Scuba diving – The guilty pleasure

By 2019, I was done with paramotoring, Parasailing. But being underwater swimming by the fish side was still my dream. Let me take you diving along with me on my first Scuba experience in Thailand

HEADS UP – I am just a tourist who went for an experience and not a certified diver. Everything here is based on personal experience. Any technical details you want to know about diving – Check Padi.com and Girls that Scuba.

Index

Scuba diving in Phuket

I THINK THEY SAID -HELLOOO INVADER – GO BACK TO YOUR BOAT, WE LIVE HERE.

Out of 30 islands surrounding Phuket, not every island is suitable for diving. Quality and quantity of marine life, underwater visibility, water temperature all count on an excellent diving site. I have seen pictures and read about Andaman Scuba diving in India and Maldives. The marine life around Phuket) is probably 70% of what Andaman got and better than Maldives, Goa, Mumbai and Nethrani islands (where you see some turtles and tiny fish now and then)

If it isn’t your first time and you have already done diving in places like the Red Sea of Egypt, Raja Ampat, Australia – this island may not meet your expectation concerning marine life. For a beginner, Phuket islands are a great place to have the experience of their lifetime. More than Phuket, trained divers prefer Phi Phi islands to see better marine life, including whales in the season. For me, it was worth every Baht – Marine life was good; the journey at the sea bottom was transcendental.

Tourist traps by Scuba diving agencies

You find at least 20 agencies offering the diving service in Phuket. Some of them may be cheaper than the others, but may not have good trainers. Unskilled, half-trained instructors, amateur divers flaunt their agencies all across Patong. Go beyond reading reviews on online forums and do more research-

  • How old is the company.
  • Is it one-to-one diving or one to five?
  • Know what organisation they fall into – PADI, NAUI, SSI are a few reputed organisations. Check the affiliations.

If an agency says – “No matter how bad the weather is, we take you diving”, cut them out of your list. There have to be clauses and conditions regarding fitness, health issues and weather. Depending on your skill level (first time, experienced or certified diver), they suggest the locations. Otherwise, it is a bogus agency.

Each agency must give you a mock diving session in a private pool or somewhere in the shallow water of the sea. The instructors must know how comfortable you are in the water. If someone says, “I l see you at the port on a diving day,” – They are foolish.

A girl from Turkey whose instructor didn’t maintain the air tank correctly was in our boat on that day. It was her 5th-time scuba in her life. Still, due to the instructor’s negligence, she choked underwater and somehow made it to the surface. Throughout the day, she sat and slept in the boat to recover.

MY INSTRUCTOR ASHISH FROM MUMBAI – IT WAS A MERE COINCIDENCE TO GET AN INDIAN INSTRUCTOR

After a lot of research online, I opted for Aussie divers in Phuket; Though they were costlier than most other agencies, I had an incredible experience with them. From online booking to my one to one diving, everything went perfect. I paid 5300baht (approx 10600 INR) for three dives on the same day at Racha Yai and Racha Noi. 

Does the weather affect your diving?

“The season or time of the year influences the kind of marine life you see. Migration season, breeding and spawning happen at different times. What you see in summer versus in the rainy season will be slightly different” – Ashish said.

You may not be disturbed much underwater if it is just a passing shower or even a smooth pour. It may get impossible to reach the diving spot by your boat with storms and lightning. It was two different locations for my three diving, but I ended up diving on the same island at various sites due to mild storms.

NO NETFLIX BUT CHILLING STARFISH

When I asked my instructor Ashish, he said:

“The rain that falls on the earth moves nutrients, worms and algae to the ocean. This activates the appetite of some fish. Small fish go crazy eating those nutrients that grab the attention of the medium size fish, who start catching the little fish. Ultimately bigger fish arrive to hunt medium-sized fish. So it is a chain reaction. Many times when it rains, it feels like a big party underwater. The fish are more excited, unruly and swimming around from here to there nonstop. If the rain falling on earth carries mud and sediment, visibility gets lowered.”

Things to know as a first time Scuba Diver

Before diving

TAKE A BIG STEP AND JUMP – CLICKED BY MY INSTRUCTOR ASHISH

You need not be a swimmer to go diving.

You must be 100% aware of your health issues – High BP, Asthama, breathing problems, heart diseases or any other significant things. You must tell your instructor about all this before booking. They will let you know if you are fit for diving or not – my mother’s High BP condition didn’t allow her to dive.

Sea-Sickness Pills should be taken well before the dive. As a tourist who isn’t used to sailing much, there is a high chance that you may get seasick. 

Eat less before the dive.

Take a mock dive or free try dive in the instructor’s swimming pool a day or two before diving. It lets the instructor know how comfortable or irritated you are when you go underwater.

