So the climax of Sea Hunt was always an exciting underwater fight (accompanied by dramatic underwater horn music) in which Mike, his bubbles shooting all over the place, would struggle to get some air into his lungs and subdue the bad guy and get back to the surface and head over to the air-hose store, where he probably got a volume discount. Sea Hunt was great entertainment, but it did not leave you with the concepts of "scuba" and "safety" firmly cemented together in your mind.
The truth is, however, that scuba diving, especially at the relatively shallow depths recommended for recreational divers, is quite safe. Bad things can happen, but not nearly as many as can happen in a truly dangerous environment, such as the Palmetto Expressway. And virtually nothing bad is likely to happen unless you go out of your way to help it. So far, I'm pleased to report, I have not had my air hose cut one single time. I did have one terrifying Lobster Encounter (which I'll describe in harrowing detail later, when I feel you're ready to handle the emotional strain), but fortunately I was able to handle the situation through a combination of (a) not panicking and (b) letting go of the lobster. But I probably never would have thought of this without proper scuba training.
The training I got was the standard course authorized by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, or PADI. If you want to get into scuba diving, you should take an authorized course. For one thing, you'll learn many useful tips that will help to make your dive as enjoyable and fatality-free as possible. For another thing, if you don't have a card certifying that you've been properly trained, reputable dive shops will not rent you equipment or fill your tanks with air, which, as you can imagine, comes in very handy in the aquatic environment.
The guy who trained me, Ray Lang, 39, knows a lot about the aquatic environment. This is ironic because he was born and raised in Wichita, Kan., a locale you very rarely see featured on Jacques Cousteau underwater specials ("Henri excitedly gestures to Pierre that he has found a piece of the sunken tractor"). But in his early 20s he became obsessed with scuba diving and moved with his wife, Teresa, to South Florida, where they eventually opened a small chain of dive shops called Divers Den.
Lang's true passion, however, is competitive free-dive spearfishing, a moderately insane sport in which you wear only a mask and flippers -- no air tank -- and, holding your breath for two minutes or more, dive down as far as 100 feet, trying to locate, stalk and spear the largest possible fish without blacking out from oxygen deprivation and maybe getting hauled back to the surface, but maybe not, which has been known to happen. Lang and two other men won the 1988 national team free- dive spearfishing championship; he also holds world spearfishing records for six species of fish, including three species of s---ks.
Lang has dived all over the world and had some fairly remarkable experiences, which he describes in a flat, Midwestern-style twang, often employing unconventional but surprisingly useful words such as "motate, " as in:
" . . . so I look up, and I see I'm about to swim directly into this large tiger shark, has to be 15 feet, and I think, whoa, time to motate out of here, so. . . ."