The time I fell in love with diving
I’ve always loved being under water, swimming around, being completely engulfed by it. The first time we went to Greece when I was a kid, I spent most of the summer swimming around the ocean floor, practicing holding my breath and do the mermaid swim, it wasn’t really much to see there under water; mostly sand, stones and a shell here and there, but I just really liked the feeling of it. After four weeks of island hopping I was in the best holding-breath shape of my life. Though, by the time we went for another trip I’d gotten more into sun-tanning and was too cool for splashing around in the water for hours, there went my free diving career I guess.
(Make sure to check out the video from Sail Rock at the bottom of this long post)
I still liked the feeling; I just didn’t pursue it as much, only a bit of snorkeling now and then. Before I went on mytravels I knew that I wanted to try diving, I even bought an underwater case for my compact camera, a Canon S100 before I started off. A part of me knew – or at least hoped – that I was not only going to like it, but love it. The thing is, you can think you’re really gonna like something but you can’t know for sure until you try it (for example, I’m really glad I tried to surf in New Zealand, and I had loads of fun even though I didn’t like it as much as I would have hoped I would). So I went to Koh Tao to give it a go.
Sammy greeted me with the friendliest smile as soon as I walked in the door to Roctopus – a fairly new, small dive shop set a bit back from Sairee beach at Koh Tao. I’d read about it on Tripadvisor, where it has raving reviews, and I thought I’d check it out. I wanted something else than some of the big “dive factories” that Koh Tao has plenty of, spewing out divers at a rapid rate and where you’re just one of the big crowd, and Roctopus seemed to be just the place.
I didn’t have any reservations and it was the end of the Easter holiday so I crossed my fingers and hoped everything would work out anyways, especially considered the rain that was pouring down outside. When Sammy told me there was a course starting the same afternoon that I could join in on and that they could fix accommodation for me (included in the open water course price) I was so relieved and happy. I got settled in a little bungalow near the beach with my own bathroom with hot water – I couldn’t remember last time I’d had such luxuries – and my bungalow even happened to be one of the few at the place I was staying with Wifi in the room.
Roctopus and its crew was like my little family during my stay at Koh Tao, I was introduced to pretty much everyone working there, they were all really friendly and knew my name, and even if I were to randomly bump into them somewhere around the Sairee area, they would recognize me – who could ask for more?
The first steps
Later that day the course started. I met my fellow students Sisi and Ralph, a wonderful Swedish-English couple on the beginning of their travelling journey before moving from England to Sweden, and the incredibly laidback and nice dive instructor Brian from The States. The first afternoon we just watched some instruction movies and got some homework for the next day. The second day we had another classroom session before trying to put theory into practice.
Most of the time the confined water session is done in a swimming pool, but the weather was nice and water calm the day we were supposed to do it, so we got to do it in shallow water in the ocean instead. Oh that wonderful feeling of being able to breath underwater. At first it feels weird, but as soon as you start to trust the equipment and getting used to breathe in and out instead of holding your breath, it’s wonderful. We did some skill practices as well, taking off our masks and put them back on again under water, while cleaner fishes were nabbing at our sores and poking our ears. At last we had to leave the water, sadly, and I couldn’t wait to go back in again. I’d barely started my Open Water Course, and had already decided to do the Advanced as well.
The big blue
After we finished our little exams on our second full day, it was time for a real dive. How wonderful it would be to swim around underwater deeper than the three meters we’d done the day before. Sisi, Ralph and I were seething with anticipation as Brian talked us through what we were going to do on our first real dive, the skills we were going to go through again, and he was teaching us some sign language that’s used by divers, signs for being okay, going up, down, how to tell how much air you have left in the tank, and signs for some of the fishes we were likely to encounter on the dive site. And then we were in the water, going down. It was wonderful, but a lot harder than I thought it would be. Instead of swimming around smoothly I would be working hard to try not to crash down on the sandy banks below us because I had too little air in the BCD and was too heavy, or desperately try to keep myself down while floating up because I had too much air in it. We would clumsily use our arms trying to keep balance while Brian would just move through the water effortlessly, like he’d never done anything else in his life.
Close encounter with a turtle
It was our last day of the Open Water Course, and we had the videographer Chris from Ace Marine Images with us (he said he’d never met anyone who brought a camera underwater during their first few dives before), when I suddenly heard the sharp sound of Brian banging his little metal thing on his tank. All of us were fast to look around – he’d told us that the only time he would bang his tank was if there was a turtle or a whale shark – trying to locate whatever he had spotted. And there, swimming straight towards us was a beautiful Hawksbill turtle. The whole scene was so beautiful and serene. I’ve seen a few turtles since then, but nothing was like that first experience, and none of the other encounters have been so close up and special. I was as psyched as when I was snorkeling with wild dolphins in Kaikoura, New Zealand, and there were suddenly tons of them swimming under and around me.
We didn’t see any other very extraordinary things during the rest of the dive, or the next one, but we didn’t need to. Just swimming around the corals, seeing the nude “nemo”-fishes peeking out from the sea anemones, the colorful “Christmas trees” folding together when touching them, barracudas and other fishes swimming by, indeed even just swimming around this “alien” world of our planet was great. I’d completely fallen in love with diving, and when out of the water I just couldn’t stop grinning.
The Advanced Course
I couldn’t just stop here, I had to do more, dive more, get back into the water, so I did indeed continue with the Advanced diving course, and so did Sisi and Ralph as well. Brian was still our teacher and with him we went through dives learning more about navigation (I didn’t do too bad there, who would have thought), getting to fine tune our buoyancy skills by swimming through hoops, hovering in lotus position and generally play around at the little underwater playground that’s made there. We went on a night swim and got to see a barracuda attack and eat a rabbit fish – twice, and when we covered our flashlights and wiggled around, fluorescence would light up around us.
And then we went to Sail Rock, said to be the best dive site in the Gulf of Thailand, to do our deep dive, and just have a great time underwater. The place definitely didn’t disappoint, it was amazing, the underwater landscape was beautiful and there were fishes and all kind of corals everywhere (most of the pictures in this post are taken there). I did a lot of filming and finally started to really enjoy that as well. I’d taken the opportunity every time someone working at Ace went with us on a dive and when we watched the movies later on to ask for tips about filming underwater. From my first too blue clips (I’m too used to shoot photography in RAW and not having to worry about the white balance) it slowly developed into something more with the help of those great guys and their willingness to share their knowledge.