27 In Asia/ Indonesia

PADI Open Water Course

For as long as I can remember I have had a crippling fear of deep water. Yes, that sounds strange, I know. I’ve never actually met anyone who shared that fear with me, but it was there all the same. Whether it was a 12 foot deep pool or the endless abyss of the ocean, I couldn’t handle water much deeper than I was tall. Now, I love swimming, and I was on swim team and everything. Drowning nor sharks nor krakens of the deep scared me. It was some weird, albeit irrational, visual (mental?) fear of deep water itself. I liken it to someone who is afraid of heights. They can be perfectly safe in a skyscraper, with a foot of glass between them and the outside world, but just the visualization of looking down makes their stomach turn. That’s what my fear was like. Notice, I said was.

But as much as I feared the ocean, I also loved it. My family and I have lived all over the place, but we magically have always lived on a coast. The ocean is always there and I know I take it for granted. I wanted to be a marine biologist for a hot second, but then I discovered I would have to scuba dive which would mean facing this enormous fear of mine. Fast forward when my sister got her open water certification and her eardrum ruptured from the pressure. So, the track record wasn’t great.

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Still, it was a dream that was always floating in the back of my mind. After skydiving and bungy jumping, and going to North Korea, I was looking for anymore fears to conquer. Well, this was the biggest and the baddest for me. So much so that I put it off whilst I was in Hong Kong, but after moving to Indonesia, which is home to the top diving sites in the world, I felt it was now or never. My friend Krisanne had done two adventure, or trial, dives and was in hot pursuit of the Padi Open Water Certification and offered to do it with me. I wasn’t going to get a better opportunity than this, and I agreed. For the weeks leading up to the course, I was petrified.

We booked our course through Bali Reef Divers in Tulamben, Bali. It turned out that they had just built a brand new accommodation (that was super nice) and we were the only two in the course. Tulamben itself doesn’t have much to do, but we were just coming off of a long holiday, so a couple of chilled out days were nice. Tulamben is a premier dive site because it is home to one of the top wreck dives in the world, the US Liberty Wreck. This is also one of the few wrecks that beginner divers are allowed to dive, since it is in shallow water.

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I let our instructor, Barbara, know straight away about my fears and she comforted me with the reassurance that she didn’t sleep at all the night before her first dive. Ok, so I’m not stupid in this feeling. On average, it takes 3-4 days to complete your Padi Open Water Certification. With this certification you are able to dive without an instructor (but still with a buddy) up to 18 meters (60 feet).

Day 1 consisted of all theory and trying out scuba skills in the pool. I found the theory to be much more challenging than I had anticipated. I had always heard that it was really easy so I wasn’t that bothered about it. Well, I didn’t find it that easy. It could have partially been the location. Since the diving school was still under construction, we were out in an open air restaurant watching the informational videos on a very quiet TV. We had to read subtitles while also answering quiz questions as we went. I’m quite sure I missed some important facts as I was trying to read, write, listen, and comprehend everything at once, all while battling nerves and loud distractions nearby, I might add. This might not be a problem for some, but I think if I had been in a quiet room with no distractions, it would have been much, much easier. I’m sure that’ll be the case at Bali Reef Divers once construction has concluded. If you can study up beforehand or take the E-learning option so as to go at your own pace, that might be advisable. I would certainly do that if I had a do over. I’m pretty sure my instructor thought I was a moron for a few of the modules.

After watching videos and discussing any answers you did not understand, you take quizzes to test your knowledge. You have multiple chances to take the quizzes if you don’t pass immediately. I failed one but passed it on the next try.

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The pool skills were quite enjoyable and help you to feel secure breathing underwater. You learn everything from clearing your mask of water to helping rescue a fellow diver. None of the skills were very difficult, so don’t sweat the pool stuff. You also will have to take a swim test which consists of swimming some laps and treading water. Oh, by the way, I feel like full mask removal and reapplication is something that everyone dreads – it’s not bad at all! It’s one of the easiest and least frightening things you’ll have to do.

Day 2 was our first open water dive. I was calmer, actually, than I had anticipated, but my heart was beating a mile a minute. Years and years of fears came down to this morning. I forced myself to eat and almost vomited it all back up when I saw our instructor walking over to us. “You ready?” She asked us smiling.

We gathered out gear and set off for the beach. Tulamben is an area where it’s basically all shore dives. A shore dive is, exactly what it sounds like, you walk out into the ocean from the beach rather than jumping from a boat. This keeps the cost down because you don’t have to pay for the boat hire but it’s more challenging because you have to deal with waves. Initially, I thought this had sounded great for a person afraid of deep water, because I had thought we would slowly swim out to the deep and I could get used to it as we went. Well, it turned out the the waves were so huge and the beach was covered in huge pebbles and scuba gear is hella heavy, so it was much more challenging than it was worth. The waves crashed down hard and I still had an injured ankle, while Krisanne has bad knees. We were quite the pair. And probably looked hilarious.

