Monthly Archives: November 2016

My PADI Interview: Juan Gonzales, Military Veteran & PTSD Fighter

Juan Gonzales is a former United States Marine Corps (USMC) Sergeant who retired from the service after 12 years and three deployments in the hotspots of US military action around the world: two to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2004, he nevertheless stayed in the service through his final deployment to Iraq in 2012. Then, he came home and confronted even bigger challenges: reconnecting with his family and learning to live civilian life hampered by his PTSD. Fortunately, he found help for himself and his family through the W.A.V.E.S. Project (Wounded American Veterans Experience SCUBA), a small, non-profit organization in Southern California that provides US veterans who have service-related injuries opportunities to experience the healing effects of scuba diving. Juan shares his story, below.

Please fill us in on your background

I grew up in Woodland, California and I now reside here again with my children, age 16, 10 and 5. In 2014, I took a medical retirement from my position as a sergeant in the USMC, where I had served for 12 years as an artilleryman, and later as a heavy equipment mechanic and a welder.

How did your time away in military service affect you and your family?

Being away from the family was hard. I was trying to parent through the telephone. (FYI, trying to make sure the kids are doing their homework through a phone line doesn’t work very well!) Then, when I did come home, I didn’t want to be the disciplinarian, but it was a necessity, in our case.

Another challenge: I was an inconsistent presence in the lives of my wife and children. My schedule was constantly changing. I would go to school, then I’d go to the field, do training, and then deploy. Gradually, it became a lot easier to let my wife raise the kids, and focus on my life in the military.

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What was it like, finally coming home to your family after you left the service?

Coming back was really hard. By that time, my wife and I were separated and going through a divorce. I asked if I could take the kids so I could be more involved in their lives. Adjusting to parenting – and single parenting at that – was a huge challenge. I wasn’t sure how to interact with my kids. I didn’t know what they ate for breakfast or what their daily schedules were. We kind of had to make it work from scratch, which was really interesting!

On a more personal level, coming back and trying to adjust from a deployment mindset to an at-home mindset was a struggle; it was incredibly difficult to leave the role of deployed Marine behind me and fill my new role as dad. To say the least, I didn’t adjust very well, primarily due to PTSD.

Please help us understand PTSD, and how it affected you.

It started with anxiety attacks. Eventually, I experienced additional symptoms such as night terrors, night sweats, and insomnia. When I was diagnosed in 2004, there was very little understanding of the syndrome – or treatment for it. The priority was to get me back out and doing my job as a Marine, and I ended up focusing on my military duties and emotionally disconnecting from my wife and my kids.

By 2006, I had developed such a callous over my feelings that it was a lot easier to deploy than to relate to my family. It wasn’t until I was medically retired in 2014 that I realized how thick that callous had become, how little I could relate with people around me, and to fully accept the depth of my PTSD.

To this day, I still have difficulty creating and maintaining interpersonal relationships. I get anxious in crowds and I’m easily startled. I am more comfortable isolating at home – not going out.

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Did you find any treatment that worked?

While I was in the Corps, I dealt with the PTSD by ignoring everything going on around me and focusing my work. Later, I tried some of the medications they offer for PTSD, and sought help from a psychiatrist.

Ultimately, what’s worked best for me is finding things that I enjoy doing – things that are fun for me and my kids. My kids definitely helped me come out of it. We do a lot of family events to help me stay in the proper mindset and keep moving forward.

Which is where scuba diving comes in! How did you first hear about the WAVES Project?

My son, Marcus, and I were spending our first summer together in about 12 years when a friend called to tell me about learning to dive through the WAVES Project, which introduces disabled veterans into scuba diving. I said, “Great, that’s something I’ll look into when I find time.” However, my friend emphasized that I could take Marcus with me. We could learn to dive together – free of charge!

Juan Gonzales and son Marcus

So you and your son obtained your PADI Open Water Diver certifications for free through WAVES Project?

