Louise takes her regulator out of her mouth and drops it, pointing so I can see the bubbles as she exhales. While dropping one arm, she reaches behind her, grabs her regulator and sticks it back into her mouth, blowing out to clear it and then breathing normally again. She gestures for me to do the same. I hesitate.
My brain is telling me that I’m only a meter underwater and I can easily swim to the top, but my body is insistent that I keep my regulator in my mouth since it’s the only thing preventing me from drowning. Now that I’ve finally gotten the hang of breathing through the thing, I really don’t want to let it go. I force myself to concentrate and hold up one finger, asking her to repeat the movement.
When it’s my turn I take a deep breath, drop the regulator and exhale, reaching behind me and fumbling as I try to find it. Success! I shove it in my mouth, thankfully remembering to clear the water out before breathing back in. A few minutes later we’re heading down for the dive but I only get down two metres before tapping Louise on the arm. Moving my hand from side to side I give her the sign for “problem”, and point up.
As we reach the top I inhale the sweet, real air, and try to get some perspective.
“I’m sorry, I freaked out a bit, I just need a minute.”
“No problem, take your time,” Louise says, giving me the moment I need.
As my heart rate slows, I berate myself internally. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, and now I’m acting like a big fat baby. I’m mad at myself because I know this is exactly the kind of thing that I could love, the way I fell in love the first time I went snorkeling. After snorkeling in Fiji and Hawaii I’ve been desperate to get a better look at the incredible underwater worlds. After a few moments of self-talk I get a grip and head back underwater.
Nine metres down, I feel uncoordinated and ungainly. It seems like it takes a lot of effort for me to get anywhere, and changing direction is a nightmare, with my feet going everywhere like a newborn giraffe trying to stand. But once I focus on what’s around me I actually relax, slowing my breathing and enjoying my surroundings.
Louise points out giant clams, so large that they can’t close completely. I recall a story I was told about a scuba diver who thought it would be funny to put his hand in one. The clam closed on his arm and they had to bring him another tank of air while he waited patiently for it to open. It didn’t. He ended up having to rip his arm out, resulting in him losing skin all the way back to the tendons. Sick.
This is a completely different experience to snorkeling. At one point we’re surrounded by different colored fish, and it seems like they’re curious, coming right up and looking at us before darting off when we move. My favorites are the Christmas Tree Worms, which are brightly colored, live on the coral, and look like tiny Christmas Trees. When Louise reaches out her hand they quickly disappear back inside their tube and I actually relax enough to giggle underwater.
The next day we go scuba diving again, in the incredible ribbon reefs. We see a white-tipped reef shark (thankfully swimming away from us), and I’m pretty proud that I don’t freak out. The day after that I’m surprised to realize I’m no longer afraid. I enjoy every minute of being underwater, exploring the labyrinth of coral around me. We spot a baby lionfish, one of the most venomous fish around, as well as a trumpet fish and I even get to stroke a bright blue starfish.
Louise was incredibly patient, and I’m grateful that I was lucky enough to have a one-on-one introduction to scuba diving with her. I’ve always wanted to go scuba diving in the great barrier reef and I don’t think I would have ended on such a high if I was learning with six or eight other people.
I’m now determined to get my PADI, and I can’t wait to go diving again! I’d also love to get an underwater camera since my finger was itching to get some photos of the awe-inspiring sights in the reef. All underwater photos here are courtesy of the marine biologist onboard Jacob Tapp.