It was eerily silent and all I could hear was my own breathing, as a waft of bubbles hurriedly escaped from my regulator, rushing towards the surface as if in a hurry to catch some air. I was finally going scuba diving in Maldives. I could feel the cold water on my bare arms rocking me gently from side to side. I was weighed down, yet floating, excited, yet nervous, immersed in my thoughts, mesmerized at the vibrant blue world unfolding in front of me.
I might have been static for quite some time, bemused by the splendor of the underwater world, until that light tap on my shoulder. Turning my head slowly I saw my dive buddy cum instructor Rachel floating just by my side, signaling me with a hand gesture. It took me a few seconds to decode the gesture as I learned this means of communication just an hour back. The index finger making a circle with the thumb. Ahhh…. the OK gesture. I signaled back the same. “All OK”.
Scuba Diving in Maldives – A Beginner’s Journey from Trepidation to a Life's Lesson
We were 18 meters’ down gliding barely a few feet above the grey ocean floor.
The planning and apprehensions
I made a flash decision to dive the previous night, gazing at the star-studded sky while relaxing at the open air beach bar. A few pints of beer was all I needed to muster the courage and register at the dive shop for the next available afternoon slot. Stuti was apprehensive at first but supporting as well. I learned swimming a few months back just for this opportunity. Last year after our Caribbean trip, I promised myself, I was not going to spend another beach vacation staring at the ocean.
The ocean was a little rough that day. It was raining and I could see some strong waves converging at the far end. There was a thick cloud cover and 2 pm felt like evening already.
The weather made me little anxious. I started to imagine a turbulent sea with strong currents tumbling me like a piece of cloth inside a washing machine. Amidst all the trepidation I blurted out – “if it’s like this above then what would be the scene below”, to which I got a wide grin from Rachel. “There’s a surprise waiting for you down there, but only if you pass the tests”.
Testing Skills before Scuba Diving
Yes, she was going to teach some basic survival and safety maneuvers before we dive. If you’re diving with a reputed agency, they should definitely explain these basic skills and assess if you could perform the same without panicking in shallow water. Rachel was very clear on this. If I panicked or failed any of the tests, we would go for a shallow dive only or might skip it as well.
Lesson #1: Mask
The first lesson was how to prevent the mask from fogging up underwater. I never imagined “spit on the inside and rinse it” would be the go-to solution. I won’t go into the science here but it’s the best and cheapest way to prevent a foggy mask. So both Rachel and I happily spat on our masks, rubbed it thoroughly on the lens and rinsed it with sea water. All clear there.
Lesson #2: Regulator
The next two lessons were how to find my regulator under water if it gets snapped from my mouth and how to expel water from the mask.
As I honed my skills kneeling on the seabed, hundreds of colorful tiny fishes tried their best to grab my attention, wiggling their shiny tiny fins all around me.
Focus……………… is all I said to myself ignoring the colorful little fellows. I did pass the tests with flying colors.
Journey to the dive point
Enlightened now, it was time to finally scuba dive in Maldives, something I had been dreaming for so long. Rolling on a thousand waves of emotions I had to take a moment to absorb this.
It started to rain and the sky was cloudy and dark as we paddled our way to the deep, floating on our back. Rachel told me we would halt every 5 feet of our descent to equalize the water pressure. You do this by pressing your nostrils and gently blowing out through your nose. I heard my ears pop every time I did it. Failure to do this can cause a stinging pain in the ear as if someone poked your nerves with a needle.
Once at the dive point, she reminded me one final time not to touch the BCD until we surface and released the descent line. A descent line is basically a long rope tied to a balloon floating on the surface to guide our descent. Beginners are not allowed to use a BCD to control ascend and descend. It’s done by using a weight belt tied to the waist.
Everything went quiet as soon as we started our descent. I had a neutral buoyancy because of the weight belt (a belt strapped to 10 kilograms of iron). One slight tug on my belt from below and I started sinking.
The first few feet of descent were without any hassle. We halted every 5 feet or so to equalize. Around mid-way, I had a stinging pain inside my ear. I immediately held to the descent line to pause and equalize.
At 18 meters, barely few feet above the seabed, I slowly flipped to a horizontal swimming posture on Rachel’s signal. Now the only thing I had to do was paddle with the fins and point my Go Pro at the colorful universe exploding in front of me. Rachel positioned herself above me and made sure I didn’t crash on the corals as we glided just a few feet over the rough seabed.
Because of the neutral buoyancy, it was hard for me to control my elevation all by myself. Scuba divers practice for hours on how to control their ascent and descent. So for a beginner, I was doing just fine. I was breathing slow and steady as advised before. With each calm breath, I felt the fears and hesitations slowly dissolving away into the infinite blue world.
The journey from apprehension to elation
So this was the secret that Rachel mentioned before. In sharp contrast to the rainy and windy weather, it was calm and serene below. Not even an iota of evidence to suggest something about the weather above. The waves were gentle. There was enough light and visibility to see around as opposed to what I thought before. All my preconceived ideas were bombarded one at a time with each passing second I spent down there.
Marinelife of Maldives
As we were exploring around, suddenly Rachel tapped my shoulder and pointed towards a coral. I didn’t see anything at first. On getting closer I was ecstatic to see my first underwater celebrities. A pair of Lionfish hiding in a corner. We spent the next few minutes watching the two deeply engrossed in a secret meeting completely unmindful of our presence.
We saw reef sharks (they don’t bite), circling above us. Reef sharks are fairly common in Maldives. We had a regular visitor every morning right in front of our water villa, probably in search for food.
