was fine.

My mask stayed clear for the rest of the dive (that’s your ocean tip of the day: dead sea sponge on the inside of your mask) and Da Bull grinned around his regulator and spread his hands out like “see what you were missing??”

When Goldilocks found the boat for the second dive of the day, there was a small celebration on the surface to which another DM said “When I first started DMing, I would think “f*ck the dive, I found the boat!”

Navigation underwater is hard. I know exactly what she meant.

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