I’ve arrived in Koh Tao and I’m walking along the pier in search of the Simple Life Divers’ taxi. They’re going to take me to my hostel which is also my dive school, Simple Life Divers. I’ve not thought about diving before in my life but hearing so many people recommend doing it in Koh Tao I figure I should. My motto for this trip so far has pretty much been to say yes to everything, and it’s worked out well. I have a feeling saying yes to diving will also work out well. I arrive at the hostel and meet my dive instructor, Steve. He’s a bald man from Southampton with an accent that I love to hear. Think of Bullet Tooth Tony from the movie Snatch. The typical charismatic British accent in which saying “easy peasy lemon squeezy” drops all the American girls’ knickers. My dive buddy is with me as well. We just met on the taxi ride over and her name is Hana, she’s also from England with a very similar accent. Together we’re going to be taking some exams, watching instructional videos, practicing techniques in the pool and then going out for four dives into the gulf of Thailand. For today we’ll only be watching a couple of videos.
It’s the following morning and I’ve gotten great sleep. The island is in the off season so it’s very peaceful and not too many people are partying until their livers quit. It’s time to go through with all of our confined sessions in the pool. I don my wetsuit, BCD (Bouyancy Compensator Device) with aluminum oxygen tank attached, mask, snorkel and fins and into the pool I go. Steve begins to teach us a ton of skills that he introduced us to the night before: How to recover your regulator, or breathing apparatus, how to inflate and deflate your BCD, how to clear your mask of water, how to equalize your ears when descending, and many others. We’ve gone over most of the important skills when Steve lets us know that it’s time to take our first breath underwater. This is something I’ve been waiting for since I decided to dive. With nerves building in my chest I place the regulator into my mouth, clear it of any water so I don’t breathe any in, and head underwater. The ambient underwater sounds reverberate through my body as Steve’s exhales send bubbles to the surface of the pool. After exhaling I take in a deep breath and realize how absolutely awesome breathing underwater is. I almost giggle with excitement but I figure that wouldn’t be too safe. For the next ten minutes I’m underwater without surfacing. I’m checking my oxygen levels, practicing skills used for safety and swimming around, all while literally breathing as if I were Aquaman. Regulating my breathing has gone from something I do to instill some comfort to an unconventional means of having a good time.
I’m in awe thinking that in just another day I’ll be swimming twelve meters beneath the surface of the ocean, alongside species’ of fish I’ve never seen before, coral reefs home to unimaginable organisms, and if I’m lucky, Whale Sharks, the largest species of fish on the planet. However, I have to breathe through my regulator without my mask on for my next test and I can’t help but think that it’s going to feel extremely awkward. I take in a couple of precautionary breaths, toss my mask off and breathe in for a few seconds. My body begins to slightly panic, understandably, because my face is submerged in water yet I’m breathing. It’s confused. I keep focusing on my breath and within seconds I’m calm. Steve kept reiterating that scuba diving is a complete mental game. If you’re all well and good up in your brain, you’re perfect in your body and I now understand completely. We’re finishing up for the day so now I have my first dive to look forward to.
It’s morning. I’m nervous because all of the possible mistakes that could happen are going through my mind. In the past two or three years I’ve learned a lot about fear, anxiety and motivators. Perhaps the greatest motivator responsible for my Southeast Asia adventure stems from my fear of facing death in unacceptable circumstances. I’ve done so once before and since then I’ve been relentless in my pursuit to give my life meaning. Fear and anxiety are indicators that what I am doing holds more meaning to me than anything else, and so I must accomplish the task. Knowing that, I firmly place one foot in front of the other and go to get ready for my dive. Gathering my gear into a mesh bag I walk fifty meters towards the beach where a long tail boat awaits us, violently writhing up and down with the choppy waves. Oh yea, I forgot to mention that the weather is terrifying. The winds are blowing faster than any other day since I’ve arrived. The surf is the largest I’ve seen in Thailand, and the sky is a desolate gray. Fuck you weather. Today, Jason dives.
