We all have at least one of these and each one of us is guilty of them, the phobias. Mine is going underwater. I am a good swimmer but I never open my eyes underwater even in a swimming pool! I haven't even got myself to watch movies that show underwater scenes such as Titanic, U571, K19, Crimson tide, deep blue sea…the list is long! When life gave me opportunity to live in Maldives and I started making my bucket list of top things to do in Maldives, Scuba diving was nowhere in that list. In fact it was not there until a few months back! So what changed and why I decided and did scuba dive is what this account is all about. I hope that this experience of mine will help people with similar fears to go for it! It is my story of how I got over my phobia, step by step and came out victorious on the other side!
The Turning Point
It was this January and our entire family (husband, son and myself) was bored so we decided to go to resort. We picked Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, where we stayed in a water Villa. Now since the water villa was right in the ocean and we had a direct access to it through the sun deck of our villa, we just could not keep out of the floating blues. The water was really shallow, had lots of corals (mostly dead) and a great deal of fish which we could see from our deck through the crystal clear waters. To take a closer look we picked our snorkels and went down. I had bundled nerves, but with some encouragement from the husband and comforting myself that I could simply stand if I felt uneasy, I went for it.
Step 1 - Snorkeling
That first look underwater left me stunned! I was seeing fish I did not even think were real beyond cartoons! Throngs of angel fish, smaller napoleon, butterfly fish, clown trigger fish…..it was a world that was more alive than ours! Then I looked at the submerged part of mossy pillars of our villa and that was when I felt that crippling fear seeping through me. I stood up immediately. The problem was that best fish were around the pillars eating the moss so I decided to go a little nearer. The trick was to concentrate on the fish. I tried twice and by third time I could keep my head under water and swim. After this, I was in the water the entire time we were at the resort. Snorkeling, I feel is a great way to start preparing for the scuba because you breathe from the mouth for both of these. And though it seems really simple, do it and you will understand how the equation changes when you are swimming in the water and breathing through the snorkel. This became my first step towards that big dive! I warmed up to the idea of scuba dive because I wanted to see more of the colorful and wonderful water world.
Step 2- The Dive boat
My snorkeling session had happened in January, and now by April I was ready for taking the subsequent steps to thwarting my fear. I went again for a snorkeling trip, this time in open sea. Then I decided to go into the process of diving on theoretical level. Best way to do it was boarding a dive boat which I did when some family members visited us and went for diving. It was the closest I had come to seeing the entire process. We chose the Dive club, Maldives, a very popular and professional diving club which also gives certifications and diving licenses. The diving group was big and there were a number of diving instructors accompanying us. There were going to be two dives, the first one a practice dive and the second one, the final dive.
The divers were divided into smaller groups of 3-4 persons. For novices, the groups were as small as 2 persons and even 1 in some cases. The first dive was at back farms of Hulhumale and the second happened right in the open sea in front of renowned Kurumba resort in Maldives. I sat through the instructions, spoke to the instructors, divers, got to know the diving gear and saw the reactions of people coming back after the dives. By the end of the day, the excitement had replaced the fear of water to a large extent. The pictures of the dives later, got me all gung-ho!
Step 3- The Submarine dive
With all the excitement from the dive boat, I followed it up massively by going to the heart of sea in mid May. I wanted to see the depths but from comfort and safety. As the luck would have it, Maldives has one of the best recreational submarines in the world. And at the top of it my dear friend Tanya was visiting me during May and wanted to do this submarine dive with her daughter. By the way, Submarine dive in Maldives features as the most exciting things to do in Maldives. To know more about the submarine dive, do read Romancing the Indian Ocean . Now back to the dive. We were taken from the President’s Jetty in Male' to a platform where submarine is berthed. It was a bright looking white submarine, a far cry from those gloomy black war submarines that we all are used to seeing. It was super comfortable to get in and had huge windows on both sides with seats in front of them. Frankly unless you see the depth indicator, you would not even feel that the submarine is moving.
When I saw that we had touched 100 feet, my heart skipped a beat and Tanya kept saying “Don’t start crying, okay…you are fine”. With a kid to take care of, I decided to distract myself with all the fish I was seeing in front of me. The corals were massive and fish were going crazy eating the bait that was tied around the submarine. After a few minutes I forgot about the fear. We were all squealing like small kids and our children were having great fun!
