Twenty minutes after arriving on the dive boat whilst hoping the seasick tablet would work, I took a nervous meander around the floating arena of strangers, foreigners and braggers that I found myself on.

Well, this guy seemed confident; he knew exactly what he was talking about, which was undoubtedly reassuring, as he was the Instructor who was to take me on my first dive.

There was lots of equipment, which I had only seen before on TV, so many scuba tanks amongst other paraphernalia, which hopefully, was going to keep me alive while I was under the sea.

Dive brief:

‘Barracudas’ said the instructor, I Immediately snapped to attention, as he began the dive brief, ‘Do they not have big teeth and aren’t they 6’ feet long’ I thought to myself. Then he went onto to talk about Stingray’s, “Stingrays, did one not fatally wound the guy who used to wrestle crocodiles for a living, what chance have we got?” asked a fellow beginner.

Sea snakes, was he now trying to put us off the dive? He then went on to talk about sharks -I was frightened, nervous but also exhilarated at the same time. Nervously, I laughed, as he maid jokes about the size of their teeth and not to pull their tails. ‘Pull a sharks tail I thought,’ I’m not going anywhere near a shark, let alone pull its tail.

‘Oh and don’t touch the bottom as there may be Scorpion fish down there’, he added (which apparently are so well camouflaged, that they are extremely difficult to spot and can leave you in agony for months, if they sting you).

He had a calming influence, which you need if you take people underwater. He showed great patience in answering everyone’s’ questions. Explaining how deep we go, also the effects of water pressure on our bodies, he told us how long we would be under there for, including how the equipment worked and even how we would communicate underwater (something I was more familiar with, knowing a few hand signals myself, years of driving, had made me the master hand signaler). He was dressed in smart pressed shorts, a save-the-reef-T-shirt (as were all the staff on the boat) and was clean shaven (I must admit I expected more of a beach bum like persona), all in all a true professional.


Reality sets in:

“Wait, now just hold on a minute, let water in the mask, why?” asked a young woman.

“We had to perform several kills under the instructor’s guidance, naturally.

If water enters your mask you need to know how to clear it, otherwise it would make for an uncomfortable dive. “A simple procedure if done correctly,” he assured the group.

The next skill we would learn would be to remove and replace the regulator from our mouths.

“Take the regulator out of your mouth. Are you kidding man, jumping out of a perfectly good plane without a parachute springs to mind.” An American guy joked.

It was also quite easy to perform (especially after watching the Instructor demonstrate all the skills first) and obviously a necessary skill to learn.

We also had to equalize our ears, or we would have felt discomfort. Similar to the pressure one feels while in an airplane due to the build up of pressure caused by the water as we descended.

“Pop your ears, for every metre that you descend” he explained, “If you can’t, let me know”. By tilting your hand from side to side while pointing at your ears, was the hand signal for this problem.

However, breathing slowly and consistently while amongst all those wild creatures down there did seem a little optimistic to me. Though that is what one must do in order to maximize the amount of time one can stay under. For once the air is nearly emptied from your tank you must return to the surface, something that was quite obvious to me but needed to said, never-the-less.

The Dive:

I would be the first to dive out of the group as he preferred to take us on a one to one ratio.

“Now don’t jump, step away from the boat like a marching soldier,” he continued “You will go under briefly but you will pop back up, due to the air you have air inside your BCD (the dive jacket).”

My right hand was holding the regulator and mask securely onto my face, so that I would not lose them when entering the water.

While making sure to look straight ahead and not down, as a stinging slap in the face by the sea is something you should avoid. “You will only ever do that one time, hahahaha” he says.”

The Instructor was waiting in the water and with a reassuring smile and a few calming words from him, it was now or never. Splash, under I went and a mass of bubbles surrounded me, I then surfaced after what seemed like the longest second of my life.

I took a sneak preview of what was to come. The sea was so clear it looked beautiful down there, almost taking my breath away, which actually put me at ease and I was ready to go.

He then instructed me to release all the air from jacket and as I start to descend I could feel the pressure change in my ears which I cleared effortlessly. I landed on the sand below and in the kneeling position I took my first few underwater breaths. What a strange feeling this was I could breathe underwater. My brain was saying, this should not be happening, I should not normally be able do this, yet I was breathing underwater, amazing.

The Instructor then signals me, ‘OK’, I return the signal, then he signals “You watch me,” and then proceeds to demonstrate the skills he had explained to me on the boat.

The Mask clearing and removal of the regulator went without a hitch as he showed me with the do-see-do method. The regulator removal was not the most enjoyable part of the dive, but it felt good after being told that mask clearing is the trickiest skill to master when learning scuba.

I soon started to marvel at my surroundings. Everything had a different look from what we are used to on the surface. The refraction, which is cause by the glass in the mask and the water, actually causes things to seem closer and larger than what they really are. The deep blue hue of the sea gave me an almost surreal feeling. To be submerged in this wonderful and exhilarating underwater world has to be seen to be believed.

Off we went, I was breathing quite heavily at first but soon settled down it was noisy experience as I could hear every breath that I took. A huge variety of colourful fish were all around, they seemed to swim effortlessly, I must have seemed like an inept lump to them. Their colours were so vibrant, the blues and greens the likes of I had never seen before.

A Moray Eel was lurking in-between two large rocks, its pointed teeth, made it look quite formidable; I decided not to get too close to it. Then a turtle swam by with such ease and elegance unlike its lumbering relative the tortoise.

I looked down to see a stingray materialize from the sand, it had concealed it self so well that if it had not moved, I would never have seen it. Then seemingly from nowhere a black tip reef shark appeared, it came so close I could have touched it, it gave me such an adrenalin rush to be so close to one of natures perfect creatures; (my breathing must have increased ten fold) its power so evident, I guessed that it wanted to know just who or what was intruding in its territory. Then with a swish of its tail it was gone, leaving me with a memory of my first shark encounter, something that I will surely never forget

The Instructor was by my side the entire dive; never straying more than a metre away. It must be quite difficult to have such control over a novice diver; the responsibility of having a novice down below the waves must be huge. .

New hero:

Before I knew it, we were back on the boat and I had a new hero. The excitement stayed with me for the rest of the day and it still brings a smile to my face whenever I think of my first diving experience. This is one memory souvenir I will treasure forever.

I have since become an open water diver (which is the first course one must take and enables you to dive -with a buddy- most places in the world) and I am sure I will continue to dive for many more years to come.

Jason Butler is a free lance writer. He is currently residing in Thailand and enjoying life. Writing articles on Sharks, Fishing and Steam engine models is a passion of his. He is also a scuba Diving Instructor with over ten years experience.

Jason Butler