Learning to scuba dive

We had a debate in Malaysia about whether scuba diving is a sport.

Nasty was incredulous that I would think otherwise, but my first impression was that it isnt. Mainly because despite what most people think , diving is something that any odd bloke can do. Really.

The same of which can of course be said of running. Or cycling. Thereby immediately rendering me ridiculous and sending Nasty into fits of laugher, at my expense.

To spare you the technicalities of our debate, which more or less involved him exclaiming So what about darts?! and me shouting SHUT UP!, all I really mean to say is that scuba diving is a lot easier and safer than most people think. And the underwater world is breathtakingly worth it.

First, I must admit that I was terrified to begin with. Not necessarily because of diving itself, but more due to my general fear of deep water because I couldnt really swim. So Im not sure why I decided to go diving. I blame Doreens stories and my eagerness for something other than the churches and museums I’d been looking at for a month.

Doreen, my bubbly junior high buddy has grown up to become an equally bubbly part-time scuba diving instructor. So when Nasty and I thought of doing something different, I thought of her and her man, who’s also an instructor.

In Kuala Lumpur, we did the theory part of our diving course lounging on their sofas and making fun of the dated and very much Americanised PADI videos. “Theory sounds hard, but it was really just watching videos and answering quiz questions at the end of each module, which even if you were just half-paying attention were fairly easy. (I think I fell asleep at one point.)

Apart from theory, we had to do practical sessions in the pool. We blitzed through that within a few hours one day.

People have asked me what learning to dive involves. So here it is: learning to use the equipment that will help you breathe underwater; learning what to do in case certain things happen (say, if water goes into your goggles); learning to control your buoyancy underwater (so you can do things more elegant than bumping into coral); learning how to read charts to figure out how long you can stay underwater, etc.

I think the reason why I’d say scuba diving isn’t a sport is because it appears to be more about equipment operation and risk management than physical exertion. Unless you count lugging around the air tanks (VERY heavy out of water) and weight belts (to keep you under water)!

My idea of sport requires physical excertion. To which I was challenged: What about snooker? Is that a sport? So to prevent embarassing myself, that’s all I’m gonna say about this topic!

When we were done with our theory and pool session, we took our theory exam, which was an easy peesy job as well. (Except that I’m an idiot at reading tables and took much exasperated extra explaining from both Nasty and Doreen, who probably thought I was an idiot as well. But hey, I passed!)

Then came the final bit, where we headed out to Pulau Tioman, the closest island to KL, about 5? hours drive and 2? hour boat ride away, where we did our open water session in the sea. It was basically the same stuff we did in the pool, only now we were 5m underwater.

So. Uh. I freaked out. I couldn’t handle deep water. I was so nervous the whole time and I always felt like throwing up. I didn’t dare look up because I didn’t want to know how deep I was!

I realised a lot later why I always felt like throwing up. We always dived not long after a meal and I’ve learned that I don’t function well in water after eating. So from then on, I refused to eat more than a slice of bread before hitting the water and that made a BIG difference. At least now I don’t have to think about keeping my food down and could now indulge in my fear of the water!

We passed our tests in the sea nonetheless and we officially become PADI Open Water Divers!

But that doesn’t mean I was out of my comfort zone yet.

After solving the food problem, there was something else. The compressed air that we breathe in through our months is bone dry. There is no moisture in it whatsoever and about 20 min into a usually 40 min-long dive, my throat is sahara-parched and I start gagging. Now, gagging on dry land is no fun, but gagging 20m underwater?! I literally thought I was gonna die.

There were beautiful coral in front of me, schools of fish around me, clear blue water. But fucking hell, I couldn’t give a shit. All I was focused on is to not gag and drown. A few times, I bailed. I signalled that I had a problem and had to go up. The problem with that is, everytime I panic and bail, I drag someone else up with me. One of the staff have to accompany me up each time and I feel ultra bad to cutting short his/her dive. :(

I hated diving then because I couldn’t relax. I’d spend the first 20 min looking at my watch, feeling my throat, waiting for the gag to come. Then after 20 min, I’d focus all I could to not gag and debated with myself about whether I should bail. It was complete shite.

Someone said that we can take the regulators out of our mouths and rinse with sea water or drink a little bit of it to moisten our mouths and throats. But of course, I convinced myself that if I so much as open my mouth underwater, the sea would rush in and I would die. (Ha!) So being the queen of irrational fears, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Afterwards, I mustered up the courage to practice doing a few gargle-rinse-spit-breathe routines on the surface just before we went under, and found out that the sea doesn’t actually rush in (what a revelation!). I was an idiot again, but whatever. Problem solved! I got into the habit of rinsing my mouth every 10 min or so underwater and thought it was the best thing ever.

The first time I did away with my food problem and my parched-throat problem, a whole new world opened in front of me. For once, I was completely relaxed in the water and by then I had learned how to control my buoyancy through breathing techniques and was going under and over wrecks and coral like nobody’s business.

For once, instead of focusing on myself, I opened my eyes and saw the world around me. All those underwater documentaries they show on TV? I was suddenly in one of them now. It was marvelous. The coral, the sharks, the stingrays, the sea turtles, the puffer fish, the huge schools of fish, swimming through a ship-wreck…the underwater experience is unparalleled to anywhere on land. I know it sounds Disney, but really, it’s a whole new world.

Don’t let my fears put you off. Diving is easy. My fears made it hard for myself, but once I got over them, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. We did a few more dives over the holiday, but I’ll never forget that sense of relaxed wonder and comfort I felt that first time I got over my niggles. I honestly think that if more people dive, more people will understand the need to protect our world.


2 thoughts on “Learning to scuba dive

  1. Yeah, it does take some getting used to. Saying that, I would definitely go diving again, but would under no circumstances go on a rollercoaster! Too me, that is scarier! :/

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