When Natalie and I first met, she was already an accomplished diver, while I had had neither the opportunity to learn or had the inclination. This was quite a surprise for Natalie because on the surface this should have been something that appealed to me. It wasn’t until we had been together for about 18 months that I seriously thought about learning to dive.
I was in Central America on my annual enforced hiatus from Europe to stay within visa regulations when I had the idea. “When I get to Mexico I am going to learn to dive,” I told Natalie over Skype one day. “Seriously?” was the response on the other end, “that’s awesome”. After promising I would take the plunge so to speak there, was no getting out of it. So upon arriving in Playa Del Carmen I searched around until I decided Phocea Mexico was the dive company to help open up this whole new World to me.
When most people think of learning to dive some of the common fears and concerns are things such as breathing underwater, or encountering rather large and somewhat hungry marine life. My fears were a little more personal. Having worn glasses or contact lenses since I was 18 my biggest fear was what would happen if I lost my mask, and the possibility of my contacts washing away. This had always played on my mind and reared its ugly head again when I first learnt to dive.
The PADI course was a great mixture of theory and practice, slowly building up your confidence and skill sets in between experiencing the wonders of life underwater. Initially we went through the basics in a large swimming pool, something that I hated. Every time we went under the surface I was engulfed in a sense of claustrophobia, doubts spinning around my mind that this was not natural or ‘normal’. Amazingly on our first dive in the open water I was totally at ease. There was no feeling of claustrophobia, no uncertainty just a feeling of peace and being at ease. The tests and procedures continued and I never did feel comfortable removing my mask and that fear of being nearly blind underwater was ever persistent in the back of my mind.
Completing my Open Water certification was an amazing feeling, I had overcome my doubts but more importantly a new world of travel experiences had opened up for me, and ones both Natalie and I could now share together. As with any new skill you master there is one very important factor in ensuring those new skills ‘stick’, and that is practice. Sadly after learning, Natalie and I had little to no opportunity to go diving. With wedding planning and numerous visas eating into our time, diving slid off into the background of priorities. Just over two years after learning we were able to spend a few days at the end of our honeymoon diving together for the first time. As we kitted up, the procedures and training I had received in Mexico quickly came flooding back and my excitement levels rose.
Most importantly for me during that two-year gap I had received laser eye surgery and no longer needed contact lenses or glasses, a huge boost to my diving ‘career’ and my confidence! The one thing that had made me nervous before every dive was now non-existent so there really was nothing to hold me back.
As we planned our recent adventure we had decided it would be a great way to finish with a relaxed, almost mini holiday / honeymoon in the Philippines, and the basis of this trip was to do some quality diving together. The nerves and apprehension that had once been there was now replaced with excitement. To refresh my skills and improve my diving I completed my Advanced Open Water Certificate. My confidence and ability underwater soared over the two weeks in the Philippines and I was slowly catching Natalie in air consumption (or lack of!) and buoyancy control.
As the saying goes, ‘practice makes perfect’, and it was so true with my diving. Control, manoeuvrability, buoyancy and breathing all became second nature down there and rather than constantly worrying about what I was doing I was now able to enjoy my surroundings.
Learning to dive really does open up a whole new world. From stunningly colourful coral to the intricately decorated tropical fish to schools of sardines that swim around in enormous schools as if controlled by some sort of collective consciousness, you certainly get a greater appreciation for just how amazing nature really is. The silence of life underwater is probably the most notable difference from life above the surface. For the most part all you hear is your breathing and the bubbles escaping your regulator. Over the last two weeks of our trip I was lucky enough to dive with turtles, hundreds of variety of fish and even see my first sharks!
The beautiful thing about travelling is you are constantly challenged and given the opportunity to overcome your fears. Whether it is bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing, or in my case learning to dive, the opportunities are almost always there when you travel. However, if you do challenge yourself and do something you would never have dreamt of back home, you may just discover a new hobby or new passion that will enhance future travels. That is what happened to me, I love diving and cannot wait until our next underwater adventures.