Yes! The best and most unique aspect of WAVES is they allow the veteran to choose his or her own dive buddy; in my case, it’s my son, Marcus. I think this policy is extremely beneficial because the immediate family members of disabled veterans have a lot to cope with and need healing, too. It is wonderful that they include family members! It certainly was for me and Marcus. Diving has opened up a whole new world to us, providing an activity we can share together and a reason to spend time together.

Before the WAVES Project, Marcus and I were not nearly as close as we are today. My absence throughout so much his life and my role as disciplinarian put a real strain on our relationship. Scuba diving gave us an opportunity to reconnect and build a far stronger bond than we had before – partly of the increased trust we developed as dive buddies. Now, we spend a lot of one-on-one time together, checking our gear, creating our dive plans and driving to and from the dive sites. This has given us time to just hang out and be buds. I’m very grateful for that. Now, Marcus wants to pursue higher ratings, and I think I’ll tag along with him!

How does diving help you with your PTSD?

I can’t explain exactly how, but diving is one of the best ways I’ve found to diminish my PTSD symptoms. When I’m diving, I feel relaxed and at ease with what’s going on around me and with life in general – like there’s nothing else in my life that needs my attention at the moment. I feel my usual coping mechanisms slipping away and I am able to focus on diving and having a good time.

In many ways, diving is exact opposite of being on deployment. Deployment is the incredibly noisy with the racket of firefights, explosions and radio chatter. Contrast that to the quiet, calm and tranquil environment of diving. The sound of your regulator literally drowns most of the sound out around you, so you don’t hear much, but what you see and feel is absolutely amazing.

How has diving affected your son, Marcus?

One of the best things about diving has been seeing Marcus’s reaction to the new experiences and things that we see when we’re underwater, and hearing him joke around with people on the dive boat. I saw a huge transformation in Marcus once he started diving. Nowadays, he is interested not just in diving and where diving can take him, but in new things – like where he can go to college! He sees a future for himself that wasn’t there before diving.

Juan Gonzales and WAVES Project

Are you still involved in the WAVES Project?

WAVES Project is not just a place to get your certification. It’s a family – a community. They have kept in touch with us; they want to keep their veterans engaged with scuba diving. I’m really close friends with many of the members and I sometimes get opportunities to go dive with them.

Does the WAVES Project help veterans with disabilities other than PTSD?

Yes, but it wasn’t until I came across the WAVES Project that I learned about the therapeutic properties of scuba diving for treating PTSD, neuropathy, and other types of injuries that veterans experience. The WAVES Project takes each candidate and his or her dive buddy through open water certification, regardless of their injury. They work with all levels of the military and a wide range of disabilities, including veterans suffering from brain trauma, and double and triple amputees. Visit their website to see the stories of other wounded veterans who have benefited from the WAVES Project.

Juan Gonzales scuba diving

What does the future hold for you?

First of all, it’s great knowing that when things seem crazier than I can handle, there’s something I can do to re-center myself: go diving.

My hope is to see where Marcus and I can take our scuba diving adventure. We would like to eventually become instructors and start a program similar to WAVES in the Sacramento, California area so we can bring scuba to a new group of veterans and their families.

It’s a really important for veterans with PTSD and other disabilities to know that there’s a future…there’s a tomorrow… a next chapter. And the WAVES Project can help them get there.

How can the diving community help support WAVES Project?

The WAVES Project relies on donations and support from the diving community to provide services to veterans and their families. To contribute, please visit the WAVES Project fundraising page.

To learn more about Juan Gonzales and hear other inspirational My PADI stories, visit http://mypadi.padi.com.

Five More Dives – Advanced Open Water Diver

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Open Water 2013

Are you a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver? If you’re interested in new experiences, excitement and exploration you should be. The course is specifically designed to give new (and old) PADI Open Water Divers continued training and skill development under professional guidance – and you don’t have to be “advanced” to take it. One of the best ways to look at it is as an opportunity to simply make five more dives right after your PADI Open Water Diver certification.

