SCUBA Day 1 – Orientation

In my search for purpose in this life, I’ve found myself gravitating towards novel experiences. If I jump off enough bridges, or swim with enough sharks, perhaps I’ll discover some sort of fulfillment. If nothing else, I’ll stay busy and have what are, to me, exciting things to anticipate. This is why I’ve decided to get SCUBA certified – no particular desire to be closer with nature, or to turn it into some sort of vocation. Just something interesting to try, see what it feels like, and go from there.

Let’s get to it.

Saturday, November 30

I park across the street from Bamboo Reef SCUBA Diving Center at about 1:45pm. Located in San Francisco’s China Basin neighborhood, it’s not far from the Financial District. It’s grey, raining, and I feel like I’m never in this part of town. The urban fabric here is somewhat nondescript, and could serve as a stand-in for any downtown-ish area in any American city. My early arrival gives me a nice buffer to make the 2 o’clock orientation, which is good considering their website indicated nobody would be allowed to join after the designated start time – “we do not allow anyone into Orientation after 2pm.” Wanna be a SCUBA diver, and explore the wonders of the natural world? Then shut the fuck up and get here on time, apparently. Now of course it’s totally reasonable to expect students to arrive on time for something like this, but nonetheless I found Bamboo Reef’s punctuality ethos a bit unexpected (if not weirdly charming) – belying the image in my head of SCUBA people as beach bum-types with bleached blonde hair and no particular affinity for watches. But what do I know.

Bamboo Reef’s storefront is painted a sort of pastel blue, the first thing about today that feels at all SCUBA-y. I make my way in, and find myself on their sales floor where there are racks of wet suits, display cases with expensive breathing apparatus, snorkle masks and fins on the walls. Seems like I’m in the right place. A couple young men stand behind a counter, and one asks if I need any assistance.

“Just here for the orientation.”
“Ok, great – one moment.”

Sales Clerk Man disappears up a small flight of stairs at the far end of the room, ascending to what is presumably some sort of office area. I mill about, looking at all the gear. As I do, I notice a handful of people in wet suits emerging from a hallway next to the staircase, and exiting through a sliding glass door. They make their way outside to an outdoor patio, replete with a small swimming pool. I assume these are students and instructors getting ready for some underwater training. At this point I can’t help but feel a tad like an interloper – some civilian wannabe encroaching upon their sacred way of life. So naturally, I imagine fictitious arguments breaking out between us – they, lambasting me as an outsider, and me, righteously indignant, reminding them that they were new to this thing once. I feel like I got the better of them. Just as imaginary detente was setting in, Sales Clerk Man reappears. It’s 1:52 pm.

“Hey, thanks for waiting. It’ll just be a few minutes.”
“No worries, sounds good.”

A few more minutes of milling, and I notice another young man has entered Bamboo Reef. He strikes me as a fellow newbie. At 1:58 Sales Clerk Man tells me I’m welcome to go upstairs to the classroom. I follow his directions, taking a right at the top of the steps, and find myself alone in a room with at TV on the wall and and three beat up old tables arranged in rows, facing the front of the room. There are faded SCUBA-themed posters and dry erase boards on the walls, and several banged up oxygen tanks on the floor. The TV loops a video of an undersea diver swimming with whales. The diver wears no breathing gear and it’s hard to deny the footage is dramatic. Everything looks as though it’s in slow motion but I assume that’s just how everything looks under water. I take a seat at the front table, and a couple minutes later I notice the other civilian from downstairs has taken a seat at the table behind me. On each table are four packets – arranged so that if every seat were occupied, every student would have one in front of them. I examine the one in front of me – it appears to basically be a huge waiver. At this point, the other employee from downstairs enters the classroom. He’s probably in his late 20’s, sturdily built and wearing a beanie. With a casual and approachable manner, introduces himself as today’s host for orientation, and asks us why what brings us to Bamboo Reef today.

“To try some new shit” I reply inelegantly.
“Nice” the instructor nodded in approval.
“I’m going to Bora Bora in March, and thought it would be cool” says the guy behind me.
“Cool” replied our host with a smile.

With formalities concluded, our host dives in. He tells us today will be comprised mostly of us watching a couple short introductory videos on SCUBA diving, as well as filling out the waiver-packets in front of us. He discussed a bit of his own experience (he’d been diving for something like ten years), and informed us of the general physical requirements (we’d have to be able to swim 200 yards, and tread water for ten minutes). Overall it’s a pretty chill vibe. He cues up the first video and leaves the room, heading downstairs. As the video begins, I can barely hear him instructing another employee to “tell them to leave” – it’s a few minutes after 2 o’clock, and presumably some poor souls had just arrived for orientation. I’m not liking their odds. Goddamn amateurs, I thought. The Bamboo Reef train waits for NO-BO-DY. So instead it will be me and Bora Bora Guy, watching movies in a virtually empty classroom.

The videos themselves were pretty light. Showing footage of divers, a narrator urged us to always listen to our instructors, not dive if we’re feeling unwell, and reminded us that ultimately, we’re responsible for our own safety. No real technical details to speak of. Our instructor returned and went over the logistics of how and when in-water training would start, the overall requirements for official SCUBA certification, and the like. We signed our lives away in the waiver-packets, and with that, our 45-minute orientation was concluded. I head downstairs and sign up for the in-water training and $505 later I was officially booked for SCUBA classes. The weekend of December 21st, I’ll be spending Saturday and Sunday, 9am – 6pm, here at Bamboo Reef, training in their pool. Presuming all goes well, at a later date I’ll head south to Monterey Bay to complete my certification with open water dives. But before any of that, I gotta do my homework – an online introductory course, which I’m told would represent two or three hours worth of work. Being fully aware of my less-than-stellar study habits, it’s best I sign off and get right to it.

4 thoughts on “SCUBA Day 1 – Orientation

  1. My dad is a trained scuba diver. You got this! Have fun! And don’t get stung by anything in the ocean that stings. It’s like a video game challenge.


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