I Was A Hesitant Scuba Diver But Overcame My Shyness To Discover The Ocean’s Treasures

The author vividly describes her experience with scuba diving and how it is liberating for her. She believes we should never be afraid of following our passions.

I grew up in a small town in North India — amidst mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls, but far away from the ocean. I was in love with water and my parents were constantly on their toes trying to save me from drowning. Fortunately, they let the love bloom by enrolling me in swimming classes, when I was barely seven. It was the only swimming pool in town, and almost always, I’d be the only girl in the pool. The small towns of India in the1980s were conservative in many ways. It was quite a big deal to be a swimmer, especially for a girl.

Being the only girl in the pool and my love for swimming!

I felt self conscious of being the only girl at the pool. I tried to convince my friends to join but, they neither shared my love for water nor were willing to adorn a swimsuit. Bare arms and legs weren’t part of our regular attire and a swimsuit was out of question. I would feel very shy and awkward. I could hear the monster inside my head telling me to quit, to find another hobby, to never come back. But once I hit the water, it felt magical. Nothing seemed to matter — not the attire, not the gaze of onlookers. The inner monster be damned!

Knowing how to swim opened up a whole new world for me. I craved for any opportunity to be on the surface of water or beneath it. Many years later, I did my first scuba dive in Hawaii. Those were the pre-Google days. Not much information about diving was available online. I had little idea what to expect that day…

“Going all by yourself, with strangers, carrying just a swimsuit and towel, without a cell phone, without any way of contacting anyone…you must be out of your mind. What’s this desperation to dive”, the monster inside spoke up just as I was boarding the van sent by the dive centre to pick me from the hotel early in the morning.

“I really want to dive. It’s a proper dive centre. I’ll be fine”, I retorted.

“Get out of the van now. You can’t do it. Where will you change your clothes? You are not cut out for this.”

“I’ll manage”, I shouted in my head, as the van moved and the monster’s voice drowned in the sound of engine. Monsters be damned!

My first diving experience

After a long drive, we reached a somewhat secluded place near the sea shore. It looked like a school building. I was shown the changing rooms and given a wetsuit. I had no idea how to get into that wetsuit! I was the only girl in the group and was too shy to ask. After a few minutes of trial and error, I managed to suit up. We were soon off to the dive site. The briefing session on the boat allayed my fears and I was eagerly looking forward to the dive.

The forty minute dive was nothing short of magical. Yes, there were the usual struggles  —  breathing into the breathing into the regulator, equalizing the pressure, tendency to float up. But the sights were mesmerizing. There were fish in colours that I didn’t think existed. And then a giant sea turtle showed up to float alongside  —  he was unbothered by my presence; I was overwhelmed by his grandeur.

 

Encounter with a Sea Turtle

I remained under the spell of the underwater world on the ride back to shore and long after that…

If getting into wetsuit had been cumbersome, getting out of a tightly fitted, wet one after the dive, was a calamity. I wrestled and wriggled but it just wouldn’t come off. The monster surfaced again with an “I warned you. This isn’t your thing”. I was frantic! The wetsuit seemed pasted to my arms and legs. Just then, as though godsent, another girl walked in. She saw that I needed help. I must have looked like a revolving door — you can’t figure out whether it is going in or out. She had to ask me whether I was trying to get into the wetsuit or take it off!

Diving in Andamans!

Many years passed before I could go for the next dive. By then Google was officially a word in the dictionary. It showed that Havelock Island was one of the most beautiful diving destinations in the world. Diving was possible in India! I booked a vacation to Andamans, eager to dive again.

As usual, I was the only one in the family going for the dive. So while others slept blissfully, I headed to the dive centre early in the morning. I was again the only woman there. I could feel that familiar awkwardness coming back. The monsters were at it again…but I was wiser this time — about diving, equalizing and wearing the wetsuit!

The dingy boat made its way to the dive site which was about thirty minutes away. I looked at my right towards the shore getting farther away. And then to my left, at a bunch of semi-clad strangers in the boat.

“Shoot!!! What the heck are you doing on this boat”, the monster inside roared. “This is India. What’s the promise of safety. If something were to happen, even your body will not be found. Who are these people? Are they even trained? Why can’t you just give up on diving…find something safer, simpler. Stay on the land. Go back.” The monster was on a roll, unstoppable.

“It’s a registered dive centre. They must be trained divers. I have read the reviews.” I tried to feel brave.

“Internet Reviews?! Do they even mean anything.”

