I just put up a post about how I did nothing while I was in Zanzibar but sit on the beach. While that is mostly true, it’s a bit of a lie. One of my fellow Kili climbers made an offhand comment about scuba diving. I then thought that Zanzibar sounded like a cool of a place as any to learn! I looked into it and sure enough just a 20-minute walk from my hotel (so a 5 minute bike ride!) was a dive shop that had courses. Win! So I decided to try my hand at scuba diving.
It was a 3 day course to get PADI Open Water certified. First I had to do theory which meant doing the following things I thought I had left behind for good: reading a textbook, studying, taking tests. Yuck. But fortunately they had a great cheesy and informative video that made all of the “learning” really easy. I spent a whole morning doing that and then grabbed lunch. I was supposed to spend the afternoon with the scuba gear in the pool, but the instructor’s dive came back later than planned so we rescheduled for the following morning.
I should have taken a picture of myself in a wet suit because they are very slimming, but I never brought my camera with me for fear of it getting soaking wet. Instead, I’ll steal pictures from the internet.
Fun fact: Not one time during my 3 day course did the video, the textbook, or my instructor ever mention that SCUBA is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. It’s not even in the textbook. I assumed that would be the first thing they mention!
I woke up early to get to the dive shop and learned about all of the gear. I started loading up the gear, put the wet suit on backwards, and I was good to go. When you’re out of the water all of that gear is HEAVY. It was a work out just walking 5 feet to the pool. But once you’re in the water it’s as light as a feather. I talked with my instructor Arnold and he told us what we would be doing in the pool before our 2 dives in the open ocean that afternoon. It was a lot of safety drills: how to handle running out of oxygen, how to handle a broken regulator (air stream), how to handle water in your mask, etc. I nodded and thought I was ready to go.
As soon as I submerged for the first time in the pool I had an actual panic attack. My heart started racing. My breaths became quick and rapid, and I had just spent time studying that that was the worst thing you could do. I worried more. The mental barrier of breathing underwater was so huge that it took me about 10 minutes to calm down. When he made me fill up my mask with water, my throat closed up and I surfaced. I now realize I have a new fear to add to my list of phobias – I’m afraid of not being able to see. As a life long glasses wearer, it kind of makes sense. I’m always relying on technology to see and it rarely fails. I surfaced, visibly shaken. Arnold was confused and just brushed me off and continued with the drills. His brusque attitude pushed me forward and while I don’t think I ever mastered any single skill in the pool, when he just had me swim around I began to calm down.
Then, in the blink of an eye, we were done in the pool and we had an hour until the boat left to go to the open water. On my long lost of fears is one that is directly contradictory to scuba diving – I’m afraid of the ocean. Have you ever though about how big the ocean is? And how much there is we don’t know? And how deep it is? And what’s down there? I honestly think I read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea just a little too young and I’ve been spooked ever since. This was my attempt to change that.
I suited up and as soon as I tipped over the boat backwards and had my BCD vest inflated, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. All of my fears of the ocean instantly vanished as I happily floated along doing no work at all and just talked with my instructor. The other already certified divers wished us luck and dove down to explore. After a couple more minutes, Arnold and I followed suit. Down we went and before I knew it we were scuba diving.
We spent the next 30 minutes just doing what everyone else was doing and enjoying the aquatic life. It was so effortless to just gently kick along as your vest keeps at just the right elevation above the sea floor (not without a little bit of work). It was easy and peaceful. I never once worried about breathing, I never had a problem with my mask, and it was so peaceful.
And then there was the experience of just being under the water. Your sense of depth perception is the first thing to go. You recoil from a coral and it turns out to be well out of reach. But this same phenomenon make the fish seem closer, bigger. The coral reef wall rose up to our right as we swam along it, peering into tiny underwater crevasses and anemones. We swam along as he pointed out fish. We saw lots of little angelfish and clown fish and other fish I couldn’t name. We saw the spiky lionfish; we saw some eels, lobsters, a huge grouper, giant clams, and even an octopus! The colors were surprisingly bright with fish of every color and beautiful red corals and the fish mostly just kept swimming along, trying to avoid you as much you were trying to avoid them.
I thought, “Wow! It looks just like an aquarium!” And then I realized I was the dumbest person in the world and no – An aquarium is built to look just like this!
We ended the first dive with the annoying drills except now 12 meters below sea level. Filling your mask up with water is less fun in the ocean, but I was now an old pro and sailed through the drills with ease. We slowly surfaced and 3 more unexciting dives later I was certified. It was one of the easiest and most rewarding experiences. I really felt as though I took the first major step in conquering a long term fear and now I’ve added a skill set to my box of tools. Who knows what I’ll discover on future dives?!? The world is my oyster.