Diving For the Disabled? #CanDo
Mumbai hosted its first-ever Underwater Diving Festival and it was completely accessible! Our expert, Virali Modi, was there and she can’t stop gushing about the experience! Take a look…
What happens when you put a girl underwater and give her a device that lets her breathe at depths of 17 feet? She becomes a mermaid, obviously! That’s exactly how I felt when I went scuba diving with Finkick Adventures at Prabhodhankar Thackrey Pool earlier this month.
For about two years now, a friend of mine had been pressuring me to go scuba diving. He’d always said, “Virali, those with disabilities can go scuba diving!” I always brushed it off, because I thought it was impossible. I thought he was pulling my leg, toying around with my aspirations. Well, that was until I was browsing events on Facebook and came across the Mumbai Underwater Festival 2017. I tagged my friend in it and asked him if we could go diving there. He tagged Kshitij Mittal, co-founder of Finkick Adventures, and Kshitij immediately got in touch with me. At first, we discussed my disability, just so he could get an idea of the amount of assistance I’d need underwater. We finally decided to meet up and have a discussion at length, face to face.
Meeting Kshitij was a blast! He was filled with knowledge about marine life, scuba diving, and of course disabled diving. I found out that he’s one of the two instructors certified in disabled diving in India. He started divulging information about how it is possible to dive with a disability; even quadriplegics have gone scuba diving! That was news to me! We discussed diving and my health issues, and we scheduled a test dive, before the festival. He said, “Let’s just get into the water and have a good time!” His laid back nature, professionalism, and positivity gave me the confidence to step out of the box.
On the day of the dive, I was introduced to Rupi Modi and Sidharth Ramachandran, both scuba diving instructors. Kshitij started briefing me about scuba diving, the history of it, the gear, and simple breathing techniques to keep me safe underwater. He showed me the regulators, the air gauge, how to tighten the straps so my BCD (buoyancy control device) would stay snug, some hand signals to communicate underwater, and how to defog my mask. It was super interesting, especially the history aspect.
After about 45 minutes, we made our way to the pool, where Kshitij and Sidharth lifted me up and had me sit on the edge of the pool, with my legs in the water. After my body got used to the temperature, I got into the pool. The water was refreshing and cool, compared to the scorching summer sun. Kshitij got me on my back and I swam a little, with extremely minimal support–he was kind enough to not let me drown. Kidding, kidding! We made our way over to the edge, and Kshitij and Rupi came to help me with the BCD, as soon as that was on tight, next came the mask. They basically spit into the masks, so it wouldn’t fog up underwater. I found that disgusting, interesting, and totally necessary–I lightly coated the inside of the mask with my spit and it fogged up horribly. You definitely need more than just a light coating. Thankfully, shampoo works just as well.
Kshitij showed me how to breathe with the regulator for a couple of minutes, and then we went underwater. It was amazing–and that’s truly an understatement! I was in awe, even though it was just a pool. I couldn’t imagine the beauty of the ocean. I think I started thinking too much and I started hyperventilating underwater. We came to the surface and Kshitij did a great job of calming me down. Apparently I was over thinking the whole dive, and he told me to relax. I imagined myself to be Dory, from Finding Nemo, and that worked wonders. We went under again, and stayed there for 45 minutes, without any problems. I felt like a mermaid–rather I felt like Medusa, because my hair was floating around me. According to Kshitij, I was pretty independent in the water, my dive was incredibly smooth, and I didn’t need much assistance.
The day of the festival, I was pretty stoked! I couldn’t wait to get back into the water. It was incredibly busy though, there were so many BCDs, instructors, journalists, and so much entertainment, including slacklining from Slackline Inc, skateboarding, talks, and exhibitions filled with pictures taken by divers in various oceans. There was another quadriplegic girl, and I learned that she had just gone diving! That’s when I realised that scuba diving is incredibly inclusive.
It was my turn to dive, and as soon as I got underwater, I felt alive, free, weightless, and powerful! We went as deep as possible, 17 feet. There were games there! Tic Tac Toe, an obstacle course, a bicycle, basketball, and hockey! There was a line there too, and people were walking on it upside down! We played Tic Tac Toe, but I lost. We were swimming around, just having a great time, and before I could truly enjoy myself, my 45 minutes underwater was up and I had to get out of the pool.
Scuba diving has been one of the best experiences of my life. I couldn’t believe I could do it, until I did it. It helped me quite a lot with my spasticity and I gained a lot of confidence in the water. It was amazing and I cannot recommend it enough, no matter your age or disability. I would definitely say GO OUT AND GO DIVING! You #CanDo It!