Hey guys! Have I ever told you that as a kid, I was terrified of water?
Yes, when I was a kid, there was a time when I could not get into the sea. I blatantly refused to go in, until I was literally forced to go in (more of that in a bit).
Where It All Started
My first horrifying experience on the sea came when I was about 5 or 6 years old. While on a boat trip to Ballestas Islands in Peru I got extremely sea sick (something that still follows me around today). I still remember today how the boat would swirl up and down and left to right, and my stomach would follow every single one of those movements. I could honestly feel my bowl of Fruitloops making a come back up my throat. At the time I sank my head in my grandmother’s arms because I could not watch outside or the water anymore. Eventually I barfed, swearing that I would never get into a boat or in the sea again.
That Second Time
Fast forward 2 years later and I was still afraid of the sea. I still had not conquered my fear of water and blatantly refused to get too far into the beach (I’d always stay on the shore). It is then that my uncle had a “flash of brilliance” and probably said “f*ck it”. He carried me and took me deep into the beach.
I had just been thrown into the water.
And I sank, and sank, and sank, and continued to sink into what seemed an endless pit of water. I don’t remember how it all ended or how I got out, but I do recall being told that “it was for your own good” (yeah right!).
How I First Conquered My Fear of Water
So eventually I took swimming classes and was able to conquer my fears. I went to the pool at least twice a week for the next year or so, and eventually learned how to swim. I continued going every now and then just for the fun of it. Granted, I wasn’t ready for any Olympics, but I could handle my own.
The Scuba Diving Incident
2015 came and took me to the Galápagos Islands, gorgeous islands a few hundred kilometers from Ecuador. Imagine clear blue waters, white sand beaches, giant turtles, iguanas…and almost no tourists at all.
I had always wanted to scuba dive but had never been somewhere I really wanted to do it. But after spending 2 days in Galápagos and seeing so many animals I had never seen before, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would find under the water. So I signed up for my first ever scuba dive!
I woke up at 7AM on the day of the activity and went to the tour office for a very early 8AM departure. We drove to the other end of the island and hopped on a boat to Isla Baltra, where we would do our scuba dive. We finally stopped and the instructor provided explanations about the island, the animals we would see, and the plan once we were underwater.
Remember when I got sea sick as a child during a trip to Islas Ballestas in Peru?
Winds were a bit strong that day and the sea moved…a lot. This caused much movement from the boat. Left to right! Up and down! And then, it happened again….I felt my stomach turning upside down and inside out. My eyes were teary, my throat sugary…everything I had that morning came out!!! But only this time I was a 32-year-old who could not cope with motion sickness.
Once that mini-circus ended and I got a hold of myself, I got to dress up in the tightest suit I would ever like to see myself wear again.
It’s never easy to put the wetsuit on, it’s tight, it sticks to your skin, it’s always one size too small!
I put on the “belt”, which is a bunch of rocks put together to cause weight to keep you underwater. Then the inflatable vest (which has a button to inflate to help you float above water), then the flippers which caused me to fall as I was trying to keep my balance. Finally the water tank (heavy), and the breather/mouth-piece (I remember thinking, “has this been disinfected?”). I was ready to go!!!
THE CRASH COURSE
I once looked into scuba diving back home in Canada. $400 CAD to take swimming classes in the deep end of a pool to get a certificate. No thanks!
In South America there is none of that. I got a 5 minute “theory” course on how to read and use the equipment, and a 30 minute crash course on how to breathe and handle the equipment underwater.
Make an “OK” sign with your hand to signal you’re good.
Don’t breathe too quick to not waste the oxygen too quickly.
If water gets into your lens, blow air with your nose to push it out.
And finally the best piece of advise: Don’t forget to breathe…from your mouth.
The time finally came to go into the water. I walked like a penguin to the end of the boat. I sat down on the edge. I let myself go and swoosh…I’m in the water.
