I thought I would panic once submerged in water. And if I did what would happen to me?
“I will hold on to you, and you will breathe slowly,” says Erkan, the instructor for my Koh Tao diving course. Not the answer I am hoping for because the only thing worse I can imagine than panicking underwater is panicking underwater while someone is holding on to me in this panic. But of course, he is right, because that is the only thing you can do underwater: keep calm and breathe.
My first time: Diving in Koh Tao
Luckily it doesn’t come to this because after my initial, slightly shaky giant stride I am hooked. Insert a hook, line, and sinker joke here. I immediately feel like Ariel but unlike her the underwater world is calling me, pulling me under. I am slightly relieved to realize that the water is not literally pulling me under even though I wear a heavy weight belt around my waist. In fact, it is harder than it seems to get down there and while breathing with my regulator becomes second nature to me within a moment, getting my buoyancy right, something I didn’t even know it existed until a few hours ago, does not. Weightlessness it seems has to be learned just like walking and swimming, and weightlessness is what scuba diving is all about.
Buoyancy, that thing that sounded so easy in theory, is a bitch in reality. When Erkan shows us a blue-spotted stingray underneath a big rock, I am too busy not to crash into him or the rock and have no time to actually look for that damn fish. Not that it matters, I learn later that buoyancy is a skill which takes its dear time to master and I focus on enjoying a Nemo, a Parrot- and a Triggerfish instead and see hundreds of Christmas Trees disappear with a wave of my hand. I find myself laughing all the time, laughing in awe and wonder at this new world I am just getting acquainted with. What does it matter that my moves are still clumsy and too hectic at times? This world makes me happy. Happy enough that I catch myself laughing out loud underwater. While it is entirely possible to laugh out loud and breathe at the same time while diving, singing “Under the Sea” is not (needless to say, I try!).
During the last dive of my course, I don’t want to come up. After all, there is still 80 bar in my tank, and when Erkan signals us to hold on to the rope and make our descent I want to stomp my feet and shout “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go”. But there is no stomping feet under the sea, and back up we go.
On the boat I feel inconsolable, like something precious has been taken away from me and not even the deliciously horrible banana cream cookies can help. I know I’m being dramatic, but I can’t help it, and the feeling stays. The next day is the first day I get to spend with my friend Julia since I have arrived and I should be excited about spending a day in paradise with one of my favorite people in the world, but when I see the longtail boat full of happy divers depart I just want to run after them.
With that, it only takes me a couple of days, some emails, and a quick look at my account before it is decided: I reschedule my flights, book an advance course for scuba diving in Thailand, and extend my stay for a holiday affair. I guess it must be underwater love…
Getting Open Water
certified on Koh Tao
- Koh Tao is a great place to get certified, but sometimes things can feel a bit rushed and crowded. With 90-something dive centers, some call it a diving factory and they wouldn’t be wrong. That said, the influx of competition keeps the prices leveled so you don’t have to shop around to find the best rates for any given course or fun dives. Also, you can just walk from dive center to dive center until you find one that you like and make sure you get an instructor you get on with.
- Since most people come here for holidays and don’t want to spend much time on courses, a regular OW course will take you two days and doesn’t allow much room for error. If you can’t manage specific skills ask for an extra session and don’t stress yourself. You are literally exploring a new world, so it is quite normal to get nervous/panicky or have trouble to master certain skills. A good instructor should be able to talk and walk you through them.
- If you decide to do a scuba diving course in Koh Tao ask if the dive shop can include accommodation for you. There is fierce competition on the island, and most offers will include a room or at least give you a significant discount.
What’s special about Koh Tao diving?
- Besides mostly calm, warm waters you will have some good visibility and easy dive sites that are great for beginners too. If you are a little more advanced, look out for trips to Sail Rock which is a stunning dive site.
- Whale Sharks! Koh Tao is whale shark central and in fact, I saw one during my lucky dive number 13. Come during the summer months and chances are that you will spot one. Some dive centers will even put up a board counting whale sharks spotted in a given season.
- Making friends is easy on Koh Tao especially amongst the tight-knit diving community. Head to Saree Beach or the more chilled Chalok Bay where you will find plenty of dive centers, hostels, and bars – divers are known to be partial to a cold beer or two after a day of diving and chances are you will make friends in no time!
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