It’s a quiet 6:10 AM wakeup call in boys dorm.
It still looks like night outside, but a few pull themselves out of bed to go free-diving, careful not to wake the others who opt to sleep in. W e gather our masks, snorkels, and fins, and head to the boathouse, where Chris Maxey is already leading breathing exercises.
From there we take two boats out to a place called tunnel rock. One of the faculty, Mike, instructs me on how to drive the boat around the shallow rocks and sandbars that stretch out across the ocean. We get to tunnel rock and tie the boat to a buoy. I look down to see the huge rock formation covered in beautiful coral heads, with a long, partially covered tunnel leading through it that the dive sit is named after. Most of the rock is only ten or fifteen feet deep, and the sandy bottom surrounding it goes down to thirty.
Some dive to look at the corals and fish, others choose to push their boundaries, trying to touch the bottom or see how long they can stay under. As the sun rises over the open ocean, the twenty of us begin our dives.
I am warming up, doing a shallow fifteen foot dive, when I see someone far below me on the sandy bottom, taking off his fins. He proceeds to grab a rock and take a couple steps. He drops the rock and swims to the surface. On my next dive I see a lionfish, and I swim over to it in order to get a better look, keeping my distance, and when I look down I see someone slowly and calmly passing through the tunnel. He reaches the end and ascends calmly.
I find as the dive progresses that I can go further and further down, just by merit of practicing pushing my limits. I can stay down longer and longer, allowing me to stay more relaxed in the water, and to see more. I can’t get down very far, but that boundary is constantly being pushed, and my ability is constantly expanding.
It’s like my whole experience at the Island School, really. I suffered on my first dive, barely making it ten feet down, splashing awkwardly, breathing in water, and flailing my arms the whole way, but I was thrilled and addicted. I’m still awkward, I still can’t stay down for very long, but the more that I immerse myself into the idea of getting deeper and deeper, the further I go.
Now , I can get down to forty feet, and I’m practicing for a swim- through of tunnel rock, and it hurts every time. At the Island School, the thing that I have learned every single day, over and over again, is how to push myself, and how to completely invest my body and my mind into what I’m doing. The focus and the struggle inherent in a free-dive is the perfect microcosm of the Island School experience.
by Hugo Wasserman