The instructions and a few methods may vary from instructor to instructor. Simon at mock diving lessons taught me to equalise the ear pressure differently than Ashish taught me just before my first dive. So it is good to tell out whatever you have learnt in mock class in front of your instructor on the day of diving.

Carry your swimwear to wear under the scuba diving suit.

Listen to the briefing (unlike what we do to our flight attendants’ safety procedure briefing). You never know what info becomes useful when!

While diving

THE BUBBLES – BECAUSE I BREATHE TO LIVE!

Don’t be afraid & Don’t panic: Control your breath, control your mind. The moment you lose your calm, everything goes wrong.

Breathe normally. Inhale and exhale slowly. Don’t take rapid breaths. It tires you;

Don’t Follow Peer Pressure: Each of our bodies reacts differently to the outside. Don’t rush or do something the other diver is doing if you find it difficult. You need to be at your comfort level. 

Stay aware of where Your instructor is. Descend slowly and don’t go beyond what is suggested for you. All these are calculated depending on your comfort underwater and fitness.

Do it without fail when they ask you to equalise your ears and check on your air gauge. You will be taught how to balance your ears in advance. You got to do it before your ears start to pain underwater. (I forgot it the first time. I did it after Ashish signed me. Thank god, the ear was about to start painting)

The corals and fish are so attractive that you want to touch them. Don’t touch anything. That “just one touch of yours” may damage the corals permanently. 

D

After diving

Arrange all your gear or assist the boat people in keeping your bags neatly in a proper place. It is easy to walk on your scuba suit after you remove it. There may be other people to clear your clutter, but it isn’t courteous enough.

I was asked not to fly until at least 24 hours after a Dive because of decompression sickness- Don’t fly immediately! After returning to the guest house in Old Phuket, mom and I slept as if somebody had beaten us up. When you are underwater with beautiful creatures swimming around you, you don’t feel tired. Once you are up and back in your room – you will know how exhausted you are. Keep your activities light after the dive.


THE “NOT SO” PRETTY CREATURE

Underwater Camera?

EERIE EEL

I am no professional videographer. When I began travelling, I had no clue that I would be making short travel videos and writing blogs. All I carried to Thailand was my Go-Pro Hero 6 and an iPhone. In the morning hurry, I forgot to get the wrist strap of my Go Pro! Taking photos underwater without a wrist strap isn’t easy if you aren’t a pro diver. Luckily, at the boat, they rented out Go-Pro6 cameras with wrist straps and an import device to transfer the images to my iPhone immediately on the boat. I had no gimble or a stabiliser, so the videos are shaky.

Of course, Ashish navigated me, pulling my hand throughout the dive in the right direction. ASHISH ADJUSTED MY PALM POSITION whenever I was trying to capture something in the camera. Without his assistance, my pictures would have been blurry.

Nonsense things a first time Scuba diver may do

STARFISH PLAYING HIDE AND SEEK

Simon was the one who trained me at Aussie Divers office with a mock driving lesson. He worked in the IT industry in the UK for ten years until he began travelling the world. Coincidently, Ashrith (my husband) works and Simon worked are the same. So after the mock dive, we conversed with him for a while. Along with clearing my doubts, he opened up to some of the silly stories of strange tourists he met there. So here goes the “Nonsense” list.

“I don’t like the bubble that comes out when I am underwater. Give me some instrument to stop the bubble, or I will not go diving.” – If you want to stop the Bubbles, stop breathing. Bubble comes because we breathe to live. To stop the bubbles and end your life.

” I did diving three times on the same day – I am a diving expert now” – Many tourists with their previous experience come to Simon saying they are experts! Diving occasionally on vacation doesn’t make you an expert. It is pure science that you need to learn theoretically and practically as a course.

Which ethnicity or nationality does my diver belong to? I don’t want an Asian instructor! – You are going for a lifetime experience. Not a lifetime personal commitment. Don’t be racist and judge instructors based on colour, race and nationality.

Why do you restrict me to a certain depth? If I am comfortable underwater, I will go as deep as I want to – Once you get comfortable underwater, you need to balance and maintain buoyancy. Your air tank capacity is limited. Even instructors with years of experience restrict themselves to a certain depth based on their comfort.

I want to go diving naked. Is it possible?  Let us say you can adjust to the underwater temperature. You need other gears like weights fixed around the waist with a belt as an amateur. Won’t that hurt you? Once you come on the shore, you will shock/surprise other divers and tourists. In Thailand, nude beaches are banned. So if you go diving naked, you will get in trouble. 

IMAGINE DIVING NUDE, AND THESE SEA URCHINS PRICK YOU!

My thoughts before and after Scuba diving. 

