Diving Mishaps in Oahu: A Freakout in Honolulu

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Waikiki Beach hardly seems like the place one comes for a little rest and relaxation, but after the craziness that was the previous nine days driving all over the Big Island and the North Shore of Oahu, we were stoked to check in and chill out. We stayed at the new Hotel Renew, which is a quiet, sophisticated boutique hotel located just one block from Waikiki. Everything about this hotel was perfect: The rooms were really nice, and the location was so central and convenient yet tucked away off the beach so the remnants of late night partying on Waikiki don’t keep you up if you’re lame like us and prefer to be back in your room by 10pm. I’m not lying either when I say that Renew has the most luxurious beds I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping in. SVV and I were those guests who stripped the bed down to the mattress to find out who made it!

There was a great complimentary breakfast bar each morning and an even greater happy hour every afternoon. My friend Nancy, who I met when I first moved to San Francisco and who lives in Honolulu now, met us over at the Renew bar with her husband and pup Buddy for some mai tais. And the best part: Rooms start as little as $130. I just finished a Redbook road trips story highlighting 27 cities on the mainland, and let me tell you, there was rarely a city—even places like Dallas—where I could find hotels under $200 to feature. So $130 in prime real estate in Oahu is a steal. Also, there were these totally trippy mirrors in the bathroom that did weird things with your eyeballs; we were obsessed.

We are coming to KILL you in our sleep! Bwahahaha!

The first morning we woke up in Honolulu, we headed to the Marriott on the next block where the office of Aqua Zone was located. We hadn’t been diving once in the week and a half we’d been in Hawaii; it was time to remedy that.

I’ve always been diving in remote places—Borneo, the Great Barrier Reef, the Cook Islands, a number of Caribbean locales—so taking a boat from the center of Honolulu just a couple hundred feet off shore to the dive site felt funny to me. Actually, it was the first time either of us had done any “city diving.” Kind of cool, as you could see all of Honolulu when you surfaced.

After doing my big step off of the stern of the boat, I looked down and was hypnotized by the deep blue void that seemed to stretch forever below me. I’ve gone diving in more than a dozen countries, and I’m forever blown away by how different the color of the same ocean can be from country to country. You know how Hawaii has this special kind of shimmering, glass-like water that looks like it was extracted directly from a gemstone when you’re gazing at it from above the surface? Well, that’s even further enhanced from below.

We began to descend the 100 feet to the wreck, slowly and holding onto a rope as the current was strong. SVV and I reached the bottom and started to flit in and out of the ship’s many compartments. Wreck dives are our favorite. I can’t help but feel like Ariel every time I’m exploring one!

We spotted a turtle, and I began to follow it around the bow of the wreck. That’s when everything went awry.

Not being one to miss a second floating alongside one of my favorite creatures, I drifted upward with him (her?) as I snapped his (her?) photo. Then, without warning or reason, I got sucked into a current and started shooting to the surface! In my 100+ dives, this has never happened. Before the dive, I was a bit afraid I wasn’t properly weighted—if you don’t dive, I should add here that you wear a weight belt with a varying amount of weights (usually, for me, anywhere from 8 to 12 pounds) depending on the water and its salt content—and the current was so strong, I felt like an astronaut who was getting pulled out to the far reaches of Outer Space.

I honestly had no idea what was happening: I was kicking as hard as I could downward, waving my arms like a frantic chicken and dumping my BC, but the bubbles were covering my face so thickly, I couldn’t see a thing.

This wasn’t actually a photo of me shooting to the surface, but it’s a lot like I felt I probably looked as it happened.

Next thing I knew, I was on the surface. I went 100 feet in a matter of seconds. And being me (i.e. paranoid, a hypochondriac, a drama queen), my immediate thought was, “oh no! I’ve definitely got the bends. I’m going to have to face my worst fear: death…or, even worse, the compression chamber of doom!” (I didn’t. I was totally fine. Not so much as a headache. Though definitely not a safe way to ascend and definitely not recommended.) SVV, being the concerned husband that he is, watched me drift away then decompressed properly and joined me on the surface.

When the divemaster surfaced 10 minutes later with the rest of the group, he was really cool about it. More anal dive shops would have chastised me (even though it was not on purpose), and I would have definitely gotten a scolding and my hand slapped. But the guys at Aqua Zone were so laid back and accommodating. “You OK, Astro Girl?” he asked. “You need more weight after all, eh?” And that was it. Nice dude. He reminded me of the human version of Spike the surfing turtle from Finding Nemo; at the very least, he could have easily voiced the character.

But that didn’t distract from the fact that I was sufficiently freaked out. You see, diving is a very dangerous sport (duh). You’re made to go through safety classes, equipment checks and refreshers for a reason. I always plugged my ears during the sessions that talked about getting air bubbles in your bloodstream and worse, as I’m about as squeamish as they come. I do know that one little error can be the cause of a lung expansion injury. I’d always been so careful before, and I was pissed at myself for looking like such a rookie surrounded by a handful of experienced divers.