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5 Adventure Dives

And it’s great fun too. The course builds confidence and expands your scuba skills through five different Adventure Dives. Everyone makes the deep and underwater navigation dives, and you’ll try out three additional dive specialties (such as search and recovery, wreck diving, night diving and more), which you’ll choose with your instructor. It’s a brilliant way to check out some of the many different things divers do and see what really interests you. And there is simply no better way try out exotic new equipment, such as full face masks and diver propulsion vehicles, or even dip your toe into tec diving with the sidemount and rebreather dives.

Once you know where your dive passions lie, you’ll be delighted to discover that each Adventure Dive counts as the first dive in the corresponding PADI Specialty Diver course, and vice versa. Depending on your location, you can get started in ice, cavern, enriched air or almost any other dive specialty you can imagine. The divers who get the most out of diving never stop learning, and this is the all important first step on the continuing education ladder.

Night Diver - Advanced Open Water

Ready to get started today? Enroll in the Advanced Open Water Diver course at a PADI Dive Center or Resort.

What’s Next After Advanced Open Water Diver?

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Total Submersion

I had it easy when I first got serious about diving. I went all out and signed up for a 10-week intensive instructor program. This included all the “core” courses, such as Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Rescue, Divemaster and Instructor, along with five specialties, first aid and CPR. That’s a lot of diving and a lot of learning in 10 weeks, and it certainly took effort and commitment, but the easy part was that I didn’t have to choose what to do next. I had a goal, I wanted to become a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and teach scuba somewhere warm and tropical.

With so many enticing possibilities, indecision can be a bit of an affliction for divers after the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course. Thinking about the next step as heading down one of two distinct paths helps simplify things.

Better Dive Buddy

Master Scuba Diver Path

The first leads to PADI Master Scuba Diver, and AOW divers are already a good part of the way there. It requires earning five specialties (and Advanced Open Water dives count as the first dives of the corresponding specialty) and Rescue Diver and logging 50 dives. It’s scuba diving’s highest non-professional rating. Master Scuba Divers are an elite group of respected divers with significant experience and training. Fewer than two percent of divers ever earn it.

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PADI Professional Path

The second is for those who are already thinking about becoming a PADI Divemaster or Instructor. If that’s your goal and you want to get there quickly, Rescue Diver is the obvious next step. You’ll often hear this mentioned as the most challenging, yet most rewarding course divers ever take. Rescue divers learn to prevent and manage problems and develop more confidence in their dive skills. They practice problem solving skills until they’re second nature. It’s a serious, yet enjoyable, course that ultimately prepares divers to help others and it’s a fitting prerequisite for leadership-level training.

I made it to my goal and hopped on a plane to a job waiting in the Virgin Islands right after my 10-week course. Where’s diving going to take you?

Want more information about the path to Master Scuba Diver or PADI Professional? Visit padi.com.

Hawaii

hawaii

It’s the quintessential tropical vacation destination and, at more than 3219 kilometres/2000 miles from the nearest continental landmass, one of the more remote places on earth. Made up of hundreds of islands stretching across the central Pacific Ocean, four main islands stand out for most tourists – Oahu, where Honolulu is located, Maui, Kauai and the eponymously named Big Island of Hawaii. That remoteness pays off with some of the most pristine scenery, cleanest air and unique marine creatures on the planet. But, the US’ diminutive 50th state is also a land of contrast, from the fire of lava to the ice of snow-capped volcanoes, farmland and cities, waterfalls and sandy beaches. In short, it’s a Pacific paradise, particularly so for divers.

