Scuba Diving off Panglao Island

I’ve discovered another dangerous hobby that I would like to add to the list of things that will give my mom heart palpitations–scuba diving! I’ve always considered myself a mountain and earth man even though my father has always tried to make me bow to the gods of the sea. My father was in the coastguard when I was born and he always looked for any reason to get on a boat whether it be the river or sea (he currently lives on a boat). Throughout my youth he would often take our family on road-trips to Corpus Christi or take me deep-sea fishing. I never took the bait (I couldn’t resist the double entendre) and spent a good part of my life dreading these trips to the sea. It was scary. It made me sick. It smelled funny. What was the appeal? Take me to Earth’s skyscrapers, those giants that puncture up through terra firma and grasp at the clouds.

Our trip to Panglao Island was purely a beach holiday. I figured I would try it out–sit on the beach in the sun, get sand in my craw, and sip an alcoholic beverage with one of those little cutesy umbrellas poking out of the top. I can say that I accomplished my goal but after about five minutes I got bored and started wandering around the coast with Danielle (for more of our exploration of Alona Beach, check out the forthcoming post).

Another purpose for our holiday at the beach was so that I could try out scuba diving. Scuba diving had never really appealed to me as a hobby or activity since it involves a lot of expensive equipment and the sea. However, Danielle had been once before and she enjoyed it so I was convinced enough to give it a shot. Moreover, you can’t knock it ’till you try it.

We took our preliminary scuba diving class with Genesis Divers the evening before the day of the dive so that we would be able to spend more time actually diving. Our classroom was a table set out on Alona Beach as we sipped coffee and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Our instructor, Giso Stuhldreher, walked us through all the mechanics of the dive equipment, pressure equalization techniques, and how to communicate under the water. At one point, Danielle leaned over and whispered that she had never gone through this on her previous dive…

The day of our dive was a logistical disaster.  Once we got to the beach on the other side of Panglao, I realized I had forgotten to bring my camera, nor did I remember to ask Giso for an underwater camera (sorry for the lack of pictures, my friends). Giso was missing a third regulator, the engine on the boat wasn’t starting, and ants attacked all three of our wet suits. He ended up dashing across the beach and jumping into the water in order to fend them off. After wiping out most of the ants (a couple still ended up biting me once we got on the boat), we donned our wet suits and headed to the boat.

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Our diving equipment.

The boat captain took us out to the edge of the coral reef which was about 150 meters from the beach. Once we had put on our oxygen tanks and masks and Giso had shown us the proper way to flip our bodies out of the boat, I was ready. I remember the flash of the sky as I threw my weight backwards. I felt water on the top of my head as my feet and fins catapulted through the air. There was a brief sight of an island in the distance and then the water subsumed me. I opened my eyes and was blown away. The sea was teal and the silt snow white. Here and there the bottom was dotted with stony coral, sponges, and mutant starfish the size of my chest and abdomen which slowly rocked back and forth with the waves on the reef. After collecting myself from my initial shock, I looked up at the boat and watched Danielle as she catapulted backwards, followed by Giso. After a couple of trial-runs with buoyancy control, last checks of the tanks, and ensuring that all the gear was either working correctly or fitted correctly (I had to switch goggles with Danielle), we began our dive.

Giso took us to the edge of the coral reef and it is at this point that my experiences become quite hard to explain because the words I type fail to encapsulate the pictures within my head. As the edge of the coral reef moved into my field of vision, the pure depth of the sea hit me. The ocean changed from teal, to dark blue, to something that wasn’t color anymore. It moved from an adjectival state to a noun. To an abyss. How can I describe that sight at the edge of my earth-world? At the edge of all I knew? My body shuddered and I stopped breathing for an eternity (more likely one or two seconds). My mind became a rubber band that was stretching time. The more it stretched, the more my body cooled and the more I could see all things at once. Just as soon as this happened, the band snapped back, my body heated, and I kept moving forward over the reef drop-off and into the abyss.

I now have an inking of what it is like to be an astronaut and why they are trained in the water. Floating in deep water and looking down into the bottomless ocean, I felt what it must be like for those astronauts a couple of moments after they step out of the airlock and their feet touch nothing and gravity has no sway over their movement. When you are in the water, your perception shifts from a 2-D plane world to a 3-D space world. Gravity and Earth inhibit our perceptions by giving us a horizon and plane from which we derive our associations for orientating ourselves within the world. On the edge of the abyss, there is form, there is orientation, there is reference. Once we enter the abyss, all orientations and references melt away. Without orientation or reference, all words lose meaning and therefore our ‘selves’ lose meaning for what are we other than words and definitions. Are we more? My form dissolved and I evaporated into the ether for the briefest of moments.

I don’t remember how long we were down for our dive but I saw some pretty incredible stuff. I could give a list of things but it wouldn’t do justice to our adventure. However, at some point when I finally was able to obtain neutral buoyancy I got excited and swam ahead of Danielle and Giso as I kept gazing at all the sea life. This didn’t make Giso happy and I only noticed when I happened to look back and the two of them were about 5 meters behind me.

To be honest, I’m glad I forgot the underwater camera. I would have captured some beautiful images and I would have been able to share them with all of you. Rather than being forced to talk about my experiences, I could have said, “Look here, see this cool thing,” or “Look there, see the abyss” and all you would have seen were pictures of the water as we crept along. Gradually, those images would imprint themselves upon my mind and that would become my story, replacing the emotion and the abyss with something concrete and tangible as opposed to the ideas that now still bounce around in my head. Regardless, my pictures would just get lost in the plethora of Google images one can find when searching “scuba diving” anyway.

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