Scuba diving in Phuket

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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.

Marina and I swim along as John keeps a close eye on us in the background

 

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!

Us with Nic and Alexia on our celebratory dinner:)

Peter

Note: Thanks to Alexia for taking the wonderful underwater photos

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Working on our assassin skills at a shooting range!

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I’m staring down the barrel of a 9mm gun made famous by the James Bond movies. Because I could no longer stand the anticipation, I volunteered to be the first shooter in our group. Now as I stand there, legs staggered, upper body leaning forward, arms outstretched with a slight bend, my heart begins to race as I struggle to steady my sweaty hands to aim at the target ahead.

The first shot is exhilarating and frightening.

The sheer power generated by the relatively small object in your hands is phenomenal.

I finish off my round of 10 shots, the vast majority of which hit the target, and put the empty gun down on the table.

As my long-time friend, Matt, gets prepared to shoot his first round, and I attempt to take his photo I realize just how much my hands are shaking.

And we’ve just started! This is the smallest caliber gun we’re shooting today!

As a prototypical male who played plenty of shoot ‘em up video games and incessantly watched any movie involving Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve always wondered what it was like to actually shoot a real gun. Of the numerous items on my bucket list, the attainment of “shooting skills” has been something I’ve been obsessing about for the past 2 years.

Today, armed with the company of Marina and a long-time friend my wish was finally coming true.

After Marina nervously finished off her rounds with the James Bond gun, I was up again to try the .40 caliber Glock – the most popular gun among police officers in North America.

As you may be able to appreciate by the above video, I really liked this gun! And my accuracy wasn’t too shabby either; I managed to put 6 rounds through the head of the target!

Peter and Matt smiling because they shot their targets and not themselves!

Next we shot off a bunch of rounds of a .223 rifle similar to the one used by the Swiss army. This thing certainly had some power, but due to its larger size, it felt much more comfortable and stable to shoot.

Next up was the manliest of weapons – the shotgun. Right after we both realized just how much kickback a mere 9mm pistol could generate, Matt and I both became a bit nervous at the prospect of shooting the 12 gauge Remington shotgun we naively decided we should try. The hardest part of shooting a shotgun was aiming – not that aim is terribly necessary when you essentially spray your target with fragments.

See below video of Marina with a shotgun:

Although we were all very satisfied after successfully handling the beefy shotgun, we had forgotten we had also ordered dessert! The finale of our shooting spree consisted of 5 rounds on the sniper rifle – complete with scope and all!

The sniper rifle finale

We all had an absolute blast – we were giddy as children and couldn’t stop exchanging high fives after successfully handling each weapon.

In total, the three of us went through 125 rounds, 5 different weapons, and many paper targets. We were there for a heart-pounding 2 hours and paid approximately $80 each.

If you live or are visiting the GTA, and have even a passing interest in shooting a gun, I’d certainly recommend you give Target Sports Canada a try.

What a rush!

Peter

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