It is six thirty in the morning and a large flock of birds burst forth from the jungle into flight across the clear blue sky. I walk slowly down the main street of Koh Phi Phi Island‘s small town, enjoying the mouth watering aroma of deep fried dough and freshly baked croissants. I gaze out at the clear blue waters of the Andaman Sea as the aqua blue waters change to the cobalt blue of the deep. Joy bubbles up inside me as I think about the day I have planned, I booked the Discover Scuba Diving program with The Adventure Club last night and I could barely sleep because of the nervous excitement that coloured my dreams, although the deep throbbing of the base of the beach party music may have been a cause as well.
The butterflies in my stomach flutter gently as I approach the dive centre but I put on a brave face and enter ready to meet my instructor. A young guy with a clean face and smiling eyes greets me, he introduces himself as David and offers me some coffee as I sit down. His casual yet professional attitude helps put me at ease as he asks me questions about where I am from and what reasons I decided to try scuba diving. Soon the dive centre is alive with an excited buzz as students, divers and instructors of differing ages, countries and languages prepare to leave for the boat.
The walk to the pier is short and made interesting as I get to know, Mark, my fellow student on the Discover Scuba Diving course. We all board the boat and head upstairs for a short but informative briefing on boating procedures. Having never been on a boat before I listen attentively, hoping there will not be anything too complicated for a newbie like me. It is all simple enough, never throw anything overboard including yourself and you will not have any troubles. David then comes to brief us privately on what will happen for our first ever scuba dive. He speaks with us casually and clearly explaining every step from putting on our equipment, how to get into the water, how we will descend (go down), what skills we will learn, how to communicate with each other, and finally all the amazing species of marine life we may see around the beautiful colourful coral reefs of Thailand. After his briefing he gives us a chance to ask all the questions we can think of, I know I am asking him so many but he never gets annoyed and his patience with me is much appreciated.
The boat comes to a stop just outside the bay of a breathtakingly beautiful island named Koh Bida Nok. The cliff rises out of the water on all sides and the water in the bay is clear aquamarine. Dark shadows of the reef glimmer just below the surface and suddenly I cannot wait to be under the water. David helps us get into our equipment and shows exactly what each piece of equipment is for. I feel more confident than I did before as everything has explained to me thoroughly. We walk to the back of the boat where the entry platform is, awkward in our diving gear we shuffle to the edge of the platform resting our fins over the edge, and mental image of penguins shuffling along pops unbidden into my mind.
With a smile on my face I take the plunge, so to speak, the water is surprisingly warm and I am submerged only for an instant as the air in my BCD ( Buoyancy Control Device) helps me to bob straight up to the surface. My instructor is right next to me and helps me to position myself so that I can rest on my back so that we can swim more easily into the shallow waters of the bay. I am temporarily astounded by my surroundings as I gaze out at the warm blue sky, the still calm waters of the Andaman Sea for miles around me. The water is shallow enough for us to stand although it is not easy at first as the lack of gravity confounds our bodies. Eventually with the assistance of our ever patient instructor we are standing and stable on a sandy bottom. David instructs us to put our regulators in our mouths and place our faces in the water. My heart is pounding as I slowly lower my face into the water and I am holding my breath even though I know I shouldn’t, it’s the number one rule of diving, My held breath comes out in a whoosh of surprise as I see all the fish swimming below the surface, they are beautiful all of them different hues of blues, greens, yellows and reds, suddenly needing air I breath in cautiously. The air is clean and dry, it feels strange, I breath out and bubbles tickle my cheeks, I laugh and breath in getting used to the taste of the air and amazement seeps through me, I have done it I think to myself, I am breathing underwater.
Our instructor gives us the O.K signal, enthusiastically I make a circle with my thumb and my forefinger, and he slowly lets the air out of our BCD’s, we sink under the waters surface and suddenly we become weightless , light as a feather we float down to the sand. It takes Mark and I a moment to get our arms and legs under control as gravity escapes us, but David is there as always to help us to kneel down on the sandy bottom.
I gaze around in a moment of surprised wonder. The blue water stretches out for miles into the open ocean and the silent world around me is crystal clear. A pretty blue and green fish swims close to me seemingly to investigate before darting off. I feel strange as though I am wrapped in a cocoon of silence although as I listen carefully there is a crackling sound, the sound of the all the oceans marine life going about their daily lives muffled by tonnes of water, it is strange to me that I would be able to hear the clanking of a parrotfish’s beak snapping at the reef crunching the coral. I stare in wonder at the millions of fish swimming to and fro, going about almost completely oblivious to the alien invaders gaping at them from the ocean floor.
Our instructor begins by teaching us a few basic skills that we need in order to be comfortable underwater. Mark and I both find the skills rather easy as we copy everything that David does in the demonstration. It seems a little crazy taking your breathing device out of your mouth underwater, yet actually doing it was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Clearing the water out of the regulator was easy, all I had to do was blow into it and the water was gone. When it came time to clear the water out of my mask though, I had a little bit of trouble, it wasn’t really the water in my mask that was bothering me, it was that even though I was blowing out the water would not drain out. I felt confused and in turn frustrated, I signalled to David that I was having a problem and he smiled and gently lifted me up to the surface. I told him that I could not do it, he then gently explained to me that it was O.K and that lots of people made the same mistake. All I needed to do differently was blow out through my nose instead of my mouth. I laughed, oh yeah I completely forgot that part. I took a few deep breaths of fresh air and told him that I was ready to try again. My second attempt at the skill went smoothly and I was surprised when the water vanished from my mask so quickly. David gave us both high fives and indicated with hand gestures that we were going to start swimming.
First he showed us how to add a little bit of air into our BCD’s which made us lift off the bottom. Then we stretched out into a horizontal position and we began to swim. David was right next to us the whole time as we swam out of the shallows. We swam slowly and stayed close together, there were a few other dive groups nearby and I suddenly felt proud of myself to be among them. In front of us there was a strange yellow cloud hovering above the coral reef, as we swam closer it slowly came into focus, a large school of yellow snappers, there were thousands of them swimming together in unison, they were completely in harmony with one another and moved as if they were one. I was awestruck with the beauty of something so seemingly simple. The curtain of fish parted to allow us through, the beautiful contrasting colours of the pink and purple anemones and magnificent orange sea fans against the deep cobalt blue of the ocean held my attention. Suddenly David pointed to one side, I gasped in surprise, a large green turtle was grazing on a colony bubble coral, he turned to look at us as we approached and then went back to eating his breakfast seemingly unfazed by our presence. We spent a few more moments with the turtle watching his graceful movements as he moved over the coral reef it seemed as though he was flying.
David indicated that it was time for us to go back up to the surface and I was surprised that the time had gone by so quickly. We swam to the surface slowly and David helped us to inflate our BCD’s so that we could float easily on the surface while we waited for the boat to pick us up.
My head was reeling with the excitement of my first underwater experience and I chattered happily with the other divers on the boat ride back to Koh Phi Phi. I spoke with David about what the next step would be if I wanted to do some more diving and he recommended the PADI Open Water course.
Scuba diving in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand was the most amazing experience of my life. I am thankful to David and the Adventure Club for making this experience so safe and fun. I am proud of myself for taking the plunge and Discovering Scuba Diving.
By Kim Molenaar