Inhaling deeply and rolling onto my back, I paused. Without really holding my breath I revelled in the fullness of it for a beat. Then I let it out slowly, watching the bubbles bounce and ripple upwards towards the surface. A shimmering sky, rocked by waves rolling silently overhead. Sixty feet overhead… For a moment I thought about the pressure of three atmospheres, about death, about Finlay and Steph. Then, I simply marvelled at the feeling of floating weightless.
Learning to scuba dive has been a dream of mine since an introductory dive in Cuba during my adolescence. Malapascua is surrounded by calm clear waters and dozens of shoals and cliffs rich with coral just offshore. It is also the only place in the world to consistently see thresher sharks, an ideal place to make my dream a reality!
I chose to learn Scuba Diving through the PADI framework at the Divelink Cebu diveshop on Malapascua Island in the Philipines. “Let the locals show you the way!” We accessed dive sites by the shop’s outrigger boat, a design ubiquitous in the Philipines. As their only student I would receive private lessons from their lead instructor Seth Bacalso, a long-haired, tattooed local with a big smile and a easy laugh. He shared my enthusiasm for safety and skills building and has a relaxed confidence key to diving safely and efficiently. If you are planning to take up diving, look for a professional shop with well maintained gear and an instructor you connect with. In Malapascua I would reccommmed this shop. Make sure you ask for Seth!
The peace and tranquility of diving is in sharp contrast the inherrent risk it carries. Like flying and climbing it take us to places we don’t really belong. Soaring silently with the birds, hauling straight up a cliff, and plunging 10 stories into the abyss are exhilarating experiences usually forbidden to us. For me, these activities are not adrenaline fueled pursuits of danger, but explorations of skill and courage that ignite wonder and fuel personal growth. One of the pleasures of risk is in building the skills to manage it. I find joy in gaining knowledge and understanding of the danger, sharing best practices and techniques with experts and friends, mastering the use of gear and technology to overcome physical limitations and stay safe, all while cultivating a humble and honest self awareness critical to safety. Diving draws all this out.
Breaking through the initial discomfort of breathing underwater and learning to dive safely requires expert instruction. It’s important to learn the physics of pressure and how our physiology is impacted by it. Through demonstration and deliberate practice, you slowly build confidence and key skills. And all this in a beautiful place too!
The progression of building knowledge and experience, like learning to fly or climb safely, requires serious commitment of money, energy, and time. Indeed, one of the hardest parts of the process was leaving Steph and Finlay every day having just embarked on this adventure together. I ended up spending about five days on the course. With 2-3 dives of over 40 minutes each day I was always physically exhausted. My early mornings and late evenings were spent doing required reading about the risks of diving and how to manage them, preparing for the final exam. In a way, it felt like going back to work after Finlay’s birth, knowing I was leaving all the efforts of early parenting to Steph and limiting her activity options significantly. I am deeply grateful to have such a loving partner who is unquestioningly supportive when it comes to acheiving dreams!
Heart beating fast with anticipation, we descended 15m to the Monad shoal along a barnacle ridden mooring line, taking care not to cut our hands on the razor shells. We gently kicked our way to the edge and dropped another 15m to the feeding station. Settling in to wait, I noticed some micro-jellies of incredible diversity beating by just inches from my mask. Distracted, I watched with wonder for… who knows? Feeling an urgent tap on my shoulder I looked over to see my guide Seth, eyes wide and smiling, pointing off into the deep. I turned just in time to see a ghostly seven-foot shark gliding by. I felt, heard even, my heart rate spike. Remembering my training, and hearing Seth’s voice in my head, I refocussed on deep slow breaths to remain calm. We were graced again and again, closer each time, by the magnificent creatures.
Diving can be scary (even without sharks) but also very safe. The initial sensation of absurdity at breathing underwater gets replaced somehow. The slight panic before the first submerged breath still lingered for me at the beginning of each dive, but was always quickly overwhelmed by the confidence gained through training and awe at the underwater world.
If you have even an inkling, follow it down!