FIRST TIME SCUBA
by Sarah Verghese
They call me a terrestrial or terra firma person - a daughter of the earth and not overly fond of the water. I am also an extremely nervous person most of the time. How I got talked into the Discovery Dive is beyond me. Probably all the talk about not needing to know how to swim and prior snorkelling practice and learning to breathe with a mask on. But most of all was the knowledge about the unsurpassed underwater beauty that remained to be seen - not through the TV but with one's own eyes!
But first things first! I had to sign a release form. My God! Does this mean something could happen?
Mr. Tee offered advice and explained the rules - Don't panic! Breathe slow and deep! (What did he mean? Don't panic - I was already there - with thoughts of - I need my head examined - I'm nuts doing this - Maybe I can call it off now!)
Next piece of advice - Learning to clear mask under water (What!!! Let water into my mask? While under water? Salt water that stings my eyes at that? - Oh God! I need my head examined - I'm nuts doing this - Maybe I can call it off now!)
Pain in the ear usually means pressure; all you have to do is pinch your nostrils and blow out through your ears. I have problems with that on land - now I must do it under water! (Oh God! I need my head examined - I'm nuts doing this - Maybe I can call it off now!)
Most important of all - no flailing of arms and legs - we must protect the coral reefs.
Photos with Paul, Helen and Hannah - after all it was a momentous occasion - and then the gearing up! My mind was already reeling with the bit about the pain in the ear and the water in my face. Now look at what I had to put on. A diving suit of some thick material zipped up with a tank and regulators and powered mask (for weak eyes), and flippers. (You know if God had wanted man underwater, he would have created gills for us - there must be a divine reason we aren't).
Trudged down the beach with my 'buddy', I had to bend forward to accommodate the weight of the tank, which was heavier than my 9 year-old. My eyes filled the mask. If they got any bigger, they would pop out! (Oh God! I need my head examined - I'm nuts doing this - Maybe I can call it off now!)
As we waded into the water - OK Let's put the flippers on. I could hardly keep my balance with the gentle waves nudging me towards the shore (Go back! GO BACK!). I had to manoeuvre the fins on to my feet while hanging on to an oh - so- steady 'buddy'. There were H & H on the beach with Paul with encouraging waves - (How could I go back now?)
Next: Let's practice. We will kneel here and practice breathing underwater. (Kneel? I could barely stand and I had to kneel?) Breathe slowly and deeply. My God Look at those bubbles: I am underwater - like a fish and my heart is racing, trying to jump out of my chest. Slowly does it. Calmly does it - breathe, breathe, breathe. It took several sessions before I got used to the "Darth Vader" sound emanating from the mouthpiece. It was only me!
That's Round One taken care of!
Round Two - Flooding the mask! Ouch my eyes smart! Salt water doesn't do wonders for my face and eyes! Open the mask slightly at the top and fill the mask halfway with the water. Press firmly against the mask at the top of the nose to release the water through the bottom of the mask. Looks easy enough!! Splutter, Splutter, A moment of panic! (Paul on shore thought it was going to be an aborted dive.) If he thinks he's gonna get me to do that again, he's got another thing coming! But the practice helped with the sheer hope that once I got going, I didn't have to do this.
Round Three - Ears hurting? Pinch nose and blow through your ears. After Round two this was almost easy.
Round Four - Dive signals: Thumb upwards for going up, thumb down for going down, circle with forefinger/thumb for OK.
OK? Are we ready? NO! NO! NO! ... screamed body and mind. Yes, said I. And so I embarked on a Discovery Dive - discovering a few things about myself along with an amazing underwater wonderland.
Pulling me along, my 'buddy' signalled to me to move my legs up and down. At that moment, I couldn't comply. I kept a grip on him and I wasn't about to let go. This young man could tow me till hell froze over!
At first there were glimpses of sand and a few odd fish here and there as I moved or rather was towed out to the reefs. As I heard my breathing and tried to control my frazzled nerves, I came on to an amazing scene of unsurpassed beauty.
Who could ever have imagined fish and other underwater creatures in a myriad of brilliant beautiful colours unparalleled on earth?
Who could imagine that the reefs, which looked so lifeless from the shore, would be teeming with vibrant life? Who could imagine that sea anemones and other sea creatures could be so vivid in their imagery?
This was amazing. This was awesome. This was literally breathtaking. A reminder of the beauty of creation in all its unspoilt splendour. A reminder that there was indeed a God. There were fish playing amongst the anemone. "Christmas trees" opening and closing. Multicoloured denizens of the sea among breathing, living reefs. It was pulsating with life. How was it even possible to start explaining the beauty and wonder of what I saw and felt? Beyond description and incomparable.
I saw trumpet fish and jelly fish with nudibranchs galore. I saw shoals of some of the most beautiful fish in the world. ??? How can I begin to describe the colours - not like anything on earth that I have ever seen. I suddenly felt like an intruder. Into this world of tranquillity and peace I was an intruder. There were other signs of intrusion - cans buried in the sand - the litterbug strikes again - will mankind never learn? I would have picked them up except that my hands were on Mr. P and I wasn't about to let go. I knew a project was underway to clean up the reefs in a few weeks.
Somewhere along the journey my ears started to hurt. Amazingly enough I knew what to do. No panic attacks there though I did occasionally glance upwards towards the surface of the water just to reassure myself that I was not far below. The surface was within my reach. Occasionally when I moved my legs, I kept thinking I was hitting the reefs - they are easily damaged - but turned out I was hitting my flippers.
I didn't want to leave - I could have stayed there forever - but a sharp pain in my face reminded me that I was not a sea creature and I wasn't sure what to do. So up we went - I was towed back to shallow water, my feet touch the ground and I can breathe normal again. My heart didn't stop pounding till hours later.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. An experience I wouldn't forget for a long time. I surprised even myself and I dare say that I might even venture once more into that paradise - but not now. For a while at least, I think I'll stay on terra firma.
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Last updated: 21st November, 2003.