Every since I was a little kid and would watch reruns of what I think was The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, I've wanted to learn to SCUBA dive.  A fascination with whales, dolphins, and especially sharks didn't help either.  In my typically morbid fashion, I had a book as a kid that was full of stories of the various deadly things that lived in the water.  I remember sea snakes, the purple ringed octopus of Australia, and of course the horrifying candiru, among others.  This book pulled no punches on the various fatalities and injuries caused, and being the weird 10-year-old I was, I loved it.

Fast forward almost two decades and I'm an adult with a whole pile of expensive hobbies already.  Rock climbing, photography, travel, etc.  Just bought a bike and wants a mountain bike.  Of course this is the logical time to take the plunge (pun totally intended) and try out diving.  It helped that a good climbing friend was looking to get his PADI Open Water Diver certification as well, and as we researched various dive centers in the Twin Cities I found that a lot of my fellow climbers dove.
Aaron (left), and I all suited up!
A friend of mine is headed to Hawaii this winter, and wanted to get certified as well, and we got in touch with the Midwest School of Diving, a PADI dive center in White Bear Lake.  On the 24th and 25th we completed the classroom and pool portions of the course (and my school-day test-taking skills proved to still be intact, I almost aced the test!) and Saturday we drove out to Square Lake, near Stillwater, MN, where we met up with the rest of the class for our first open water dives!
Aaron and the rest of the class
Square Lake is a popular local destination for dive training, thanks to relatively clear water and some excellent underwater platforms that keep you off the mucky bottom.  I was able to bring my GoPro along on the dives and capture some photos and video.  We were required to demonstrate all the skills we'd learned in the pool, things like clearing a flooded mask, using another diver's air supply, and managing our buoyancy so we didn't pop to the surface like a cork, or plummet to the soft bottom.
Aaron (left) and myself
We'd both pretty much nailed the skills in the pool, and had no real trouble demonstrating them here, other than a small math error on my part in the compass portion of the day, that resulted in us ending up about a dozen yards off course.  It was a really incredible experience, the feeling of weightlessness and the peacefulness of it all, at least when the instructor wasn't making you remove your regulator and recover it, or switch masks with him, or you let a little too much air out of your vest and sank a couple feet into slime at the bottom...
Divers don't use the thumbs-up.  Cue me constantly giving the thumbs up before remembering the "OK" instead
Next Sunday we head back to Square Lake for three more dives, and after that we're certified!  I've already been researching what other MN lakes we can explore, and there's some great potential in old open-pit mines up north.  A few have cars, construction equipment, or event aircraft sunken in them for divers to explore!  Also on the to-do list is to find a nice warm dive destination to visit over Christmas or New Years.  Preferably somewhere with sharks!

If you've never dove, I think it's definitely worth checking out.  Many dive shops offer something called Discover Scuba, where you can get a quick rundown of the gear and safety, then experience SCUBA diving in a pool or shallow lake.  It isn't a certification, but will give you a taste of what it's like, and the best part is it's usually less than $50.