My first attempt at diving in the Red Sea in Egypt failed miserably after my blocked sinus caused issues with equalizing (the all-important task of reducing pressure in the ears as you descend by pinching the nose and breathing out against closed nostrils). I also decided I didn’t quite like how many people were on the course and the teacher not being English made it difficult to understand her. My second attempt was an assisted dive in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, a quick ‘taster dive’ for half an hour with a dive instructor, which was really fun put me in the mood for taking my PADI certification.
A few years later, in a different continent, I attempted the PADI certification once more. I visited the small party island of Ko Phangan in Thailand (although usually people visit the neighbouring island of Koh Tao for diving). October is low season and the island was practically deserted. I managed to get an English instructor (Kate) at the dive school completely to myself! I felt super safe in the knowledge that I would get her undivided attention and therefore be as safe as possible.
We went through all the modules and I successfully completed the swimming pool trials. Next came the real deal. Getting into the ocean with the weight of the tank and the claustrophobic feeling of the wetsuit tight against my skin. As I sank into the water, my heart raced and I wondered if the sharks could hear the pounding in my chest?! We descended slowly, equalizing as we went. Our dive site for this special day was Sail Rock, which is circled by various types of sharks. I don’t know what was more scary, the sight of so many sharks in one place, or the amount of water above my head that I would have to swim through in order to get air if my tank failed! Of course these are perfectly rational fears, if unlikely to ever occur.
We float peacefully around the rock, watching the fish darting out of our way. My dive instructor makes a signal which means she is in trouble. The air in her tank is bad so she has to surface. I am paired with another diving couple and we continue. I feel a little worried, but glad that I can continue the dive. We swim out further into the blue and a huge shape starts to materialize… at first I don’t recognize the shape, and like a startled fish, I flee in panic, only to stop a second later and turn back towards the huge whale shark, realizing it wont eat me. I marvel at its beauty and my eyes water with awe. I wish Kate was here to see this! But I guess she has seen this many times before.