I began scuba diving in 2000, at the age of 16. Initially, I started because my then-boyfriend, now husband, had gotten his PADI Open Water certification the year prior and he wanted me to join. It sounded interesting and fun, so I went. I had no idea it would change my life.
My first summer, I got certified as a PADI Open Water Diver, a PADI Advanced Diver, as well as CMAS* and CMAS**. I still remember my first dive. I've had over 200 since then, and some of them blur together, but that first dive is seared into my brain. My instructor was only supposed to take me to a certain depth, but he took me just a bit deeper (not very deep, 14 m). He held my hand the entire time. I watched the world like I had never seen it before. You can see photos, you can see videos, but nothing is like being there, with the animals and plants that inhabit the world under the sea. I didn't feel an adrenaline rush or a thrill; I just felt peaceful and comfortable. It's that feeling, which I did not know, when you replace "fun" with "joy." It was joy. By the end of the summer, I could go down to 90 feet, on air, by myself. But, I wasn't done.
The summer after that, my husband and I each got jobs in retail. While others were studying for their International Baccalaureate, we were working 40 hours a week and saving every penny. While others partied for graduation, we were working. While others in our class were planning their summer, we were working. And finally, we took that considerable sum and bought: 1) all of our scuba equipment, 90% of which we still own and use 20 years later; 2) our final training courses; and 3) a one-week liveaboard diving trip in the Red Sea, Egypt.
The final step of our recreational training were the CMAS*** and PADI Rescue Diver certifications. This training was tougher. The CMAS*** training system, at the time, required practicing emergency ascents with non-compliant buddies. In order to re-create real situations, our instructor would really be non-compliant, tearing off his mask and spitting out his regulator (the mechanism used to breathe under water). We had to stay calm, take control, and make sure we could get him to the surface safely. The CMAS*** also meant that I was trained to go down 200 feet (60-65 meters) using air, without an instructor. Since then, diving has been an important part of our life, our marriage, and our vacations.
We've been diving in France, the Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Mexico, Greece, the Gulf of Mexico, the Baja Peninsula, Italy, Egypt, the British Virgin Islands, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Bahamas—I may be forgetting some. We've been under water with sharks, manta rays, clown fish, sting rays, and many (many!) moray eels. We've played with wild dolphins and angered spiny lobsters. We've picked up sea stars and fought currents. We've been through wrecks and watched dying coral reefs. And then, last year, we became technical divers.
A scuba diving system works by storing compressed air on the diver's back. That air is breathed in through a regulator (the hose and mouth piece) and blown out through the sides of the regulator when it is exhaled. Once the air in the tank runs out, there is nothing left to breathe. This is called an open circuit. But, there is another system called a "closed system," or a rebreather, which is used by technical divers. The rebreather system allows the diver to re-breathe the same air over and over, by pushing it through a "scrubber," which cleans out the carbon dioxide and then, occasionally injecting oxygen back into it. I became a technical diver last year and I plan to continue that training when funds and time align.
Diving, but technical diving moreso, is first and foremost about humility. The ocean is not our natural habitat. The equipment we use is not infallible. Human beings make mistakes and, sometimes, panic. Knowing how to dive, knowing how to handle emergencies, and understanding the equipment is critical. The privilege I have had in seeing unique places, unique animals, unique moments is counterbalanced by the fact that I never take it for granted.
I plan to become a recreational diving instructor so that I can teach others, especially girls, to feel comfortable in this technical sport. I will also to continue my technical diving training. While technical diving is more male-dominated than recreational diving (about 39% women in recreational diving but 15% women in technical diving), the trend is changing and I would love to be a part of that trend.
Giugi Carminati is a human & civil rights attorney, as well as a women’s advocate in Denver, CO. She works for NDH, LLC, a civil and human rights law firm out of Atlanta, GA, and she runs her own gender-based violence firm, The Woman's Lawyer, in Colorado. She speaks and blogs about gender equality and social justice. Her law practice focuses on police shootings, racial discrimination, domestic abuse, and sexual assault. She is a litigator by training. She speaks French, English, Italian and Spanish. She is licensed in Texas, New York, Colorado and DC. Her firm website can be found at www.TheWomansLawyer.com and http://www.ndh-law.com.