Diving in Cabo by Kevin McCaleb originally published in Destino Los Cabos Magazine
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love for the ocean. However, not a traditional love. Sure, I love to relax on the beach, soaking in its majestic beauty while being serenaded by the mellifluous sounds of the waves just as much as the next guy. But my fascination for the ocean runs much deeper than that (pun intended). I love it in a more “Jacques Cousteau” way.
I can remember the first time I read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea as a kid. After that, I was hooked. I watched every Discovery Channel ocean-related show that aired. Consequently, for an extended period of my youth, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to grow up to be a marine biologist. That dream was quickly dashed once I showed my less than stellar aptitude for biology class, but I digress. My curiosity of the deep blue and everything in it has never left me. This is why, after procrastinating for the eight long years I’ve lived in one of the world’s best dive locations, I am only now a few short steps away from securing my scuba certification.
Once you realize that scuba diving is an itch that is definitely going to require some scratching, you’ll need to find a dive center in the area. A couple of months ago I was referred by a patient to Casey Omholt. He is the owner of Nautilus Dive Tech, a local scuba diving center in Cabo San Lucas. Obviously, acquiring a recommendation from a friend or trusted source is the best way to start your diving in Cabo journey.
Once in contact with someone at the dive center, you will be asked questions regarding your experience level in the water, as well as what you’re hoping to achieve through training. Most dive centers offer a variety of options to best suit your particular scuba aspirations. Generally you can choose from a simple one day package that includes some classroom work and hands on pool instruction, culminating with one or two open water (natural body of water) dives. Or, you can do as I did and opt for certification training, which can take a few days to weeks depending on the time you have available to dedicate to the program.
Upon your first visit to the dive center, you’ll probably meet your instructor and fill out the necessary paperwork. When you arrive, I advise looking around the facility a bit. You will probably see a lot of equipment that is unfamiliar to you. That’s okay. All you’re trying to do is get a good feeling about the dive center. You’re looking for it to make a good first impression. This will go a long way towards alleviating some of the apprehension you’re undoubtedly experiencing. If you’re in a reputable dive center, they should make this easy for you by offering to take you on a tour of the facility while explaining some of their equipment and protocols. They know what you’re experiencing in this moment and good instructors will want you to feel comfortable and confident in the adventure you are about to embark on.
The first stage of your certification training will be all home based. Your instructor will give you a book to read that will most likely have quizzes at the end of each chapter. I know what you’re thinking; homework isn’t exactly the idea you had in mind when deciding to make your scuba dream a reality. But hey, we have to walk before we can run, right? Once you’ve finished the book, it will be time to head back to the dive center. They will have you watch instructive videos related to what you learned in the book, ending with a final exam issued by your instructor. If you’re like me, the thought of all this schooling is about as exciting as an audit. It’s really not that bad. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can.
After you’ve breezed through your course work and aced your final exam, you’re finally ready for the real deal. Your dream of becoming the world’s next great underwater explorer is about to come to fruition. It’s time to suit up, get into the pool, and breathe under water for the first time. Now, I’m not ashamed to admit. I was pretty nervous during my initial foray into the wild unknown of the fifteen-foot Nautilus training pool.
I can vividly recall that first moment: slowly dropping my head below the water line, readying myself to take my first couple of breaths under water. However, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I had envisioned. It was as if the logical and instinctual parts of my brain were locked in an epic battle over sole control of my lungs. Admittedly, at first the instinctual part was winning. Consequently, I wasn’t breathing. Of course I wasn’t. I was under water. “You’re not a fish!” Screamed every instinct I had.
Luckily, my instructor Dael Vazquez is very good at what he does. Given his experience and expertise, he was able to immediately sense my trepidation (either that or he noticed a sudden overabundance of white in my eyes). Needless to say, he quickly signalled for me to breathe and to calm down, which is exactly what I was able to do. We went on to continue my lessons in the pool without a hitch. I needed to execute various manoeuvres such as losing my mask, switching my regulator for an alternate air source, practicing an emergency ascent, the list goes on. With each minute spent under water, I felt more at ease. This level of comfort allowed me to really enjoy the experience. At the age of 38, I was finally doing something I had dreamed about since I was a kid.
I would love nothing more than to finish the story regaling you with my amazing ocean exploits. Sadly, however, due to a port shutdown and conflicting schedules with my instructor, I have yet to make my first open water dive. It should be happening in the very near future. For this once aspiring marine biologist, my inaugural journey into the deep blue can’t come soon enough.
The “goal” of equalizing is to create pressure inside the ear canal that matches that of increasing pressure from the outside atmosphere. According to the experts, there are many techniques for equalizing.
Valsalva: Pinch your nose and gently blow air up through your throat and into the eustachian tubes. The trick is to blow with the right amount of pressure; but, not too much, because you can damage the inner ear. You want to blow as hard as you would if you were inflating a large balloon. Blow no longer than two seconds at a stretch. It actively opens the eustachian tubes with an increase in air pressure.
Voluntary tubal opening: Contract the muscles in your soft palate (the back of the roof of your mouth) and throat while pushing your jaw forward and down. It should feel like yawning with your mouth closed. Tensing and stretching the muscles pulls the eustachian tubes open. Some divers get good enough at this technique to hold their tubes open for continuous equalization.
