I’ve had a glimpse of what life’s like in the South China Sea and I want to make it a semi-permanant thing. Is becoming a mermaid an option?
I don’t even know where to begin with describing how mind blowing it is to come face-to-face with creatures of the sea, look into their eyes and feel like an equal. I mean snorkelling is cool, it’s like watching a 3D TV programme and getting a snapshot of what lies beneath the deep blue, but scuba diving is like being given a starring role in your favourite show.
Of course I was nervous when I turned up at Ban’s Diving Resort (Koh Tao), post Full Moon Party. We watched a few videos which did little to ease those nerves. It’s kind of like learning to drive a car, without being given a car. The videos are a must though and gave me a bit of a taster of what diving is all about. It wasn’t till I was stood by the pool with all the gear the next day that the nerves really started to kick in. Now, I’m definitely a water baby. I love to swim, kayak, snorkel and will get involved with most things that have a healthy dose of open water, but dealing with equipment that allows me to breath under water takes it up a level.
The pool session went well, all those nagging questions were answered. I could breath, carry the air cylinder, equalise (unblock my ears), swap air supplies underwater, empty my mask of water whilst submerged. Everything PADI asked for I was able to do, so I left feeling a little more knowledgeable and confident. But that was in a swimming pool, I still didn’t know if all this was possible in the sea.
Turns out it’s just the same, but with added salt. It was a shock to the system making the 7.15am meet the next day for our first sea dives. We headed out to Mango Bay, a boat full of newbie divers, a team of instructors and a huge number of Dive Masters there to keep a watchful eye on us. We ran through all the safety checks whilst on the boat – BCD, Weightbelt, Releases, Air, Final Check. The reason why I remember this is our fantastic instructor has a shedload of acronyms, the only publishable one is ‘Bikini Waxing Removes All Fluff’.
I literally felt my legs shake as I stood on the edge of the boat and I imagine my tan left me for a minute or two. Then I took a giant stride and I was in, bobbing about with my inflated jacket (BCD) like a shell-shocked buoy. We were watched like hawks as we deflated our BCDs and slowly sank beneath sea level. I can’t even describe the sensation as I hit the bottom, around 12 metres deep and could breath, just incredible. Before we could explore we ran through a number of skills we’d learnt in the pool.
I won’t bang on about the technical side as I imagine it makes pretty dull reading but Ban’s had it covered. At all times I felt completely safe, informed and had the best instructor I could have wished for – Anthony Griffiths, you are a legend.
It was then time to explore the underwater world. For around another 30 minutes we swam and floated our way round the reef in just a bikini and a whole load of kit. The first time a beautiful blue and yellow Parrot fish swam towards my mask and eyeballed me I almost forgot to breath (a massive no, no!). I came out feeling exhilarated! Dive number 2 felt like second nature at Red Rock just off Koh Tao.
With the theory test under my belt, dives 3 and 4 focused on honing the skills we’d already covered and meant more time to explore this new exciting world.
I was so bowled over by diving and the euphoric feeling that I didn’t need persuading to carry on and started the PADI Advanced Open Water qualification the next day. This involved 5 more dives, including planning our own dive, orientation, a naturalist dive, a deep dive (30metres) and a night dive.
I think the 30 metre dive was my favourite at Chumpon. Maybe it was the thrill of knowing a Whale Shark was nearby (sadly I didn’t get to see it) or just because the reef is so brilliantly interesting and the visibility was so good. At 30 metres below sea level in a bikini the sea was so warm and the world below so calm and soothing. We saw puffer fish, rays, giant hermit crabs, beautiful pastel coloured corals and more neon fish than I could ever name.
The night dive was also something else. We stayed on the boat and watched the sun set before gearing up. It should have been scary but it wasn’t. We used torches for the first ten minutes or so and swam up close to the reef and looked carefully at the marine life. Then the torches were turned off. It takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust but then amazingly you can see as there’s ambient light. If you clap your hands tiny silver bubbles fly through the water, like ball bearings exploding deep within the water. We navigated the reef with no artificial light for the next 30 minutes, swimming carefully so as not to knock or touch any plants or creatures.
Throughout the PADI Open Water and Advanced Open Water courses I learnt so much. Anthony was beyond passionate not only about diving but also about environmental issues. He’s given me a new level of awareness that just wasn’t there before and it’s something I’ll definitely look at learning more about on the rest of my travels.
If you’re umming and arring about diving I can’t even begin to cover in words what a wonderful experience it is and this is coming from a girl who was underwhelmed when jumping out of a plane. Do it! And if you happen to be in Thailand get your ass to Koh Tao, go straight to Ban’s and push your luck and ask for Anthony.