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Weird thoughts race through your head when you’re 6 feet under…
Under water, that is.
“Why the HELL did I sign up for this?”
“Oh God, is that my life flashing before my eyes?”
“Screw you! I don’t want to die!” while clawing at the instructors face as he’s trying to flood your mask.
I read about all these experiences and more before signing up for the Open Water Diver certification. Apparently, unless you are a strong swimmer (I’m not), most people bail the course during the underwater mask-flooding exercise. Once they panic and shoot to the surface, spluttering and coughing, that’s pretty much it for them. If you can’t pass the test at 6 feet, you sure as hell aren’t going to pass it at 18 meters in the middle of the ocean. That was the biggest thing preventing me from signing up. I hummed and hawed for hours, while my brain continuously taunted me with thoughts like, “hey, you LOVE drowning! Remember that time you almost drowned as a kid? Time to bring back those fond memories!”
But I signed up anyway.
I guess that’s one of the pros/cons of retiring early. You can’t use the old “oh I have to work” or “I’ll do it when I have time” trick. You just have to shut up and do it.
It also helped that the 4-day Scuba course with Easy Divers only cost $324.78CAD/$249.82USD per person, including accommodations! Which makes Koh Tao, Thailand, one of the cheapest places in the world to get certified. So even if I failed, I could do the course again and it will still cost less than certifying in Toronto.
And because I was so nervous about diving without my mask on, we decided to stay in Koh Samui for 3 days before heading to Koh Tao, to check out the beaches and to practice putting my head under water. Even though initially, I was scared and looked like a drowning squirrel, after lots and lots of practice, I was finally able to do it.
So walking into the Easy Divers classroom, I was feeling fairly confident, albeit still nervous.
We started by watching a video, which gave us some background on the Scuba equipment, as well as what positive, negative, and neutral buoyancy meant.
Our instructor, Patrick, told us that over 4 days, our schedule would look like this:
Between course work and 4 open water dives, we would practice scuba skills and be tested on each one.
Even though I had a swim test coming up (you have to be able to swim 200 meters without floatation devices before starting the Open Water dives) and I was panicky about having to swim for 15 meters without my mask, our German instructor, Patrick, had this uncanny way of making us feel relaxed.
Every time he asked a question, he would say something like:
“What do you reckon, Kristy?”
And after I answered, he would follow it up with:
“Good answer!” and give me a spirited high-five as a confidence boost.
It also helped that Easy Divers kept their class size small—4 students to 1 instructor, which meant lots of time to practice one-on-one.
PROTIP: If you end up signing up for the PADI Open Water course, pick the 4 days course instead of the 3 days course. That way you won’t feel rushed trying to learn everything at once. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the 33 tests you need to pass from the “Alas & Boots” blog. I know it sounds overwhelming but when you actually do it, it’s easier than it seems.
I’m pretty relieved that I picked the 4 days course, because instead of jumping into the swim test right away, we just chilled in our hotel room the first day :
The next day, I tried to forget about how far 200 meters was, and instead focus on the perfectly blue sky and soothing waves lapping against our boat as we headed for our first dive spot:
After dropping anchor, we were told to get in the water and swim 3 laps around the boat, which was the equivalent of 200 meters.
I was able to do it, albeit VERY slowly. Everyone else got back to the boat in record time. Turns out I was the weakest swimmer in the whole group. *Gulp*
The voices in my head kept telling me I was destined to fail, but I ignored them, instead focusing on assembling my diving equipment. My hands were shaking so hard I had trouble closing my oxygen tank strap.
Which is probably why, during Patrick’s debriefing, you can see everyone else looking super chill, while I looked like I was praying for death:
But there was no time for panicking. I had to check Wanderer’s equipment and make sure everything was hunky-dory and that we didn’t make any idiotic life-threatening mistakes:
After we did our buddy checks, I walked to the edge of the boat, took a deep shaky breath, squeeze my eyes shut…
I expected to immediate start hyperventilating as soon as I hit the water, but shockingly what didn’t happen. Instead, I felt myself plunging into the deep, then float back up.
I’m not sure what happened. Water, once my biggest arch nemesis, now surrounded me on all sides, but instead of panic and fear, I felt…calm. Blissful even.
Being underwater was like being on a whole new planet. Everything you know fades away and is replaced by things you never see on land, like this:
You feel weightlessness, like you’re flying. And before you know it, all your cares just float away.
And because I was so relaxed, I ended up passing the mask-flooding test AND the swimming without mask tests with no help what-so-ever! Which was good, because Wanderer had to closed his eyes to prevent his contacts from floating away, so he had to rely on my sight to swim the 15 meters.
So as it turns out, not only did I NOT fail the mask test, I actually *gasp* ENJOYED swimming without my mask! In fact I like it so much, I decided I might just swim without my mask, for fun.
From that point on, we passed all our open water dives, and with the exception of one very silly snafu, my incompetence with unscrewing my low pressure inflator, the rest of the course was easy peasy.
And so, on day 4 on Koh Tao, Thailand, I accomplished my dream of becoming a certified diver, thus conquering my fear of water forever.
Now, instead of sitting on the shore, glaring suspiciously at the water while everyone else splashed away happily, I can now be amongst them, exploring new underwater worlds.
So even though I was terrified at the beginning, this whole experience left me with a very important lesson:
Do one thing that scares you. Even if you think you’re going to fail. Because in the end, even if you do fail, the feeling of failure is short-lived whereas the feeling of regret is forever. Conquer your fears and it will change you for the better. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
That’s it! When I started talking about Thailand, I didn’t expect this thing to turn into a entire novel. Which, if I think about it, is kind of like our actual experience with Thailand. We didn’t expect to stay for so long, meet so many amazing people, break so many stereotypes (Thailand is dangerous, a “third-world country”, no one speaks English there, etc), and even conquer my biggest fear. And we definitely didn’t expect Thailand to be our favourite place in the whole world.
I guess that’s the best thing about travel. It opens your eyes up in ways you never thought possible. That’s why, if you’ve never considered traveling to Thailand before, give it a try. You must just end up conquering your biggest fear too.
Come meet us at this year's Chautauqua UK! Details here