Why I dive.
I was raised in the Midwest. My father worked for Chrysler Corporation during the formative years of life; we were hobby fishermen and hunters at the time. When my dad decided to retire, we moved to an even smaller town. My experience with the underwater world was limited to creek beds searching for crawdads or sinking a fishing line into murky water in search of a bass or perch worth keeping for dinner. When it came time to graduate high school, this young brain wasn't quite ready for the college life; I joined the military. After recruit and infantry training, we were whisked away to a foreign land known as Japan. There we found ourselves in Sasebo where one of my good friends had come back from a Discover Scuba Diving event at a local dive shop in town one day.
"You have to try this out, man!" - I thought he was crazy. Why would I dip my head into mud water to look at catfish? It was even more confusing to realize my buddy was from Oklahoma; another landlocked state that didn't boast much in the way of scuba diving adventures (or so I thought in my far superior 18 year old brain). A few weeks later, he was certified as a PADI Open Water diver and had rented his first set of equipment. The two of us met down at a little boat launch area in Sasebo where we were in standing water. He gave me his secondary air source and I dipped below the cold waters of southern Japan to take my first breath.
Taken around 1997, dive buddies Ryan (left) and DJ (right) on a beach in Sasebo, Japan.
There I saw moss flowing slowly with the water movement. Little fish in search of food were exploring the manmade shoreline and a couple of crabs were scurrying about. I could see! It was an entirely different world. One that seemed to constantly move. I let go of his regulator and chilled on the surface while he and a buddy did their first open water dive together as certified divers. The entire time, I was enthralled with what I had seen during those few minutes underwater. I spent the rest of the afternoon snorkeling about and seeing the wonders of the underwater realm first hand. I became hooked as we drove to the dive shop to drop off the rented equipment after his dives. There wasn't much English in our local dive shop, so through broken Japanese, I conveyed that I was interested in scuba diving. They gave me all of the information and I went home that night excited to explore this sport more. At the time, I just didn't have enough money to scrape together for a certifying course. So, I did the unthinkable. I rented some equipment through friends and we went diving together in the same area. I was only in 20 feet of water, but I was enjoying the experience. My buddies giving me the ins and outs of being safe and how to conduct myself, we continued to explore to deeper depths. When my clothing allowance from the military hit my bank account, I took it immediately to the dive shop to get a certifying course with PADI.
It was 1997.
For four days, we went through all of the paces of being a safe diver. Learning how to recover a regulator, how to flood a mask; even how to deal with our buddy running low on air. The first day at the pool, I was cornered by my instructor, Mika. She said to me in Japanese "How many dives do you have?" - I was in shock and my knee jerk reaction was to lie. I told her none. She looked at me again and asked it again. I asked her how did she know I even dived? "You're the only one with your gear together." she said. I had already gotten three or four dives under my belt and she sensed it right away. I sheepishly admitted to going out uncertified. It didn't perturb her in the least bit. She found ways to challenge me beyond what I thought I knew. We had to learn on drysuits because it was getting into a Japanese winter and I certainly had no clue about this technology. Plus we were diving in the famed 99 Islands on Kyushu; a place where fish were abundant; the diving cold and clear.
After those amazing experiences, I went on to do many more dives. When I relocated to Southern California, I just continued. I couldn't get enough dives to satisfy my soul. I simply wanted to stay underwater for the rest of my life. I had a second job as a bouncer in a bar. We would finish our night and head down to Brooks street and conduct a dive. For countless nights, my buddy and I did dives at 3am in Laguna Beach. I didn't think anything of it. I just knew I wanted to dive as much as possible. We ventured over to Missouri and explored a cave system on military leave. When deployments came later, I would take my scuba gear on ship with me and explore places like Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia, Seychelles and more. I had contracted the scuba bug!
1999, dive buddies Ryan (left) and DJ (right) at Roubidoux Caverns in Missouri - we are in drysuits, outside temp is 6 degrees F and that's ice behind us...
As I got older, the passion for scuba remained deep in my heart. If I didn't get a dive in on a weekend, I'd be grumpy the following week. The Pacific Ocean had definitely become my sanctuary. With the job I was doing as an infantryman, I felt scuba diving was a place to go and experience complete quiet. Only the sounds of your breathing, the snapping crabs and some possible dolphin squeaks were present on the dives. Each Southern California dive site provided a different scene to explore. Kelp, large fish, passing dolphins or sharks. You just never knew what you'd be able to see on a dive; the possibilities seemed endless! By the end of my first year of diving, I had realized that I had quit all other hobbies. All I wanted was to continue diving and exploring the underwater realm. When I took a job in the scuba industry in 2000, I found a way to make a little money and start my younger years teaching scuba diving to people who may share that passion with me.
It became one of my favorite activities to do and I found myself enthralled with training courses and traveling to exotic lands to see their waters. I would return to Missouri on military leave and dive in places like Bonne Terre mine where the clearest waters reside underneath the city in the world's largest lead mine. I'd venture over to Mermet Springs, Illinois to see the Boeing 727 that was in a movie known as U.S. Marshals. I realized that every state in the union had places to explore and that there were thousands upon thousands of dive sites throughout the world. I had my work cut out!
Systematically, I would find ways to get to these lands and explore their wonders underwater. I stopped going to countries that didn't offer scuba diving! The adventure just never stopped. If I wanted to try a new course, I could head to Ginnie Springs and explore their cave system with an instructor. If I was interested in Drift diving, I could meander over to Cozumel and see their pristine reefs while learning at the same time.
When I thought I wouldn't go any further with the novel locations and training for scuba diving, the techniques and new equipment came into play. Now, I could try multi-level diving or utilize a Dive Propulsion Vehicle (DPV) to explore the dive site. Lights for the night dives, full face masks in ice diving; the possibilities just began to open back up. Next thing I know, I'm looking to technical dive. Then I'm in rebreathers. Then I can do sidemount training. It just hasn't ended! 22 years later the adventures continue!
I now covet my Saturdays and dedicate them for scuba diving. Whether I am doing 5 dives that day or just one, I know that it'll be good. I don't even care if the conditions aren't that great, it's the feeling of that weightlessness, that gliding through the water in search of that new animal or encounter I've never ran into before that moment. It's that silence and that opportunity to train with a new piece of equipment, in a new area or implementing a new technique. Every aspect of my life has become completely dedicated to scuba diving. Something I hope remains well into my golden years.
My life is defined by getting the opportunity to be in a completely relaxing world, floating silently by animals that I would never see in their habitat without the help of my scuba apparatus. Educationally, I am afforded the ability to delve into hours of material and enjoy the science of diving just as much as the act of it. My restless spirit can explore lands close to home or far away and see the beauty of our planet in its full glory. Scuba diving is my purpose in life; my reason to wake up each day and work. It always seems to lead to the next big adventure.
It's why I dive.
About the Author:
D.J. Mansfield is a PADI Course Director who dives Southern California and has done so for 22 years. He is currently the Director of Operations for Beach Cities Scuba and is a committed ocean steward and trainer for divers all over the world.
Follow him on Instagram @djmansfield7or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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