Let’s talk about how, up until recently, I needed to hold my nose when I’m underwater.
Yes, like a toddler learning to swim. Let’s start with that. I’m not a great swimmer. Let’s just say I faced my fair share of teasing from my peers at pool parties in high school. I would always need to plug my nose while trying to form the perfect cannonball to get the boys’ attention. Obviously, holding my nose wasn’t the only thing that made me unsuccessful with the opposite sex as a teenager.
But I digress. As an adult, I tried for years to remedy this situation. I practiced in the bathtub. For years I said no to activities I’ve always dreamed of doing, like learning to surf and scuba dive. Every time I’d get close to learning to dive, I’d have a nightmare that someone would accidentally kick off my mask and I’d inhale water and drown.
However, since starting this blog and consistently pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’ve become a huge proponent of facing my fears. Now I relish the opportunity to say yes to things that terrify me. Bring it on, am I right?
Cut to me, resting on my knees about 6 feet underwater in Utila, Honduras, convinced I am about to die. My instructor is calmly demonstrating the mask flooding skill that I would need to do to become a PADI Open Water certified diver. He slowly takes off his mask, breathing steadily. After a few seconds, he takes a deep breath from his regulator, pulls the mask back on, presses the top of it to his face, tilts his head up and exhales through his nose, easily clearing the mask of water. Smiling, he gestures towards me. It’s my turn.
Terrified, I fumble with my mask. I summon all my courage and manage to remove it, my face clenched tightly. The water came rushing in. I thought of all the times in the past few months that I’d been in the pool, attempting to practice this but only managing to inhale water and emerge gasping for air. It took every ounce of focus I had not to panic. I concentrated on breathing in through the reg and out through the nose, fighting the urge to inhale through the latter.
And I was fine. More than fine – it was liberating! My nose was just, there, in the water. It tickled, but didn’t cause me to violently gasp for air. I had air. I was breathing fine, through my mouthpiece. I smiled (as much as I could with my face was still clenched like a sharpei puppy), put the mask back on and attempted to purge it of air. Because I had my eyes close the whole time, I couldn’t tell if all the water was out, so I hesitantly opened my eyes.
I’d done it perfectly the first time!
Holy shit. I did it. I’m alive. The instructor gave me a quick well done and proceeded on to the next skill. I wanted him to be more impressed – clearly, this wasn’t a sticking point for most people. I’d just climbed Everest in my own mind. Well, maybe not Everest, but Kilimanjaro, maybe. It was the biggest obstacle that stood between me and becoming a certified diver. And I’d just kicked it’s ass. I felt awesome.
The rest of my course went swimmingly (couldn’t resist) and I felt increasingly confident in the water. By the time my first dive on the reef came on the fourth day, I was entirely ready to show off all the skills in deeper water. What I wasn’t ready for was how much I dug being underwater, surrounded by brilliantly colored coral and hundreds of lively fish.
Once you get used to the fact that you CAN breathe underwater, it’s an indescribable feeling. You’re in a gorgeous 3D environment with landscapes that rival the most beautiful I’ve seen hiking. You feel so free just floating there, able to move up, down, do backflips or barrel rolls, whatever you fancy. As long as you can stay calm and present, being underwater is incredibly relaxing. In fact, it was a lot like meditating or yoga. Your focus is just on breathing deeply and consistently, and you feel divinely engaged with where you are in that moment.
Besides the feeling of flying, the best part of diving is getting up close and personal with the underwater life. I’ve been a big fan of snorkeling for years because I love immersing myself in reef life. But with diving you really have the opportunity to enter the world of the fishies and see them up close, right at their doorstep. The diversity of tiny organisms of the reef, like the fickle Christmas Tree worms my instructor pointed out, are fascinating and beautiful. You definitely can’t see those snorkeling.
After I had no more skills to complete and I was fully certified, I celebrated with a bottle of Salva Vida, Honduras’ most popular beer. And to top off my excitement, my last day I got two free fun dives, just for the enjoyment of being underwater. I took my GoPro with me, but obviously I have a lot to learn about underwater photography. You’ll have to take my word for it that I saw some amazing things, including sting rays, a moray eel, a ship wreck, and a swim-thru cave.
