Don’t. Panic. Think about what you learned in the introduction video. Hold your nostrils and blow out to equalize pressure. Remember to breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. Inhale. Exhale. And look around! There’s a whole world underwater around you.
It’s scrawled all over my face in my chicken-scratch handwriting: I’m nervous as hell. I’m not sure if it’s the harsh sun at the Equator or the fact that I’m feeling shy, but my face is burning up. I can’t stop fiddling with my wetsuit as if somehow I’d magically feel comfortable and ready to get underwater.
Naty, my scuba instructor, adjusts the mask on my face and checks the tank on my back as Amit, my travel partner in crime in the Galápagos Islands this week smiles and reassures me as I feel like I’m being outfitted to go into war. This is heavy, and not one of the things I researched before landing in the Galápagos. What am I doing?! At least I’m not the only nervous one. Mor and I are in the same boat. This is our shot to see if we like scuba diving.
I sit up against the side of the boat and Naty instructs me to lean back and let myself fall into the water. Wait…backwards? Acutely aware this isn’t some type of “trust fall” exercise, I’ve only got the water to catch me from behind when I’m not looking. I do what I do best when trying something new: I do it without thinking about it.
My heart somersaults backwards along with my entire body underwater. I instinctively try to wipe my eyes and remember I’m wearing scuba gear. My contact lenses are safe! The water is a refreshing reprieve from the unforgiving sun. That wasn’t so bad. It was actually kind of a fun way to jump into the water. Maybe I’ll try that again sometime. I tread water and practice breathing underwater. Breathing through the mouthpiece feels unnatural and I sound like Darth Vader. But I can breathe underwater! Cool.
I’m struggling to remember the hand signals as Naty motions for me to start pulling myself down lower underwater. When I realize I’m deeper than I’ve ever been underwater while snorkeling, I start to panic and I start shaking my head. I’m drowning. Oh my God, I’m drowning!
I try to fight my way to the surface when Naty looks me square in the eye, gives me a reassuring “OK” signal, and reminds me to breathe. Wait, I’m not drowning. I’m breathing perfectly fine underwater; more comfortably than I ever have, in fact. She gently pulls me lower into the depths of the ocean.
My feet in my fins hit the ocean floor and the sand rises around me. I feel like I’m Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for the first time – I’m on unchartered territory (for me at least).
Once we’ve all descended to the ocean floor, Naty takes Mor and I by the hand and we start swimming around. There’s slightly less visibility than I expected, but that’s okay. After all, we can’t control the weather and currents.
There are so many fish out here! They seem to not notice us at all. I feel like we look like giant elephants in the room, but the marine life seem swim around us like we’re one of them. We quietly follow different fish, watching them live their lives undersea. I have no idea what types of fish I’m looking at, but they’re all so colorful and beautiful. All the marine life seem to move in some sort of unison, especially the little worms sneaking out of the ocean floor like snakes being charmed in the souks of Morocco. I’m creeped out and fascinated at the same time.
Suddenly Naty squeezes my arm and points in front of us. A shark! If I didn’t have a mask on, I’d be saying, “Oh sh*t”. I’ve been scared of sharks since I saw Jaws, then had the bejesus scared out of me at Universal Studios as a child on the Jaws ride. It still makes me shudder. My eyes grow wide and my heart nearly stops as I watch the shark’s swift movements in the water as it swims away. I know seeing sharks is normal for scuba diving, but I didn’t expect to see one during my first dive!
I’m surprised when Naty works her magic with my scuba gear and suddenly I’m slowly floating to the surface. I take in my last few views of life that deep underwater. Time has flown by; it feels like a lifetime ago that I was exhibiting symptoms of heart palpitations while descending.
I pull off my mask and fins and take my first breath of fresh air on the surface of the ocean. Is there really so much life under this blue blanket surrounding me as far as the eye can see? I almost can’t believe it.
We exchange feelings about our experience on board the boat and I’m asked the question I was just asking myself: would I do it again? Drowning has always been a paralyzing fear of mine and although the scuba gear provided me with everything I need to breathe underwater, it still gives me nervous butterflies in my chest. One thing I’ve learned though, never give up on things that give you butterflies.
For a closer underwater look at what I saw while snorkeling and diving, check out this video: