I’ll never forget the bouts of laughter coming from our instructor, Ross, when I finally surfaced mid-way through my first open-water dive. Daniel and I were in Nah Trang in Vietnam learning to scuba dive a few days after a Typhoon hit and the waters were, needless to say, a little stried up.
Earlier in the week, we had spent a few days in the classroom and the training pool learning all we needed to know so as not to drown. On the day we were supposed to have our first ocean dive, the typhoon hit, forcing us to spend two days sitting around our hotel room and various coffee shops waiting anxiously for the rain to stop. Initially I was excited to learn to dive, to explore the depths of the ocean, to find out how many treasures one cavern could hold. But nerves got in the way during those two agonizing days. All I could focus on were potential disasters waiting to happen, perhaps my imminent death?
On day three we woke up to the shining sun. The time had come.
Ross met us at the dive center and took us to our boat where we geared up during our short ride to the first dive location. He briefed us that the visibility wouldn’t be more than 5 meters (15 feet), and tried to encourage us by saying, “It’ll be hard to see very far out, but it’ll make you much better divers!” in his quaint British accent. I probably only believed him because of that accent.
And finally, under we went. It was…okay. Keeping calm was the biggest lesson I’d learned – well, other than all the other highly important factors that include buoyancy control, monitoring your air, always diving with a buddy, and so on. Finding peace under the ocean through a patient and calm demeanor is paramount to diving safely, and I was doing a pretty good job until about halfway through our dive when I turned around and Daniel was nowhere to be seen.
I had LOST my buddy, my partner, the man that would become my husband! I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot to stay in tune with the person I cared most about in the entire WORLD. I turned to Ross, who was still visible thank god and started doing some pretty wild signs of panic with my entire body. He came over, put a hand on my shoulder and stared me straight in the eyes, as if to say, “calm the hell down, we’ll find him.”
Countless thoughts crossed my mind; the usual suspects including “what if a shark ate him” or “what if he stopped breathing,” recalling all those Discovery Channel specials I’d watched over the years when nothing else was on. It was hard to calm the hell down! Instead, I did exactly what I’d spent the past few days being taught not to do: panic.
Ross motioned for me to follow him as he flipped around and began searching. Eventually, he pointed up, a sign that we should ascend. We were coming UP and OUT of the water WITHOUT Daniel. By this point, I was in a real, serious state of panic. As we rose up and out (fortunately we weren’t too deep so we were able to ascend rather quickly), I ripped my regulator out of my mouth and started screaming, “OH GOD WHERE IS HE, ROSS, WHERE IS HE? IS HE DEAD!!”
That’s when Ross started laughing that maniacal laugh, the one I hated so much at first then quickly grew to love as I realized why he was laughing. He pointed to a cluster of bubbles coming from under the water and said, “He’s right there ya dummy, and he’s obviously still breathing! Let’s get down there and get him.” He promptly descended again, me following like an obedient labrador, only to discovered Daniel diving around none-the-wiser. He looked over and waved at us, Ross asked him if he was okay, and Daniel gave him the “Okay” sign.
Turns out Daniel had seen a most interesting little clear shrimp, and he decided to follow it for further inspection.
Since then, we’ve learned how to simultaneously check out interesting little shrimp while practicing safe buddy tactics, and I’ve learned to stop panicking underwater.