To sum it up – I’m hooked. I’m already planning on doing some diving here in LA and will get my advanced certification in Mexico next year when I finish my current job. I’m even considering becoming a Divemaster some day, because I love it that much! And (like all things I’m obsessed with) I want to learn everything I can about this sport and what you can do with it.
Pretty damn impressive words from a girl who 3 months ago had to hold her nose underwater. But that’s what happens when you push yourself out of your comfort zone for a little adventure. You may surprise yourself with what you are capable of!THE DETAILS…..
A week on the island of Utila, Honduras getting my PADI Open Water Certification
Utila is the smallest of Honduras’ Bay Islands and is a scuba diving mecca. It isn’t easy to get to, but that doesn’t stop hundreds (thousands?) of backpackers from heading there to dive, get certified for any level of PADI and drink heavy amounts of Salva in the process. In fact, my instructor called Utila a “drinking Island with a diving problem.” If you aren’t a diver and worried you’d be bored in Utila, don’t be. My stepdad joined me for the week but didn’t dive. Instead, he did hikes, partied with locals, chilled out, and he had a great time.
For my course, I chose Utila Dive Centre. The staff at this place could not have made me feel more comfortable and prepared for my course! They were incredibly helpful in the pre-booking process and quelled all my fears. While I was there, they were not only very professional but super fun to be around. I can’t recommend UDC highly enough!
Also, I recommend taking your time on your OW if you can. I met some other ladies from the US that were doing the accelerated course with another dive school. On their first day they were doing skills in 60 feet of water with nurse sharks nearby. Needless to say, they had a lot more anxiety than I did, nose-holding or not!
I stayed in a standard room in the Mango Inn, a really fantastic hotel about 10 minutes up the hill from UDC. Our room had AC, a double bed and a single bed, and a clean bathroom. It is slightly off the main street so it’s quieter and they have a fabulous pool. I know they have backpacker dorms and some nicer cabanas too. And the pizza at the cafe there is excellent! A bit more expensive than many of the places on the main street, but worth the splurge if you are celebrating, say, obtaining your OW certification LIKE A BOSS.
$349 (included the PADI course, all PADI fees, gear rental, two fun dives and a double room at the Mango Inn for the entire week! That’s an effing good value, folks.)
We flew on American Airlines from DFW (I used my miles – BAM!) directly to Roatan, the larger (and more resort-filled, touristy) island next to Utila, and spent one night there. The next morning, we took the ferry to La Ceiba and then another ferry to Utila, which took about 3 or 4 hours total. If you get sea-sick, be prepared…..the Utila Princess is not nicknamed “the Vomit Comet” for nothing. Depending on the direction and sea conditions it can be a very uncomfortable ride. Though to be fair, I was hungover on both days we took the ferries. Whoops.
You can arrange a direct trip on a private boat from Roatan to Utila, but it was the low season and we couldn’t find enough people to go with us to lower the price to where we wanted it.
When To Go:
I visited Utila the first week of October, which is the beginning of the rainy season. It was the perfect time because the weather was great, apart from a few rainstorms overnight a couple times. There were also fewer travelers there and the prices were better than during the high season. You may have to deal with a few heavy storms, but that is always the case when visiting the tropics during the rainy season and they usually don’t last long. Personally, I love tropical thunderstorms – they are so powerful and unlike anything I’ve experience at home.
More Tips for Utila:
- Visit RJ’s BBQ whenever it is open, which is usually only a couple nights a week. It is the best food on the island, hands down – amazing big plates of perfectly cooked meat, veggies and garlic bread.
- If you have some free time in Utila, I recommend asking around town for a quick ride to Water Cay, a small uninhabited island just Southwest of mainland Utila. The island is quaint and quiet, a true desert island, and there’s some nice snorkeling around it. We spent only a couple hours there, but you could easily spend a day drinking Salva and chilling. You can even camp there overnight, though there are no facilities and you’d need to bring everything you need with you. We got a ride with a lovely guy named Dennis after we inquired at Bush’s Supermarket for $60 total round trip.
- Visit the Jade Seahorse restaurant’s Treetanic Bar both during the day and at night. It’s a beautiful mosaic garden that shouldn’t be missed!
Finally….if you’re thinking about getting your PADI Open Water Certification, read this blog post about keeping your cool and getting through the hard stuff.
Are you a certified diver? If so, did you have any fears to overcome when you started? If not, what fears are holding you back?