Sweat-drenched from the heat of the sun that recently broke through the horizon, I crawled onto a small passenger plane heading for Chaing Mai, Thailand. Drained from the effects of the sun and coupled with lack of sleep, I sank into seat 4B on the air-conditioned plane, and drifted into an unconscious state of delirium.
I sat in a classroom, read from a textbook and watched videos. I discussed the mechanics of the equipment. I reviewed the techniques and mathematical equations for underwater calculations. The over abundance of computations was beginning to fry my relaxed, holiday-oriented brain. I ventured to the beach in need of practical experience.
The beach was my safety zone to practice and splash toward the surface when I needed air. The breathing process was easy, but the certification test was a struggle. My first test was to take off my mask and learn to place it back on my face. I had to sit underwater, clear the water out of the mask with the tilt of my head and breathe out my nose. I failed miserably – swallowing the sandy beach water and becoming frustrated – several times! I asked the instructor to test me on other aspects, but he was more stubborn than I. He told me I had to pass this test before moving on to the easier ones.
The sandy beach water was rough on my nose and throat as I continued to fail my underwater task. I coughed and spewed the grainy wetness out of my nose and mouth. I had a few choice words for the instructor, but refrained from chewing his head off and spitting it onto the beach. My mouth had swallowed enough crap for one day.
I left the beach – making the instructor carry both of the oxygen tanks as I walked back to the Barakuda Dive School – defeated. The tests crushed my hopes to receive my scuba diving certification. When I returned, I asked for my money back. The owner asked if I would be willing to try again. I said yes, but I wasn’t able to do the test. He didn’t care about the test. He wanted me to have fun, so I returned to the water the following day (with a new instructor).
The underwater world became a fascinating journey of colorful reefs and creatures that slithered through the water like a snake in the grass. As I explored the depths of my unfamiliar world, the sea life exploded with rich hues of light that bounced off the aquatic life and sank into the abyss below.
I sat twenty-five meters below the surface and easily completed my certification tests, without swallowing any water. I had a really cool instructor (with a hot accent) who kept me calm as I pulled off my mask and learned how to breathe without the regulator during the exam process. I was thankful for Antti, my new instructor, for helping me enjoy the tranquility of the water.
I swam in a full-length, black, skintight wetsuit that failed to camouflage me from my environment. The six-foot shark glided effortlessly through this oceanic world. The shark bolted in my direction, only meters from me. I began to breathe deeply into my respirator device. The bubbles climbed toward the water’s surface, which multiplied as my breathing intensified. I was unable to remain motionless as I kicked my legs to maintain my stability in the water. I gasped for oxygen. There was nowhere to hide. Screaming would have been ineffective and would only cause me to swallow more of the ocean. My mind must have screamed loud enough to create a disturbance in the water because the enormous creature maneuvered towards my eye-popping, fearful body.
This terrifying moment made me leap from my seat as the flight attendant asked, “What would you like to drink?” I was thirsty for another descent to the sea floor because diving among the aquatic creatures was an entirely intoxicating experience. Instead, I said, “I’ll have a cup of tea, thank you.”