Saturday, September 11, 2010

Diving - Part I

Koh Tao - literally ‘Turtle Island’ - is the reason from my blogging hiatus over the past week and a half. I came to Koh Tao with one goal in mind - to learn how to dive. Now, given the fact that water is not an environment in which I’d willing choose to place myself generally (as those who witnessed me being towed around the Great Barrier Reef a decade ago can attest to, eh Bob?), it took some leap of faith on my part to actually go through with it. But there’s little point in me spending a year on the road if I don’t try things which put myself outside my comfort zone and so, enter Koh Tao. Genuinely, there is little else to do here but dive. The beaches are relatively unspectacular and if you’ve come here looking for a cultural experience then you’re holding the map the wrong way up - Chiang Mai is >>>>>> that way. Everything - everything - is geared towards diving, conversations are littered with references to diving, you get cheaper - and free - accommodation if you‘re diving, in fact there‘s probably a cult here on Koh Tao who believe that the Messiah will return clad in BC, fins and scuba mask.
There are 50 dive schools on KT and northwards of 200 instructors. That’s your first conundrum: who to dive with? My choice - Scuba Junction was based on internet recommendation. The Thorn Tree forum has its uses when it’s not filled with people bickering over rural village hiking choices in Northern Thailand or the quality of hawker rice porridge in Penang. As it turned out, SJ was pretty much a perfect fit for me - no more than 4 to a dive group, young and enthusiastic instructors who seem to love what they do. As it turned out I got one-to-one instruction due to the fact that I was the only one beginning the following day. Clearly, the diving gods were smiling on my instructor as I knew he‘d have his hands full with me alone. And then some.
The Open Water dive course which I was taking is the standard course for any diving neophyte, as it takes you through the fundamentals of diving, quite of a lot of which involves developing a clear understanding of the science of diving. There is, of course, much more to it than jumping in, diving down, looking around and climbing back out again. My instructor was to be G (Gwydion - you can see why he goes by G), an affable and infinitely patient English lad who’d been diving seriously for about 4 years. It was he who would be charged with the task of rendering the impossible possible in just over 3 days.
Prior to doing my Open Water dive course, jumping into the water has always felt about as natural as standing blindfolded on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, prodded in the back and being asked to jump. Once in the water I’m generally fine, getting into it has always been the problem. I baldly lied when asked about my swimming ability, hoping - foolishly - that this wouldn’t immediately become apparent or through some miraculous osmosis, that once I was surrounded by people who could swim properly I too would find my swimming legs.

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