Archive | October, 2013

Under The Sea

31 Oct

Somewhere beyond the sea, there’s a whole world out there. How weird that we live on a planet called “Earth” which refers to the substance of the land surface when the ocean covers about 70% of the Earth. After working in Thailand for 5 months, I decided to do some travelling on the islands; first stop was Koh Samui, then Koh Tao, ending with Koh Phangan.

At Koh Tao, I enrolled on the Open Water Course to become a certified diver. Diving wasn’t something on my to-do list, but exploring always is. Only last year I passed my deep water test and the year before I’d taken swimming lessons to improve my techniques. So maybe in the bigger scheme of things, swimming in the sea was the next step to go. Saturday night we had a two-hour orientation and at the end of it, I was petrified, thinking no, no, no! Swimming and breathing underwater for at least 30 minutes? No chance mate! I expressed my fears to the founder of the Diving School, and he assured me my nerves were perfectly normal and I shouldn’t over-think things (err, Over-thinking is my middle name).

The next afternoon, we were shown how to set up the diving equipment and did diving skills in the pool. The Dive Instructor, Ami, prepped us for the underwater skills and told us that once we submerge we should not resurface until she told us to; otherwise we would not get used breathing through the regulators. At first my breathing was all over the place; I was hyperventilating and wanted to resurface. I thought I’d see my life swim past me. Yet, for the first time ever, I was breathing underwater. It was the weirdest feeling. I made it through the day, getting positive feedback completing the skills tasks. After this session, I felt more at ease. Being able to see all the equipment and experience it in a confined area calmed the nerves.

Monday arrived and it was time for us to put all we had learnt into practice.

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picccsss

We were briefed and then paired with our Buddy to set up and put on our diving gear. I was scared, but tried really hard not to think about it too much. What if I drown? What if I panic and lose control of my breathing? What if I see a shark? What if a shark eats me? What if something stings me and injects me with poison? As much as Ami informed me all my concerns were extremely unlikely, it was still a possibility to me! The time came; last checks were done. We walked to the back of the boat; masks on, fins on, regulators in. I walked to the edge of the boat with all 10 toes sticking out; I looked out to the horizons, took a giant leap and landed in the ocean, immediately inflating my buoyancy compensator (BC) so I would float on the surface.

Let's do this!!

Let’s do this!!

We then headed to the front of the boat and descended into the sea. Ahhhhhh! My ears were popping and I had to equalise a few times to sort it out because the pressure on my ears made me so uncomfortable. (It’s the same feeling you get when a plane takes off or lands). I pinched my nose a few times, that didn’t work. I swallowed a few times, still nothing. I was tempted to swim back up, because I was scared this unsettling feeling would distract me from breathing properly therefore causing me to drown. I stopped descending for a few seconds and continued trying to equalise my ears. I was panicking and breathing uncontrollably. This was it! This is the moment I would begin heading towards the white light! I was fading and I could just hear my mum when they told her the unfortunate news;

(you know the Nigerian accent) “Oo told ha to go swimming unda de water, his she a fish? So I gave birth to a fish that as now died in de water! God why o! Why?”

After a while, the Dive Master, Sofia saw me and motioned to me to breathe slowly. I imitated her hand movements and my breathing stabilised. I tried to equalise again and my ears finally popped. Thank God.

We finally reached, the bottom and it was a struggle keeping myself “neutrally buoyant”. I kept hitting the sandy floor, or floating up too high. For the first few minutes I was crawling along at the bottom. And then was using my hands to try and swim, even though we were told that was useless and used too much energy. The fins were provided to minimise effort and in order to float we had to use long, slow strides from our thighs and hips NOT our knees, like I was doing on top of flapping my hands, like I’d just been dropped out of a plane with no parachute. Cue the electro music and that was me dancing underwater when I was supposed to be swimming looking at fish!

I'm supposed to be flat, but I thought I'd pose for the camera!!

I’m supposed to be flat, but I thought I’d pose for the camera!!

Like most things after practice, I finally got the hang of it, kicked my legs long and slow, and stopped used my hands. I took longer inhales if I wanted to float up, and deeper exhale breaths if I wanted to float down. When I stopped over-thinking and relaxed, I found myself gliding through the sea. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th dives were much better. I felt much more confident knowing the regulator could protect me and enable me to breath underwater.

Just before the 3rd dive, Ami let us jump off the roof of the boat for footage for our underwater DVD. I went to the roof, like yea, let’s do this. But when I got to the top, I was like errrr, it’s real high up here. Now here is my fear. I’ve always been afraid of open water because I didn’t know if I could tread water for longer than a minute. So if I jumped off the boat, the impact would send me deeper into the sea and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to propel myself up back to the surface quick enough to tread water and then swim back to safety. So whilst doing these mental calculations, I watched how long it took the others to resurface. They seemed fine, but my heart was thumping.

I looked at Sofia and said…

Here we gooooooo...

And she cheered, “That’s the spirit” and with that I held my nose, ran a few steps and jumped off the boat, with my stomach still on the roof, snailing behind. I’m sure it took about 5 seconds for me to hit the water, but time seemed to stop and I thought I’d never reach the water. I kept my eyes closed waiting to feel the wetness, and for my stomach to return to its rightful place. It seemed like forever but then SMACK! I felt the impact of the water on my butt cheeks. As the pressure pushed me deep in the sea, a contrasting force pulled me up and I resurfaced and started treading. Something in me wanted to panic, but I kept calm and found myself floating effortless on the surface. IM TREADING WATER… IM TREADING WATER! I’m alive. After a few moments longer treading, I swam to the back of the boat and climbed aboard.

From that moment, I knew I overcame my fear of open water! Today I would live…

On the 4th dive the following day, I got this euphoric sensation. I felt like I was flying through the ocean. The water was blue and there were little white specs everywhere so I wasn’t sure if I was still underwater or in the sky. It felt like we were going at 60 miles per second, breezing past all objects (that song came to mind, you know the from the Snowman movie, when they are gliding through the air). I had become a flying mermaid. I was weightless, even though I had a huge air cylinder on my back and 3 x 800g weights on my waist; I was light as a feather and breathing underwater, looking at fish that had just as much personality as the old grumpy shopkeeper or the shy student on her first day of school. I even saw Nemo, yea I know cool right? One fish kissed me on the top of my lip and it stung a little bit. (Those fish are called cleaner wrasse, and they basically pick at dead skin; they are so annoying.)

Making new friends - social-fish!

Making new friends – social-fish!

Blue spotted stingray.

Blue spotted stingray.

School of fish

School of fish

Sitting back, and reflecting on the whole diving experience, I give it two thumbs up. (Under the sea this is a signal for “ascend back to the surface”.) It truly is a sport that teaches you about self-awareness, independence, consistency and keeping calm. Because if you panic, it will send you into a state of uncontrollable shock and that is when problems occur. You don’t have to be a great swimmer, but you need to be able to swim. Training your mind to relax is the key. I’ve acquired a whole new experience that words can’t even do justice to. I know I’m still an amateur diver, but it’s a first step.

Hooraaaaayy!!!

Hooraaaaayy!!!

So a BIG thank you to my AWESOME friend Hayley, for encouraging me to do it, and practically holding my hand, to my AMAZING diving buddy Katie, for being great and always checking and making sure I was OK! And lastly, and most importantly my instructor Ami and dive master Sofia, YOU GIRLS ROCK!!! (Diving ‘awesome’ signal)

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I have found calmness in the midst of craziness!

Ms Tola aka Mountain Climber/Open Water Diver
xx

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