Simon was quite happy with how fast and comfortably I got used to underground water at mock diving. I had no problems remembering and practising things. I was easily breathing underwater. Like any other mom in the world, my mother was proud of me. “You are going to rock tomorrow”, she said.

The next day, It was just 45 minutes journey from Phuket bay to Racha Yai, which felt like more than two hours. I was (over)excited. It was evident in my voice and face. So, my instructor, Ashish, noticed it while briefing-

“I know you are excited. Most first time divers are. Before you jump into the water, take a few breaths and calm yourself down. If you are overexcited, you will use more energy and more air from the tank. Eventually, your 40 to 50-minute dive is going to get cut short to 25 to 30 minutes.”

I thought I was dying

I calmed myself down with a bit of pep talk by mom and controlled my mind. It gives you that proud feeling of” I am a diver” when you wear that rubbery elastomer suit. Then, when they put the air tank. It was heavy! Heavier than anything else I had ever lifted in my life.

CAN YOU MAKE OUT – ALL PREPARED AND NERVOUS BEFORE MY FIRST DIVE?

” Mock dive in a pool with lighter air tank and the real scuba air tank is different. What else is going to be different? Will I be able to do one dive at least? What if the breathing regulator goes missing? I open my mouth; water gets into my lungs, then I cough and die of choking

Mom pat me on the back, laughing. Ashish smiled, too, asking, What happened to the excitement? Come join me,” he said while fixing the fins to foot. In the next second, I heard the water splash – he was in the water already!

” Come forward, take a breath and a big step– I heard and took a short step instead! “Boolum” (Like that Netflix sound) I was underwater! I was terrified; I forgot to equalise and push the regulator. The water went inside the mouth. I couldn’t breathe. Thinking I was dying, I showed thumbs-up to Ashish, saying I wanted to go to the surface. Ashish refused. I became restless, so he pulled me to the surface!

What the hell just happened! I was so confident a few minutes ago now I was there on the surface, struggling. Ashish calmed me down, explained to me what I had forgotten to do. ”This time no coming up – you will be fine” With more fear and less excitement, I went underwater again – this time not forgetting to equalise.

The underwater wonder

The transition was crazy! There were two tiny yellow fish swimming right in front of my eyes. Then came a group of lavender fish pricking on the stone to find some food (maybe). I was breathing slowly, trying to balance calmly. There is absolute silence inside. I could hear myself breathing and the sound of rising bubbles.

One thin layer of water separates two worlds drastically! The two worlds seem unrelated and disconnected from each other. I didn’t spot anything much in the first dive, but I learnt a lot! Though the diving was just thirty minutes, it was elevating. 

More fish, more Drama

The subsequent two dives went super smooth as I made fewer mistakes. I couldn’t float properly or stay straight. I was in a foetal position many times – That position is neither wrong nor uncomfortable underwater. But you see less with your heads down.

I never believed when people described their first scuba diving experience dramatically. But there I was – going through a similar thing.

You feel more than alive. You witness something more beautiful than you have ever seen. Strange creatures were lazing on the rocks. Purple starfish was hiding under a stone. A grey eel was whirling around itself. Lionfish passed above the eel with all its fine spins wide open. The artificial reef for corals was a hub for hundreds of fish. Following their teammates, they cruised slowly! 

I was overconfident in the beginning, followed by fear. I killed my over-confidence, gained fear and overcame it in three dives with Ashish and my mom’s encouragement! I am all ready and waiting for my next scuba adventure whenever possible.

FOLLOW ME GUYS, I KNOW WHERE YOU GET THE BEST FOOD

Why do I call it a “Guilty Pleasure.”

IS IT SCARY OR PRETTY? HELP ME NAME THE FISH

If everything was so perfect and dramatic, why should I be guilty? For making my mom sit in the boat almost for 5 hours? Nope. She became friends with that Turkish girl who fell sick after the first dive. They sat together and slept beside each other, talking. Then what is that “guilt factor”?

The boat didn’t have an in-built waste tank. So my poop and pee went to the ocean directly every time I/others used a boat toilet. The gross thing is I swam in the water, which contains others’ poop and urine. I peed twice in their bathroom. Have I contributed to killing at least ten fish? I had applied moisturiser and sunscreen. Those chemicals must have gotten dissolved in water, harming a part of marine life.

As tourists, we do all this regularly. Environment-conscious divers come forward to pick polythene and other waste from the ocean at the year-end. Why are we exploiting mother nature for our pleasure in the name of tourism? I have a long way to go in learning eco-friendly travelling. I am conscious about using and taking less plastic bags. But it is gross and wrong that the human excreta goes to the ocean!

Does it mean, I am not going to scuba dive again – Of course, I am going to drive again. Hopefully more responsibly. Responsible travelling is like a Ph. D research topic. I will get there slowly.

How was your first scuba diving experience? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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