Great Dives

  • O’ahu – The wrecks of the YO-257 and the San Pedro run parallel approximately 36 metres/120 feet apart. The Atlantis Submarine often visits and divers can interact with submarine passengers. The Sea Tiger, off Waikiki, is reputed to be a former smuggling vessel. She rests in 36 metres/120 feet of water and divers often see spotted eagle rays, puffer fish and frog fish, with green sea turtles also making an appearance. Summer’s calmer surf opens up famous North Shore dive sites such as Shark’s Cove and Three Tables to divers. There are also many other shore dives on O’ahu. The most popular include Makaha Caverns and Electric Beach.
  • Maui – Black Rock is one of the most popular dives here but many hotels along the Ka’anapali coast have great house reefs. With eagle rays, turtles and schooling fish, they’re great for taking photos. Keep an eye out for Hawaii’s state fish –the humahumanukanuka’apua’a, also known as the Lagoon Triggerfish. Molokini Crater is just a 30-minute boat ride from Maui. Many species of fish, eels, and the occasional manta ray inhabit the crater’s interior, which is a marine protected area. Molokini’s backside has deeper water and occasionally strong current attracts larger pelagic animals like mantas, sharks or whales. There are several fun wrecks off Maui. Two of the most popular are the St. Anthony (located off of Kihei) and the 30-metre/100-foot long Carthaginian, just south of Lahaina. Both wrecks were sunk as artificial reefs and have become home to green sea turtles, schools of damselfish, surgeonfish, goatfish and butterfly fish.
  • Lana’i – Lana’i is known for its superior visibility and cavern diving. Cathedrals I and II are the most popular sites and your boat charter will likely take you to one of them. Plus, if you love to find new fish or see rare invertebrates, Lana’i is your place. While it’s possible to stay on Lana’i, most dive charters depart from Lahaina, Maui. The crossing takes 30-45 minutes and, during winter months, you’ll likely see humpback whales.
  • Moloka’i – Moloka’i offers a rare opportunity to visit pristine sites and spot rare animals. Most of these drift dives range from 18-36 metres/60-120 feet in depth. Popular dives include Fish Bowl, Deep Corner and Fish Rain. Most offer shallow and deep sections with plentiful sea life and the chance to see larger pelagics, such as hammerhead sharks, and rare Hawaiian Monk Seals are known to make appearances.
  • Hawai’i – Some describe the manta ray night dive off Kona as otherworldly because nothing compares to kneeling in black water while giant manta rays soar above your head. It’s serene, beautiful and gets your pulse pounding all at the same time. Once you’ve checked your manta ray dive off the list, take in some of the Big Island’s more than 50 dive sites. Famous for underwater lava formations, the Big Island also features turtles, a variety of eels and many endemic Hawaiian fish. Divers with relevant experience may be interested in a pelagic blackwater dive featuring mysterious deepwater creatures that swim up from the depths at night. Top shore diving spots include Two Step, Honokohau Harbor, Mile Marker 4, Old Airport, Kamakahonu Beach and Keauhou.
  • Kaua’i – Divers can access the south shore year-round by boat and take in some great dive sites. A collapsed v-shaped lava tube, Sheraton Caverns, is home to many Hawaiian green sea turtles. At Turtle Bluffs, you drift along and see sand caves along with white-tip reef sharks and turtle cleaning stations. Koloa Landing, home to the dragon moray eel, is one of the best shore diving spots. It offers easy access and you can dive it nearly year round. Prince Kuhio’s is another great spot that offers an abundant supply of Hawaiian green sea turtles that aren’t afraid to have their pictures taken. You can only dive Anini Beach during summer months but it offers great reefs and abundant marine life all at a maximum depth of 14 metres/45 feet. Tunnels Beach gets its name from a series of collapsed lava tubes both on the inner and outer reefs. Known for geologic structure, turtle cleaning stations, octopus and even white-tip sharks, this site doesn’t fail to impress.

Want to know more? Visit ScubaEarth® for further information on thousands of dive sites, marine species, destination essentials and more.

Dive Summary

Visibility – Generally 10-30 metres/35-100 feet plus, depending on conditions.

Water Temperature – A comfortable average of 23-27°C/74-80°F overall, towards the cool end of this range in winter and warmer in summer.

