Taking up scuba diving has been drifting in and out the back of my head for a couple of years, and thanks to a chance encounter with a fellow writer Samantha, who’s also an avid diver, plans got a little more solid. Over the media tasting at District 10, she filled me in on how afraid she was in the beginning, and how she conquered her fears, only to end up falling deeply in love with the sport. She also tipped me off about Asia Dive Expo (aka ADEX), an annual fair in April where dive courses would go for promotional rates, and recommended a couple of companies for me to look out for.
I’m extremely fortunate to have my best girl Priya on board with me on this new adventure. You always pair up and dive with a “buddy”, and I don’t think I can find a better partner. At ADEX, Priya and I were quite distracted by all the eye candies initially, but the urge to score discounts got the best of us, and we managed to re-direct our attention to a few companies before deciding on Ren Scubaworx. We spoke to Danny, who was one of the instructors, and we liked the relaxed vibe he gave off — way more approachable than some of the more hard-sell sales pitches by other companies.
In exchange for $438, we were offered:
- 2 theory lessons
- 1 pool lesson
- 5 open water dives over a weekend trip to Tioman island, Malaysia (accommodation and meals provided)
It’s a pretty damn good deal for an open water diving course if you ask me.
Even after the day-long pool practice session, I still felt unprepared for the open waters. Bob is the experienced diver that led my group’s training that day, and he put us all at ease with his calm and mellow demeanour. But even though I could go through the motions of the drills perfectly well with him, the idea of being “stuck” underwater (you can’t ascend immediately even if you panic underwater) kept looping around in my head, and felt the need to constantly keep my psychological fear from escalating.
The fear didn’t go away, but I wasn’t exactly a bundle of nerves when the open water dive trip came around. After setting off from Ren Scubaworx’s shop at Bukit Merah Central at midnight on Friday, we arrived at Tioman 8 hours later (5 hours by coach + 3 hours by ferry) next morning.
After a quick change into our swim suits, a light breakfast, and a short brief of the day’s dives, we headed out on the ferry again.
Since I don’t own a GoPro camera and can’t document what went down during our first dive, I can only relate the experience to you as one of the most fulfilling I’ve had in a long time. Strangely, I was less afraid to descend into the open sea as compared to a swimming pool, and everything went smoothly. All 11 of us open water trainees had to line up next to each other at the sea bed, and it got a little claustrophobic at times. Especially when our fussy equipment gets entangled. But it was not a cause for major panic, and I’m glad that no one in the class freaked out.
No underwater shots for now, but here are some gorgeous views as seen on board the ferry…
The second dive site at Nimpah had poorer visibility, and this time around, I had a fearful moment right before I had to do the no mask swim. This exercise requires a diver to remove his/her mask completely, and swim a short distance while guided by an instructor.
The complete loss of sight freaked me out, and when it was my turn to follow David the lead instructor for this nerve wrecking exercise, I had to take a few extra seconds to breathe, calm my nerves and mind, before I eventually dared myself to take my mask off. I did the run, and gave myself a huge mental pat on the back when I completed it without panicking.
With all the drills out of the way, the third dive was for us to practice our buoyancy underwater (controlling your movement underwater). We descended to a depth of about 10m, and while there wasn’t much marine life to observe at the site, I was perfectly happy to practice this fascinating new skill. It was a beautiful feeling, to be engulfed by the sea and be able to move around in it freely. I found myself getting hooked on being weightless and alone in this whole new world.
After a pretty exhausting day (shouldering the weight of the equipment was the killer), we treated ourselves to some sinfully good local food.
Saw some pretty coral reefs, but was a little disappointed that we didn’t manage to see more than fish and sea cucumbers. But I was still running on the euphoria of discovering how to move underwater, and I was more than happy to just manoeuvre around.
Priya and I discussed during the trip which type of people could take up scuba diving. Must they be calm and level-headed people? Must they be fearless of the open sea? Must they be unafraid of danger? My conclusion is that anyone can take it up. As long as you want to do it, it’s attainable. I witnessed the people who struggled initially overcoming their fear with adequate practice. Everyone, including me, had to cross some hurdles — be it mental or physical. And we all made it! I urge everyone to explore this sport as it’s a wonderful gateway to experiencing a whole new dimension of our environment.
Can’t wait to explore the rest of our lovely blue planet!