Quitting on Day #1 of Scuba Diving Certification
I was so pumped for today. Not nervous or anxious at all. I woke up at 630am, finished my diving homework, grabbed a fruit smoothie and a croissant by 730, and was ready for class to start at 8.
Class actually started at 830 though because the owner of the dive shop didn't appear with the shop keys... So it took awhile to sort that out, but I didn't mind because I just got another smoothie.
There are 50 diving schools all across Koh Toa, which is amazing considering this is a tiny island! But Koh Tao's diving spots are considered some of the best in the world, and their certification is the cheapest ($270 for open water certification, compared to $400+ elsewhere in the world). Koh Tao diving schools safely certifies thousands of divers a year. After some online research, I confidently chose Roctopus Dive, a school established in 2011 that only teaches in groups of 4 students for every instructor. Rob was (past tense since I've now left his class...) our instructor - from England, 22, and diving for over 10 years. Just a really awesome instructor all around, which helped me out when I started panicking in the water hours later.
Rob covered basic rules and dive charts that morning, before we watched a couple of instructional videos. Then we got fitted for our dive gear (fins, wetsuit, BC, regulator, mask) and grabbed lunch before we started loading the trucks up to head to the boat. The afternoon portion of the class was confined diving in shallow water to cover specific diving skills. Days two and three are open water dives near dive sites.
We headed out on the Roctopus boat with our class and several others. The sun was shining and I was feeling pretty damn good. We did simple swim tests (four laps around the boat and staying afloat for 10 mins) before Rob walked us through important safety features of our equipment. Then we put on our wetsuits and BC vests with the air tank. It is awkward and uncomfortable to be walking around with all that gear on a boat - I couldn't wait to get in the water.
Finally, at around 12:30pm, we entered the water with all of our gear and followed Rob out to a shallow portion of a stretch of beach. No nerves yet. Feeling good.
We went through a couple of skills first. Rob would explain the skills verbally, then we would descend, kneel on the sand, and he would demonstrate the skills before we demonstrated them back one on one with him. The feeling of being underwater was surreal and strange, but nothing alarming. I passed the first few skills before we moved on to filling the mask with water (underwater), then having to clear the mask of water. We also had to sit underwater without the mask for 60 seconds, using the regulator to breathe, as well as completely remove our masks and then place them on our faces again. I watched the three other students fill their masks and clear them as we sat in a circle underwater.
Then came my turn. And the moment I removed my mask and felt water hit my nose, I struggled. I had trouble breathing through the regulator and felt the burning sensation of seawater in my nose. Panicked, I went to the surface (literally a foot above me). Rob talked me through it, demonstrated the skill again, and calmed me down. I gave it another shot. Then another. And another. By the fifth time, I was frustrated, anxious, and fearful. Not to mention feeling guilty for holding up the rest of the class. We also figured out that, by instinct, I inhale through the regulator (the mouth) and exhale through my nose while diving. 99% of people instinctively inhale and exhale through the mouth while diving. Exhaling through the nose became a problem as I tried to breathe without my mask, whereas others had no problem. I didn't even know I was doing it, and it is so behaviorial that I couldn't change it at that moment.
I liked being underwater, but having to remove my mask and try the skill would make me anxious all over again. Rob said I could continue on to the other skills and we would try the face mask again tomorrow, but even as I sat in a circle again and watched him demonstrate removing the weight belt, I could feel a little water in my mask beneath my nose, and I couldn't take it after awhile. I ascended and was quickly losing any interest in diving. Frustrated and ridden with anxiety, I chose to sit out of the rest of course and watch instead. I didn't even want to go underwater. So I just floated along contentedly as the rest of the class finished the skills, but Rob did a great job of keeping an eye on me and checking in.
By the time we got back to the boat, packed away our gear, were back on land and in the bed of a pick up truck headed to Roctopus HQ, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was totally disappointed and shocked at how I had struggled, when no one else seemed to have any problems similar to mine. But Rob took me aside and coaxed me into talking to the owner, Wesley. I told Wes I wanted a few days to think the course over, but he said that students don't come back after thinking it over so much. He encouraged me to jump in another course that was starting tonight and would be doing the same skills tomorrow, all over again. At one point, there were 5 instructors around me, who had each listened to Rob explain my struggles and were eager to help with visualizing and anxiety reducing tips. They gave me great pep talks, especially Tyrone, who would be my new instructor, and shared how removing the mask is their least favorite skill. Feeling better, I told Rob I would give it another shot.
So tomorrow, I'm joining up with Tyrone's class at 11am and am heading back out on the boat to shallow open water. I'm nervous but also really want to give it one more go. So, we'll see! Fingers crossed!