Weather – Generally tropical, but temperature and climate can change dramatically depending on where you are located on a particular island.

Featured Creatures – You’ll see white-tip reef sharks, giant green sea turtles, moray eels, slipper lobsters, reef fish and hundreds of other critters at dive sites around the islands. In some locations, morning dives offer spotted dolphin sighting opportunities. In winter, you can see migrating humpback whales topside and even hear them sing when you’re underwater.

Recommended Training – Take the PADI Boat DiverPADI Deep Diver and PADI Wreck Diver courses for diving on the deeper wrecks. The AWARE – Fish Identification course is also a good choice to help you identify the many unique species.

Travel Info

Note – Travel to any destination may be adversely affected by conditions including (but not limited) to security, entry and exit requirements, health conditions, local laws and culture, natural disasters and climate. Regardless of your destination, check your local travel advisory board or department for travel advice about that location when planning your trip and again shortly before you leave.

Language – English.

Currency – US dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.

Major Airports – Honolulu International Airport is the main international gateway, with Kahului Airport on Maui, Kona International Airport on the Big Island, and Lihue Airport on Kauai receiving both international and interisland flights.

Electricity and Internet – 110-120 volt, 60hz. Internet is widely available.

Topside Attractions – From fabulous beaches and volcanoes to all the attractions of the metropolis and the opportunity to escape to a remote waterfall, Hawaii has a great deal to offer. Don’t miss the USSArizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.

Locate PADI Dive Shops and Resorts in Hawaii

Information Links
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Get Your PADI Deep Diver Specialty in the Shadow of Ibiza’s Magical Rock

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If you look towards the horizon on the west coast of Ibiza as the sun goes down, you’ll be met with one of the world’s most picturesque sunsets. It’s not unknown and it has almost become a rite of passage for the many visiting tourists to witness its beauty.

Also on the west coast, there is a huge rock protruding from the Mediterranean. Unquestionably it will have made its way into many photos as the sun sets alongside it, but there is more than meets the eye with this particular shard of earth.

Ibiza is well known for its historical hippy roots throughout the 60’s and Es Vedra, the rock in question, has become synonymous with spiritual healing. Believers say the rock has magical powers and gives spiritual enlightenment. Some even say that if you stand on it with a compass, the needle spins around uncontrollably, unable to find magnetic north due to the mystical powers and energy.

Sometimes the world needs a little mystery and magic

I’ve never been on the rock with a compass to prove this, but then again, why does it need proving? Sometimes the world needs a little mystery and magic. The closest I got to it was a dive in its impressive shadow. Es Vedra not only provides postcard quality sunset pictures, it is an immense backdrop to a dive site. The crystal clear waters gently caressing the rock are sublime and the colours created by the plummeting depths and shallows hold an almost hypnotic lure. You could compare it to the pirate tales of old, where the swashbucklers were warned not to stare too long into the water, for fear it would send them mad.

With depths up to 40m, the Needle dive site located near the south west part of Es Vedra, is the perfect setting to get your PADI Deep Diver specialty. The dive boat will anchor in a small cove under the giant looming walls of Es Vedra in roughly 8m of water. Making your way to the Needle, you’ll pass columns and caverns, which will be explored after you visit the depths. The Needle itself provides a sharp drop down to the sandy sea bed where you’ll most likely encounter lobsters, groupers and large scorpion fish as you effortlessly descend the steep wall. Alongside seeing bryozoans, sponges and colonies of encrusting anemone, you’ll also notice thermoclines and the visual effect this has.

Learn how to use specialized deep diving equipment, deep dive planning, buddy contact procedures and buoyancy control. You’ll also manage your gas supply and deal with gas narcosis, all under the direct supervision of a PADI Instructor. If you didn’t feel magical before visiting Es Vedra, you sure will when you leave with your PADI Deep Diver specialty rating!

To learn more about deep diving then continue the adventure here or search for a local PADI Centre.