Scuba Saz in the Philippines!

So month or so ago in Tioman, Alex decided he wanted to try diving. I was absolutely adamant I would never ever dive because I’ve always lacked confidence in water, particularly the ocean. I wouldn’t even put my head under water when swimming in a pool, and the thought of seeing scary animals beneath the sea’s surface terrified me, ever since saw an eel when snorkelling in Majorca as a child. Did I also mention I’m frightened of jellyfish?

A month or so later, here I am in the Philippines, having just qualified as a PADI Open Water Diver!

I have talked a lot about how travelling has reduced my anxiety and increased my confidence and self belief, but I never ever could have anticipated doing something like this. It might not be a big deal for some people, as I know not many people are as frightened of water as I am, but for me this is absolutely huge. I am beyond proud of myself and I am so grateful for how far I have come.

We enrolled onto our PADI Open Water course on Thursday, and began our lessons the following day. We chose Seaquest in Moalboal as they were the most professional centre we came across in the area, and the instructor was a native English speaker who was clearly a very experienced and passionate diver.

I was incredibly anxious to start the course, but thankfully we started by watching a few videos on the concept of diving, most of which went over my head as I had no idea about the sport whatsoever. I don’t even know that many people who have done it (or at least I didn’t before I came travelling), so many of the terms and concepts were completely alien to me.

Our first practical session was in the neighbour’s swimming pool. I was so glad to begin in a pool (thank you rain and choppy waves!), as the thought of going straight into the sea terrified me. My first pool dive was super scary and I had to come up to the top several times as I panicked so much, despite only being 2m underwater.

The following day, we did our first sea dive. Panagsama beach in Moalboal is famous for its Sardine Run – where millions and millions of sardines all swim together in a huge pack (is it a school? I need to learn some underwater terminology!)

Unlike the Sardine Run in South Africa, the phenomenon can be viewed here throughout the year, as they’re here every single day. We went to see the sardines for our first open water dive, and I was honestly petrified.

Despite our pool work, I lacked ANY confidence whatsoever and I was panicking the whole way through. I didn’t enjoy it at all, my mask filled with water several times and I barely even saw the sardines as I was too scared to look around. If I hadn’t been half way through the open water course by this point, I probably would have never dived again. I was shaking as I left the water and I had no idea how I’d just gone 10m underwater and stayed there. It honestly felt like a miracle I was still alive.

The next morning, I woke up so anxious that I didn’t want to dive at all, or even get out of bed to be honest. I didn’t know what I was so worried about, it wasn’t just diving. It was one of those bad days where everything scares you and you can’t see how you’ll get through the day. We’ve all been there I’m sure.

I cried in the toilet at the dive centre but I knew that I couldn’t let my anxiety rule me. I knew I had to complete the dive and stay in control, instead of allowing my anxiety to control me. I got ready for the second dive (this time, a boat dive) and then discovered I’d have to backward roll off the boat. I’ve never even backward rolled on the floor because I’ve been worried about breaking my neck, so the thought of doing it into the sea was horrific.

Fortunately, the boat driver was there to push me off backwards and on we went with dive number 2.

Despite my anxiety when I first woke up, I had somehow gained SO much confidence and absolutely LOVED the second dive. I felt more sure of what I was doing and I was able to appreciate the beautiful coral and animals beneath the surface.

70% of our planet is made up of ocean, and I’d never realised or appreciated just how much beauty there is beneath the water. There’s a whole other world down there and I was absolutely amazed for the entire duration of the dive.

As we were ascending, I accidentally popped up once (it’s hard when you’re learning to keep on top of your buoyancy and there are some technical sciencey things you need to remember too about air expanding), but I was able to head back down again to meet my group.

By the third dive I was actually looking forward to exploring the ocean again, but the marine life wasn’t quite as fascinating as the first. It was still a great experience and I still enjoyed the dive.

On day four (today), we had one more boat dive to do and some more skills to practice before we became certified divers. The final boat dive was amazing and we even saw two beautiful green sea turtles, among many other stunning sea creatures.

We passed the course with flying colours and I honestly cannot believe how far I’ve come. I’ve gone from someone who wouldn’t even put her head underwater in a pool, to diving 18 metres below sea level, taking my mask off underwater and removing my regulator at 18m deep to practise emergency situations.

I cannot wait for my next dive!

I have truly proven to myself how strong and brave I really am. I have laughed my anxiety in the face and taken back control. Facing my fears has given me a whole new lease of life and I can’t recommend it enough. I have come so so far and I think this is one of my proudest achievements to date.

I hope I can inspire some of you to take action on what’s been preventing you living your life to the full too. I promise it’s worth it.

With love and gratitude,

Sarah

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