The thing about diving—and anything in life really—is that when you have a bad experience, the best thing to do is get out there and do it again. When I got sucked through a narrow, rocky channel in the middle of a cyclone in the Cook Islands into a den of black tip sharks, it was a good thing it was the first dive and we were just three people on a zodiac in the middle of the sea; I was forced to go out and do the second dive of the morning. In each situation, the getting back in the water and getting over the fear that such a traumatizing event could occur again was crucial to my future in the sport. Had I just gone back to my hotel on either occurrence, I’m pretty convinced I would have never gathered the nerve to dive again.

And, naturally, the second dive was totally fine—a walk in the park. It was shallower (40 feet) and a drift dive so we floated with the current (instead of getting sucked upward). The water was pretty murky, but there were so many turtles. And you know I love me some turtles. These guys were massive; I swear, some of them were as long as me (5’6″)!

I’m just happy my dive time in Oahu ended on a high note and that I didn’t let one minor mishap taint the whole experience.

COMMENTS
  • May 17, 2011

    Oh how terrifying!! Your other experience sounds equally as terrifying, if not more so with the sharks! You are definitely brave and inspiring to go back right away. What a reward, though – diving with turtles sounds ethereal. I just might need to learn to dive next time I go to Hawaii!

    • May 17, 2011

      Hey, on another note. Do you have any idea how to change my profile photo on the comments I leave here? That is such an OLD photo, I’m not sure where it came from!

      • May 17, 2011
        Kristin

        Yes! You go to either wordpress.com or gravatar.com to change it.

  • May 17, 2011
    @ElisabethOs

    yikes, Kristin! I’m a scared enough diver as it is.. wish I hadn’t read that.. however, my comfort zone has a dead stop at 50 ft, and I”m pretty firm about that for now.. maybe some day I’ll get better with it..

    Question – who DID make the mattress in the hotel?? 🙂

    • May 17, 2011
      Kristin

      Serta! One of their hotel collection beds!

      By the way, I’m in Utah (*waves from SLC*) and am staying at Sorrel next week. Can’t wait!

      And as I was telling someone else, I’ve never had a bad dive experience 50 feet or less. You’ll be fine in the shallower depths. Don’t let my one freakout (after 100+ dives, mind you) scare you from diving!

  • May 17, 2011
    Krista

    What was the “Renewal” part of this post supposed to be? Just curious…… 🙂

    • May 17, 2011
      Kristin

      I had changed the topic and title of the post halfway through but already saved it, so Wordpress keeps the original in the URL. Blah! It went from a post about our relaxing time on Waikiki to almost dying underwater…gotta love when that happens =)

  • May 17, 2011

    “I got sucked through a narrow, rocky channel in the middle of a cyclone in the Cook Islands into a den of black tip sharks”….and then I died. “I” being me, heidikins, and not necessarily you, Ms. Luna, because clearly you lived to tell the tale whereas I cannot imagine anything more terrifying.

    xox

    • May 17, 2011
      Kristin

      Here’s the thing: Diving isn’t scary at all when you’re doing it in a place with little current and in shallow depths. I’ve never had a bad dive 50 feet or shallower, which is the depth most dives go. And you can always see the surface at that point, too. You can choose to go on deeper dives (as I did in this instance and in others, as well), or you can stay where you’re more comfortable. I probably shouldn’t have written this as it might deter potential divers, but it’s also best to be safe and no potential consequences, right? =)

  • May 17, 2011

    I’m kind of hyperventilating at the thought of this, which is probably why I will never get up the balls to go diving.

    Also? When I visited Hawaii I was TOTALLY that girl who was in bed by 10 pm. The time difference for me was a KILLER. But on the plus side, I was usually up and out the door by about 7 am ready to make the most of the day!

    • May 17, 2011
      Kristin

      Ditto! I had a lot of deadlines when I was in Hawaii, so the time change/lack of sleep was actually a good thing as I’d start working at 5/6am and be done for the day by 10ish.

      (Also, I’m just really lame in general. While I don’t usually go to bed when I’m home until between midnight and 1, if I’m out and about I’m the one at the bar yawning once the clock strikes 9. I’m not sure why I can stay up forever at home in front of the TV and my computer, but going out reduces me to sleep!)

      • May 18, 2011

        Dude, I am the SAME. WAY. Stay up to watch another episode or four of How I Met Your Mother? SURE! Staying at the bar for another 45 minutes? Egads no. Total change from when I was in college. I’ve decided to chalk up the bar-tiredness to all of the energy it takes to stand in a bar (standing = tiring) or sitting on a barstool (holding yourself upright on a stool = exhausting), whereas at home you can loll about in very comfy positions on your couch or bed.

