Face your Fears and Finish your Scuba Diving Certification
After signing our lease for our apartment in Chiang Mai, we headed to the islands in the south to scuba dive. I needed to finish my open water diving certification. I did the classroom and closed pool diving in New York City at Pan Aqua Diving, so I could spend less time in the classroom and in the ocean on the islands. Shawn's been diving for five years and has his advanced certification.
We flew from Chiang Mai to Surat Thani and took the ferry to Koh Samui, which was beautiful, but too touristy for us. There were too many resorts for families and expensive western food options. We decided to spend only two nights there and then head to Koh Tao, the island known for diving.
After a three hour ferry, we arrived at Taco Shack, our new favorite hostel, which we will write about in a next post. The next day, we were on the dive boat for my first open water diving experience. Shawn went with the dive master on a fun dive and I had my skills to complete with my instructor to get my certification. We completed two dives and on the second one, my instructor said I showed the most improvement that he's ever seen, which was very motivating.
The second day of diving, unfortunately, didn't go smoothly. We headed to a deeper dive site called Shark Island. The current was very strong and even Shawn said it was difficult for him. The current made me very nervous. To finish my certification that day, I only had to complete two tasks. I had to take my mask off underwater and put it back on. Underneath the water, while the current was strong and there was zero visibility, I had to complete my task. Very nervous, I took off my mask, put it back on, but in the process, I spit out my regulator (the part that goes in your mouth to provide you with oxygen). I knew I spit it out, so I grabbed for it and put it back up to my mouth. However, in this process, I had ripped out the mouthpiece, so it couldn't fit in my mouth anymore.
At that point, I was panic stricken because I was choking on so much water I thought I was drowning for what was probably about 10 seconds, but felt like 5 minutes. I grabbed for my emergency regulator, but my instructor put his emergency one in my mouth first. We ascended to the surface and I threw up multiple times and was so exhausted. Poor Shawn, in this process underwater I had kicked his regulator out of his mouth and his mask off his face. He's a very confident diver, so this isn't a problem for him.
My instructor felt so horrible that this happened to me. He said he's never been in a situation before when the mouth piece has been ripped out. I had quite the grip. Once we got on the boat, Shawn expected me to never want to go in the water again and at that moment I certainly didn't. However, I knew that I still only had two skills left and after all the work that I've completed so far, I knew I couldn't give up.
My wonderful instctructor, Piz, said he was free on Saturday and would take as much time as needed to finish my certification. At that moment in the boat, when I was still coughing up water, I wasn't sure I would ever want to try it again, it just didn't seem worth it.
I was happy to have a day in between to relax, but was still traumatized by the experience and wasn't sure how I was going to complete the mask removal skill. Shawn had the great idea of having me practice the mask removal skill with a snorkeling mask in shallow water to get my confidence back. It certainly helped.
I decided I had to complete my open water certification the next day. If I didn't do it this trip, I would never do it. We completed my last two skills in the shallow area we had my first dive, so I was comfortable and the visibility was incredible. I successfully removed my mask and put it back on underwater and my instructor was so proud and hugged me underwater. Talk about facing your fears, damn. I did it! I was certified! I don't think I've ever been more relieved in my life. Now I could enjoy the actual fun in diving, looking at fish!
We had enough time to do a second dive for fun, no more skills had to be rehearsed. This is called a "fun dive," and that it was. We saw eels, Trigger fish, and anemones. It's crazy seeing an anemone in real life. I definitely was more relaxed this dive, but I have a long way to go. Diving is all about relaxing and handling any problems underneath the water. I had quite a traumatic experience for an open water diver during their certification, but I know it will make me a better diver. Next time, if something were to happen, I know automatically to grab my emergency regulator and just breathe. That's all. It's so much easier said than done, but I know the more dives you have under your belt, the more confident you'll be. I certainly did not share this story to deter anyone from diving, it is to encourage you to face your fears and trust that everything will be okay. Your instructor is rescue certified for these exact scenarios.
Shawn is an amazing diver to learn from and person in general because he is so calm. He doesn't let anything bother him both in the water and out. I feel very lucky to have him as my dive partner for life.