Out Cocking the Cocky College Kids

One bad call during a dive, could have had fatal consequences. This story is about a time I got lucky.

I took a group of college buddies down for a quick afternoon dive just South off of West-End. A resort beach was within an hour’s stroll down the strip. This was one of the few beach accessed dives around Roatan and we used it to practice our backwards duck-walks. A weekly cruise ship would drop their passengers off for a couple hours of baking in the sun. White skin would turn bright crimson, speckled with sand fly bites for effect. I really enjoyed timing these beach entries for when tourist density was highest. We always received stares of Kentucky twins and curious country moms would stop us with questions on the various functions of our dive equipment.

Like a proud patriarch, I would let the clients answer the questions and have their five minutes of fame. I naturally beamed when they aggressively pushed my entertainment services with the candor of any LA drug dealer. One section of the beach usually had a couple of topless bathers and it was fun to watch the reactions of the American clients; the Europeans of course, had seen many a beach nipple and preferred to continue with haste. As if the sunburns and bites on the beach goers didn’t give away their cruise boat caste, they were encouraged to wear plastic yellow hospital bracelets, supposedly yielding special privileges for the owner. The tacky plastic jewelry however, served a more important purpose. Used as a round up device in the event that some young rebel thought of breaking free and joining the vagabond traveler circuit, they were not envied by my dive clients. The lack of a bracelet set us apart even more than our unique beach wear. We were the top dogs, we belonged on this beach, and the cruise ship patrons were just visiting. Our confident backwards duck-walks emphasized this point. Everyone who was anyone on Roatan walked backwards, stumbling and tripping over oversized rubber flippers, plastic masks in hand or around one’s neck. It was the coolest way to show your status and I led my posse into the cool blue water.

Only the Italians broke free of their cruise ship caste. They could literally sit and drink coffee seven hours straight and remain cooler than any in my dive clique. I remember taking a romantic morning stroll with Andrea to the resort beach one Monday and came upon thirty grandmothers, aunts, daughters and cousins along with their male counterparts, waste deep in the surf punching right, then left; confidently kicking forwards then spinning clockwise in time to the deep sexy sound of Fabio’s voice. It was the morning class of Italian bizarro water aerobics. I simply wasn’t cool enough to even watch and our backwards duck walking was no match for such an attention grabber. Andrea and I gawked briefly until we realized what every Italian on the beach already knew. This was their beach. They belonged and we were just visiting. They were not about to gawk back.

This time was different though as I had a group of six college studs following my every move. I was the alpha. We entered successfully where the water caressed the sand and after our safety checks began blowing bubbles. We had a nice half hour of casually swimming with Sgt. Peppers and Parrot fish. Curios snorkeling teenagers dove down holding their breath in lungs with some reserve stored in fat cheeks. They wanted to be us or at least pretend. At thirty feet, we were below their range and would look up at them with condescending dry eyes. This was the pinnacle of diving, the pride of having a tank on your back and moving beyond the limitations of human ability. We could breathe under water.

My fearless college studs were big, muscular and quite the site under the ocean plane. They ran along the sand, playing pantomime football. They formed a classic pyramid throwing the smallest on top and I captured their moment with a disposable waterproof camera. They took their regulators out of their mouths and called each names. They gesticulated, and pretended to hump one another. Why this brings a laugh, I have no idea. They lay in the sand and tried to make sand angles. We tipped sleeping fish and watched as they squirmed with the realization of human contact. Ultimately, however we forgot we were diving, we forgot that as humans we weren’t supposed to be under water. We forgot to look at our air gages.

Our precarious state dawned on me and a couple of others at the same time, the moment the biggest breather ran out of air. With eyes open wide, he swam over to me his breathing apparatus hanging by his knee and motioned the out of air signal, a hand moving perpendicularly back across the neck. I had been trained for this and quickly gave my spare regulator. With one attempted breath and time running desperately short, he shot to the surface.

Our entire group followed seconds later as no safety stop was needed when diving so shallow. I maintained my composure, even though I was shaken and worried for my client. I asked why he had surfaced instead of breathing from my tank, and he could hardly respond. He was a bit upset. His cool and fun party boy exterior had been cracked by the cold reality of death by drowning. He replied with a few deserved cuss words and asked me to breath off of my own ****ing spare. I attempted and to my horror nothing came out. It was broken. I let my client down. His trusted dive master, when needed, had failed. At the dive shop we inspected the faulty equipment and realized that the plastic internal membrane was cracked, causing the device to lock up and disallow any air to pass. Later that afternoon, I checked the rest of the spares and over half failed to work. I could have killed a man, simply by not performing my requisite equipment checks.

Luckily my studs had been through the fraternity system, and a little near death experience was a pretty common occurrence. We were drinking green beer and laughing about the whole drama, reliving the underwater football game by five o’clock. My near dead client’s friends were unusually harsh if he overemphasized his close call with death. This seemed to bring smiles all around the bar and I was relieved that I wasn’t going to be sued. It was really silly for me to think that I would be sued. After all, we were in Honduras and I wasn’t even officially working. It’s the cheapest place in the Caribbean to dive, if you want safety and functioning equipment, head to Hawaii, or better yet a pool in the middle of Colorado.

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