        • May 18, 2011
          Kristin

          Another reason we would be friends: If there were any show I’d be staying up all night watching, it would definitely be HIMYM. In all of my celebrity encounters, I’ve only met Jason Segel from the show, and while I usually play it cool and collected, I was all, “OMG, MARSHMALLOW! I have to take a picture with you for my mom!” Which I totally did, and he was so cool about it. Oh! And I interviewed Bob Saget last week and asked him if he knew who the mother was (he didn’t).

          But, Taylor Swift aside, meeting Neil Patrick Harris would be my absolute ultimate celebrity interview…I pray regularly that someday it will happen! My friend Stef hangs out with him and his partner (husband?) David down in LA, and every time I’m there, I ask her if we can arrange a “chance” meeting!

  • May 17, 2011

    Oh my!! That sounds scary!! I’ve only been diving in The Bahamas and local lakes. No scary situations yet, but I’m sure there are some to come! I would’ve freaked out too if I had shot to the surface!! I did numerous dives in The Bahamas (I was on a live aboard) and my favorite dive was my favorite due to a turtle! I love them too! They are so gorgeous and peaceful! I want to be a sea turtle in my next life. 🙂 Glad you got back in after your scare!

    • May 17, 2011
      Kristin

      The Bahamas are still my favorite place to dive, and I’ve never had a bad experience there. If/when you do have a bad dive, it’s just important to jump back in there after your surface interval to wash away the memory of it! It’s always a bit scary at first, but after a couple minutes, you realize again why you love this sport so much.

  • May 18, 2011

    One of the things that I love about your blog is that no matter how crazy, scary, or ridiculous your experience, you always view it as part of the journey and tells us about it with a smile. Less traveled and brave people would be traumatized by some of your mishaps, but you always take it in stride.

    And that’s why you’re a badass.

    (Also, at first I thought the picture of you with all the bubbles in your face *was* a picture of you during your mishap, and my first thought was, “Of course she’d make sure SVV caught her imminent death on film.”)

    • May 18, 2011
      Kristin

      I think my view on life and travel has changed now that I’ve been blogging for four years…whereas I used to be fairly negative whenever things would go wrong time and time again (which, with me, they inevitably do), I’d be rather annoyed. Now, whenever we have travel trauma–welcome to the first three days of our road trip!–I’m all, “this is AWESOME. It will make such stellar blog fodder!” So there’s that, I guess =)

      But wouldn’t that have been hilarious if, while I drifted away, Scott really was snapping photos of the event? Too bad I was the one with the camera in my hand on that dive…better yet, why did I not think to photograph the whole thing? Oh right, probably because I was afraid I was DYING.

  • May 18, 2011
    Sandy

    Bad diving experience – went diving off the coast of Santorini a few years ago. First of all, there’s really not much to see. Second, my boyfriend and I have big problems being non-verbal communicators underwater and hand signals just don’t cut it (we need one of those underwater erase boards they sell). He ends up running out of air, but I didn’t understand what he was saying. The guide, instead of having all of us do a safety stop and surface since he was out, had him breathe on his octopus and continued on with the dive. We continued diving for at least another 10 minutes. In the meantime, I also end up unexpectedly surfacing without doing a safety stop because I needed more weight. I was fine, but my ears didn’t really pressurize correctly. I was kind of in pain for the rest of the trip.

  • May 18, 2011
    Ris

    Ok I must be thick because I cannot figure out how to email you but I just saw your comment (RE: nasty comments on your appearance in pictures) and holy hell, I would have lost it. Why do people think it’s ok to say things like that?! Every time I see your pictures I think to myself that it looks like y’all are having a blast. Which is probably why someone having a lot less fun in life decided it was ok to be mean. Sheesh.

  • May 18, 2011

    Yeah… we’re getting scuba certified in Honduras and I’ll definitely have to plug my ears. I’m already terrified but very excited.

  • May 19, 2011

    That is quite terrifying! The Cook Islands episode even more so. I did only one dive years ago, in Cayman Islands, and while it was a totally unforgettable experience I decided not to do it again. It was a real trip to be in this other world, a dimension where we humans don’t belong. I kept on feeling like a voyeur of sorts, a haphazard presence in a place where I’m not really supposed to be. Like crashing a party. I’m really glad to have done it but that was it. I’d rather be invited to parties. 🙂

  • May 22, 2011
    Abby

    I’ve surfaced accidentally before, when I was getting my PADI certification at Catalina Island. Thankfully it was only at a depth of 60 meters but scary all the same.

    As dangerous as scuba is, I find that the more you panic the worse it gets. I’m sure you were pretty freaked out when you started surfacing from that depth. Kudos to you for getting out there the next day and showing your toughness.

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