Those words greeted me right before I stepped into the water to experience my first-ever scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef Saturday. My tour was with Down Under Dive, and our guide Brendan tried to lighten the mood with that crude request.
I sat on the edge of our boat, the tank on my back weighing me down as my feet dipped into the water. A European girl and an Aussie guy sat next to me. Before taking the plunge, we had to clear our goggles so we could see well under water. To do this, we had to spit hard onto the lenses.
“Eww,” Brendan teased after the other girl and I spit.
I smiled, and then quickly remembered what I was about to do. It felt like a weight similar to my tank’s sat in the bottom of my stomach. When our group climbed into the water and held onto the last rung on the boat ladder, my breathing grew quick and shallow.
Under water, we had to show two skills: clearing our goggles by pressing on the top of our masks and then removing our breathing tube regulators, blowing bubbles and putting them back in our mouths to clear out the water. I did the goggle part OK, but on the second, I turned my tube regulator upwards, and it blew bubbles so fiercely that it knocked off my mask and I rose to the top. I broke through the surface and Brendan popped up next to me.
“That wasn’t your fault,” he reassured me. “Turning it up made all those bubbles and they forced off your mask. Try it again, but face it downward.”
I nodded and sank back down. Staring eye-to-eye with Brendan, I tried it again, facing the tube regulator down, and had no problems. He made the “OK” sign with his hand, and then our trio began its hesitant descent.
As we flopped our flippers, my breathing finally fell into a normal rhythm. Maybe it was all the water (blue’s supposed to be calming, right?), the quietness. My ears filled with pressure, and I pinched my nose together to equalize. I was surprised by how quickly my disquiet diminished.
We swam lower and lower, until we were hovering above corals of all types and colors. I saw brain coral and coral like the small bits I collected off the Jersey Shore as a child. Fish big and small swam near, some in schools and some solo. Colors flashed before us, and I saw shades of blue and green I’d only ever seen in my crayon box as a child. It was like being in one of those PBS nature shows my dad and I watched growing up. Big fish, little fish.
We stayed down for about 30 minutes and I became so entranced by this vast aquarium and snapping pictures with the underwater camera I’d rented that I sort of stopped swimming. Brendan looked at me and made swimming motions with his arms, and I started kicking my flippers again. Other divers swam by, and I looked up to see how far we’d come, where the sunlight pierced the water and mixed with the blue glow of the sea.
I could have stayed down there for hours.