In order to pass the PADI Open Water Diver course, or to enjoy a try-dive properly, there are some basic skills that your PADI professional will work through with you before you go diving.
Some of these skills are known as ‘mask skills’ – simple skills that will teach you how to use your mask properly underwater. This involves learning how to clear your mask, and, for the full course, how to swim underwater without it! As with any PADI course, these skills are designed to help you calmly and safely fix any problems you might have during a dive, but if the idea of taking your mask off in the ocean makes you feel a little nervous, don’t worry! There’s plenty of ways to become a mask-skills pro.
Communicate with your instructors
Many people wear contact lenses while diving, and feel nervous about letting water into their mask and possibly effecting their lenses. Not to worry! Just let your instructor know – they’ll have plenty of techniques to get around this, and you can complete all mask skills with your eyes closed. Similarly, if you’re worried about salty water getting up your nose once the mask is off, ask your instructor if you can pinch your nose – they can even do that for you while your hands are busy. Eventually you’ll learn block your nostrils by breathing down them slightly as you take the mask off.
Create good habits
When we SCUBA, we have to retrain our brains to adapt to our new underwater environment. One thing you’ll have to get used to is having your nose covered at all times – and this means breathing through your mouth only! Unless you’re clearing your mask of water, you should not be inhaling or exhaling through your nose, as this can cause your mask to leak, and make it more difficult for you when you take the mask off. From day one, make a big effort and really focus on your breathing techniques, taking care to note where you are exhaling from.
Practice, practice, practice
Everyone learns differently, and at a different pace. Don’t worry if the mask skills have you stumped – you’re not the only one! There’s lots of ways you can get more comfortable with your mask in the water. Using a snorkel is a great way to start: take the mask off altogether, and put your snorkel in your mouth. Then, keeping your eyes closed, gently lower your face into the water (not necessarily the ocean – it could even be a washing up bowl at home!) and practice breathing through the snorkel only.
This will help train you not to use your nose underwater, and helps you get used to the sensation of water all around your face. You’ll be able to tell if you’re exhaling through your nose, as you’ll feel bubbles around your eyes and nose – relax and concentrate on breathing just through the snorkel.
Finally, the real key to mastering your mask underwater is to relax! It’s certainly easier said than done, especially in a new environment with so many unfamilar sensations, but taking your time and believing in yourself will help you to work through these skills without feeling nervous about them. Focus on the end goal – whether it’s a dream diving holiday, becoming a great dive buddy, or simply feeling more comfortable in the water – and think about how great you’ll feel when you pass your course with confidence!
If this post has inspired you to start your diving journey start your PADI Open Water Diver course today!