When I was 13, two significant things happened that have stuck with me over the years. The first was that I very nearly almost drowned, and the second was the first time I ever tried scuba diving. It’s not a memory I revisit often, but tiredness, cramps, and a childish passerby who thought it’d be funny to dunk me beneath the water left me struggling for air, and as a result, struggling for months to regain my confidence in the water. It wasn’t until our local community and police station began hosting ‘SNAP active’ that things changed.
‘SNAP active’ was an exercise initiative to get teenagers out socialising. It was held at our local leisure centre and consisted of many different activities; rock climbing, trampolining, and on the one occasion that I went, scuba diving.
I had never thought of scuba diving before that point. I was young and it was something that I had seen on the TV but not realised that I was actually capable of, but after months out of the water and safe in the knowledge that I would have access to a tank of oxygen, I signed myself up.
It was more of a tandem dive, and it wasn’t what I expected it to be, but then with TV as my only reference, I didn’t have much to compare it to. But the feeling I got beneath the water was incredible. I felt free of any fear and happy that I was pretty much a mermaid now.
Fast forward 9 years and a move to Thailand later, and scuba diving was solidly on the list of things I wanted to do whilst here. To be honest my list wasn’t that long.
Originally I had planned a trip to Koh Tao to do a PADI course like every other person travelling to Thailand. But unfortunately, I got incredibly ill from the overnight train which put these plans on hold.
But then, there was Koh Lipe.
I’d wanted to visit Koh Lipe since I saw it on YouTube a few years prior. It had gorgeous waters and amazing beaches and because it’s located in a marine park, you knew that the ocean was cared for.
So after arriving at the island, I all but skipped to the Koh Lipe Diving Centre to book myself in for a scuba diving course. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take an open water certification as it required one more day than I was on the island for, so instead I booked in for a Discover scuba day with two dives.
From the moment I walked through the door at Koh Lipe Diving, I felt at ease. They talked me through everything that I would be doing. I booked my dive, got measured up, tried on my wetsuits and left ready to return the next day to dive.
I barely slept that night. I kept silently asking myself, what have I booked myself in for? What if I forget how to swim? What if I run out of oxygen?
The next day I hopped aboard a long tail boat and rode over to the dive boat. The first stop was above a wreck that part of the group needed to dive as part of their advanced course, and it was a stop I was grateful for because I got to watch and relax as everyone happily disappeared into the blue.
Then it was my turn.
The boat stopped in a 12m deep patch of water which was just a few metres from the shore of a nearby island. My group was made up of myself and my instructor Kristen.
The plan was to swim over to the shallow parts of the shore so that we could practice signals, what to do if our oxygen got low and how to clear our masks if water got in, but after slipping on my wetsuit, having five weights slipped onto my waist and putting on the oxygen tank, (which was pretty dang heavy) I realised that I could barely walk with all of this weight, and panic set in. How on Earth was I supposed to swim with all of this weight?
We walked over to the edge of the boat, filled our jackets with air, and one by one everyone stepped in.
Head up, hand over regulator and mask, step in.
It was all so simple, yet each time I tried to step into the water I felt as though I was stepping into a brick wall. I couldn’t do it. Science and logic escaped my brain and I kept thinking if I stepped in I would just sink to the bottom, which I know is utterly ridiculous, but when you’re afraid it makes perfect sense.
Approximately 1 minute and 20 seconds of overthinking and group encouragement later I took the plunge.
We swam to the shore and practised signals, purging our regulators, clearing our masks and generally getting accustomed to life underwater. I accidentally knelt on some coral (don’t do this, it’s itchy), and with that, we were off.
As we stood upright in the water and our jackets deflated lowering us into the blue, it was like entering a new world.
Schools of fish swim around you, never stopping, just manoeuvring around your body as though you were all but a temporary obstacle. Corals stand colourfully against the soft sand and plants gently sway in the current.
Silence surrounds you broken only by the sound of your own breathing and bubbles race to the surface as you exhale. And as you glide through the water and sit upon the ocean floor looking up at the light dancing upon the surface, you realise that all of your worries were unnecessary, and that when it comes to diving…
There’s not a single feeling like it.