Just Add Air
by Michael Ganancial
As the last few weeks of this Fall semester are upon us, I know that for some of you who are about to complete your first semester of college, as well as some of you that have been here for more than a couple, your career path might still be uncertain. After spending many semesters here at UHMC and not finding a calling in any of the programs of study that are offered, I’ve found that the ocean holds my ambition.
Imagine swimming through towers of coral, instead of weaving through towers of concrete; having curious and majestic bus-size whales dwarf you; being surrounded by the traffic of many multicolored and multi shaped fish, as a gentle manta ray flies around in the water column. There are many adventures and opportunities to be discovered below the surface — all you need to do is just add air.
Nearly two years ago, my love and I were introduced to the possibilities that lay beyond a held breath’s depth limits in the underwater world through scuba diving. The whales were still visiting, and their distant songs were amplified being at a depth of around 30 feet — a hypnotizing melody that pierced through the bubbling sound of each exhale. An enormous frog fish sat very still amongst a large rock on the outer part of the coral reef, ingeniously mimicking the colors and textures of coral. A curious turtle snuck up from behind us, surveying our bubbly presence.
In our Discover Scuba Diving class, we were taught simple skills that would help us through our introductory dive, such as how to clear your mask, equalizing your ears, and recovering your regulator. After a quick but thorough briefing on the shore, we geared up and nervously made our way to the water. Upon descending and taking that first breath submerged, the anxiety floated to the surface with our bubbles and we both gained a gradual sense of relaxation that could have easily turned into a mediative state with all that enveloped us in sight and sound. We instantly knew that we wanted to get certified.
A few weeks later, I was on my way home from a day of fishing on South Kihei Road, when I noticed a large, yellow banner outside of a dive shop advertising a special deal for Open Water Certification. I couldn’t let that opportunity pass by, so we were both enrolled to become certified divers soon after I noticed that fateful banner.
Our Open Water certification class was composed of quite some time studying, dry class quizzes, and early morning skills tests in the ocean. The quizzes were simple, as well as most of the water skills tests, apart from having to take my mask off underwater, keeping the regulator in my mouth, and staying stationary for one minute — a skill I soon found out that is much, much less unnerving if you pinch your nose. After about nine dives of practicing the skills that we studied, we were officially certified open water divers; we now possessed our lifetime passes to the never-ending wonders of the aquatic terrain.
In our underwater adventures since our class, we’ve encountered many turtles, species of fish, and magical moments. We’ve even encountered a three to four-foot whitetip reef shark. No matter which site we decide to explore, the excitement of what we could encounter is always present. That excitement couldn’t have been more in-bloom than when we took a trip to Thailand.
Whale sharks, manta rays, and clown fish — “Nemo,” to you Pixar fans — were all possible surprises that awaited below our dive boat in the Similan Islands of Thailand. With water so warm that you could be at a depth of 88 feet with only board shorts on and you’d still feel warm, many shapes and colors of unfamiliar sea life surrounded us. Though no whale sharks nor manta rays were to be found during our dives, finding “Nemo” with its vibrant orange body and paste white stripes in its natural stinging habitat of an anemone’s caress, as well as the revelation that I wanted to advance my certification and trade my unfulfilling job at a grocery store to become a dive professional were just as rewarding. The revelation that even just possessing the first professional level of certification — Divemaster — can lead to a career that could take me almost anywhere in the world.
As I continue my training to become a dive professional someday, I now have a calling to pursue an education that could utilize scuba diving. Maybe a BS in Marine Biology could be in my near future, alongside being a dive instructor or at least a Divemaster? I encourage those of you to pursue a course of study that could relate to a certain interest or hobby of yours. Love to surf, dive, and fish? Take an oceanography and marine biology class. Have a passion for music? Maybe you could be a teacher of music someday or a sound engineer (fun and very educational class, I must say). Into cars? Consider an automotive course. Whatever brings you happiness and fulfillment, pursue a career that could incorporate that. I am reminded of a quote from a documentary I watched some time ago, that I look forward to expressing myself someday: “Instead of saying, ‘I have to go to work today,’ I can say, ‘I get to go to work today.’”