How do you describe what it’s like to let the current guide you gently under 60 feet of salt water, plankton, and rainbow-colored fish? How can I convey the feeling of looking up and seeing the surface of the water from the under side? What words can be said to communicate the feeling I get when I see an octopus, gasp into my regulator, and swim back to beckon my diving buddies while clumsily making the hand gesture “I’ve found one!”?
I’ve often said to non-divers who are thinking of taking the literal plunge: as a traveler, it’s another frontier you get to see. It’s another world to explore where all of the residents look different, speak another language, and subscribe to a different culture.
Some are curious, and swim circles around you as you descend into the blue.
Is it scary? I’m often asked.
I have never found it to be so. Hurling myself off of a bungee platform with a line attached to my ankle? That sounds scary. Floating gently in the ocean that always mesmerizes me, whether on shore or descending ever deeper into the blue? Not a chance.
Diving is exhilarating.
Then there’s the little matter of searching and finding things you’ve never seen before, such as a sea turtle, tiny yellow seahorse, puffer fish, or the holy grail; a giant manta ray.
It was the final of my 18 dives over the course of 6 days on a live-aboard ship off the Andaman Coast while diving Thailand with Wicked Diving when I finally saw a manta ray for the first time. We were about 20 minutes into the dive, and I started to worry I had seen all that I was going to see in this part of the sea. Then, a rapid series of taps made their way through the water and to my ears. This was a divemaster out of my line of vision tapping on his air tank – a common way of saying, “something amazing is nearby!
The divers in my group all spun around and looked at each other. Where was it coming from? Would we have a chance to see whatever this other group had seen? A few minutes later, a giant manta ray, spreading his wings like a majestic eagle, soared overhead.
I let the current carry me, I was so mesmerized. I was so blown away. It was like I was a lifelong birder who had finally seen a rare species that had previously been a mere rumor to me. Just as it was all sinking in, another one soared overhead, turned around, and came back my direction, bathing himself in the bubbles emitted from our regulators (they do love the jacuzzi effect – as do I – it’s a nice feeling swimming through the bubbles of a fellow diver).
The rest of the dive is a blur to me. All I can remember is the angelic glide of the ray, his sheer size, and the feeling of finally seeing one after searching for nearly a week.
We surfaced a short while later, feeling gratified, satisfied, and elated by what we had seen. One of my dive buddies was still crying tears of joy.
Yes, it is a strange and difficult thing to convey – the true, sheer amazingness of SCUBA diving.
*Thanks to Wicked Diving in Khao Lak for helping to make this dream a reality for me. If you’re considering diving in the Similan or Surin Islands, this is a great dive shop to check out. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was a guest of Wicked but they did not ask that I write a favorable review – they didn’t need to. I had a blast!