Starting from the beginning is nearly impossible, especially when recounting such a transformative experience. We began as strangers and ended as friends, all the while doing something we never thought possible. The A Rising Tide series not only gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams, but the realization that I must and by the end of the show I believe the scholars had come to recognize this as well. From our first time in the pool to our first time in the ocean, the growth I witnessed in the team, the scholars, and myself was undeniable.
Day one in the pool brought many challenges, as it was the students’ first time on scuba. Between the jitters and foggy masks, both the students and instructors had their hands full. I remember thinking it was too much, I remember thinking that someone would panic. I remember being completely blown away by their determination. No matter how long it took to learn a certain skill, no matter how uncomfortable it was, each student persevered, and despite hardships we all walked away with smiles – even if some were more crooked than others. As a newly certified Open Water Instructor, my experience teaching scuba is slim-to-none and I strived to find the balance between faking it and freaking out. Turns out, I’m good at faking it. I did my best to recall my knowledge and training, tried to remain professional, and fooled them all.
The next time we met, it seemed like everyone was feeling a little more confident. Skills were improving, concepts were understood, and we were all growing less skeptical of each other. Having been away for some time, I was determined to make myself useful. Unfortunately, my first task involved a blowtorch and the scholars’ expensive masks– two things I would never think to use together. This risky procedure helps remove a film layer that is installed at the time of manufacturing and helps reduce their proclivity to fog. So, here I go faking it again. Feverishly searching Ocean First for a torch so I could help deliver a more comfortable diving experience. “Just do your best not to melt anyone’s mask,” I taunted myself, “good thing I’ve gained their trust.”
Reflecting on these initial memories is bittersweet, particularly in light of the fact that it hasn’t even been two months since we said goodbye in Florida. A most amazing trip for many, a very first trip for some, the Keys bonded us through current, wildlife, and fun. Once the certification dives were over, I had the privilege of guiding SSI’s newest group of divers, and they were badasses. Each more excited than the next to point out and identify wildlife. The scholars participated in fish surveys and tried a hand in videography while I did my best not to appear overprotective. By the time we were motoring back to mainland, the dust was settling and a strange silence came over the boat. We were all stunned. What an unbelievable few days this had been, what an unbelievable few months. It was time to celebrate!
Belly-flop contests to midnight facials, we maximized what little time we had left together and I was continuously astonished by our funny, intelligent, inspiring scholars. We had all become friends and were excited to call this our beginning. No matter our paths in life, one thing is for certain – this experience greatly influenced all of us and it was my pleasure to help teach these kids to scuba dive and the importance of marine science.