Below is the article written by Sarah Boorboor for smartshanghai.com , documenting her first scuba diving experiences, here with us at Scandi DIvers. A well written piece, and a lovely insight into what first time divers can expect.
Can you cry underwater? Swimming with the fishes in Puerto Galera.
By Sarah Boorboor | Photos Nicolas de Rougé
The wooden boat or bangka that will take us from Batangas Bay to the dive resort in Puerto Galera is delayed. I landed in Manila two hours earlier and Dave Asmussen arranged a car to drive us directly to a private boat leaving at 5.30pm. Now two hours later, we wait as the sky turns purple-pink and the woman in charge of the boats dallies with her boyfriend. Asmussen, an OB/GYN whose career took him from Seattle to United Family in Shanghai, shakes his head. “That’s the Philippines!”
Known on the island as “Sir Dave”, he has taken on new life in a retirement project, Scandi Divers, a resort and dive center which has been his home away from home for eight years.
When we reach Scandi’s stretch of island, stars have overtaken the sky. We are greeted by Tin Tin, a petite Filipino girl with bright eyes. She shows me to my room, just a few steps away from the beach, the sound of crashing waves audible through closed windows. Tomorrow I start what I came for: my PADI Open Water Certification.
“Please take this seriously. It’s not a joke,” Rey Magsino tells me as I thrash about in the deep end of the resort’s pool. Magsino, who grew up on the island, will be my dive instructor for the next three days. I am trying to stay buoyant in just 3 meters of water and laughing nervously. This is a simulation: what to do when you’re out of air but have reached the surface. I calm myself and do as Magsino taught me, pressing hard on my low-pressure inflator and using the breath I have left to blow into it fiercely. To my surprise, my buoyancy vest begins to take air and I float. Magsino’s face breaks into a wide smile.
We start at 8am each day, meeting at the dive center just outside my room. I will complete my open water certification with PADI in three days, with time in the classroom, sessions in confined water, four open water dives, and a written test.
Before we touch water, I am given a review book in Scandi’s third-floor classroom and watch three monotonous 30-minute videos provided by PADI. Following the classroom, the ‘confined water’ sessions take place in the resort’s rectangular pool where I learn about the equipment, pick up underwater sign language, and drill the skills introduced in the classroom.
On day one, we move from the pool to shallow ocean water, ten meters deep. We walk gingerly around rocks and duck under a bangka docked close to shore, until we are up to our shoulders. An electric thrill surges through me as I place the regulator in my mouth, decrease the air in my buoyancy vest and submerge my entire body underwater.
Everything seems to slow down. To communicate we use our signals. Okay? Okay.Controlled breathing. Relax. We mirror the skills we learned in the pool. Controlled descent and ascent, sharing air, letting our masks fill with water then clearing them out. After skills, we practice floating and begin to move, hovering just above the ocean’s bottom. I stay glued to Magsino’s side as I get used to my weightlessness, familiarizing myself with the terms of this strange new planet.
The next morning, salt water whips my hair on the short boat ride over to our dive site, small bangka wrecks in Sabang Bay. With my gear strapped on I move to the edge of the boat and fall into the ocean, salt water sucking me in while my buoyancy vest works in the opposite direction.
I swim past the front of the boat to reunite with Magsino in the water. Together we let the air out of our vests and after a quick skills check, swim through the clear blue water. Little fish that look plucked out of a Pixar movie scatter around us. Magsino tugs on my arm. He’s pointing to a large sea turtle gliding next to us nonchalantly.
I feel like I’m swimming into an old Macintosh screensaver as we approach our first wreck; what was once a wooden bangka is now home to various schools of fish. We stop swimming, legs crossed and floating in space as large fish swarm in circles around us, a parade of color and dilated pupils. Is it possible to laugh underwater? Is it possible to cry? Completely overcome, I want to do both at the same time.