Jun 17, 2010

Snorkeling: An Emotional Experience

Summary: Yesterday, I embarked on a little adventure and tried something new: snorkeling. I relate the experiences of my brain and my body in today's post.

Have you ever been snorkeling? I have—finally! Before yesterday, I would have answered that question with, "No, but I'd love to one day." That one day arrived, yes, yesterday.

Let me start by explaining that I'm not the world's best swimmer. In fact, I tend to panic in the water. I have an irrational fear of drowning that cost me an A in gym class in high school when I failed to tread water for 30 minutes, because I just didn't believe it was possible for me. I also have a mild phobia of suffocation, and practice calming techniques when I'm in heavy crowds (where I can't see over others' shoulders, because I'm relatively short) or when I must wear something over my face (like breathing masks during heavy cleaning and yard work ... or snorkel masks!).

I let the Dive Bermuda team know right away that I was a first-time snorkeler. The crew was quick to accommodate me, asking me to hang back from the rest of the group—all experienced snorkelers and divers—so that they could help me into the wetsuit properly. Then they showed me how to clean my mask by spitting in it (not for the germaphobic!), and how to heavily breathe out through either my nose or mouth to clear water from the mask or the breathing tube.

The moment I learned water could leak into the mask—that it wasn't magically secured—I felt fear creep in like mild panic. I thought to myself, "I can handle this. I'm safe here with this team." And I willed the fearful thoughts away.

Then came the lack of confidence. I waded out waist-deep into the water as instructed and I practiced putting my face in the water to breathe through the tube. Surrounded by divers who were practicing going under, I began to mimic them. Only I couldn't stay down! My first time in a wetsuit, I didn't realize initially just how buoyant it made a body. When Kevin, the instructor assigned to me, called out to me to see how I was doing, I hollered, "I can't stay under!" And he replied, "That's a good thing!" He showed me how to lean over and put my mask in and reminded me that my goal at first was to practice looking at the sea floor and breathing through the tube, making sure the mask fit. When we were all satisfied with our practice, it was time to climb into the boat.

We drove further out from the ocean shore than I've ever been, which was still not far, considering how visible the shoreline was. The waters were choppy yesterday, and as we anchored, the boat began rocking heavily. Luckily, I have no fear of shipwreck or of going overboard, so I was simply able to enjoy this part. In fact, I was quite excited!

Kevin asked me to wait 'til all the crew and other divers and snorkelers had gone in. He gave me a flotation device (to go along with my wetsuit and fins) and told me to hop off the back of the boat from a sitting position, just as I'd seen the other snorkelers do.

As I sat on the edge of the boat, fear gripped me again—harder this time. I may as well have been back in high school, stalling on the edge of the high-dive while the rest of the class waited impatiently behind me. At least this time, I didn't have the fear of what my peers would say or think of me raging through my head. Kevin was patient. I acknowledged that I was nervous and he simply said, "Me, too." His honesty made me laugh and relaxed me enough that I was able to hold my breath and hop in with no problems. I grabbed the floaty, put the breathing tube in my mouth, and got ready for my semi-underwater adventure.

But Kevin had one more piece of instruction: Because of my aquatic fears, he wanted me to hang onto the life preserver that was tethered to the back of the boat. I swam to it almost gratefully, and began my peek under the water.

At my first glimpse of the sea floor—colorful coral reefs, small parrot fish who swam blissfully unconcerned with me—I smiled and said a small, automatic prayer of thanks. What an experience! Water leaked immediately into my mask (Kevin explained later that smiling pulls the mask away from the face and breaks the air seal) and got into my nose. I came up for air in a fresh panic and sputtered as I took the tube out—promptly forgetting to simply blow away the water—and trying to pull the mask off and empty the nose area out, all as a wave washed over me.

Kevin reeled the life preserver in closer to the boat, so that he could keep a better eye on me. The anchor it was tied to began banging against my leg, and the waves grew stronger as I was battered back and forth between all of the objects (flotation device, life preserver, anchor, boat, masked-and-suited-and-flippered self) bobbing around the ocean in one small area. Even after Kevin had me come back to the boat's stern and replace my mask with a smaller one (child-sized, I'm guessing, due to its bright green coloring), I continued to battle the same difficulties of water in my nose, waves over my head, and anchor line at my knees.

My thoughts began to go something like this: "This sucks. I can't do this. I'm going to drown. What was I thinking signing up to go snorkeling? I'm not a swimmer. And I've barely even seen anything. I should just get back in the boat and give up now."

And then I thought, "This is ridiculous. I paid a decent amount of money for this adventure, and I'm going to have it!" Fears began to diminish as I gained strength from somewhere within. My rational mind synchronized with my gut instinct and my heart, and I suddenly trusted not only the ocean and the snorkel gear, but myself, too.

I could hear all the other snorkelers calling out where they were seeing the most fish: away from the boat's waves. I let go of the preserver, put my face in the water and held onto the edges of my mask to press it against my face, then kick-paddled away from the boat in a solid fashion. Glorious! The world beneath me began to open up as I saw more and more coral and more and more fish in even more colors and sizes.

"Kealah!" I heard Kevin calling from somewhere far behind me as the water receded from my ears. I turned and saw him waving me back to the boat's life preserver. Sigh. It was, after all, his job to protect all of us, specifically me, the newbie. I took my time getting back to it and enjoyed all that I could.

What was I feeling in those brief moments of 'freedom'? Only this: bliss.

© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2010


  1. Your bliss (when you finally got to it) reminds me of the time I swam with wild dolphins in Hawaii, Kealah. I remember thinking I felt as if I were in a cathedral. I couldn't stop singing spiritual chants the whole time I was in the water!

  2. What a beautiful experience! Thank you for sharing this with us, Rose.


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