We spent the next half an hour exploring the different parts of the reef. There was a Nemo (Clownfish) and Dory (Blue Tang) around every corner we turned. Maldivian Nemos are not as colorful as their Hollywood counterpart. We saw Barracudas, Angelfish, Parrotfish, and numerous others painted in bold and bright colors.
A few were intrigued too when I pointed my Go Pro towards them. A brave little one actually came forward and poked at the camera as if saying “get the hell out of my property you hairy human”. We quietly obliged and moved forward. The Manta and the green sea turtle evaded me though.
The feeling of being on the other side
The other day I was snorkeling in shallow water and strayed far from the beach. At one point suddenly the sea floor vanished and all I could see below was a deep blue hole. Scared the hell out of me for a second. The water temperature dropped too. I composed and steadied myself to head back towards the beach. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the light, I saw some human-like figures floating beneath. Ahhhh…. Scuba divers. Means I was safe. I remembered this now because today I was the diver watching snorkelers and other divers above me. It was so much fun to be on the other side.
The ocean world was getting more and more interesting with each passing moment. I was getting used to the underwater conditions and feeling comfortable now. An instructor can actually judge this by the style of your breathing. Panic and you breathe fast and finish your tank soon. Relax and you breathe slow and use the tank for a longer period of time. Well, I got an A there.
A silent gratitude
I really wished I could shout at the top of my voice announcing to the world how happy I was at this point. Sadly, the regulator stuck to my mouth reminded me how foolish that would be. But I could smile at the least to show my happiness to all the magnificent life forms around me, but…………… quietly. That’s the ground rule here. Only fish talks and farts while we keep mum and listen.
We glided over some corals covered with fluorescent green sea anemone shining in the dark. I was surprised when I pointed my camera towards it. I saw a sudden flutter and then a pair of round black eyes staring at me, probably angry at the trespass. Camouflaged residents! Another wonder of nature.
Wow, this was getting really interesting now. I was in no mood to turn back. Maybe in the next half an hour, I was going to behave like the odd kid who doesn’t want to leave home for school, had it not been for the abrupt partial blindness in my right eye. All of a sudden everything went blurry in front of my right eye. I signaled a “Not OK” to Rachel and we decided to ascend. I thought my mask fogged up and hence it was a good time we surfaced.
The ascent was very slow with minute-long halts every few feet. This is done to avoid decompression sickness (science related to nitrogen absorption and elimination by the body).
Once on the surface, I fully inflated the BCD. I heard a swisshhhhhhhh and immediately felt as if someone placed a floating bed beneath me. I was lying on my back relaxed still seeing with the left eye.
Rachel helped me with the mask and only then I realized what happened. I had a nosebleed. It’s not something serious but happens with most beginners. Google says if sinuses are not cleared properly it can cause the blood vessels in the lining of the nose to burst to cause bleeding. The blood from my nose slowly seeped into my right lens and blocked the vision. I was so glad it seeped only to the right. Surprisingly I didn’t see any red color at that time.
There was a light drizzle going on as my ears buzzed with all the earthly sounds around me. The seagulls squeaking, a ferry blowing its horn in the nearby jetty. Half an hour was enough to make me an alien in my own world, at least for a few minutes. Such was the aura of the magnificent underwater world.
We started chatting about my experience floating on our back. I was actually struggling for words to describe what I felt down there. Probably a drop of tear escaped too, quietly disguised with the water drops on my face, filled with a million thanks for this wonderful experience.
A few years back I jumped from a plane for my first Sky Dive. There was no time to panic or think during the dive. 15 seconds of free fall and it was all over. Scuba is something totally different. It challenges you gently. It’s a game of nerves and trust me if you win there’s nothing more beautiful, serene and rewarding than the vibrant underwater world.
On a personal note.
This wonderful experience was more of a journey of self-realization to me than a simple underwater dive. I watched a world so gorgeous and stunning yet hidden from the normal eyes. I realized that if I want to see the unseen, I’ve to leave my comfort zone at some point. And most importantly, I realized my potential to keep calm in a situation where practically nothing was under my control.
So folks what are you waiting for? Take the plunge while I search for a local school to get my open water dive certification.
Beginner tips for Scuba Diving in Maldives:
- The whole scuba gear (BCD + tank + weight belt) weighs almost 30-35 kg in total. And that’s really heavy to carry on land. But once you dive, buoyancy takes care of all the weight and you won’t feel anything.
- If you wear your fins on land, it’s much easier to walk backward. Walk forward and there’s a good chance you’ll trip over and fall on your face.
- It’s always better to equalize before you start to feel the pain during your descent. You will get an idea pretty quick on how frequently you need to equalize.
- It’s not allowed to touch or walk on corals as the whole ecosystem is very fragile. Take extreme care not to bump into corals.
- It’s very difficult to maintain a stable camera position for photos and videos under water because of the waves. Especially for something as light as the Go Pro it just keeps on swaying in all direction. A head mount might be useful in this case. But that’s a selfie sacrifice. I recorded my videos in 60fps and slowed it down during post. This helped a lot to stabilize them.
- Use a photo + video mode so that you can simultaneously click some amazing pics with the video recording continuously.
- Don’t forget an underwater filter for your camera lens. It’s very difficult to remove the blue tint in post, as it happened to me.
About the Author:
Chandan & Stuti, are the face behind Pirates Travelogue, a blog that focuses on traveling the world with a full-time job. In their blog they write about their quirky adventures all around the world and lessons learned on road, planning short and effective itineraries, maximizing reach in minimum days, weekend travels, short road trips, extending official trips etcetera with an overall motto – Work Smart Travel Smarter.
Find there Maldives video shot entirely on a GoPro Hero 4 here.