I’m socializing with the people on the boat before Steve briefs us on the objectives of the dive. Most of them are either DMT’s (Dive Masters in Training) or going for their Advanced Diving Certification. Myself and my buddy, Hana, are the only two beginning their course. The boat is rocking back and forth with the force of a rodeo bull. I’m rarely on boats so watching me try to maneuver must have been entertaining. One woman from Germany lets us know that this is pretty scary weather for a first dive, and that we must be nervous. Yea, fuck off. Steve shouts out our names after that moment and so now we’re going down to the deck to prepare our gear. I grab the BCD out of my bag and place it around my oxygen tank, making sure it’s tight and secure. I make my way three feet towards the bow of the boat and pick up my octopus, which is a contraption of four cables: the regulator for breathing, the alternator as a backup, the oxygen guage, and the BCD inflator hose. I head back towards to tank and begin to attach it, all the while trying to maintain my balance as the scorned ocean tosses our ship from side to side. My anxiety is rising as I attempt to make no mistakes in setting up my gear, but of course I make a few mistakes. It’s fine though, I’m still training.
It’s been about twenty minutes on board and we finally arrive at our dive site. I’ve got all of my gear on and a healthy dose of blood speedily pumping through my veins. Steve takes us towards the starboard side of the boat, where there’s an opening to jump off of. He’s telling us that in order to enter the water we must hold onto our weight belts with our left hand, and with our right hand we place the pointer and middle finger on our mask and hold the regulator with the others, then you jump in with one leg extended outward and the other slightly bent backwards. Hana goes first and she’s extremely nervous to do so but bravely she jumps in after a brief period of hesitation. Shortly after I find myself millseconds away from touching the water. I inflate my BCD after I surface and bob around on the until the three of us rendezvous at the buoy line towards the front of the boat. It’s now time to engage in a skill we’ve practiced countless times. The five point descent. First you must signal that you are descending, by giving a thumbs down, and orientate yourself with whats beneath you so that you don’t descend onto other divers. Next, you put your regulators in. After that you check the time, because these dives won’t last longer than forty five minutes. Following the time check you prepare for equalization by holding your nose closed so that you can blow out to force the pressure out of your ears. Finally, you lift your inflator/deflator, release all air from your BCD and descend. Believe me when I tell you that descending into open water for the first time is simultaneously the most astounding and terrifying thing I’ve faced in the past few months. Imagine willingly restricting your natural bodily reactions but then surrounding yourself with something completely new and unexperienced. It’s challenging to explain.
I can’t see the ocean floor. It’s giving me a sense of dread, but every second I get closer and closer. Finally, I can make out the floor. It’s reassuring. For the next half hour or so I’m going to be swimming around on the ocean floor, twelve meters beneath any type of dry land, witnessing things I’ve never seen before. First off, however, we are practicing our skills in case anything bad goes wrong. We’re doing everything we practiced in the pool, only this time we’re in open water. I’ll skip giving you the details of the practice, because the last fifteen minutes of the dive are much more entertaining.
Steve leads the group while Hana and I are an arm’s length apart frog kicking our way across the ocean. I’m forgetting that I can turn my head because I am literally in awe of all that I see beneath me. The coral reefs are active and breathtaking.Organisms within them can expand to what seems like fifty times their size, and shrink back within a single second. Fish are swimming in and out, playing with each other, and also looking for lunch. The reef’s themselves are so diverse in appearance. Part of it looks like a formation of rocks you’d find in the arid climates of southwestern America, while other parts actually resemble the human brain with the way in which they have a conglomerate of noodle shaped parts. All the while, I swim by a sea anemone with two fish relaxing in it. One was literally the exact same species of fish as Dory from Finding Nemo, the Palette Surgeonfish. The other was not a clownfish. I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could this trifling , no memory having trollop lie with another fish in Marlin’s home. As if being a single father isn’t hard enough. You really can’t trust anybody nowadays.
Thankfully it’s time to ascend. I have to leave and sort my thoughts out after what I just saw.
Here’s a sunset photo.