During my year around the world, one activity I had been looking forward to was learning to scuba dive. My brother had raved about it for years and a few of my friends had given it a go and not had a bad word to say about it, so I decided that it was another thing to go on the to do list. The first and most obvious question was where to try it? I was tempted by Australia as they have the Great Barrier Reef, but upon investigating prices there it seemed sensible to wait until Asia to try it as the scenery would be just as spectacular, but without the western price tag. I did, however, do 30 minutes of assisted diving at the Great Barrier Reef so I knew that come the big week of full diving I was ok sticking my head under water and breathing with the regulator. So I’d decided on a continent, now to narrow it down little by picking a country….and the one that most people talk about when they say they’ve tried diving is Thailand, and more specifically Koh Tao, a small island off the Southern coast, near the more famous Koh Phangan, the host of the now infamous full-moon party, and Koh Samui. So it was decided, after I’d recovered from the full moon party I would head to Koh Tao to try and explore the underwater world of scuba diving. As I mentioned earlier, my interest in diving came from my brother who also learned on Koh Tao, so again I followed him and booked my course with ‘Crystal Dive‘ as he was full of compliments for them, and I must say that I was very pleased with the experience. It was very well organised, the staff were all friendly, knowledgeable, and my instructor, Liran Barkan, was particularly experienced and a great tutor….I would recommend Crystal Dive, and Liran, to anyone who is heading to Koh Tao, though I must say that I was very lucky and in my class there was only myself and one other person – from what I’ve heard it is very rare in Koh Tao to have such low numbers in a class!
It began like most new skills, in the class room, learning the safety aspects, and the dos and don’ts – while all the time itching to get out there and do some diving. Then it was on to the swimming pool to learn some basic skills. It must be said at this point that this was an outdoor pool overlooking the ocean so the aim of the exercise was right there within our grasps – it wouldn’t be long till we were there! The picture to the side shows the view from near the pool, though obviously later in the day.
After two days in the classroom and swimming pool it was time to take the plunge into the vast island, and we started at a dive site call ‘Twin Peaks’. Because of my excitability, inexperience, tendency to swim around a lot and poor breath control I only managed to stay under for 40 minutes before having to return to the above world, but what a 40 minutes it was! My main hope through all of the training was to see a giant turtle, but unfortunately there was none, nor were there any sharks, giant squids or chests full of gold, but I still had the time of my life! I couldn’t wait for my second dive, but I had to wait a couple of hours for the oxygen to get back in my blood before descending to the depths again. As the visibility was good (around 20 metres) the decision was made to dive the same site, but this time I concentrated on my breathing and managed to increase it to 50 minutes, a personal achievement I was very pleased with. Again there were no major spots but I just loved being down there and seeing the fish and the coral…..and don’t forget this was not my final dive of the week and there would be more to come!
I completed a further 7 dives, completing the Advanced Open Water Diver qualification, where I descended to a maximum of 30 metres and lasted for a maximum of 54 minutes. There were high and lows, and lots of swimming about in between, but I never did see that giant turtle. Though I did see a pretty cool runner-up, a 30 foot whale shark! We were heading out to our last but one dive and an excited buzz starting spreading around the boat….“what’s that?”, “really?”, “where was it?” we heard before our instructor came and whispered to us, in a very conspiratorial tone, “there’s been a shark spotted so we’re heading that way, get ready quick”, so that’s precisely what we did.
The objective of this dive was to get to a maximum depth of 30 metres so we could tick the ‘deep dive’ off the list, so knowing that we could spot a shark any moment we entered the water and descended as quickly as we could to get the task done with, shortly after I noticed our instructor pointing behind me very excitedly, I turned round and there it was……I was looking up at a massive whale shark! I was looking at it from the sides so I could see the full gigantic profile. Without thinking we all started swimming towards it, that’s right towards the shark. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones that had noticed the shark and, similar to sharks, we began circling our prey. I was swimming along behind the shark, totally caught up in the moment, when it decided to do a 180 degree turn, and before I knew it a 30 foot whale shark was staring at me! Needless to say this was the moment when reality struck and I very quickly got out of its way, but the memory of that giant shark staring straight at me will stay with me for as long as I live I’m sure, and this will not be the last time that I tell the tale of when I faced a shark, head to head.