Mike Roberts of Divetech Ltd. gives Amherst Daily News' senior editor Darrell Cole a few tips on scuba diving during a demonstration at the Cumberland YMCA on Thursday. Roberts will be offering a scuba diving course at the YMCA over the next few weeks. For information, contact the YMCA at 667-9112. Jessica Allen - Special to the News
AMHERST- You want me to do what?
When Mike Roberts of Divetech called me last week about doing a story about the diving course he is offering at the YMCA, I had no idea it would entail me getting wet or going underwater.
Roberts wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to dive and thought it would be a wonderful experience for a reporter who likes to keep his head above the water.
"You'll enjoy it," I remembered him saying. "It's really quite an experience."
"Sure, whatever you say," I responded, not seriously expecting to be talked into this. I've done some interesting things during my 20-year journalism career, but I sort of wondered if I was becoming a little nuts when I agreed.
Thursday came and I donned my swimming trunks and T-shirt and walked hesitantly to the pool deck at the Cumberland YMCA not really knowing what to expect.
I've always been a pretty good swimmer, but the thought of weighing myself down so that I would sink to the bottom of the pool was a little, well overwhelming, even if I was wearing a tank of compressed air.
"What happens if I can't get up or if something goes wrong?" I asked.
"Not to worry, I'll pull you up if you run into trouble," he replied.
The safety instructions were rather basic and the advice well taken, especially when he reminded me that it's important to breathe.
Trust me, being able to breathe seemed to be very important.
From there, he told the three of us, including YMCA aquatics director Clarice Valotaire and health, fitness and recreation director Jessica Allen, how to put on the mask and we took turns putting on the tanks and going for a jaunt back and forth across the pool.
After putting on the air tank and weight belt, and the swim fins, it was time for action. Besides learning that I'm probably a little more buoyant than I should be (man, I've got to lay off those double-doubles) it was really a surreal experience to go under the surface without having to hold your breath.
I still thought I was losing my mind when I first went under. Then it was 'holy cow' this actually works. It was so peaceful. There was just you and your breathing...and of course Mike giving me hand signals to make sure everything was hunky-dory.
Later, after I was relieved of the tank, belt and fins, Mike explained what the course is all about.
"The course is about giving people a chance to learn about scuba diving in a nice, safe and controlled environment at the YMCA pool," he said. "You don't have to be a strong swimmer, everything is very controlled and it's at a very relaxed pace."
Roberts, who has been a commercial diver for 25 years, said diving is an amazing experience for both professionals and those doing it for the first time.
"It's a hard experience to describe. It's peaceful and relaxing," he said. "It's a cool thing to try."
Mind you, the pool at the YMCA is not the Atlantic Ocean, but water is water and it's something I would definitely try again.
Sign-up sheets are going out early next week with a fee of $20 for members and $25 for non-members per two-hour, four-person session.
Sessions will run Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and Thursday's from 1-3 p.m.
For further information, contact the YMCA at 667-9112.