After going through the motions (school, A-Level College/University/ first career job), at the age of 25, I had made a difficult, but necessary decision to quit my job and go see the world ‘before it was too late’…. so I handed in my notice as a primary school teacher, said my goodbyes and got on a plane. I was so excited, but also very nervous… I knew that I was in-charge of my own happiness and that I wanted to make it ‘out there’ and prove to myself that I hack a year away doing the whole backpacking thing. The schedule was somewhat planned with an Around The World ticket, but I had no clue what I was going to find or who I was going to meet – it was an adventure!
My first stop was Thailand. After spending the first month in Bangkok and traveling north to Chang Mai to go see some elephants, I’d decided to hit the islands, with the particular interest in seeing where Alex Garland’s ‘The Beach’ was filmed. The Beach had been released earlier that year and it was a craze at the time… I mean everybody was reading the book.
I was on Koh Phi Phi, on the west coast of the Thai gulf and had found a clean, basic hut, right on the beach. I was spending my days reading, meeting other travelers, trying all the exotic food and exploring the island.
One day, I was going about my usual business when a guy who was sitting outside a dive shop asked me if I had ever tried diving before, which I hadn’t. It seems crazy to me now, but I had never actually considered learning to dive before.
The guy was very friendly, knowledgeable and came across as very passionate for his sport – I wanted to see what all the fuss was about so signed up for my PADI Open Water Course.
That very afternoon I was sat down, given an orientation of how the course was going to run and watched some videos. I was then told that I would be going into the water with scuba equipment that same afternoon!! We had to walk down to the beach and I was going to try my first breaths underwater.
I had donned the scuba equipment and I remember that it felt awkward as we walked down to the beach and it was so hot! But I knew that I’d soon be able to cool down. Once we’d got to the water’s edge, my instructor took charge and instructed me on exactly what I would be doing. He reassured me that I’d be fine and that it would feel a bit strange to start off with but that it was normal to feel that way.
I can clearly picture kneeling in the sand and taking my first breaths… It felt exhilarating! I could see fish around me and I could breath comfortably. The equipment which had felt awkward as we’d walked down to the beach was now weightless and it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I went to bed that night with a pile of reading to do, and I just couldn’t wait for the next day.
The second day we went to a bay, but this time, I was diving off a boat. I had managed to get the deep water entry right and had remembered what I had to do to become positively buoyant on the surface. I felt nervous as I knew what would be coming next but with some deep breaths, felt okay. We descended down the line… I knew that I had to keep on breathing – that was the one thing that stuck in my mind – Don’t hold your breath Caz! I remember feeling quite nervous and wanting to hold the instructors had for reassurance, but after a few minutes, I felt safe enough to let go.
I giggled with excitement with all the colourful fish around me, and the mere fact that I was sharing this amazing underwater world with creatures I’d never seen before. I wanted to take it all in, but I was concentrating so hard on not hitting any coral or getting too close to the fish, but with time I became more confident. On the last day, we went to the same beach where the Leonardo Di Caprio was only a few months earlier! We dived from the boat and I clearly remember, just before descending, looking at the view from the surface thinking ‘ this is the life’
I finished my Open Water course with a great sense of achievement and quickly knew that this was something that I was going to do again.
I’m now a Divemaster and live in on a beautiful tropical island that I now call home. I wake up every morning and think just how lucky I am to be working in an industry which has been passion of mine now for many years.
Learning to dive was the best gift I ever gave myself and has given me so much pleasure that I really couldn’t imagine my life without it!
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