It is human nature to question the depth of the ocean before taking the first dive. And at every dive after the first the oceans will shallow. My first dive was filled with fear and doubt, there were many things to be afraid of, my mask was flooded with water, my throat was dry, my body was cold, and most of all drowning was a possibility. But like all things in life, the first step is always the hardest, several steps after the fear goes away. You soon find yourself familiar to the ocean, its inhabitants and their homes.
I have always been aware of the existence of recreational diving, my parents were avid divers throughout my teenage life. Weirdly it never occurred to me to start diving myself, it was always an activity my parents would talk about over dinner. I would sit and listen to them talk in coded language, with unknown words and abbreviations like BCD, Regulators, DCS, Viz, and etc. I remember half-heartedly agreeing with whatever they had to say, as if I understood and cared about the whole “scuba diving” thing (Yes, I was one of those hormonal teenagers).
In the years to come, I began to find myself addicted to adventure. In the midst of my final year in college, I bought a bicycle and cycled to Thailand. Soon after that I started rock climbing, a few months later I started backpacking, and so it all began. Adventure. And the first thing to know about adventure is that you can never get enough of it. The moment you embrace uncertainty and chaos, you begin to feel alive. Always remember that the best stories will have high and low points in its plot, and without them there would be no story to tell.
At the age of 19, the time came for me to indulge in my next adventure, scuba diving. Through-out my life I had never been a big fan of the sea, and signing up for the Open-water course was a sudden decision. Perhaps at the time I felt I had to try everything once, which turns out to be a major deciding factor for many future divers. Also I had major motion sickness issues, in fact I was puking in the ferry on the way to my Open-water course (which made me reconsider my choices, puking on the ferry is not a great start to an epic adventure). Weirdly my motion-sickness went away forever (I hope), because now I show no traits of ever having it (so far), true story. I doubt I would be a very effective dive master if I was puking before and after every dive, so thank god it went away. Speaking from personal experience, motion-sickness goes away, so don’t let it hold you back (although popping a few pills before boarding would also help).
An Open-water course generally consist of four dives, two confined water and two open water dives. In some instances there could be more than four dives, but never less than four. Confined water dives are relatively shallow, usually no deeper than 10 meters depending on the location. Open water dives may take you as deep as 18 meters or less. In the first two dives (confined water) you learn how to use the equipment compulsory to every dive and also the most effective techniques of handling yourself underwater. In the last two dives (open water) you will enjoy a lesson-free leisure dive, and this is where you will practice the knowledge you’ve gathered from the first two dives.
We human-beings are land mammals. That being said, hints of fear will always arise when completely submerged in water, which is completely normal. My first dive was no different than anyone else. I remember fear, I remember the taste of salt in my throat, my eyes were irritated, my body was cold, and most of all I felt clueless. When you think about it, your first dive would naturally be a complete shock to your system. It would be the first time your body is being put in such a vulnerable position (which you will later realize that if you don’t panic, is not very vulnerable at all).
Come time for the second dive, I felt much more confident. I knew what to expect, and how I should react. Basically every dive after your first is just a repetition of your first dive, but with mixtures of variables within them. For example, in your first dive you learn to breathe using the regulator (that thing you put in your mouth), and you will breathe using the regulator for every dive from then on (unless you evolve gills and find yourself a beautiful mermaid to marry. Which is highly unlikely). Throughout the duration of my second dive, I was more aware of my equipments, the positions of all the valves and buttons, I felt relatively safer and the fear I encountered in my first dive slowly dissipates. My eyes wander off into the blue as I begin to take notice the aquatic life surrounding me. Tiny fishes I knew nothing of swam at my feet and small crabs underneath rocks peeped its eyes at me, as if welcoming me as their new neighbors. And as I sat kneeling on the sand, 8 meters below the sea, I hear the ocean breathe (maybe it was sound of the guy next to me breathing, but for this articles sake, I hope everyone agrees that it was the ocean I was hearing).
The hardest part of the last two dives was being on the boat. Having to load all that gear (approximately 25kg) in and out, plus exchanging tanks on a moving boat is a lot harder than diving itself (keep in mind that at that moment in time I was still a sea-sick city boy). All I wanted to do was jump into the water, not because I wanted to “hear the ocean breathe”, but because all I could think of was how everyone would react when they see what I had for lunch (if you’re wondering.. I puked, I puked real bad).
This time round, the ocean seemed to know who I was and vice versa. As if it was pointing two fingers towards me screaming ‘Hey dude! Whuzzup!’. The open water dives took me deeper than I have ever been, I descended slowly whilst holding onto a rope and as my feet touch the ground I checked my depth-gauge, 16 meters. I turned my head round, slowly embracing my surroundings. The only way I could describe the sight is if you could imagine Aladdin and Jasmine on a magic-carpet next to you singing “A Whole New World” as you swim next to a hundred fishes and above cities of corals (yes, it has been scientifically proven to be a common first reaction by many divers). Living on the surface of earth we never truly realize the vastness of the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. Often times we are neglect its beauty solely because we have seen it on TV and in magazines, as if it would justify as “seeing”.
Finally came the certifying dive, the dive to sum up my open-water course. By this time, the equipment and its functions were second nature to me (sort of). Don’t get me wrong, I was still a little afraid, still very cautious and paranoid. The difference was this time I was more familiar to it all. Every now and then I had to remind myself to be comfortable and just relax, but then again comfort is a matter of situation. Throw in a 5 foot long black-tip shark in there and suddenly you’re not as comfortable as you thought you were (I am pleased to inform everyone that black-tip sharks are completely harmless). Overall my last dive was relatively peaceful, no more panicky moments, foggy masks and dry throats. If there ever would be a soundtrack to my last dive, it would most probably be filled with Jack Johnson songs (specifically “You and Your Heart”, somehow the guitar riff completely explains what diving feels like), and maybe a little Alladin at the start.
My open-water course did not end there, and neither will yours. There is still so much to learn from the ocean, even after a million dives its lessons are never-ending. Lessons in its tides and its waves. Lessons from its inhabitants, the fishes, turtles, sharks and whales. But most of all, it teaches you about yourself, it teaches you not to doubt yourself, your abilities, your patience, your limits, it shows you your fears and makes you overcome them. And as you dive deeper into the ocean, you also dive deeper into yourself.