Deep has been one of my biggest fears for my entire life. I’m okay on boats, both big and small, but push me off into the water and though I might act manly, * Cough* and act like everything is fine, * Cough Cough*, I assure you, that inside I am freaking out. It’s not because the water is deep, but because I have no clue what the hell is floating, swimming, or moving up towards my otherwise helpless torso. In my never ending quest to better myself, I knew one day I had to face this fear.
About a month ago, I was swayed by beach bum, water lover, and fellow travel blogger, Chris Stevens from Backpacker Banter, to spend the last couple of weeks in November diving off the coast of Thailand with him, along with the offer to spend December in Bali diving, learning to surf, and just enjoying the tropical paradise. Like it or not, there was a lot of deep water in my near future. It was time to man up and face it. I had to get my diving license.
My nerves shot through the roof as the boat brushed against the dock. My friend Luke, who was with me when I almost was eaten by a bear in Alaska, and I had reached the Thai island of Koh Tao. I wasn’t alone. I had some comfort. Slinging our backpacks over our shoulders, we began the walk to Big Blue Diving School. We checked in and crashed.
Lessons started the next day. We spent the afternoon watching videos and doing diving homework to pass the test. No one wants to be in a classroom on vacation, and Big Blue realizes this and makes the class, which only lasts a total of a couple hours, as relaxed and stress free as possible.
Learning the Equipment.
The next day we divided up into groups. This is another point of praise for Big Blue. Legally the maximum number of people in a group is eight per instructor. Big Blue narrows that to a maximum of 6. This gives you more personal time with your instructor, making you feel very comfortable and relaxed – a huge plus if your fear level is on par with mine.
Our instructor was a diving badass named Chris. He has 750 dives under his belt and enough hours underwater comparable to 2 months. He led our group of 5 to the beginners pool where he taught us the basics of setting up and putting on our gear. I cannot lie. I was terrified about what was coming next, putting the regulator in my mouth and actually going under water.
Our bodies sank in the deep end of the pool. Panic filled me as I inhaled from the regulator for the first time. I could literally hear every beat of my heart. I have trained my whole life not to breathe underwater and now this guy was telling me to. All I could think about was ripping off that regulator and escaping to the surface, but then the strangest thing happened. After a couple of minutes, Chris went around to each of us in the group and asked if we were ok, and at that moment, I realized I wasn’t dead yet. In fact, I was breathing just fine.
The next item of business was to go through the drills. In order to be a diver, you have to learn particular skills, like how to get water out of your mask (my least favorite), how to ascend quickly but safely if you get into trouble, how to find your regulator if it slips out of your mouth, etc. I eagerly paid attention knowing that we would be doing this in the ocean tomorrow.
The ocean rocked the boat as we suited up. After the previous day, I was torn between determination to see this through and the inability to make myself move. I heard the boat engines cut and before I knew what was happening, Chris and a couple of other group members were in the water. I shuffled my blue flippers to the side of the wooded vessel and allowed my toes to hang over the edge. I took a deep breath from my regulator, closed my eyes, and took one gigantic step into the unknown. As I hit the water, I filled my BC (basically an inflated and deflated life jacket that connects all your diving equipment) and hurriedly kicked over to the others. I noticed I was much calmer in a group of seven in the sea. After all, if something decided to eat one of us, I had decent odds of living.
The moment was upon me; we all deflated our BC’s and allowed ourselves to descend to the bottom. My ears popped as I slowly sank. The sea was cloudy and my sheer terror wrestled with my weakening resolution. Seven meters deep; my heart was beating quickly. Eight meters deep; my thoughts were racing. Nine meters deep; I’m not sure I can do this. Ten meters deep; why? WHY am I doing this? Eleven freaking meters deep; my heart, my head, and my body were simultaneously shouting different messages but then something amazing happened. We started swimming and suddenly I started feeling comfortable.
In the next couple of days, we dived three more times and soon I found I was not only comfortable being under the water, but I loved it. After I saw the peaceful underwater world, I began to realize how silly my fear actually was. I floated above schools of hundreds of fish, was awed by the curiosity of the moray eels, and played with a puffer fish. Life under the water was calm and actually soothing.
Now, just a couple weeks later, all I can think about is scuba diving! Becoming a Dive Master has been added to my bucket list, plus I can’t wait for the upcoming months of diving in Bali. I think it was Tim Ferris who said, “The thing we fear to do the most, is the thing we most need to do”. In just a few short days, I turned my biggest fear into a new passion.
I want to give a huge thank you to Big Blue and especially Chris and Ryan for being the best damn instructors I could have had.