I’ve always been intrigued by the stories behind why people start their diving journey and I
guess my story is just as interesting; see, I never even wanted to dive in the first place! I had
a lifelong fear of water – not just deep water but any water. I had a near drowning incident
when I was young. I’m a land-based animal, with a love of words and art. I was also born
with my organs in a jumble so I have a chronic pain condition. So when my partner
suggested we go to Thailand and learn scuba diving, I was less than enthusiastic! I thought,
‘You can dive; I’ll lie on the beach’!
When we got there and I found out it was going to be days of lying on the beach, alone, I
thought to myself, ‘Come on, why not just do it? All these people are diving and they’re not
drowning!’ So I took a deep breath and joined in. The class sessions were easy-peasy! Our
first session of in-water practice was not. I had thought we would be in a pool. I’m not sure
where I got this notion but I think it had been the thing keeping me composed!
It turned out we were not in a pool; we were going straight into the ocean! Granted, it was
a small cove with shallow, clear water, but my heart was racing as we put our gear on and
went through buddy checks. My partner looking at me, asking if I was okay, with me
breathing deeply and trying to look tough, brushing his hand away and telling him in an
indignant tone that I was fine! The plan was we would jump off the boat where it was
moored and make our way to a shallower section of the cove for practice drills. I’m shaking
now as I think about making my way to the back of the boat and watching the others jump
in the water. I know they’re not drowning, I can see that, but it’s not helping! I breathe,
jump in and promptly freak the hell out! My partner rushes over to help me and I insanely
tell him to go away, just in not such nice words! And he does – he freaking swims away!
The instructor takes over and floats me to shallow water, like a child! How embarrassing!
We do the drills and the wash was quite strong and I was not enjoying it at all. I’m thinking,
‘Okay. I go in the water and I didn’t drown, so I’m okay with that. But you can keep this
diving caper if all we’re going to do is sit in this wash all day!’ I give it to instructors; they
really have to have a knack for knowing the limits of all their students. I think he knew I was
about done with the whole thing so he called for a short dive back to the boat. My heart
actually stopped. This shallow water, kneeling-down game was okay, but actual diving?
Crap. Again, my instructor was on it and buddied me with himself for the dive back. I felt
about 10% more confident!
I remember the very first underwater creature I ever met: the Christmas tree worm. My
instructor got my attention and pointed over to a head of coral with different coloured dots
on it. But they weren’t dots at all; they were little trees! He clicked his fingers just above
them and they popped so quickly back into the coral head! It was amazing! I swear we
must have spent 10 minutes alone stressing the crap out of these poor worms, but I thank
them so much and I think of them often! We meandered all the way back to the boat, my
instructor pointing out this fish and that coral. It was so beautiful – dancing with colour and
texture! I cried!
When we were back on the boat, my instructor asked, ‘So how long do you think we were
under the water?’ I thought about it and said, ‘Maybe 20 minutes?’ He said, ‘Try 45
minutes!’ I was astounded. I had been underwater for nearly an hour and I hadn’t
drowned! I was pretty happy with that! Again and again, my instructor would be on cue
whenever I had a “moment”. He was fantastic; my hero! When my partner suggested we
just stay on and do our advanced open water course, I was actually excited and agreed
straight away! I was hooked!
We had to leave Thailand but we both just longed to be underwater again, so it wasn’t long
before we were back, signing up for our divemaster course! I learned so much about myself
in that time: that my physical limitations didn’t have to stand in the way of doing things I
really want to do. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. It felt so nice underwater, being
weightless! My pain was not so bad underwater. ! I learned the value of asking for help
when I need it. I learned confidence in speaking, with a boatload of people listening to my
every word! I found my “family” there: sitting on the beach at the end of the day, watching
the sunset, listening to everyone’s excited stories of what they’d seen that day. From open
water divers to instructors and everyone in between, we were drawn together by our love
of the ocean!
I remember being in an underwater valley at 30 metres one day and just looking up, seeing
the silver under-surface rippling above me, and I wasn’t scared; it was just so beautiful. I
developed a great love of deep water! If there was a bottom, I wanted to be on it! My ears
don’t like shallow diving at all, but give me 30 metres of clear water and you know exactly
where to find me!
So I would encourage anyone who is afraid of water – or even afraid of what lurks below the
surface – to take life by the hand and take the plunge, literally! Step-by-step, your instructor
is always there to help you and to lead you, so you can experience the privilege of breathing
underwater, being weightless, and seeing all the wonderful creatures of the ocean too! And
I guarantee you’ll find a lovely “family” of divers enjoying a yarn and a drink at the end of
Article kindly submitted by Jayme Sage. All photos copyright of Jayme Sage and Greg Smedts