I have always wanted to be a mermaid (mostly because of the popular 1980’s movie Splash starring Tom Hanks). I imagined mermaids swimming around a magical, underwater metropolis as their home, waiting for me to come party with them. They would have a hard time with English, but would make dolphin sounds. When Disney’s The Little Mermaid came out, I watched it everyday and fell asleep to the movie’s soundtrack.
Despite the fact I was a mediocre swimmer (due to my lack of body fat and endurance), my desire to be a mermaid never left. Once I was presented with the opportunity to get my Open Water scuba certification in Hawaii, and I immediately jumped on it. For two weeks I spent my early mornings learning the basics of scuba. Hawaii was the perfect place to get certified; instead of starting in a pool, like most people, we went straight to the ocean. My instructor focused more on the practical aspects of diving than the academic, which served me extremely well. After I passed the test, I was already asking, “What’s next?”
Next up was dry suit certification in Seattle so I could dive in Iceland. Seattle was the opposite of Hawaii; it was cold, and rainy, and there was no life under the sea. This was fine though, because I chose to focus on the task at hand. I did not need any distractions. This certification process was bootcamp. The water was cold, the drysuit was hard to put on, and I had to walk about 40 yards to the water, fully suited up with 60 pounds of gear on my back.
Once I got down in the water for the final and deepest dive, I became puzzled. Dr. Seuss had set up shop in the Puget Sound 80 feet underwater; everywhere I swam looked like Whoville from The Grinch. I would not have been surprised if Cindy Lou Who had swam by in an old-school scuba helmet. After I passed the tests, I had a lengthy discussion with my instructor about where I should swim for my next adventures. She gave me a list of must-see places, and I was super excited to find that they were in the vicinity of my upcoming vacation locale, she had suggested the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
Diving with Whale Sharks in the Georgia Aquarium was definitely a highlight dive. Everybody, at one time or another, wants to swim in a tank at an aquarium. If they say they don’t, they’re lying. We swam over a pedestrian tunnel, and to the public viewing area. I made sure that I swam up to every little black child that had their face glued to the glass and gave them either a high five or a virtual fist bump. When I was a kid, I loved seeing black people doing activities I admired.
I swam up to the beautiful black babies as if to say, “I see you. I want you to see me. When you get old enough, you will be able to do this too”.
I didn’t think that the aquarium dive could be trumped, but it was. After an amazing Icelandic dive in Silfra (with the clearest water and the best visibility on the planet), I finally got to dive a shipwreck. Diving in Oman gave me the chance to see the entire cast of “Finding Nemo”, including the extras. The colors I saw underwater in Oman appeared particularly special and different. Sure, the Icelandic dive was epic, but diving a shipwreck was like going back in time and no dive had beat that.
The two ships, the Lillie Parsons and the Robert Gaskin, were wrecked in the late 1800’s in the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, Canada. They were filled with everything I dreamed they would be: plates, cups, Jack Daniel’s bottles, rusted steel drums full of I-have-no-idea, were littered across the bottoms of the ships. The wood was splintered and rotting, and the beams were barely holding themselves up.
I could have died at any time. It was perfection.
The captain’s teenage nephew took the lead on the second dive. Obviously, he knew this ship very well, but he led me as if I knew what I was doing and I followed like I knew what I was doing. With 40-50 pounds of gear on my back and fins and things, I surely did not feel like Ariel the mermaid, but my guides said that I handled myself very well under water.
With every dive I became more and more satisfied with my choice to get certified. I would never have been able to explore the planet like it is meant to be explored without it. What’s the best thing about diving while black? Everything under the sea is a different shade of blue, including me.