Take a really deep breath, duck your head down, raise your flipper-laden feet up, dive as deep as you can while struggling against your inherent buoyancy, ogle as much as your eyes allow, then look up and kick your way desperately to the surface to gulp in huge lungfuls of air before you black out. That’s what snorkelling feels like to me once I’ve tired of paddling about on the surface with my back being frozen by the cool sea breeze blowing over it.
Now instead, imagine this: you slowly submerge yourself, exhaling calmly as you sink. Breathing calmly, you swim serenely down seven or eight metres and take a leisurely look around. You swim along and gaze at colourful aquatic plant life gently swaying to the rhythm of the water, perhaps even try to stroke a fish from a passing school of dozens. And then, after 30 minutes or so, still feeling comfortably warm and relaxed, you return unhurriedly to the surface, feeling exhilarated. That’s how my introductory scuba diving experience felt.
As a total novice, I was enticed into my first dive in Dahab, on Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Already a magnet for beginners and advanced divers alike, Dahab boasts not only a wonderful mix of modern facilities and ethnic charm but is also home to some of the deepest waters in the Red Sea (plunging to 1850 metres beyond the reefs). Consequently, it’s possible to see both pelagic and reef life within metres of the beach. And with a winter sea temperature of 25°C, I didn’t really require much cajoling. After completing the usual health and indemnity forms and receiving a half-hour prep talk, I was ready to suit up and get wet.
At first it seems like a burden having to contend with a wetsuit, flippers, weight belt, mask and a buoyancy control device (known as a BCD) with air tank and regulator attached. But once submerged, these all become far less cumbersome, each simultaneously acquiring a use while also appearing to become lighter thanks to their natural buoyancy. Following a brief but thorough practical revision of the principles and procedures explained in the prep talk, I was ready to immerse myself – both physically and mentally.
With my instructor by my side to navigate and regulate my BCD, my introductory scuba diving odyssey began. The abundance of intriguingly beautiful denizens of the deep proved to be a surreal, visual smorgasbord. In sharp contrast to the scenery was the silence. Other than the sound of my own breathing, I found it ethereally quiet down there. Maybe that will change when they eventually invent underwater mobile phones but, for now, you can rest assured that below the surface, noise pollution is a non-existent phenomenon. All too soon, my instructor was motioning for us to return to the surface where my bulging eyes must have left two circular smudges on the inside of my mask.
Back on dry land I was told the next step, should I choose to take it, is to undergo the PADI Open Water Diver certification. Bring it on.