It’s no secret: In my under two years of diving, I’ve become a dive snob. The kind who totally turns up her nose at the mere mention of snorkeling. Why would I want to see a postcard of a place when I can actually go there? That’s the analogy I abide by anyway.
When our fearless Cook Islands trip leader, Rebecca, proposed a shallow dive—like seven feet deep shallow—just off shore, I initially scoffed at the idea. I had previously been down 117 feet to a wreck off the coast of Honduras. Surely this couldn’t compare. But I went, and it did.
Rebecca and the other two, Peter and Jenny, had never strapped on a tank before, so they went through the obligatory skills seminar in the dive shop while I ogled the charts of underwater species I might encounter in the lagoon (always best to brush up, should a whale shark pop by for a visit). Conditions: Cyclone. Waters: Tempestuous. I felt sorry for the trio, that of all days, this was going to be their first dive. As turbulent as the sea had been for the previous three days, I just knew we weren’t going to see a thing. Here’s a glimpse of just how violent the swell was, even that close to shore, as seen from below:
All those bubbles? Not fun for being buoyant. But then the Cook Islands singled me out and called me a raging lunatic liar. Because even in the midst of a tropical storm? The visibility was FIFTY FEET or so. Ridiculous. I only wish I had experienced the underwater world on a clear day. Two hundred feet, can you even imagine?
We saw…well, just take a look at this and see for yourself. (As if you even had to guess what I’d set as the background music on this one.)(You all should know me better than that by now.)(But seriously, even if you’re opposed to Disney something awful, it’s worth viewing for the RUNNING OCTOPUS alone. Kind of like the “Running Man,” only not.)
(Apologies if I made you seasick from the video alone; it was so rocky up top, I had trouble holding my hand steady.) It was probably one of the best dives of my life. The next day, I was set to do two real dives with a divemaster at Pacific Divers and another tourist, Ron from Canada (yippee! you know how I love me some Canadians!). It had poured, yet again, all night long, but when the dive shop came to pick me up, the glorious sun peeked her head out. Briefly. Because by the time we got on the boat, the weather looked like this:
Remember when Forrest Gump was in Vietnam, and the rain was pounding at him from every different angle? That’s what it felt like. You can see in the video above that we were sopping wet and hadn’t even gotten in the water yet. When we did finally somersault into the ocean (we were on a tiny Zodiak, not a proper dive boat), I banged my head so hard on the tank, I feared I had a concussion. That’s how rocky the waters were. I wish I could say it was better 70 feet down, but we opted for Avaavatua Passage, a dive site I’d been dying to hit, and as we made our way through the narrow ravine, the water was so rough, I was kicking and paddling with all my might (something you are not supposed to do when you dive), and for every foot I went forward, I was dragged two feet back. The current was so mighty, in fact, that it ripped the regulator right out of my mouth on multiple occasions, and I started to panic at 68 feet below. I have never felt like I was going to die until that day, and I sucked through my tank in no time out of fear that I couldn’t breathe. Anxiety, she’s a bitch. I had no choice, though, but to stay down there; the divemaster had warned us not to go to the surface in the passage, as we’d been slammed right up against the rocks. Awesome.
That’s when yet again a Canadian came to my rescue (they’re always doing that, our willing northern neighbors); he grabbed my hand and pulled me all the way through the passage. I’m a strong girl and was rendered helpless; it’s a terrifying feeling. But Ron was my guardian angel that day, and seeing as our divemaster couldn’t have paid us less attention, I’m glad that he was there to rescue me. When we finally reached the other side of the channel and were ready to pass out, we emerged right in this guy’s lair…
SHARK! Now, you guys know how I feel about sharks (cannotlookatpicturesofthemontheinternetevenwithoutseverelyhyperventilating) —I even get a little anxious watching that video and I took it!—but somehow I’ve become OK with being in the same vicinity of them. Don’t get me wrong, my heart did a little flutter, but I was more terrified the current was going to slam me into the shark than I was of the shark coming after me. He The three of them didn’t even seem to see us. If they did, they couldn’t have been less interested in making us their snack. (They’re white-tip reef sharks, people; they don’t eat humans. They just nibble on their toes.)
It’s probably a good thing then that I didn’t realize until we did our surface interval that I had blood streaked on my forearm and calf, thanks to scraping along the coral as I pulled myself Ron dragged me through the passage. Sharks seem to like that sort of thing, go figure. Yes, good thing I didn’t know.
After that dive, I was hesitant if I would ever enter the water again. It proved to me exactly how powerful the sea is, and perhaps I needed that. But we had planned a two-tank dive, so I had no choice. After the requisite 50 minutes on top—in which, I vomited no less than six times, thanks to our little boat being tossed about like a kernel in a popcorn popper—we were in the ocean again. And I’m glad I made myself do it, because maybe one out of every 50 dives, something scary like this will happen. But the other 49? Totally make up for that one.