Turns out I was fine. This decision was made at about 9:00am.
Several hours earlier, however, as I leaned over the balcony in a lineup of seven brow-furrowed, defiantly complacent divers staring out to the choppy, gray Indian Ocean, that fact didn’t seem so certain.
Moments earlier, I had abruptly awoke, ripped my board shorts and bathing suit out of my ReSource bag, and scurried barefoot to the Dive Center like a little kid late for the first day of school.
Left, right, left, (wobble) right… My body felt the lack of the previous nights’ sleep as it creaked in to motion, and my feet pounding the sand became cadence for the morning’s mantra: Oh. Please. Oh. Please. Oh. Please.
If I’d known what ocean conditions to “will” into being, I would have. But, having dove just four times in a lake with no current, no visibility and no surf, I didn’t really know what to ask the Ocean Gods for. Just a chance to dive.
From our stance on the dive center balcony, hope quickly deteriorated once I got the full briefing of the observed conditions. The surf’s too big, the Dive Master said. You won’t have a good time. The visibility will be worse.
Who cares? I though, and then quickly realized that, actually, I did care. I wanted to get in the ocean – we all did. Looking around, I’ve never seen such a crest-fallen bunch – seven students from seven different countries leaving that day, who were going to miss their last chance to dive.
Leave it to Mr. Attentive to notice. Caine offered, “Okay, who would dive if we were going out?”
Slowly, exchanging glances, we all raised our hands.
From the three days previous of storm, surge and wind, there was too much sediment kicked in any of the shallow sites to make the dive worthwhile, or safe. “We’re going to have to go deep,” Caine cautioned, “otherwise you won’t see anything.”
We all nodded. At that point, I figured, why the heck not throw another variable in to the mix? First backward entry off a boat, first dive in the ocean, first time dealing with current and surge… Might as well dive deeper than I’m “supposed” to go. Why not?
The group sprang to motion, and ran down the stairs to kit up. Remembering a rather embarrassing episode at the dive shop in Boulder when I put my wet suit on backwards – the inside of which, I swear, was enhanced with superglue and would not easily come off, prolonging the embarrassment – I was relieved to gear up and put my wet suit on the right way with record speed.
(FYI – I look like a dork in a wet suit. Rubber and neoprene were hot on Batman – not on me.)
Within 10 minutes, we were pushing the boat out to sea, getting pummeled by the surf, relying on the skilled dive master to get us through the break. After a few air-born moments, the boat reached the dive site. Air on, mask on, system checks, regulator in.
“3… 2… 1… GO!”
And we were in the water. And I had air in my mouth. And it was breathable.
We descended down quickly, and unlike the Colorado reservoir, I could already see a reef 28 meters below me and hundreds of bright fish swimming around. The tension melted, the fear bubble popped at the surface, and I just went down.
The next 28 minutes were pure bliss, which is not a term I use lightly.
It was like having the realm of what I knew to be real blown open with every turn around the reef. Things I’d only seen in pictures were suddenly swimming next to and around me.
Caine was able to get some beautiful images of the dive, which you can check out here.
As I cruised the reef, the importance of “neutral buoyancy” – being able to maintain your body’s positioning in the water without bobbing up and down – suddenly became clear. Reefs are among the world’s most delicate and vulnerable ecosystems, and though I am just one diver, the potential impact of my actions on the reef by not diving responsibly or controlling my buoyancy could destroy the fragile corals and marine life with the kick of a fin. It didn’t take the enjoyment away from the experience, but rather affected the opposite: a pure appreciation for being shown a world that many will never get to see.
And just like that, it was over. We were back up on the boat, cruising toward shore, everyone chattering about Did you see? and Wasn’t it cool when…?
Caine leaned over to me on the boat and showed me the viewfinder of his camera. A profile picture of a diver in the blue was visible.
“Look at you,” he said with a slight grin, tracing his finger horizontally to show the neutral buoyancy of the diver. “Perfectly trim. Nice work.”
I smiled genuinely… I couldn’t help it. Oddly, it was one of the more appreciated comments I’d received in quite some time. It felt good to hear that I was “okay,” especially because the only thing on my mind now was getting back in.
Maybe there is hope for a claustrophobic 20-something, who learned to dive in a lake… And occasionally puts her wetsuit on backwards.