The first time I took that one long stride off the boat and into Cairns’ warm clear water, I couldn’t believe what I was doing.
Water and I are not exactly friends. When ‘swimming’ I tend to be a cross between a drowning dog and a brick.
Being a bad swimmer would be a good thing though, as I was taking part in an open water scuba diving course. Sinking underwater is the whole point of scuba diving, right?
Part of the previous two days training required me to swim 200 metres. People told me there was nothing to it, but none of them had seen my swimming ability.
Thankfully, as long as you do the laps, you pass. So me and my poor front crawl/desperate doggy paddle just about made it to 200 metres while the rest of the class, having finished what felt like hours earlier, cheered me on.
My next obstacle was actually breathing underwater. I’d never so much as snorkelled before, so the first time my head went below the surface, I lost it. Eyes and arms wide, I raced back to the surface.
A few more attempts at breathing underwater and I was still fighting the fear, admittedly pinching my nose for a few minutes until I remembered to breathe through my mouth.
The rest of the training seemed simple enough. Watching videos, learning about one fun-sounding problem, nitrogen narcosis – which according to our diving instructor, was like being drunk, stoned and high all at once – and a multiple choice quiz at the end.
Then came what I really wanted – to get out to the Great Barrier Reef. The first time stepping off the boat into the sea felt like a leap of faith, but once we were underwater, all fear was forgotten.
The realisation as to why the reef is one of the wonders of the world soon became apparent as we saw a huge variety of coral, schools of brightly coloured fish, manta rays, turtles, Nemo and even a couple of sharks!
Having just got used to diving, soon there was something else to give me that hedonistic mix of excitement and fear. This time, it was the night dive.
It was so dark I couldn’t tell the difference between land, sea and sky, so stepping into the black water and descending into darkness was the scariest moment of the trip.
I soon changed my mind and decided it was actually one of the greatest things I’ve done, swimming underwater at night with the different creatures lit up from our torches like stars.
While the night dive was unique, our morning dives were the best, seeing the morning animals starting their day and the evening ones coming in from a night out.
Our final instructor-assisted dive made me realise how much I’d learnt. Four days ago I couldn’t breathe underwater, but now I was 18 metres deep wearing sunglasses, ‘drinking’ a beer, doing dance moves and forward rolls and generally showing off to the videographer.
Our first dive without an instructor didn’t get off to the best start. With no sense of direction our group ended up just five metres from the surface. We went back to the boat dejected with the woman recording our depth failing not to laugh.
Once back on dry land and having got my land legs back (only to lose them again after a night celebrating at the Woolshed) I was desperate to get back underwater.
I conquered diving and loved it, so I’m ready for a new challenge. Shark diving in Sydney maybe?