I went in like a mermaid…..Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I was a bit uncomfortable underwater, and I kept having a hard time keeping myself at the bottom of the ocean. With every paddle I gave, I felt that my body kept going upwards. The instructor saw this and put an extra rock inside my belt…..now I couldn’t float.
The first 20 minutes of the dive were OUT. OF. THIS. WORLD. I had never imagined the many species living underwater, the many colors there are. We saw sea turtles, many many fish, seals, and a shark…YES, A SHARK!!! Even though the shark was not big by any means, the idea that it was swimming less than 5 meters from us was enough to make me wonder what would happen if…
As the dive continued the instructor kept checking up on me.
Hand sign? Hand sign.
Breathing OK? Hand sign.
Water in my mask? Blow air from my nose.
Still breathing? Yep, I haven’t forgotten…from my mouth.
Everything was going great, it hadn’t taken me long to get the hang of it. I had even found a way to keep myself floating without the heavy rock on my back. Everything was going really well and I was enjoying myself, until…
Water got inside my mask
As I had already done many times, I blew air from my nose. But this time, more water came inside my mask.
“No biggie”, and I blew air again from my nose to push the water out. Only this time, even more water came inside my mask!!!
Then as I go to push more air inside my mask, I breathe water….lots and lots of water go inside through my nose. I PANIC.
My mind goes into emergency gear, I’m not thinking straight anymore. Not knowing what to do I make a final attempt at breathing from the mouth…but I had lost my mouthpiece the moment water came in through my nose. For the second time all I inhale is water.
In a panic, I rush to the surface as fast as I can.
It’s so far…I’m never gonna make it.
I keep going.
I’m not gonna make it.
I’m almost there, legs getting really tired
I’m not gonna make it.
I’m there!!! I have made it to the surface!!! I felt my head bursting out of the water, my lungs gasping for air. My body was tired, all I could think of was getting into the boat, I had swallowed so much water, I could barely breath. I couldn’t stop coughing. But then I realize something that would horrify me…
The boat was too far to reach.
I could barely keep myself above water. My legs and arms were tired from the effort it took to go up as fast as I did. My legs were burning, they were so stiff and in so much pain, I could barely feel them anymore. The weight of the belt was not making things easier.
And then it comes to me…..the inflatable vest!!!
Barely keeping my head above water I look down towards the vest I’m wearing, looking for a button, any button, THE button, the one and only thing which could save my life at that very moment.
After a few seconds which felt like minutes I finally find it! Great! Here we go!
I push the button! And…
I push the button again…
I push it again and again and again, and still nothing.
Oh God why is it not working???
I push it and push it and push it, but nothing…the vest was not inflating.
I look at the boat, I realize no one on it has seen me, and with a kick on the gut I realize again that it was way too far to swim to it.
That was it, I was going to die…
As I am about to attempt to give one last push to swim towards the boat, I feel a hand reach out from under the water. This hand takes me by the vest and keeps me up…
The instructor then pushes a button on the left side of my vest, and the vest finally inflates…..I was saved!
Relieved and with my composure regained, I asked why the vest did not inflate when I pushed on it.
It results that the vest has not one, but two buttons; one to push air from the mouthpiece, and one to inflate the vest…I had been pushing on the wrong button.
At the End
I have to admit that I cannot recall of a time when I was more scared than this. I have gotten mugged, gotten lost in not-so-good parts of cities, gotten growled at by a lion, and more…however this one experience will always stay engraved in my mind as the one time I really thought I was going to die.
And it’s funny how the mind works. Even though I had carefully listened to the instructions, and that I knew that the instructor was not too far behind, I forgot all of it the second my mind went into survival mode.
I do not regret having given scuba dive a shot, even though the experience did not go as I would’ve liked for it to go. However it has not turned me off from scuba diving. Far from it, I now look forward to my next shot at it in the Philippines 🙂
What is the scariest moment in your life? Has there been a moment when you may have felt that “this was it”? How have you felt with that fear since then? Share your experience in the comments section.