There is nothing but water and the sound of my breathing. I feel light and am aware of every inch of my body, yet I can't seem to fully control it. Those damn flippers. It's my first time diving.
My first time diving: a scuba diving initiation
For years have I heard and read about scuba diving. The thrill of seeing colorful fish, the peacefulness of being in the water. I've only ever gone snorkeling, but that's about to change.
I'm in El Gouna, Egypt on a press trip with Thomas Cook and have the opportunity to take a diving initiation. It's an opportunity I have to take, because who knows how long it would take before I dare to book a scuba diving class for myself.
The adventure starts out of the water when putting on our gear. The wet-suit isn't flattering, but the size fits and I can comfortably move around in it. The shoes aren't a problem either, but then comes the hard part: the lead.
Yep. When scuba diving you have to carry a belt with lead around your waist to be able to go down or, more dramatically put, sink.
Sounds tempting, doesn't it?
My instructor politely asks me about my weight and concludes that I need 8 kilos of lead. To put on the belt I have to bend over, lay the belt on my back, strap it up in front and then stand up again. Eight kilos is as heavy as it sounds… but not as heavy as the oxygen tank though. I first have to put an inflatable jacket on and am then adorned with the oxygen tank.
Holy chocolate, that's heavy!
Everything fixed and checked we (our instructor, fellow blogger Astrid and me) walk towards the water. My feet can barely carry all that weight I'm wearing and I'm happy to reach the Red Sea where I can just let myself float. Because I'm wearing that inflatable jacket, remember?
When you deflate the jacket, you sink, when you inflate it (you can do that underwater as well), you resurface.
But we're not at the sinking part yet. If we want to learn how to scuba dive, we first need to learn how to breathe underwater and we do that when we're just far enough out to have the water reach our armpits (I'm not inventing this). Our instructor tells us to, one-by-one, put on our mouthpiece, breathe a couple of times and then go sit on the bottom, while he deflates our jacket. When we're underwater, he checks on us and makes the “okay” sign to ask if we're doing okay. We are, and so we sign back.
First step taken!
The real thing
Now we're actually going diving for the first time. We put on our flippers and I quickly notice that these will take some getting used to. All of a sudden my European size 37 feet are a lot longer and wider. They also seem to live a life of their own and during the next half hour or so they'll feel a bit weird, but I do realize that I need them.
Once our flippers are on, we're off. The goal isn't to reach a nearby reef, located about half an hour's swim away, but to get used to scuba diving: breathing through a mouthpiece, swimming with all that equipment on, learning how to deal with the pressure and how to clean our swimming goggles when needed. And getting used to those darn flippers, of course.
The mouthpiece doesn't bother me. What does cause a bit of trouble are my ears. They hurt regularly and pretending to blow my nose (I'm sure you've heard of that trick) doesn't always help. I quickly learn that when my ears start to hurt I have to ascend a bit, let them adjust and then attempt to descend again. Although my ears keep troubling me, it seems to become better as time passes by and I try to swim deeper.
Another thing that troubles me at first are my swimming goggles. I ask our instructor how I can empty them if water comes in without resurfacing. He tells me to look up, lift up the bottom of my goggles while holding the top tightly against my forehead and then blowing hard into it with my nose.
It works! I've heard others say how hard they find it to clear their goggles under water and as my first attempt is an immediate success, I feel pretty proud.
We swim on. I have no idea where we're going or how deep we are, but I feel at ease.
Until suddenly I can't breathe anymore.
My mouthpiece is gone.
WHERE IS MY MOUTHPIECE?
Oh there it is. Grab it. Put the mouthpiece back on.
Salty water fills my throat. I can't breathe. What do I do? I CAN'T BREATHE!
I try to resurface but forget to inflate my jacket.
I swim up and reach the surface, but can't keep my head above the water.
I can't breathe!
My instructor. He's inflated my jacket. I'm okay.
That was scary, but only because I didn't know what I was doing. When there's water in you're mouthpiece you just have to blow really hard and it will go out through a special “ventilation hole”. If that doesn't work, there's also a button you can push to make it go out. And if all fails, you simply have to inflate your jacket and you'll float upwards.
Our instructor had told us all of this, but as this is my first time scuba diving I'd forgotten everything as soon as an uncomfortable situation presented itself.
Scuba diving takes practice. You should also never do it by yourself.
I take a minute to calm down, put my mouthpiece back on and deflate my jacket. We swim towards the shore and after half an hour of swimming I feel content.
I went scuba diving! I did something I'd always wanted to do but would probably have been to afraid to do on my own any time soon. And I'd loved it.
Victory. That's what it felt like. Now, when shall I get my diver's certification?
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My diving initiation was made possible by Thomas Cook Belgium. It was entirely my own choice to seize the opportunity and enjoy it (except for that last bit :D).