Step 4- Do it already….. Must read for all who want to go scuba diving in Maldives
By May end I felt quite confident that I will be able to pull off the scuba dive. So on 11th June’2017, we gathered up in front of the dive club at 8.30 am. After trying on the neoprene clothing and fins, we were transported to jetty where the dive boat was waiting for us at 9.30. It was like a Déjà vu, only I was going to dive this time! There was excitement mixed with fear but excitement was stronger which was a good news. We were given a detailed briefing on the dive, equipment and emergency procedures, by a super jovial dive instructor Yameen. He familiarized us with the equipment, signs to be used underwater to communicate and how we were to respond with hand signs and not with nods of our heads. I shared my fear of being underwater and he said with a big smile “Just breathe”! Then we met our diver- Humai, another happy fellow who helped us get into the diving gear. There was jacket with heavy oxygen cylinder, extra stone weights, fins and mask. It weighs like a hundred tonnes when you stand up for the first time! Don’t worry the staff helps you. Before we knew it, we were at our first diving site. Just see the video below of my first jump!
Things to expect on your first dive
Many people tend to swallow sea water while jumping in the water. But chill, just spit it out and begin your breathing practice. The jacket is filled with air while jumping so even with all that weight on you, you will come right up immediately. After a short breathing practice at surface we finally began our descent to the deep. It was breathtaking because of two reasons- one it was unbelievably colorful and two, I could see an abyss of a slope on the other which scared me! Also, inhaling with my mouth made my throat go dry so I swallowed hard and it made me feel good. Holding hands with my husband with our diver holding, helping and steering us, I warmed up to this routine. In a couple of minutes, it felt like a cake walk.
We were captivated by the wonderful marine world we were witnessing. The shoals of fish making their way in the vast ocean, a busy group of glass fish that we actually thought were fish eggs suspended in the water, starfish, sea cucumbers…..ohh the list went on. And then we saw this super cute old guy- sea turtle! He was a surprise because we were not expecting to see turtles.
Divers kept a check on us continuously asking us of our well being and whether we were comfortable to go further down. And then the time came and we were on the surface! We were beaming and the excitement just showed on our faces. We were awestruck and super proud of ourselves when our diver told us that we touched a depth of 10 meters!! My first dive and I went till 10 without any problem! A break of 45 minutes was given to us and we were back on the boat to sail towards our next dive site which they called “Fish tank”. Yameen told us that we would see Stingrays there.
The Second Dive
I ate light snack and drank some fruit juice before the second dive. First dive had surely made be hungry. By the time it was time to jump back in, I felt like a pro! This site “the fish tank” was more magical than the first! There were so many stingrays gliding over the sea bed with big groups of angel fish. I had seen angel fish alone but never in such large shoals. We also saw the humongous and scary looking moray eels comfortably half hidden in the tiny gaps in the corals. They are blind and scavengers so despite of the looks, they are harmless. For over half an hour we kept swimming wanting to see more. The current was strong so we were brought to surface a little early by our cautious diver.
For the kids
I had my five year old son with me on the boat and these guys put him in a life jacket and snorkeling set. Though he found snorkeling a little difficult, yet they took some cute snaps of his. As he wanted to be in the water a little longer, I went in and swam in the open ocean under the watchful eyes of the staff. No matter how experienced a swimmer you are, they keep an eye on you. In fact swimming and snorkeling are great activities for kids in Maldives. It was a delightful experience for my son who is used to a swimming pool. In years to come he will understand the enormity of swimming in open sea, but right now it is something he is cherishing!
Back for the Next one!
We came back to Hulhumale' by 1315 hours after the two dives. I felt really happy because I had overcome the most crippling fear of mine to enjoy that day. I would not be arrogant to the extent of saying that I am not scared of underwater anymore but now I know I can go down there. And that every abyss you come across, has a floor which you can see if you go down just a couple of feet. So would I do it again? Hell, yes! May be I will go for license this time. Next thing to do- a wreck dive may be because I am still terrified of seeing sunken vessels. For the time being, let me just digest the happiness and excitement of that first scuba experience that is refusing to “dive down”!!