“It’s just a dive. I’ll be fine. They have a reputation to protect.”

“What reputation? You forgot what is said in this country when a woman gets assaulted or murdered just because she got late while going back from work — ‘Women should not be so adventurous’. Going back from work is not being adventurous. This is! Sitting in this stupid wetsuit, miles away from the shore, in a boat with strangers, at 7am. You are so dead, maybe worse than that”.

I smiled nervously to hide my fear.

“Stop smiling with strangers. You’ll invite trouble. Look away. Go back”, the monster mocked.

The speed at which the inner monster can ramble on, highlighting every unpleasant incident from the past to forecast an impending disaster, is just unbelievable. I tried to have a real conversation, outside my mind, desperate to make the monster shut up. I thought I was going to have a panic attack even before I entered the water. Strangely, it wasn’t the dive or the ocean or the underwater creatures that scared me. It was the run upto it — the boat journey, the trusting the strangers part that almost killed me.

Soon the briefing started, and the monster retreated. I had to do my first back roll and was excited. Monsters be damned!

 

Hawaii was fabulous, but Havelock was heavenly. Schools of fish in myriad colours danced around in synchronized symphonies. Nemo snuck in and out of his home. Oh the feeling was to die for! So much beauty, the magnificence of nature — it was an overwhelming experience. By the time I surfaced, I knew I was never going to give up on diving.

Being a solo diver and loving it!

I am now a Certified Advanced Open Water Diver and have dived in multiple locations around the world. The monsters still show up. But I have gotten better at handling them.

None of my family or friends share my love for water adventures or scuba diving. So I have to go solo. It is now easy to find professional dive centres at exotic locations around the world. There are interest groups on social media and websites with a whole lot of information about diving, dive centres and even individual dive instructors. I do the usual diligence before picking a dive centre and then…let it be. I am cautious but I am also willing to be a little vulnerable, a little more trusting of those around me

If you think solo travel puts you out of your comfort zone, a solo dive trip will push you to the extreme. It is a roller coaster ride of fear and fun. The best part is that you experience awe — raw and pure.

When you dive, you are as present as one can be, one breath at a time. All you can hear is your breathing. Your buoyancy depends on your breath, your bottom time depends on your breath. There is no hurrying, no chasing an elusive milestone — everything is perfect as it is. Every breath feels like a blessing, every movement feels magical. Diving is a liberating experience, a sojourn into another world. In the depths of the ocean, despite being so small in that vastness, I feel enough as I am.

“There I feel that nothing can befall me in life — no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair” — Emerson

 

Diving makes me return to faith and trust when I become cynical about life and people. The strangers that I would be petrified of, turn out to be friends. At times, I have felt more at ease with the men I have dived with than I have felt with formally attired, familiar faces in known surroundings. Some of the dive masters I met are living proof of what it means to love your job — they go all out to ensure that people on their watch have the best dive experience. Only awe can fuel such work motivation.

Sometimes, even I am amazed at my persistence to not give up diving. In a country where a woman getting home late from work is dubbed adventurous, it takes guts to actually go for an adventure in the ocean. It reinforces my belief that when we truly want something, we’ll go after it doggedly — against all odds, awkwardness or the monster talk. One reason can stand up to a million excuses. When we really want something, we find the courage to go after it. When the destination calls, we make that journey. Monsters be damned!

Life is quite literally the sum of our experiences. The experiences can be unpredictable, some pleasant and some not so. What keeps us going is the belief in life’s beauty, despite the setbacks.Experiences of awe are fleeting and rare. But they can change the course of life in profound and permanent ways. They make life feel richer, nicer, happier than it otherwise would.

Diving fills me with awe. We all need to embrace that special something that brings awe into our life.

Often we let our fears overwhelm us so much that we give up on our passion, let go of what brings us alive. The inner monster is rarely quiet — “You can’t do this”, “You can’t wear that”, “You can’t, you are a woman”, “You can’t because you are from this country/town/race/religion/caste/…”, “You can’t, you are too young/old/short/tall/fat/thin”… the repertoire of fears can be unending. But we must drown the monster’s ramblings with our love and passion for whatever it is that we want to pursue. It is only when we try courage then we give ourselves the permission to feel awe, to be truly alive to what life has to offer.

I am glad that my love for the ocean did not suffocate under the weight of shyness and fear. I am grateful for having experienced awe.

Published here earlier.

Images via Author

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Compulsive Explorer - of places, lifepaths and passions. I write - to revel in all the lives

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1 Comment


  1. Very inspirational !

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