One of the most appealing things to me is the wildlife underwater - it's just such an overwhelmingly amazing experience. On land, you can visit places like Yellowstone to see a concentration of wildlife, or large herds on the Serengeti - but they are still nothing like a coral reef. In 3d space, all around you, are clouds of fish, life, activity. They know they don't have anything to fear so will come right close to you - they can dart right up to you, comfortable in knowing that your awkward human form is no threat (sans spear-gun or net). You are an observer in a slice of their day-to-day life, in which there are always so many amazing things happening. Just being there is incredible.
I have had to work, a lot, on overcoming my body and brain's reptilian reaction to underwater situations which trigger that 'omg drowning' response. It's been intense and difficult, but I've made progress. I think that learning to control a visceral panic feeling and calmly deal with a potentially life-threatening situation is a very worthwhile skill to develop (both for underwater and out of it situations). Diving has taught me a lot about myself and helped me explore parts of my own 'inner space' that I've never been in touch with any other way.
Basic recreational scuba, for most people, is a relaxing sport (as it should be!). You can float around in warm water and see beautiful things, quite confident in simple but sophisticated equipment to provide life support and the ability to get to the surface in an emergency in most situations. Of course, I find myself rather crazy, and interested in technical diving - the term for what-lies-behind-the-curtain of rec diving. I'm not interested in records, fame, or pushing limits (something that seems to drive many technical divers), but in the incredible things you can see which are only available when you step outside the realm of floating on the reef.
So... stepping forward a bit: Ice diving!
After some more warm-water diving, and then some really neat classes for our Advanced Open Water certification (which also gave us our first real taste of nitrogen narcosis and a cavern experience), diving under the ice was our first foray into overhead environments. I wasn't sure how I would react to it (since I thought before I started diving, being comfortable in the water and a strong swimmer it would be no problem for me - but soon realized that your mind's reaction and your reptile brain/body's reaction to perceived danger can be very different things... So I was semi-prepared to deal with the fear, but thankfully it didn't come).
I could look up, see that I was to some extent 'trapped' under the ice, but my logical mind stayed in control, comfort taken in my redundant equipment, training, and tethered lifeline to the surfacing hole.
Ice diving is... cold! Really cold. I've been born and raised in Minnesota and I know cold, I've been frostbitten and spent a nights in -40 air temps and wind chill. But this level of cold, the intense and shocking numbing of your face and slow slide into hypothermia was new to me. I think if it hadn't been so cold outside (and if I'd had a bit of extra equipment to help keep even warmer) I could have handled it better, but after 27 minutes under on one dive I had to come up because my hands were so cold they had frozen into rigid claws that would no longer respond to my bidding. When they hauled me out of the water, I knew I'd pushed it too far - if something had happened underwater, and emergency I had to attend to, my non-functional hands could have been a real problem. I didn't know these things before I tried them - no manner of book reading can really prepare you for actually doing these sorts of things and experiencing them yourselves.
On a bit lighter note, here are some fun videos from our Florida training trip - our ending treat of swimming with wild manatees.
And drift diving on the stunningly clear Rainbow River: )
Some silly video of pool training safety drills: )
We are looking forward to possibly getting our Safety Diver training this summer - an intense course on rescue training taught locally. There are some pretty awesome opportunities for public service diving out here that are a vague long-term goal of mine; I don't know if I'll ever be a good enough diver to pursue them but I'd like to go in that direction. It's funny, my father was a police diver who did search & rescue when I was growing up (before he switched over to K-9) - but I had never really considered diving, it wasn't a long-term goal of mine, I didn't plan to follow in my father's footsteps with this, but I find myself here nonetheless. :)