With our BCDs (buoyancy control devices) inflated, we’re floating in Racha Island’s Bungalow bay, some 12 km south of Phuket. Alexia, our dive instructor explains our next practical test on the final day of our 4-day open water scuba diving course.
“Ok, once we descend to about 12 meters , you’ll completely remove your mask, swim 15 meters along the sea floor, put your mask back on and clear it.”
As we hear these instructions, Marina and I exchange nervous glances.
“Are you ready?” asks Alexia.
“Ready!” Marina and I respond in unison, hoping the volume of our response masks our trepidation.
Only 3 days ago, while doing the theory part of our course, the mere idea of breathing underwater made my palms sweaty. And yet, that is the least of our worries now.
Before we have time to contemplate any further, as if by instinct, we place our regulators in our mouths, raise the exhaust valve of our BCD’s above our heads, push the deflator button, and begin to sink under the water.
Once we’re all kneeling on the sandy sea floor, Alexia signals that I’ll be the first to go.
As instructed, I slowly remove my mask and instinctively close my eyes as the water rushes in. Although the regulator is still in my mouth, breathing through it while not sucking up water through my exposed nostrils is a challenge. I grasp the mask in my hand, and begin swimming.
Before I know it, Alexia is right beside me, tapping on my shoulder; I’ve covered the necessary distance. With both hands, I place the mask over my face, and secure the strap behind my head. Next I tilt the bottom part of the mask away from my face as I begin to blow air through my nose; an action that replaces the water in my mask with air. After a couple breaths, I can once again open my eyes and avoid the sting of the salty water.
Making an “o” using her thumb and index finger, Alexia signals successful completion. She shakes my hand, and swims over to Marina, who’s about to perform the same test.
After Marina and I do a few more tests, the fun finally begins as we go for an exploratory swim around the bay.
Moving around through this foreign world, spotting honeycomb eels, porcupine fish, yellow box fish, sergeant majors, among others, I note how relaxed my breathing is, and how calm I have become.
So this is what scuba diving is all about.
When I was younger, I’d watch shows about sea life and often wonder whether the underwater world actually looked as brilliant as it did on television. Being naturally sceptical, I certainly had my doubts. However, this scepticism was quickly shattered during my first snorkelling experience in Cuba in 2001. As soon as my mask touched the water for the first time, I was stunned by how colourful and lively the underwater world really was. Since then, I have been absolutely mesmerized by underwater life and have taken every opportunity to snorkel on our travels.
Not surprisingly, I’ve wanted to learn to scuba dive for nearly a decade. A good friend of mine who also happened to be a scuba instructor even lent me a copy of the study guide so I could prepare to take the course. Sadly, that book sat and accumulated dust on our book shelf for years as we ploughed through our PhDs. And to be honest, I wasn’t particularly keen on learning to dive in the frigid and murky waters of Lake Ontario.
When we initially departed for Southeast Asia, getting our scuba diving certification was a top priority. As soon as we took our first steps on Phuket’s beautiful beaches and swam in the warm and crystal clear waters of the Andaman Sea, it was only a matter of time.
And now, resting on our boat ride back to Phuket, we revel in the satisfaction of having finally accomplished one of our long-term dreams. Also, we’re ecstatic to now be able to pursue another one of our dreams: diving the Great Barrier Reef!
Thanks to Phuket Scuba Club, and specifically to Alexia, John, and Nic for making one of our dreams come true. You guys were phenomenal instructors, and great friends. We hope to dive with all of you again!
Note: Thanks to Alexia for taking the wonderful underwater photos
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