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Once we were past the waves and in calmer waters, we were told it was time to deflate our BCDs (which were keeping us afloat) and head down into the depths. I grabbed Krisanne’s hand and decided to look at her rather than the deep water below. Because it was shore diving and the waves kicked up so much sand, we couldn’t really see much until we were about ten feet down and by then we only had about fifteen or twenty feet to go. This was great for my visual fear. But honestly, I was truly afraid for no reason. I don’t know if that fear had simply vanished in the past decade or I’m just better equipped to handle my fears (my money is on the latter) but I honestly was only scared for about 2.5 seconds and then it was gone. I was seeing clownfish! Nemo was right freaking in front of my freaking face! And I was, well, freaking out with excitement. I was grinning from ear to ear from the magical underwater world and knowing that I was no longer bound by this fear that had held me back all my life!

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On top of conquering that fear, I had also been nervous about how my ears were going to handle the pressure, (remember that story about my sister?), well, I had no problems whatsoever. I cleared my ears as we descended, by holding my nose and gently blowing out as you do on an airplane, and everything worked like clockwork.

Our first dive was to 12 meters or 40 feet, but honestly it didn’t feel that deep at all. The sun shone through the waves and everything was bright and colorful. We dove an area called coral garden which was flourishing with corals and small fish such as clownfish. We practiced some skills and worked on our buoyancy. When it was time to come up I couldn’t help but laugh out loud out of pure elation. I wasn’t only happy because all my worrying had been for naught but also that I had found a new passion. A passion I always dreamed would be a passion. A passionate passion, if you will. Passion. Ok, I’m done. Our instructor said she was impressed with us and usually had to spend her training dives swimming backwards looking at her students, but not so with us. Boom.

We then went for lunch, because you have to stay out of the water for at least an hour to let the nitrogen escape your body, but then it was time to dive number two! We headed to an area called The Dropoff, which initially scared me for it brought up visions from Finding Nemo and a Mariana Trench type situation. The drop off was a large coral wall teaming with undersea life that divers swam next to. Honestly, it was a bit erie at first, it seemed like very, very deep water, but there was just so much to look at! We even – wait for it – saw a shark! We saw a reef shark which is rare to see as they are nocturnal, and rarely seen swimming around in the day.

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We finished up our day with the final exam, which you can take multiple times, but we both passed on our first try. Happiness and good dessert was had that evening. Check out the video above for the cheeseball reaction I had after my first dive.

Day 3 was packed with diving, three in fact. We began our day back at the drop off. This time we went down to 18 meters (60 feet) immediately, but yet again, it really didn’t feel any deeper than the day before. To my surprise we were now at the base of the coral wall, so the day before when the water looked so deep, it actually was only about another 20 feet to the bottom. Once we completed this dive we were pretty much certified and that felt so freeing. I had done it. A true dream come true.

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Dive number two of the day made us pause for a minute. Waves were large and for a moment it was pushing go whether or not we would get to dive the US Liberty Wreck. But, we decided to go ahead with it, and I’m so glad we did! As we swam towards the wreck our instructor pointed up and before us was a huge, shadowy, mass – the haul of the ship. It was quite ominous and intimidating. Wreck diving is as creepy as it sounds. The wreck is broken apart and spread along the ocean floor, so you can swim for what seems like forever and still see new things. Being uncertified in wreck diving we, of course, couldn’t go inside the wreck, but outside was sufficient for me. The corals and fish that had made the ship their home were beautiful beyond belief. I finally could live out the dream of being a mermaid which has haunted me since I was a little girl and The Little Mermaid was a staple in my film collection.

Our final dive ended up being back at the coral wall again, but honestly there was still so much to see! Now we were much more confident and could exercise a bit more freedom. We also dealt with heavier currents for the first time. I actually got caught in an up current and found myself floating to the surface by an unseen force. I didn’t know at the time what was happening and was quite confused. Barbara motioned me through it and helped me to escape it. Kinda scary, right?

Once we were finished we were sufficiently wrecked. I’ll be fine to avoid shore dives for the near future, jumping off a boat seems much easier. But altogether, it was an experience I will cherish forever and I say this with all the honesty in my heart, if I can dive, anyone can. If you have any desire to scuba at some point but are filled with fear, please think back to this post. I was petrified, but the reward far exceeds the fear. Don’t hesitate to write me if you’re concerned or have any questions.

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By the way, I was allowed to bring my underwater camera along (Nikon AW130) but this was the first time I had ever used it diving (said in a Snape voice, “Obviously”), so my skills aren’t that great yet. I’m going diving again in a few weeks, hopefully they will improve. But until then, the video and photos that I got are just so-so. My apologies.

Have you ever gone scuba diving before?

What fear would you love to conquer?

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