Snorkeling and I go way back. It’s an awesome, fairly low-cost activity that makes the world seem so much larger. A mask and snorkel, and you’re good to go. Sure, fins make the job a lot easier, but you *can* snorkel without them. You just won’t go very far.
With such mind-blowing snorkeling experiences such as the Silfra divide in Iceland, I was already off to a good start. I was psyched to plunge into the Pacific and try to spot one of only 500 pairs of Humbolt penguins. I wasn’t disappointed. This little guy decide to swim by me one afternoon.
An 8-day yacht trip in the Galapagos archipelago is just what the doctor ordered as a treatment for a broken heart – or would have ordered, had I gone to see a doctor. My days were spent meandering through sun baked lava, dodging land iguanas and blue footed boobies at every turn. The days were interspersed with life under the sea; chasing sea turtles and foolishly waking white tipped reef sharks from their slumber.
I asked my dive instructor to explain how I could possibly not be smitten with every dive. I’m in love with the idea of the sport, I dream about it constantly, I spend my days thinking of where to go diving next.
“There are lots of reasons why you may not have a good dive,” Greg explained. “I’m a dive instructor and I don’t love all of my dives.”
I pressed on for more information, the wind howling through a 24th story window in a Montreal high rise on a cold March night in 2010.
“You might not like your dive partner, you might have awkward gear, the gear might not fit right, you might not like the dive operator, you might have concerns for your safety…” he went on and on, like someone trying to dump a brief fling.
It has been over a year since that lesson, and I put it out of my mind without a further thought.
But sitting on the back of a dive boat near North Seymour island in the Galapagos archipelago, about to do my first backwards entry roll into the choppy waves a metre below, Greg’s voice was clear in my mind. I had a rushed breakfast that morning, skipped my brain-sustaining cup of coffee. When the dinghies returned to our yacht, the dive boat was waiting for us, and I was stressed out. The wetsuit was an awkward fit – too loose on the thighs, too tight on the calves, and generally awkward. (Neoprene suits are always awkward. This one was atrocious.)
It boiled down to trust. This was my first dive after my Open Water exam, and 8 months had passed in the interim. I reread my dive manual on the plane, but it wasn’t fresh in my mind. The one thing that kept shouting in my mind was the need to do a safety check with the weight belt.
Every time you dive, the conditions are different. I learned how to dive in cold freshwater. This was warm sea water. I learned how to dive in calm but murky lake water. This was choppy dark sea water, with a strong current, and 2 metre waves. I also lost 25 pounds since when I learned how to dive. These are all conditions that will affect how much lead weight you strap to your body, an essential piece of dive gear that helps keep you neutrally buoyant underwater, and is instrumental in helping you get to the desired depth.
And here we were, beginning our descent, without checking if 12 kg of lead weight was sufficient for a beginner diver. I know that when I dived in freshwater, I wore 18 kg – but I was wearing a 14 mm wet suit (that’s pretty thick, for you non-divers). This time I was wearing a 7 mm wet suit, but salt water increases your buoyancy, and you typically need more weight.
I breathed out, and released all the air in my BCD (buoyancy control device), and didn’t go anywhere. The rest of the group was already a metre down. I signaled to the dive master that I was going nowhere fast. He wasn’t helpful. A wave splashed over me and thoroughly freaked me out. I climbed back in the boat, ripped off my mask and immediately quit diving forever. I was cold, wet, miserable, and scared. My first attempt at diving, in a nutshell, sucked.
Except this break-up wasn’t forever. A week later, with a different dive operator, I was back at North Seymour. Us beginner divers rolled into the choppy sea together, and tested our weight, one by one. I felt safe. This dive master was patient.
We descended together. One metre. Five metres. Ten metres. Fifteen metres. Eighteen metres, the maximum depth my license allows. The dive master from Scuba Iguana let me hold his hand, and I didn’t let go until we resurfaced.
Know how in Disney’s Aladdin, he takes Jasmin on a magic carpet ride? Know? Well I felt like Jasmin as we kicked our fins with the current, and a sea turtle swam by overhead. Five metres up, it was as if it was flying above us. Still don’t know what I’m talking about? Here, let this video jog your memory.
Together, Manolo the dive master and I drifted through the current, staring at the critters hidden inside the coral. Motionless, we let schools of fish surround us, wrapping us in a thick blanket of brightly coloured scales. He motioned for me to come closer to the rocks, and I carefully drew closer, still holding on like a school girl.
I might have had a bad first dive, but I gave it another try. I know I won’t like every dive. There will be days I won’t feel well, where my rental gear is crap, or I cannot stand my dive partner. But there’s a whole amazing world under water, and life is too short to let one bad dive get in my way.
And with that, I was forever hooked on diving.