”We would start with a depth of 4-5 meters and if one can take the pressure then we go deeper”. As I heard the instructor utter these words, my heart just skipped a beat. I was on a boat headed into the Red Sea from Sharm-El-Sheikh with 18 other women, 2 diving and snorkeling instructors, 2 photographers and a chef. The man in front of me who I was going to trust my life with in the next 15 minutes was shooting a barrage of instructions.
As he went over the instructions on how to breathe, how to hold the equipment in the mouth, how to wear the mask, how to equalize, how to signal if something was not working, the only words that kept ringing in my ears were ‘breathe slowly, deeply and continuosly’. I don’t know how to swim and was really depending on the expertise of this total stranger to make me survive under the deep blue sea that I was going to jump into shortly.
We changed into our own swim wear and were given wet suits to wear over it. My strategy whenever trying such stunts is to go amongst the first three before fear from watching others takes over. Unfortunately, I was to be no. 6. With my pulse already beginning to race, I was one of the first ones to get into the wet suit and as luck would have it, my fellow traveler who was no. 2 was happy to exchange her position with me.
Amidst the chaos of the exchanging positions, I did not get to see when the diver before me went in. Wading like a duck with fins, I sat at the edge of the boat with my feet dipped into the water. The water though not chilly was cold, but I was breaking into a cold sweat with the thought of jumping in. Before I knew it, I was being packed up with diving equipment. I didn’t know if it was my anxiety or the heavy air cylinder and tight jacket for buoyancy that made me feel as if I had stopped breathing. I was following instructions mindlessly. Suddenly Sayed, the diving instructor appeared on the surface of the water. I had gone over this multiple times in my mind and was totally ready to jump. As soon as Sayed gave the signal to jump, I got into the position as per his instructions and jumped!
“ Oh My God! My fin came out! Help me! I want to go out! I can’t do this!”. One of my fins which was slightly loose had come out and I was so unprepared for anything like this, that I totally freaked out in the water. I forgot all instructions and was mumbling non-stop. Sayed kept asking me to close my mouth so that I wouldn’t gulp in water but I kind of had a brain freeze at that minute.
Now this is where the expertise came in. He first asked me to hold him and took me a few feet away from the boat. All the time, he kept speaking to me and asked me to calm down, stop speaking and start breathing. He asked the photographer to fix my fin under the water while continuously talking to me and soothing my frayed nerves all the time. Once the fin was in place and my breathing was a bit normal, he put the breathing pipe in my mouth and asked me to try putting my head inside the water. That moment for the sheer patience he had shown towards my reactions, I mustered all my courage and put my head under the water.
What I saw beneath was beyond my imagination. The sight of the beautiful corals and the colorful marine life through the azure blue water just sucked the fear out of me. I started breathing, all the instructions came back to me unconsciously. Sayed figured out the changed pattern in my breathing and started pushing me further into the water. Initially I clutched his arm for dear life as I was trying to familiarize myself with the equipment and the breathing. We started going under and gradually, I left his hands and started moving myself while he just held the cylinder on my back to keep me from flowing away.
I was stunned to see the sights under the water and we kept giving each other high fives whenever we saw something of interest amongst the marine creatures. He kept checking with me every few minutes if I was fine through the underwater signals he had taught us. I even managed to equalize myself as my brain started working on the instructions inside the water. My entire stunt in the deep blue sea lasted for about 15 minutes and I came out safely. I was so excited at what I had experienced that I couldn’t stop talking for the next 30 minutes.
For the first-time divers and non-swimmers like me:
- Please do not eat anything before the dive. You may throw up or get sea sick. We were clearly asked by the instructor to have our lunch after the dive.
- The fins or wet suit may appear tight but do not go for a loose fit as it may become a hindrance under the water.
- Completely trust your instructor and tell them if you feel anything is amiss. Remember they are professionals and they want you to have this great experience. They will make sure you are safe and enjoy yourself.
- Listen to the instructions carefully and if you don’t understand keep asking. Remember, you can’t speak under the water.
- Those who are hygiene freaks, note that you will need to don a wet suit worn minutes ago by someone else and before you bite the air suction pipe with you teeth, it has been used by many others and only rinsed in the sea water. So for once, if you go for scuba diving, leave your hygiene freak self behind!
- There is a photographer with a waterproof camera and it is totally worth buying their pictures for the sheer quality. The photographer also dives with you and tries to keep you in good humor to get some good pictures. Even if you don’t want the pictures, he/she can be a great distraction to get your mind off the fear when you dive. They would typically just click in the first few minutes and then let you enjoy your dive and the visuals around you.
Lastly, keep telling yourself you can do it and let go. The only thing that can stop you from this experience of a lifetime is you!