Diving Into the Deep Unknown

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April 20, 2016

Last Saturday I went scuba diving for the first time. It was a Xmas gift from Tom who accompanied me on the day.

Before the day, my primary concerns were around what might be lurking down at the bottom of the ocean. There were reports of bait balls (big schools of fish) with large sharks herding them and warnings for swimmers. There had also been reports of a 3-metre bull shark in the area a couple of weeks prior – according to National Geographic, experts consider bull sharks to be the most dangerous in the world – yippee hooray!

Despite all this, I was determined to proceed. I was assured by Tom that the dive would be safe and I trusted that our instructor would be able to expertly guide us through any issues.

We had an 8:30am start at the dive school in the centre of Byron where our guide began by running us through some theory before we got geared up for the pool training aspect of the intro course.

I squeezed myself into a wetsuit I thought may never come off, then put on some tiny wetsuit shoes. The four of us intro divers gathered around the pool and had the equipment explained to us – a weight belt, a mask with snorkel, a set of flippers, the BCD – Buoyancy Control Device (otherwise known as inflatable jacket with the pumper upper and downer), air tank and 2 x regulators.

It was a lot to take in, especially at that time of day and after a night of celebration (and I don’t drink coffee so couldn’t rely on that pick me up!).

We spent a good half hour in the pool with all our equipment on and had three tests we had to complete for our guide in order to get the go-ahead for the ocean dive. It felt weird being so weighed down and constricted, and the water felt cold especially down my back. Being submerged in the water is a very personal experience. You can’t talk to anyone or communicate with any great depth. You are alone with yourself, inside your mind and inside your body.

We passed the test, walked out of the pool and up to the boat where we were helped out of our gear.

We walked toward the bus and as we did the schlump of the wetsuit between my legs reminded me of something I saw on Instagram recently posted by a friend – if you’re thighs are touching, you’re one step closer to being a mermaid. I considered making a joke to Tom but was too nervous about what lay ahead to get the words out.

In the boat on the way out to Julian Rocks, all three other members of my intro dive team – Tom and the two circus boys (literally from a travelling circus visiting town), were being sarcastic joking about sharks in the water and what a great idea it was for us to be jumping in. I couldn’t possibly engage. My internal world was primed and I was deep inside myself already.

We did the classic backwards slip off the boat and into the water then our guide instructed us one by one down the mooring rope and under the water.

It was really one of those ‘feel your fear and do it anyway’ kind of moments for me. I was definitely feeling the fear, the lack of control, the unfamiliarity.

The only option was to trust (or try to trust as that may be) myself, my guide and the experience.

Seems diving is all about weight balancing, that is you want to maintain a level of buoyancy which allows you to swim just above the bottom of the ocean. You don’t want to touch the bottom and disturb marine life, not to mention the Wobbegong Sharks that hang out on the bottom and can be unhappy when you startle them. You also don’t want to float to the top.

Apparently women are more of a challenge to get weighted correctly and our guide had some difficulty in getting mine right so was adding and subtracting from my weight belt while we were out there. A lot of the time I was stuck to the bottom of the ocean floor which didn’t add to my state of calm. Then our guide would take off some weights and I’d float up again.

While we saw plenty of sea life – Wobbegong Sharks, Turtles, a Spotted Ray, loads of fish, Sea Urchins, a Painted Cray, a Leopard Shark – the truth is that I spent the majority of my time underwater managing my own emotional state.

What I realised was that if I had a moment of fear (freak out) inside, it would magnify outside of me in that my breathing would get faster, then there would be more bubbles around me and I’d freak out even more.

This was exacerbated with the obstacle of having 4 intro divers, not completely in control of their own movements, trying to stay close together under the water with the guide so I’d have someone unknowingly hit me with their hand, flipper, tank in amongst trying to get the water out of my mask, maintain a steady breath, stay calm, remember what all these bits of equipment were for and of course wonder at all the sea creatures around us.

We were under water for 40 minutes in total. And it was one of those weird experiences where every moment felt like a lifetime but when we finished it felt like it had only lasted 10 minutes.

Since the dive, everyone’s been asking me with hopeful eyes – “So, was it fun??”

Well, fun probably isn’t the word I’d use to describe it.

It was an experience. An experience in presence.

After the dive, it took me a good hour to get my words back.

I’ve been a water baby all my life and consider myself pretty solid emotionally so I found it very interesting to feel so discordant under the water. I’m glad I did the dive because I like trying new things and pushing outside of my comfort zone. I think it keeps us fresh, interested and inspired.

My Step Dad Charlie always says the test is – would you do it again?

Yeah, I would.

I’m actually keen to do it again soon while the equipment and experience are still familiar and am keen as well to do the 4-day dive course at some stage too.

I can see the potential for the experience to be awesome and that’s what will get me back there.

So I’m curious, what experience(s) have you had that wasn’t exactly what you thought it would be but you would totally do again??

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