Learning to dive is something I’ve always found excuses to not learn how to do. Something always comes up. I don’t have the money, I don’t have anyone to go with, I am too busy, I’ll learn when I get to Thailand, etc, etc. The list goes on and on.
Traveling Fiji with Gary from Everything-Everywhere, I was finally pushed, prodded, and cajoled by him to go scuba diving. “If you don’t do it, I’ll make fun of you on Twitter,” he said. With the thought of public embarrassment and the promise he’d come on my first dive, I relented. I was going to learn to scuba dive.
Making our way down the island chain, we found a dive shop on the island of Waya Lai Lai. The dive master, John, had been diving for 13 years and the surrounding area had some of the best diving in the Yasawa Islands. There was no better time or place to learn.
Dive day came, and the instructors took Gary, a French girl, and me on a shallow dive across from the island. They taught us how to breathe, equalize our ears, put on our gear, and what to do in case of emergency. I took a depth breath, asked not to get the bends, grabbed the instructor’s hand, and began to descend.
We began the dive on the surface, and I felt I was there for ages. I felt like I was descending. Then I stopped and looked around. Whoa! I was underwater. I looked at my gauge – I was 5 meters underwater! We continued diving down, reaching a depth of about 9 meters. The area had some good coral, but the fish were small, though their colors were amazing. And then, before I knew it, it was over. The air was gone, and it was time to come up.
Reaching the surface, I was grinning from ear to ear. “Can we go again?” I asked. And there it was. I was hooked. Back on the shore, I went to John, and said simply “you were right. I loved it. I’ll do the PADI course.”
Later that afternoon, we went out on our second dive. My new dive buddy was Irina, a wily Portuguese girl who had also decided to learn on the spur of the moment. John took us out and taught us some dive skills. I was most nervous about taking off our regulators underwater. I’m still worried I’m going to get the bends.
In order to get a PADI open water license, you need to do four dives. Besides getting over my fear of breathing underwater, it turned out I was going to get over my fear of sharks. Once while in Belize, we went to a reef filled with nurse sharks. I refused to get in. I don’t do sharks. They scare me. Even if they are harmless. And what was dive number three? Shark feeding.
Turned out the sharks weren’t my biggest problem. About 10 meters down, Irina tried to kill me. Maybe it was all the Latin ghetto booty jokes her friend Paco and I were making on the boat ride over. Maybe it was a dive lover’s quarrel. But about 10 meters down, a fin flapped in my face and out came my breathing regulator. Panic came across my face, but remembering my skills, I quickly found my backup unit and put in my mouth. John lunged over to my side to help me out. After a few minutes relaxing and calming down, we moved on. Diving down to 20 meters, it is easy to see why everyone loves to dive. Snorkeling has nothing on diving. The amount of fish you see, the beautiful coral, the amazing colors. I got to see Nemo up close and personal. And those reef sharks? Turns out, they really are harmless.
Fiji allowed me to cross off one of my travel goals. I don’t know what I was afraid of before. Diving is easy. All you need to do is breathe in and out. The likelihood of anything going wrong is slim to none. I was always up before my air ran out and as long as you stay calm, you’ll be alright.
Diving in Fiji is cheap. My first “discover scuba” dive cost $99 Fijian dollars. When I got my open water dive, it was only $550 Fijian dollars and included four dives. Most one tank dives in Fiji are around $130 Fijian dollars. At Waya Lai Lai, if you dive more than twice, John drops the price down to $55 Fijian dollars per dive. That’s about $30 USD for a dive! Talk about cheap! In fact, if you do learn to dive, make sure you do it in a place like Fiji, Thailand, or Bali as they are cheap and have some of the best diving in the world. You’ll pay half as much as you would in places like the US, Australia, or the Caribbean.
If you haven’t learned to scuba dive, you should. As much as I always wanted to learn, I always found an excuse because I was just scared. It turns out diving isn’t that scary, and it’s really easy to breathe under water. Go scuba dive. If I can get over my fear, you can too.