We had been told that Koh Tao is South East Asia’s biggest diving hub so we decided to take advantage and do our ‘PADI’ or Open Water course, and, having previously only snorkelled before, we embarked on the course with apprehensive excitement.
After a load of classroom theory, we finally got to grips with the equipment and started learning some ‘skills’ in the swimming pool. Sticking your head underwater and breathing felt difficult. After a couple of hours it was over – we barely felt comfortable. The next day we would be in the sea, kit on, about to descend. Pretty terrifying thought to be honest.
We were led down to the 10 metre dive site, clinging to a 45 degree descending rope. All we could see was our instructor and then a huge expanse of murky water – the visibility being fairly poor. We had to remember to breathe slowly and consistently, even though we were terrified with ours masks constantly filling up with water and into our noses. Just breathe through your mouth, just breathe through your mouth.
As we finally reached the bottom of the rope with fully popped ears, our overly-bubbly American instructor, Heather, signalled for us to pair up and follow her. Letting go of the rope was a scary moment, as it felt like a life-line to the surface, but we started swimming and were soon amongst the coral and fish. As soon as we got going everyone seemed to relax, breathe normally and start to enjoy themselves! We did a few skills whilst sitting on the bottom of the ocean floor before moving on – including one where you take your mask off, put it back on and empty it of water, which almost made Ben choke by trying to breathe through his nose. Before we knew it our first dive, lasting 55 minutes, was over and we were back to the rope and starting to ascend.
After a break back on board with some much-needed tea and pineapple chunks, as well as some warm sun on our backs, we were back in the water for dive number 2. We were at a different dive site and it was altogether a much more pleasant experience, good visibility and we were starting to feel quite comfortable underwater.
The final day was a knackering 6.40am start time, with just enough time to eat a dodgy 7-Eleven pastry and swig some water. Before long we were onboard the boat heading out to deeper sea – during the rocky voyage we assembled our equipment and did our buddy checks so we were ready to jump in when we arrived. We both felt sea-sick. Jumping in and being swung around by the strong current made the situation worse. Seconds before we were due to descend – perhaps also due to nerves about the forthcoming 18 metre dive – Ben threw-up his breakfast in the sea. Do you want to sit on the rocky boat or do the cool dive? – Heather barked at Ben, fully suggesting what the right choice was. It was only a couple of moments of being bashed about in the rough seas later that we were on our way down!
The sea was so choppy underwater that our guide rope was pulling us up and down constantly, making it difficult to equalize our ears and clear our masks, as well as hold on for dear life! Again, once we began swimming it felt a much more enjoyable experience and both Ben and I managed to relax, stop feeling sick and start enjoying the wild-life. We managed to see an array of beautiful fish – Angel, Parrot and Butterfly fish to name the more memorable – there was even talk of seeing a whale shark, as another group had done the previous day, but sadly no luck.
Above board we both gratefully accepted sea-sickness pills and water and started to feel better. We also had an underwater cameraperson taking footage of our dive and we finally managed a smile for the cameras! As with the day before, the second – and shallower – dive of the day was much more pleasurable, and we even managed to make a human pyramid with our group on the ocean bed. Whilst down there Heather produced a laminated note to say that we had just become Open Water Divers, which felt great, and prompted a few twirls and somersaults of delight.
Overall, it was a great experience and I’m glad that we completed the course, despite the sickness, the blocked ears for several days afterwards, and carrying the unbearably heavy air tanks on our backs. But we overcame the challenge, we got our qualification cards and it felt really great.
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