Toynbees: Pinch your nose and swallow at the same time. Swallowing tenses the muscles in the throat and soft palate to pull the tubes open, while your tongue compresses air against them. This is considered one of the most natural ways to equalize.
Frenzel: Hold your nose and forcefully press your tongue against the back of your throat while making a “K” or “ng” sound. This contracts the throat muscles to open the tubes while compressing air against them with the tongue.
Lowry: Combine Valsalva and Toynbee; Pinch your nose and then blow against your closed nose while swallowing at the same time. It’s tricky to do with a regulator in your mouth. But it can help you feel how the muscles you use to clear work. This pulls open the tubes while forcing air into them to ensure they get open and stay open.
Edmonds: Contract the muscles in your throat and soft palate while jutting your lower jaw forward. For a stronger effect, combine Edmonds with Valsalva. This stretches the muscles surrounding the eustachian tubes to help pull the tubes open.
Head tilting: While using other equalizing techniques, tilt your head from side to side (the side being stretched should be easier to clear). Some divers also find it easier to clear their ears if they look up. Tilting the head stretches the folds surrounding the eustachian tubes so it’s easier to open them.
Congestion and stuffiness are by far the biggest barrier to ear clearing. Here are some recommendations:
- Flush your nose.
- Drink water. Dehydration contributes to thick, clumpy mucus.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke irritates the mucosa and promotes more mucus production.
- Bypass the dairy. Milk and other dairy products increase mucus production.
- Avoid additives. The same foods that can trigger migraine headaches also can contribute to congestion and ear clearing woes. Steer clear of red wine, chocolate, aged cheeses and foods containing additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nitrites.
Tips When Learning How to Scuba Dive
- In order to dive, you will need to be in good physical health. Getting a physical examination before you start is a good idea.
- You will need to demonstrate adequate swimming skills, like treading water without aids for 10 minutes.
- Diving can stress both your heart (overexertion) and your back (lifting and wearing heavy equipment). You may need to consider the risks if you have trouble with either one of these.
- Get adequate rest and refrain from alcohol or tobacco the night before a dive. These two substances affect your body’s physiology in ways that can be very harmful while diving.
- It is broadly recommended that you don’t dive while pregnant, simply because there is not enough information on possible harm.
- Make sure you have a complete understanding of your equipment: How it works, and how to put it on for proper fit.
- Lastly, listen to your instructor. Ask questions and follow their guidance when feeling anxious or nervous. Instructors are well trained and ready to take care of you, if need be.
Diving Sites – For the best Diving in Cabo
El Arco/Roca del pelícano: An excellent dive, with visibility from 30 to 60 feet in winter and 80 to 90 feet from July to November. Try Roca Pelicanos, Dedo de Neptuno and the sea lion colony. This is a favorite location for diving in Cabo
Santa María: This dive site has some of the best stony coral formations in the area. Huge rocks make swim-through channels and a nice white sandy bottom, which makes this place perfect to see all kind of fish and crustaceans. There is a high chance of seeing manta rays, so keep your eyes open. A very small bay site is located between Chileno and Santa Maria Bay. This is most probably the easiest and most beautiful dive site in the Corridor. There many swim-throughs and crevices with tropical fish everywhere. Here and there you may see white-tip reef sharks in little caves on the reef.
Cabo Pulmo: Leopard, grouper and turtles, whitetail shark, bull, and tiger if you are lucky. Discover biodiversity that you will find in no other coral reef on Earth. In the 11 years since fishing was prohibited in Cabo Pulmo Marine Park the underwater biomass has increased by more than 463%. No distractions from tranquillity here.
La Isla del Espíritu Santo: Espíritu Santo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and comprises 244 Sea of Cortez islands and coastal areas. This area is known for its diversity of marine life, including sea lions, giant Pacific manta rays, mobulas, schools of hammerhead sharks and whale sharks.
FOR THE EXPERIENCED SCUBA DIVER
El Arco/El Abismo: Depth 90ft. The abysm, or the Sandfalls, is documented by Jacques Cousteau and begins at Roca Pelicanos, then drops to 1,200 feet.
El Bajo de 90: Depth 70 – 90 ft. Experience some depth with a sandy bottom and huge rock formations, with some big beds of rock and pinnacles going from 90ft. to 60 ft. The highlights here are sea fans, gorgonians, groupers, and some schools of goat fish.
Gordo Banks: Depth 100 – 140 feet. This is an underwater mountain about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from San Jose del Cabo, The top of the sea mount is found at about 130 feet (40 meters) and the surface has been described as having an appearance like that of the moon, all the while teeming with sedentary sea life such as coral, star fish and sponges. Large schools of snappers are seen on every dive. Depending on the season and current, you can also see hammerhead sharks, giant manta rays, cow-nose rays, jacks, tunas, sea-lions and whale sharks. Prime season for diving at Gordo Banks providing for the best opportunity to experience hammerhead sharks is between August and November each year. Although calm conditions and clear water are the rule, the dive is recommended for experienced divers only due to the depth of the dive required to reach the sea mount.