I’ve braved waves on a surfboard and have set sail on the bay by boat, but I’ve yet to take my aquatic undertakings underwater with scuba diving—that is until my visit to Lynnhaven Dive Center and its thatched roof off Great Neck Road in Virginia Beach.
I’m here for an introductory dive lesson at the dive center’s heated indoor pool to better fathom this exhilarating experience. I’ll discover more of the marine world by plunging to a deeper depth and breathing underwater. Today I’m a scuba student to Luke Gray, a dive professional who has been with Lynnhaven Dive Center for eight years and has logged 400 dives while evolving inept novices (such as myself) into certified divemasters.
Family-owned for 40 years, Lynnhaven Dive Center was founded by Mike Hillier, whose daughter, Lindsey Hillier-Hotchkiss and husband, Scott, now own. Gray takes me on a tour of the scuba shop and its paraphernalia of masks, fins, snorkels, clothing, underwater cameras and equipment for military and public safety divers. He points to a nautical chart to show me where their 34-foot catamaran Miss Mackenzie voyages out over the Graveyard of the Atlantic. During open-water diving excursions they encounter shipwrecks, artificial reefs and native sea life, from tautog to turtles to dolphins.
The shop coalesces to the diving air compressor station, which supplies air to the breathing cylinders. Co-owner Scott is holding up a poster commemorating the 75-year anniversary of the Aqua-Lung. The first-ever open-circuit, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (Scuba) for diving is an invention from Émile Gagnan and Jacques Cousteau, who were mystified by exploration and deep-sea discoveries through diving and propelled many others since to do the same.
Photos by Will Hawkins
After a brief diving tutorial video, Gray determines I’m ready for my lesson in the confined water of their indoor pool. “You’re a water baby,” he urges, implying his confidence in my familiarity with the water. He rummages through their wall of wetsuits and pulls out some equipment for me to learn more about the total diving system assembly and adjustments to be made during a pre-dive check. Gray reiterates procedures for correct breathing patterns, blasting and purging air from my regulator and hand cues in lieu of verbal communication.
At the shallow end, I don my fins and a buoyancy compensator (BC), which resembles a life jacket. It attaches to a steel diving cylinder and diving regulator with a mouthpiece and air and depth gauges. I crouch back onto the BC on top of the tank and strap the gear around my torso, buckle up and pull my diving mask over my face.
Photos by Will Hawkins
I submerge myself in the water and we begin our descent, bubbles expelling from my regulator as I breathe underwater and kick with my fins. With a sense of wonderment and weightlessness, it takes a few attempts for me to persist with proper inhaling and exhaling to prevent ascending to the surface so that I can equalize and hover. I descend again, and Gray challenges me to a couple of games of rock-paper-scissors as a playful ploy to distract me from my breathing patterns. Merely at 10 feet I swallow to relieve the pressure on my ears and flip overhead underwater. In a moment it’s an adrenaline rush to find balance, as I amusingly extend my hand to signal to Gray, everything’s ‘OK.’
For additional information on scuba diving classes and private lessons, visit LDCScuba.com.