Seven weeks ago I took my open water certification class at Seattle Scuba. It was my first scuba experience and one reason I wanted to start writing more.
It was amazing. Yes, I was incredibly cold (seven millimeter neoprene is still cold), the dive site is not the best in the world, and I spent a lot of time waiting on a line just breathing1. But during that weekend I saw many (to me) huge starfish, some sea pens, a few fish and a few crabs. One very tiny crab was just hanging out by the line — I think that crab saved the entire endeavor, reminding me why I wanted to do this. It took my mind off the fact that I was freezing and couldn’t see very far because all of us green divers had kicked up so much sediment. He (she?) just crawled along going about his business and I got to watch.
The second awesome part was realizing in a physical way how different the underwater world is. This is something that I intellectually “knew” because nature documentaries rock2. Even with all that gear on, it’s pretty easy to maneuver underwater. It made me think of several sea mammals and birds that also spend time on land. Usually they are incredibly awkward on land and that is the only way most of us see them (in real life, as opposed to nature documentaries). But all the awkward bulk of a sea lion is not awkward underwater. This was driven home to me as I walked up the rocky beach out of the water for the third time, feeling like I would never make it to the ledge to remove my gear before I slipped and fell. I’m not adapted to be in the water, so I’m even more awkward out of the water. But the entire experience made me viscerally feel that underwater is different.
On the way to class on the second day (almost exactly seven weeks ago in fact!) I realized that scuba gear makes me a cyborg3 since unmodified humans aren’t able to breathe underwater (or for that matter aren’t capable of maintaining a level below the surface). As a person who welcomes the idea of using technology to improve human condition and ability, I pretty much couldn’t shut up about it — “I’m a cyborg today!”
I’ve since become a scuba cyborg one day in Aruba where I swam thru a school of fish. I swam thru two different schools, gently, each time it was more amazing as the fish gradually just made a gap and then closed it up behind me. They were gorgeous colorful fish, darting around rapidly, almost like each represented a notional position in an electron cloud. But there weren’t so many of my favored starfish, though a giant purple sea urchin of extreme spininess reminded me of the small little sea urchins I loved in the tide pools of northern California. It was also kind of nice to not be wearing a super thick wetsuit … but the frigid north is my home, so next week I get to go see more awesome underwater sea creatures who live in a world I can only visit.
Instructional dives generally involve descending along a line and then waiting holding on to a rope on the bottom until it’s your turn to perform some skill like mask clearing or swapping regulators. ↩
If you have never seen The Blue Planet, you should. It’s narrated by David Attenborough — off-screen as they sensically chose not to have someone dive everywhere and speak in scuba gear. The episode “The Deep” about, well, deep-sea life is fascinating and really drives home that parts of the world really are alien to our experience. ↩
For the pedants, I realize that traditionally “cyborg” usually refers to be a permanent of biological and technology. It could be permanent with enough technology and reason to do so. See the disturbing novel Starfish by Peter Watts. ↩