PADI´s No Fear Diving Specialty: A Student’s Experiences
What does it mean to dive without fear?
Earlier this year I wrote an article about the No Fear Diving a new PADI distinctive specialty scuba course. It’s created by Oliver Radosav, a German Ergo-Therapist and PADI Master Scuba Dive Trainer.
No Fear Diving is a customized and client centered scuba course that puts you, as a diver at the center of attention. It is expressly created for people with concerns and fears in context with scuba diving and water, emphasizing personal wishes, handicaps, needs and goals.
Julia booked a course with Oliver for 3 weeks in Bali, Indonesia to undertake this scuba course. Here she wrote about her experiences with Oliver and No Fear Diving.
My name is Julia Mörchel and I am 30 years old. Six years ago I had an accident while mountain climbing in Switzerland, and ever since I have incomplete paraplegia. The mobility of my legs is severely limited.
I am a very active person who enjoys living in and being close to nature. I love to practice outdoor sports, where I do not need to sit in a wheelchair, such as horse riding or kayaking.
Since childhood I have been fascinated by the underwater world. I started with snorkeling and was immediately excited at seeing the animals and plants which I discovered. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would be found snorkeling for hours, and my parents would be unable to get me out of the water.
It would have been an obvious progression to learn diving. Everyone around me told me that this would be the perfect sport for me; and I dreamt of being able to dive. I wanted to fly underwater, to being free to move in three dimensions and being able to explore and to study everything close up.
The Fear Of Diving
Generally I would not call myself an anxious person. Usually I am very brave and nothing much can intimidate me. It is not in my nature to accept any borders for myself. However, the idea of relying totally upon a piece of scuba unit allowing me to breath underwater, whilst being unable to take my head out of the water was deeply frightening.
I had the opinion that scuba diving is simply unsafe, and that the risks of drowning and decompression sickness were high. I imagined that I would simply forget to breathe and my lungs could burst.
Perhaps one trigger for this anxiety was as a sixteen year old; a classmate had a diving accident that resulted in serious damage to her health.
Since this incident, scuba diving has been the sport that frightened me the most.
I always believed this fear will prevent me from feeling comfortable underwater and aloe me to dive. However, I also held a hope that my wish to feel the exhilarating freedom to explore the beauty of the underwater marine world might be far stronger than my fears.
The impossible made possible
I met Oliver a number of years ago and he described his project of "No Fear Diving".
I immediately interested in what I heard and liked the idea, but was also highly skeptical. I liked the concept but was convinced that he could help only those people with mild anxiety to feel secure under water, and not those such as myself who held deep-seated fears.
I thought it’s impossible; even to try No Fear Diving appeared as a hopeless cause and a waste of time for me. I simply could not imagine how it would be possible to overcome my fear. A series of coincidences years later brought me to accept Oliver's offer to come out to see him and to try "No Fear Diving".
When I booked Oliver and purchased the teaching materials for the PADI Open Water Course, I still had doubts about my sanity as I was certain that I would be throwing my money out the window.
At one point I was wondering if I could sell the course material on Ebay if I would be unable to complete the course.
The first pool dive was the most difficult for me. My only task was to breathe underwater.
Even at one metre depth, I felt a strong pressure in my sinuses because I was unable to equalize. The most challenging of all for me was to breathe the compressed dry air.
Although I knew it contains enough oxygen, it seemed to me that the air does not saturate me. I felt like I was suffocating even though I was constantly breathing. At this moment I wanted nothing more than to just quit and cancel the course.
But I was too proud and motivated to admit defeat and to quit after only the first lesson, and so I persevered to complete my exercises. Oliver had a lot of patience with me and it took us almost one hour to reach a depth of 2.5m in the pool.
After a time I discovered I could dive freely underwater without Oliver’s need to hold onto me. With his support I was able to complete all the exercises required for the course.
We attempted with a variety of scuba equipment, and were able to find an ideal and correct fin technique that allowed me to move with self-confidence through the water.
But still I could not imagine that I would be able to repeat this in greater depths independently in the open ocean while also enjoying it.
First Open Water Dive
The next step was a dive in the open sea, which I was extremely nervous about and could hardly sleep that night. The only reason I was looking forward to do it was my confidence in Oliver. I was confident with him and his abilities and knowing that he would never put me in any danger.
Amazingly, I made it that day down to eleven meters. Oliver was always close to me helping me to control my buoyancy; I felt surprisingly good compared to the pool lessons of a few days earlier. There was so much to see and to discover for myself that I became distracted and so I forgot the fear.
However, once we came to an area where there was no coral and fish, I became suddenly aware of the situation in which I found myself, and I slowly began to feel unwell as a panic attack took hold.
At this moment my immediate reaction was to ascend. Oliver could see it in my eyes and he knew immediately what I was experiencing and we began to ascend slowly together.
Once again the fear of drowning returned and the ascent seemed endless.
Working with the real fears
After this experience I resolved never to dive again. I never again wanted to feel so helpless and paralyzed by my fears.
After a long conversation with Oliver I rejected this decision, because I understood that the only solution was to practice more in order to be able to rely on myself and not on someone else.
We continued diving the next day. This dive was actually very similar. At first it was fairly OK and I even managed to control my buoyancy most of the time. Even with the surge I was able deal with it in a better way. At the end of the dive I felt uncomfortable again; I held Oliver firmly and focused only on my breathing as Oliver brought me back safely to the surface.
On the surface, Oliver asked me what the reason was for my sudden fear. It was a sudden onset of shortness of breath and a feeling of claustrophobia. Before the next dive I was very worried, since I had now twice experienced being close to panic under water.
As I found that Oliver was always able to calm me and to bring me back to the surface safely, I decided to simply enjoy the time under water. However, Oliver was not comfortable with my state of mind.
He emphasized the opinion that I have to rely on my self-confidence and not on his assistance.
So he came up with some special and individual exercises for me. They have been mostly about how to ascend by myself without any assistance. My confidence was now growing with each training section. The panic did not come back after this because I was now confident about my ability to control myself in any situation.
For each small problem we encountered, we had to find a customized solution so that I could meet the requirements for the PADI Open Water Course. I never wanted to do the open water course with a handicapped scuba association because I do not see myself as handicapped.
With each successive dive I could enjoy the underwater world more and more. It was really a great feeling to have overcome my fear and to feel free underwater like never before.
Certified Scuba Diver
Finally, I received my PADI Open Water license with only 2 additional dives as originally required. Considering the initial situation this is more than amazing for me.
Now I'm a regular PADI Open Water Diver, and I plan to take my advanced open water course as soon as I acquire some more experience.
Of course, I'm still at the very beginning of my ‘diving career’, and I cannot say with 100% certainty that my fear will never return, but if it does, then I'm sure I can control it. I know now what I have to do and I know that I can cancel the dive any time and ascend to the surface safe without anyone’s help. This has given me a great self-confidence.
I would like to recommend to everyone not to accept their fears; JUST FACE THEM. As a result, many new opportunities will arise, and diving is simply one of those.
This article was written by Julia Mörchel, after her experiences with the PADI No Fear Specialty.