Stephanie’s Scuba Story
Blog by Stephanie Hodnett
One cloudy 2019 June afternoon, I was driving back from Bournemouth with my mum and stress levels were running high. We had visited Bournemouth University that day as part of the grand search for where I was going to live and study for the next 3 years of my life, and frankly I was letting the pressure of making such a big decision in a short space of time get to me. After only just finding my feet at sixth-form college, having to think about moving on again so soon was a surreal experience.
As the marine environment was one of my subject interests, and scuba diving as a skill is inextricably tied into its science, my mum suggested we try a Discover Scuba Diving session, partly influenced by the fact that we’re Hampshire-based and already knew about Ocean Turtle Diving. As someone always up for trying something new, I agreed and 4 weeks later, we were pulling up outside the dive centre.
After a very friendly introduction from Callum and two dive doggies and after watching a brief DVD about the basic physics of an underwater environment, we made our way to the pool (but not before trying to get into the school grounds through the wrong entrance *facepalm*.)
The first thought I had as we walked in, dressed in oh-so-flattering wetsuits, was “what on EARTH is all that equipment?!?”, which is probably not an uncommon thought to have. You have a big air cylinder with hoses feeding out of the top at all different angles strapped onto a jacket dotted with clips and straps; the whole setup resembles a slightly haphazard squid and looks a little daunting to a newbie. But anyway. My mum, sister and I were introduced to the basics of how everything worked and got comfortable with the equipment and before we knew it, we put our regulators in, dipped under the water and…
I shape-shifted into a fish. (Oh, if only.)
The magic of being able to stay underwater for a prolonged length of time whilst actually being able to breathe immediately became apparent; it is so quiet, so peaceful and calming that you feel your mind focusing in a much more efficient way in the absence of land-based distractions. I marvelled at the clarity of the bubbles streaming up in front of me, and then laughed at myself for being so fascinated by BUBBLES, of all things. But it was intriguing. That first breath underwater is etched in my memory.
The session passed in a blur of swimming through hoops, underwater roly-polys, regulator and mask skills and communicating via hand signals, the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of which I still find oddly funny to this day. As one of millions whose childhood dream was to go to space, bouncing around in an alien underwater environment with a life-support system on my back is probably the closest resemblance to floating above the Earth I’ll ever get (and, comparatively, with a lot less expense and danger than flying in a rocket.)
Whatever weird dive bug bit me that day, I embraced it and knew this was something I wanted to continue doing.
Of course, no training is ever completely plain sailing, or, in this case, sinking… Ears refusing to equalize were a problem on my Open Water course, meaning I had to postpone my qualifying dive (October in a wetsuit; barmy!!!) – but it was all the more satisfying when I finally passed with the help of the incredible OTD staff, one of my proudest achievements to date.
I completed my Advanced Open Water course a few months later which is actually my favourite course to-date, as it was exciting to try different styles of diving which expanded on the skills learnt in the open water course, such as poking around wrecks (a plane underwater, as you do), deep diving to 28m and learning to use a dry suit which is a must for UK diving! The arrival of lockdown then brought the opportunity for distanced dry speciality courses such as Nitrox and Equipment Specialist, which both built on the skills I’d already learnt.
At the time of writing (December 2020), I am currently qualified as a Rescue Diver and Tec Gas Blender with so much still to learn and so much diving still to do. I work part-time at Ocean Turtle’s dive centre (which is a whole ‘nother story!) and am hugely passionate about not just the UK diving scene and its potential for exploration and research, but being able to share my love of diving with other people, as everyone has a different reason for why they dive with many more yet to find theirs. I’ve had the privilege so far to dive in Cornwall, Lundy Island and off the coast of Weymouth with some brilliant people; the diving community in general are a lovely, varied bunch of sociable, chilled-out people and it’s great to meet, share with and learn from people from all walks of life. I will forever be grateful to my mum who, despite not being a fan of underwater submersion, agreed to do that first scuba session with me, and whose ongoing support along with my dad’s I will always be indebted to.
I am aiming to achieve the Master Scuba Diver rating by the end of 2021, with my sights set on Divemaster and beyond after that. And as for the university issue – I am currently studying BSc Environmental Science with the Open University as part of their distance-learning scheme alongside work, and am absolutely loving it.