Island Times Blog

The Tale of "Buzz"

November 14th, 2014 by Michael "Buzz" Cohen |

This Island Times blog entry is the first in a series of personal essays illustrating how SeaTrek has impacted the lives of our students and staff. We thank Michael Cohen (aka. Buzz) for this insightful and heartfelt account of what SeaTrek has meant to him. 

When I found out last October that I was accepted to work for SeaTrek as a Divemaster and deckhand, I was ecstatic.  For the past two summers, the British Virgin Islands had become my home and SeaTrek, my family. SeaTrek provides sailing, marine biology, and SCUBA diving instruction to students living on forty-six foot catamarans for three week periods.  I envisioned my upcoming summer to be an extension of the previous two summers. I did not fully understand the adult role I was about to take on.

Three summers ago, I went on my first SCUBA dive.  With much anticipation, we entered the water and descended.  I suddenly found myself immersed in a new world, full of vivid color and life.  I spun around 360 degrees and knew that I would be forever in love with the ocean.  The eerie rumble of air through the regulator combined with the notion of being able to breathe underwater was ethereal.  I tried to spin and flip, enjoying the “zero gravity” feeling, almost as if I were in outer space.  I was so lost in the moment I didn’t realize the Divemaster was trying to get my attention.  He wanted to make sure that I was okay and had enough air.  I quickly signaled that I was okay.  Before I knew it I was back on the boat.  After my first dive, I knew that diving and marine conservation would be a defining passion in my life.

Two summers later, I was a NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) Divemaster preparing to lead my first dive.  I now had the opportunity to recreate my experience for students diving for their first time.  I briefed all thirteen of my newly certified divers.  We splashed into the ocean and started to descend along the anchor chain. I noticed one of the students straying away from the group.  I kicked over to him and pointed back to the chain.  The minute I took care of the first student and returned to navigating, I noticed another diver swimming without her buddy.  I swam toward her and clicked my index fingers together, making the universal “get with your buddy” sign.

While I watched my students point at fish and coral, I realized how inexperienced they were.  For the first time in my life, I was responsible for thirteen lives.  I imagined everything possible that could go wrong.  What if someone got separated from the group, or ran out of air, or their gear malfunctioned?  Scenarios ran through my mind, and I struggled to hold back the onset of panic.  I thought back to my very first SCUBA lesson.  Studies have shown that panic is the leading cause of death in diving accidents.  To prevent panic, NAUI teaches students to “breathe, stop, breathe, think, breathe, act, breathe.”  I stopped the group and took a few deep breaths, to calm myself before continuing.  Later, after I had navigated the group back to the boat, and we had safely ascended, I thought about my journey with SeaTrek and my transition from student to staff member and dive leader. 

Leading my first dive was a defining moment for me.  It changed my perspective on SCUBA diving and my role as an adult.  As a Divemaster, I was responsible for everything that happened in the water during the dive.  As much as that terrified me, I grew, becoming less focused on my experience and more focused on the students’ experience.  When I was younger, the staff had worked hard to make my experience incredible. While I didn’t realize it at the time, they did everything they could to enhance my summer and keep me safe.  As a staff member, it was now my job to work as hard as I could for the students.  This transition helped me to develop as a teacher, diver, and leader.

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