Getting Scuba Certified in Koh Tao

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Koh Tao, in Thailand’s gulf is the second most popular place in the world to get scuba certified (behind, naturally, Australia). Though it is a tiny speck of an island thousand descend every year, many for the world class diving. It’s also absurdly cheap (almost half of what most US certifiers cost). So, I forgo the postcard perfect beaches one associates with Thailand to finally get myself scuba certified.
Though there aren’t leggy beaches and craggeling limestone cliffs the beach here is still fantastic. White sand, leaning palm trees and a sandbar that extends quite a few meters off shore with some of the warmest water in the world. Even if one weren’t diving, and not everyone on the island does, it wouldn’t be difficult to pass the day sitting on the sandbar, with the water just above your hips reading or playing a variety of beach sports. Off the beach is a small road, though foot path is a better description linking all of the dive shops, restaurants, and accommodations.
After much research I chose to dive with Scuba Junction because of their phenomenal reviews, small classes, and strict dedication to proper training. As it turned out I was lucky enough to get an instructor all to myself. Which was reassuring given my nerves.
The first day out our longtail took us skipping over low lying coral to our boat. I had been admittedly nervous, while the theory was quite easy I had my reservations about the actual practice. While I’m generally somewhat athletic I do learn a bit slower given a high degree of caution and perhaps an irrational assumption I will hurt myself. So I was anticipating needing more time than your average student. After all, I wasn’t even very good at snorkeling. To say I was apprehensive is an understatement.
But from the moment I was set up and in the water, taking my first breath through my regulator I was hooked. Perhaps it’s because I grew up spending summers rafting rivers that I felt instantly comfortable in water. Or maybe it’s because I’m my fathers daughter, whom I’m pretty sure was a sea turtle in his past life. Or yet, maybe because I have a deep respect for the power of water and understand there is little control to be had, so panic and stress are futile. Regardless, I was able to learn all of the skills immediately, even forging ahead to the next days lesson with time to spare for more fun diving.
I have never in my life been told I was a natural at a sport, clearly this is one in which I belong.
Apparently what makes students struggle whilst learning is a natural panic response. Needless to say,it’s difficult to function, not to mention remove your equipment underwater when hyperventilating.
When rafting or kayaking it is inevitable you will end up in the water, sometimes you’ll be under longer than you’d like, or won’t be able to orient yourself in the rush. Or perhaps you’ll be caught in a hole, or a rock. The only thing to do is remain calm and try to stay in position and do your best to be alert for potential hazards or exit points. Panic, and you could risk your life. So you just wait and trust that the water will push you out, and it always has. And even if it were to not, there’s little you could do about it while under extreme stress. The water always has control.
So I stayed calm and breathed slowly as my instructor killed my air and made me do an emergency assent, or took off my mask, had me replace it and clear it. I trusted my equipment and instructor to keep me safe. And so, learning to dive was easy and immensely enjoyable. I was lucky though, my instructor was incredibly professional and assured I was able to easily perform every skill and emergency operation, knowing I could handle myself under a stressful situation helped alleviate any residual fear.
By the end of my last day I was addicted. It is difficult to explain, but when I’m underwater it is, of course otherworldly and fantastically beautiful. I was able to see a plethora of fish, eels, turtles and sting rays. Some of which looked almost fake, as if my brain couldn’t accept that I was underwater inches away from something I had only ever seen from the other side of glass. But it’s more than that, it’s the weightlessness, it is the departure from one reality to another. It is nearly impossible to consider land whilst immersed below. An hour dive feels like mere minutes, and they are a fantastic few minutes. Now that I have no more dives all I can think about is how to get back in the water.
The ocean has over the years become a sort of lifeline for me. When I leave it for too long I feel part of me is missing and I feel genuine relief when I spot it again. So I suppose it makes sense that I would find such a sense of bliss and belonging within it. There is little that can beat watching the sun set over the horizon after a long day of diving as your boat drifts you back to shore.
I can’t wait to get back in.

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