I was shaking. It’s the type of shaking when the hypothalamus reigns and the body’s basic instinct takes over.
I was wet, cold, excited, and frightened.
I was sitting underwater on a metal platform preparing for my first scuba diving adventure. At the Great Barrier Reef.
We sailed aboard the Quicksilver Great Barrier Reef Cruise toward the continental shelf where the Agincourt Reef beckoned below. During the 90 minute journey, I mustered my courage and opted for a beginner scuba dive.
The advantage to booking a beginner scuba dive was the guaranteed small group. There were 4 of us – me, my better half, an adventurous nurse from North Carolina (who was scuba diving for her 60th birthday… badass!), and a Latvian man who heckled his friends for chickening out.
Sinking meters below the surface to that metal platform tested our nerves and our body’s (and equipment’s) ability to adapt to the depths. Every meter we’d “pop” our ears to equalize pressure in our heads. Same concept during airplane takeoffs and landings. This made the descent pain-free.
I must be half mermaid; I had zero difficulty. The rest of the divers, not so lucky. They experienced issues with pressure equalization and leaky masks. My only diving pains were waiting pains. And fear of equipment failure.
Once the beginner divers assembled and settled on the platform, we practiced a few required skills:
- Removing water from our masks while submerged
- Checking our gauges
- Switching to the alternate air source & back to the regulator
As the instructor demonstrated, I became distracted.
A fished pooped in front of my face. It dangled there on its fin for a minute, like a proud waving flag. I giggled (in my head; obviously a regulator obstructed my laugh), then had to perform the final skill. Please don’t let me suck up fish poop.
As I practiced the transfer, I knew ingesting fish poop wouldn’t be a problem. When switching to the alternate air source, it’s important to keep the movement of breath. Blowing bubbles is a way to do this. But by the time I brought the alternate air source to my lips, my bubble production ran low. I realized with a slight panic that I needed enough air to forcefully clear the water that pooled in those open air pockets. My lungs strained with the lack of oxygen.
With the remainder of my air capacity, I gave a forceful, lightheaded breath and hoped for the best. I inhaled cautiously and… airflow. Beautiful, waterless airflow. I repeated the skill, this time with ample air back to the regulator. The instructor and I exchanged an assuring “OK” hand gesture.
I was officially a scuba diver. Sorta. A beginner scuba diver.
I waited patiently as the remainder of the group exercised their skills, occupying myself with the flirting fish while warily scanning for sharks and fish poop.
And Then There Were Three
Once we successfully completed our skills, the next step was to swim off the platform while following metal cables to the ocean floor. All went well until the underwater photographer took the lead as the instructor and Mr. Latvia swam away toward the surface. At first I thought, HA! That’s what you get for heckling your friends! Then concern took over: maybe he couldn’t mentally handle the dive; maybe he couldn’t jive with the scuba gear; maybe he just got robbed of completing a bucket list goal. I felt sad for him. Poor Mr. Latvia. Then there were three.
Strive For The Dive
Our instructor back, we made it to the ocean floor. This is when the real dive began as we were led to various points of interest. Towering coral formations teamed with little schools of fish, flashes of yellows, blues, stripes, and spots frolicked in the water. It was a busy, happy little ecosystem of color and life and peace.
When the dive first began, I was cautiously mindful of each breath, thoughts polluted by everything that could go wrong. Now, on the ocean floor, my existence felt surreal in these surroundings. Breathing below became as second nature as breathing above the surface. There is captivating tranquility in the coral ecosystem.
We Found Nemo
Oh, happy day, we were led to a clownfish! This single clownfish was so tiny and bright and seriously adorable. He weaved through, rubbed on, and gleefully danced around that anemone like he was tickled with joy. Like an indoor cat escaping to roll and bask on a hot sunshiny patio. I don’t know how else to describe this clownfish. To my surprise, the dive instructor indicated that we could touch the anemone. It unexpectedly felt rough and sticky. Not rough like gravel, rough like a cat’s tongue. Not sticky like slimy, sticky like clingy. The anemone attached to my finger and wouldn’t release until I pulled away. Touching Nemo’s home? Seriously cool.
Happy As A Clam
Next we were led to a large, ugly rock on the ocean floor. Upon further inspection, the waved opening on top revealed the shape of a giant clam. Vibrant blue spots speckled its muted purple interior. Like the anemone, we touched the clam. This one was soft and slimy. And when we poked it’s “flesh” hard enough, BOOM! The clam closed a tad. Touched again, BOOM! The giant clam hinged shut. It’s strength caused the sand to stir and blur the water. Fascinating thing to watch.
Exchanging Fins For Feet
As the ascension began, I selfishly thought, “Over?! Already?!” We moved so fast to each point of interest, my brain hardly processed all I saw. One moment I’d be entranced by fish with Pinocchio noses, the next, I’d hurriedly swim after the instructor to keep up. Now I understand why people get PADI certified!
Back on solid ground, my “earth” weight coupled with the air tank and the weight belt nearly keeled me over. It’s difficult to adjust from the freeing weightlessness of the dive! As I handed in the scuba gear and thanked the instructor, not only did I write a mental checkmark on my bucket list, I also silently wished that others who dream it, accomplish it too.
My post-dive thoughts as I walked away: Did that really just happen? Did I really just scuba dive? Did I really just scuba dive IN the GREAT BARRIER REEF? I was still shaking. Shaking from the chill & physical demand from diving. Shaking from excitement. Shaking from an out-of-body experience. Shaking because I couldn’t believe that I had actually experienced a mystical corner of the world I always hoped, but never thought I’d visit.