Kids’ Camp season is a special time at the Aqua Society. July through August roughly 160 new and familiar young faces aged 8 – 12 explore the depths of a small roped off section of the UBC pool. Some stay for a week long camp, others a brief two hour session. Kids’ Camp season is a time of daily early mornings and sticking around long into the evenings and weekends. All while keeping up with the lineup of eager adults looking to soak up the summer sun and get certified to scuba dive.
The hours spent everyday in this environment start to change you. As the days go by you start to become like a fish. Time on the surface becomes unnatural. A chance only to refuel, sleep, run more tanks, drink more coffee, eat more nachos, just filling the time before you’re back underwater again. Days off become so rare you measure them by the month rather than the week. Your gear becomes bleached by all the time spent submerged in chlorine. It’s never fully dry when it comes time to put it on again. The chemicals in the pool don’t allow your hair or ears to get quite right. Why would anyone want to do this? What are we thinking? Answers may vary, but whatever they may be, every Aqua Society Instructor I have ever asked over the years wouldn’t have it any other way. This is what we do. This is what we love.
Ready for another day, I gather the Instructional Team for the morning briefing.
“Ok guys this is what we got today, It’s another Superbowl Day” (A term dubbed for the days when several of our summer Kids’ Camp programs were scheduled to run on the same day.)
“We have three waves scheduled; 15 then 10 then 10 again.”
I hum my Superbowl theme song I made up as we set up the gear and wait for the kids to arrive.
We size them in masks and fins before they hop in the water. Most people love scuba diving when they try it, but kids really love scuba diving. Fearless, they can’t wait to go underwater.
“Can I go now?” You hear a little voice floating on the surface, one hand on their regulator and one hand on their Buoyancy Control Device (BCD).
“No, wait until everyone is ready” a standard reply, you know you’re going to hear the same question again shortly.
Your eyes scanning the water for signs of uneasy energy as you form an assembly line setting up one kid at a time in scuba gear. Like a machine, constantly counting as you strap another tiny human into a scuba unit. Your knee raised to support their tank while they lay on their back, tightening all the BCD straps as tight as they go to fit their tiny figures.
Your assembly line is suddenly broken when an eager diver puts his regulator in his mouth and sinks to the bottom, racing past your legs. In chest deep water, you bounce after the little diver chasing him down, reaching out to grab his fin as he swims away. Pulling him back to the surface and inflating his BCD.
“Remember were going to need to wait at the surface at the side of the pool for everyone before we start.” You say almost half robotically. You know they are only half listening.
Their attention span fuse has a short burn time. Fully equipped to breathe underwater you can only keep their attention for so long. You won’t take it personally when 45 seconds later you’re chasing after the same diver and repeating the same process.
“OK, everyone ready? Let’s go!”
Everyone’s off with a frenzy, racing after you as you lead them underwater to the other side of the shallow end.
We play underwater games, learn skills or just explore the pool. You can see their fascination with breathing underwater. Simple, just floating face down staring endlessly at something at the bottom of the pool.
Kids underwater are easily entertained with cool tricks. With your fists together pushing out and away you can shoot little bubble rings at them, an easy way to get a smile and applause. Setting up a hula hoop relay to test their buoyancy control. The challenge is to swim through the hoops without touching the sides, all the while balancing a ping bong ball underneath an inverted spoon. A challenging task when you’re floating in mid-water and the ping bong ball is trying to force its way to the surface.
Anyone who has spent a period of time with a group of young children will tell you it can be exhausting afterwards.
When placed in a role of responsibility with children you find your senses are heightened. You can size up situations in a fraction of the time, instantly translating the world around you into understanding beyond consciousness. You can react perfectly without thought or hesitation. A glimpse of that biological parental instinct passed down through the generations. Add the element of managing a group of children breathing underwater elevates your awareness and senses further.
You become completely aware of your surroundings. Your body free to form a weightless posture as you hear the low rumbling of bubbles popping as they float past the side of your face. Tickling your cheeks on the way to the surface with every breath. Your focus narrows to the point where the rest of your life becomes nonexistent. It’s like leaving earth, everything you know, and being transported to another planet, a planet full of water.
Finishing up for the day, my eyes are finally allowed to start glazing over as I begin to robotically put away the gear. Mentally recharging my batteries until I have enough energy for my flight back to earth. One of the little scuba kids runs up to me, wraps his tiny arms around my waist and hugs me. He thanks me for the lesson before running off to play with his friends. I’m instantly shot back through the clouds, back to solid ground. The source of energy to tackle the climate of my underwater world. Force the evolution of the man to the fish. The satisfactions of giving young minds a positive experience, plant a seed with the potential for limitless growth.
The source of my satisfaction can be traced back to my own childhood. Some of my first memories that I love and cherish. Memories on the surface that have no real significance but memories that have stuck with me for all this time for whatever reason. Experiences my young mind used to lay the foundation to build confidence and character. Gratitude that motivates me to pass along a positive experience to younger generations and continue the cycle.
This is what I do, this is what I love. Alert, kneeling at the bottom of the pool. The echo of bubbles popping as they float past my ears on there way to the surface. This is my world, this is my planet. A special time here at the Aqua Society. A time where you get to leave earth and travel to a new planet, a planet full of water. A weightless world where bubbles form ripples when they reach the surface. Water continually moving, rippling endlessly on the surface of time.
PADI Seal Team Camp. Aqua Society Staff left to right; Ros, Rahim, Me, Sittinon