A close friend of mine informed me one day that she and her husband were enrolling for a scuba diving course. I was surprised. What is scuba diving?! I had never heard of this term though I knew what diving meant and I had seen pictures of divers with oxygen tanks. I was under the impression this was something impossible to do and certain gifted people alone could dive and here this friend who used to take swimming lessons with me three months ago was going to learn diving! I decided to join the group to learn the art.
I soon came to understand that “scuba” stands for “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” and even though we do carry an oxygen tank on our backs we will not need a closed breathing apparatus , we could use something very similar to a snorkeling mask and a regulator through which we could breathe oxygen. My friends assured me that we would be properly trained, we would be taught what diving equipments to use and how and only after passing certain tests we would be certified as "scuba diver" and allowed to dive. This sounded fair enough to me and I was soon excited to see what the underwater world offered. I knew swimming and that was about it – I had not done any other underwater activities!!
We went over to the diving school and met an instructor. I was amazed at the plethora of diving related equipments hanging in their shop some of which I had not even seen, like diving watches, underwater compasses and various types of suits. The instructor regaled us with very interesting stories of his diving experiences (which convinced my friends even more that we were on the right track!) and gave us a very thorough picture of how we would be trained. He informed us that they were affiliated to PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and that the training would follow strict guidelines.
Well we were into it and I decided to give it my best shot. They had provided us with a wonderful CD and manual with explicit instructions on how to handle the diving gear, first-aid techniques for emergency etc. We were asked to submit answers to the questions at the back of the manual before getting the certificates! I was given a written test based on the manual before getting down to the actual training. I got a 97!!
After the written test, we were asked to take a swimming test- 20 freestyle laps along the pool. I must say I struggled to do my part, but managed to complete the laps. Once this was done, we were ready for the real training. We spent two whole days inside a deep pool, learning how to put on the tank filled with compressed air, to breathe under water, to clear the water from the snorkel mask, to locate the regulator and put it back inside the mouth in case it slips away (exactly why I am scared of diving!) and even ways to get into water with the equipment on. We learnt to float and to come up to the surface in intervals. I must say it was very terrifying initially. Once deep inside I would be desperate to just get back to the surface and start breathing normally! We were taught to keep breathing and not stop breathing altogether when underwater. This is one mistake I committed often.
In the ensuing week, the instructor and our group, traveled from Kuala Lumpur to Tioman Islands where we spent three days doing scuba diving, 40-50 feet under the sea. There are different kinds of diving and the diving gear varies based on that. In recreational diving a regulator and a snorkel mask is used and the maximum one can go is around 50 feet deep. Beyond this they have to be certified as Deep Water Divers and their mask and tanks are different. There is a completely different certification for diving at night. In recreational diving, you dive only in day time. Apart from these certifications, training is offered for wreckage diving too. Great, isn't it? Once you start with this, there are endless opportunities for fun.
Let me tell you that the diving experience was out of the world and is something a person should definitely do once in their life. The world below is so different. It is multidimensional. Unlike the land on which we live, which is actually 3-dimensional, this is an endless and all encompassing terrain where one feels weightless, like as if in space. A diver has to be aware of what is happening in all angles, the instructor would tell us time and again. By constantly regulating the oxygen we learnt to float horizontally, which is the best position to adopt. Being vertical takes you up to the surface very quickly, which can cause nitrogen bubbles to fill up in veins with dangerous consequences. Apart from the colorful variety of flora and fauna below, the experience of standing on the sea-bed is really thrilling. It is easy to move underwater, you move like you are in space, by just turning your head and shoulder in the direction you want to go. Yes! You do feel you are in space!
Tioman Islands in East Malaysia draws thousands of tourists partially because of its amazing beaches and also because of its underwater treasures. The locals are very helpful and the food is great.
We all had to undergo certain tests underwater too- we had to remove our mask and regulator and put it back on, 40ft deep under water. I cannot believe I even did it! After this we were certified as a PADI Certified Open Water Divers. An Open Water Diver needs to complete only 4-5 dives. There are many levels in the certification based on the number of dives completed. A person can even go on to becoming an Instructor.
After going through the whole process I have come to the following conclusions -:
1. One MUST dive at least ONCE in his/her life.
2. All it requires is knowledge of swimming and some attitude
3. There is a whole, different world down below which we must see before we depart!!