Scuba diving has long been a dream of mine and one I had pretty much given up on.  So when I heard from a friend last October that he was going through a course, and it was offered in English, I knew this was my chance to finally realize a life long dream.

I completed the course last weekend.

So, did a beam of light shine down from on high and glorious alleluias fill the air when I finally dove?  Please.

I’m ashamed to admit a tiny part of me had expected it to.

The day dawned sunny in Taipei, but when we got to the coast it was raining and continued to rain for nearly the entire day.  The first dive was probably the worst. I got cold, the visibility in the water was poor, I smacked my head against my air tank several times (that hurt), swallowed some disgustingly salty seawater, and in general struggled the whole dive through.  Most annoyingly, my mask consistently fogged up so that I would have to clear it with water once a minute.  Which then made my eyes burn from the salt. I couldn’t see anything and that really pissed me off.  I was happy when the dive ended and wondered why in the world I invested so much of my time, money, and energy into learning this sport.

Even though we did a lot of training exercises on the second dive, it ended up being a lot more fun.  This time I wore a diving hood, which made me look like a douche bag, but kept me warm under the water.

I’m officially cool.

I don’t know if it was the hood or just the lowered expectations from the first dive, but it was a totally different experience. Exhilarating, fun, and full of random fish and wild life.

And trash. Lots and lots of trash littering the ocean floor.  It was depressing to see and even more depressing to know that this litter is in every waterway on this planet.  It makes me want to become a tree hugging environmentalist in the worst way.

I don’t know what this is called.

The second day dawned bright and clear and was a better day by far.  Again, on the first dive I struggled a bit. I got cold again, hungry, and we had to fight the, admittedly mild, current to see not a lot of anything.  Because the waves were high at the standard entry point, we had to walk in from the beach.  We struggled through waves and slippery rocks in our wet suits, lugging a very unwieldy extra 35 pounds before we got far enough in where we could swim.  No matter how much I tried to adjust it the weight belt dug into my hips the whole way.  Then we had to swim along the surface for a while to get to a good diving point.  The visibility was better than the day before, but still not as awesome as it could be. Or at least that’s what Dennis and Nigel, our instructors, told us.  The guys made a strong effort to go out of their way to show us all the cool things that can be seen under the water.

We found Nemo, coral, and tons of other random sea life.  I did not see Sponge Bob, nor any of his friends.  At one point we swam through a school of puffer fish and some other assorted fish I can’t name.  At first I didn’t see them but then some instinct prompted me to look up. Above me I could see hundreds of little fish swimming around, minding their own business, with the fattier, boxier puffer fish serenely swimming among them.  It was pretty cool to see and I think it was at that point that I really started to have fun.  We saw banded shrimp which were a very unusual color, a sea anemone (by far the sweetest thing) and a wide variety of other life.

Banded Shrimp

At the end of each dive we practiced a 3 minute safety stop. This is a stop that takes place about five meters under water and is designed to give your body extra time to dump some of the nitrogen build up that occurs.   While doing the safety stop I spent my time scanning over the rocks in our area, often completely upside down, and finding more and more life in all the crevasses.  It was amazing.    I can’t wait to dive for the first time outside of a training group.  As long as I’m warm enough I could easily spend hours down there.

There is just something so incredible about seeing up front and personal the same creatures I’ve only ever seen in a nature show.  To experience every part of it, from the mask suctioned onto my face, breathing dry tank air, feeling the current pull at my body, to the cold water flow around me, and knowing that I was there.  I was there, it was happening and none of it was a dream.

One of the things that our training book talked about was how not every dive was going to be a fun and enjoyable experience. That when you spend time out in nature, its sure to take a crap on you at one point or another. Conditions won’t always be good, you’ll get cold, hungry, the current will be too strong and on and on.  I’m glad I read that chapter of our book before we went out to do the dives.  If I hadn’t , I might have been too disheartened to try to pursue diving even taking into account the sense of wonder I felt.

Instead, I’m planning to go diving when I go on vacation in June.  With a more realistic view of what I’m doing and the inherent dangers I’m courting, I ready to do some diving for the strict purpose of having pure fun.

I can’t wait.

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