On my second day in Waikiki, I had seen a sign advertising $100 SCUBA trips, and then again on the fourth day I saw a sign bragging about the best SCUBA tours on the island. I had been talking to my friend Kasia earlier that day, and she had been reminding me about some of her adventures SCUBA diving in New England, such as that one time that she got chased across the ocean floor by a 5lb (~1.kg) lobster. Thus, when I saw the second sign, I knew that it was a sign (hehe), and I had to schedule a dive.
I called the number up, called a second and a third number, and finally was directed to a dive shop that was running trips for beginners. The problem with all of the other ones was that they were based off of the North Coast, the coast that was currently being smashed by gigantic winter-wind-whipped-waves. Thus, they couldn’t take a boat out, much less send inexperienced divers over the side.
Thankfully there was a dive crew out of Waikiki, and soon enough I had a dive scheduled for the next day, when a shuttle would pick me up from the hotel just like the VIP that I clearly was. I quickly learned that the shuttle was more of a necessity than simply a courtesy – there was a lot that I had to learn about SCUBA before I was even allowed on the boat; there was honestly even a flip chart that I had to memorize, with the help of an amazing instructor named Mel. She went over all of the equipment with me, explained what not to do, and explained that she’d be diving right next to me the whole time, so that if anything went wrong she’d be there to fix whatever I had done wrong.
My first dive was one of the scariest things that I’ve done in my life, and if you’ve read this blog at all then you know some of the insane things that I’ve done. In all of my climbing or backpacking adventures though, I’ve always had the option of simply sitting down and waiting though – never before had I found myself in an environment that was utterly inhospitable to non-augmented human life. Without my respirator, I would last less than 5min in that ocean, and that single fact scared me, a lot. But once I got used to the idea that I could actually breath through this small hose, and that I would in fact be getting enough oxygen for my brain to work somewhat normally, I started to actually enjoy myself a lot.
The first dive started out with a quick “skills course”, where we stayed near to the boat and went over the basics of diving that Mel had taught me with the aid of the flip chart. First up was simply breathing, followed by clearing my mask of water if it somehow filled up, after which we actually dived underwater to go over the “how to get your respirator back if it comes loose” training, and reviewed the “never hold your breath” rule, along with how to equalize pressure in your ears and mask as we descended.
Once all of the basic skills were checked and clear, we followed the Mooring line downwards into the deeps. The first thing I noticed once I looked down (I had been steadfastly staring at Mel the entire time before we started down, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to see the bottom) was how clear the water was. I could, from the main mooring line, clearly see the bottom of the ocean 35 feet down and had no trouble spotting the many schools of fish that stayed nearby the boat as it crashed across the waves. That in itself was amazing to me – what a small boat looks like from underwater as it rides over the waves. What I thought was slow and graceful while I was on the boat turned out to be violent and thrashing from underwater.
As we descended into the deep I had to pop my ears nearly once every three feet, but we did finally make it to the ocean floor. I started out by just practicing swimming around – an interesting piece of information about SCUBA diving is that, while actually down there, you don’t use your hands to paddle. Instead, you keep them clasped in front and simply use your feet and fins to power you through the deeps. It took a bit to get used to this idea, but soon enough I was following Mel through the whole area, checking out the craters and coral. We even saw two Sea Turtles while down there, though I only got a good picture of one.
The first dive was short though, since we had spent so much time going over the basics near the surface, and so soon we were going back upwards, towards the violently crashing boat. The first thing I noticed about the surf was the coloration – for some reason it seemed to be made of millions of little crystals, instead of the waving sheets of glass that it had been made of when we descended. I realized why as soon as we reached the surface – it was raining. From the bottom we could see the ran pattering against the surf, and I’ll admit that it came close to taking my breath away… even with the breathing mask attached.
The other thing, aside from the rain patterns, was the cold. It was freezing near the surface, and when I got back onto the boat it wasn’t any better… in fact the cold made my previously minor sea-sickness even worse. I don’t know if it was the cold, the rougher surf, or a combination of those and the cold, but either way I was not doing well when I finally got myself up onto our wee little boat. I held myself together pretty well until we reached the second dive-site, but there I finally lost it and started puking over the side of the boat.
Now, I’m not one to get seasick or airsick or even carsick; I can actually read in the backseat of a car quite easily. But at that moment my stomach just didn’t care, and it was booking no thoughts other than “I am going to die now”. Thankfully the guides had some bottles of water on board, and thanks to that and a lot of staring at the horizon I was able to get myself right just in time for the second dive.
And this time, I had no problem dropping off the side of the boat into the ocean. Anything to get me off of that rocking hellscape, and since Mel and I had already gone over the basics we were down at the ocean floor in less than 5min of leaving the boat. The thing about the seafloor is that you can still feel the waves, but instead of moving up and down, the waves are moving towards and away from the shore. And side-to-side isn’t nearly as bad on my inner ear it seems, since I was quickly feeling up to charting my own course around the area. Mel stayed right next to me of course, and gave me the basic direction to go in, but I was able to stay behind for a bit to check out a pretty piece of coral, or shoot ahead over the flat bits to look into a small sea-cave off to the side. It was completely amazing, and I was loving every second of it.
One of my favorite moments of the second dive, or really of the entire trip, happened just at the lip of one of the “cliffs” that we were exploring. Mel and I were in a crater, and up on the edge I thought I saw someone sitting down… naturally I thought it was one of the members of the other group, and so I headed over hoping to see part of their open-water certification test. Getting closer I noticed a whole school of fish right around them, and thought to myself “Hey, how’d they get fish so close? Did someone throw up?” (Ed Note: Fish simply love puke. Right after Ben threw up over the side of the ship a massive school of… somethings… swam up right under the boat. Everyone thanked him for bringing them over… Ben of course didn’t notice at the time) As I got closer I finally saw the person for who they were: a statue. A large stone statue, carved in the likeness of an ancient Hawaiian warrior, had been sunk down into the dive area, and now had a small coral reef attached to it that the fish were feeding off of. I took a picture, which is still my favorite shot of the entire day.
The rest of the dive consisted of a ton of small reefs, a whole series of small canyons, maybe 1 or two meters (3-6 feet) deep, tons of fish, coral, and even a few more sea turtles. It was completely excellent, and I actually started to feel almost natural moving myself around with only my fins. Mel and I explored the whole area, though I’m sure she already knew it by heart, and I even kept my lunch together pretty well. Unfortunately I was starting to notice the cold of the ocean though, and so I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sad to get out of the water when we were finished. In total we spent nearly 45min deep underwater on the second dive, compared to the 25min of the first dive, and by the time we got back to the boat I was definitely ready for my warm towel.
After the short trip back to the docks (yes, I held my stomach in check just fine, thank you very much) we unpacked the gear, put on normal clothes, and went through the dive books for the certified people. Then, we hit McDonald’s. Yep… there’re tons of McDonald’s in Honolulu too, unfortunately… but fortunately for my health and digestion I was still feeling much too sick to eat. In fact, it wasn’t until after a two hour nap and two bottles of ginger ale that I finally felt up for a hotdog, let alone of a full meal. But it was 100% worth it to learn the basics of SCUBA… and I promised myself that I’d be diving again soon. Or, just as soon as I could afford it again.