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Masking my fear

PHILIPPINES | Wednesday, 14 May 2014 | Views [352] | Scholarship Entry

I couldn’t see. I tried to calm myself and breathe normally, but instead, seawater trickled down my nasal cavity. I instinctively reacted, pushing my flippers hard on the seaweed sodden sand. Breaking the surface, I yanked my seawater-filled mask from my face and spat the regulator out of my mouth, sputtering and choking in sheer panic.

My dive instructor Johan surfaced a few metres in front of me, calmly reached over and inflated by BCD (buoyancy compensator) to allow me to rest.

At that point, I was all ready to back out of my PADI Open Water Diver course. Johan and I were going through the basic diving skills, one of which was the removal of my dive mask, placing it back on my face, and clearing it of water. Cursing myself internally, I knew very well how I ended up here, a 3.5-hour plane ride from my concrete-jungle home, Singapore.

Here was Moalboal, on the south-western tip of Cebu Island in the Philippines. Just before I embarked on my week-long trip alone, I had signed up to learn how to dive – on pure impulse.

I never liked snorkelling or swimming in open water. The fact that I couldn’t see the bottom unnerved me. Moreover, there are 1,000 things that can go wrong underwater. But here I was, in Johan’s “pool”, in the ocean just a few metres out from the shoreline. I was here because I was trying to overcome my fear.

“I can’t do it,” I declared to Johan in between bobs.

“Relax, take your time. You’re not the first, and certainly not the last to have trouble with this,” Johan said.

Calming myself, I replaced my mask, placed the regulator in my mouth and resubmerged myself. Take two ended in a similar fashion, where I emerged sputtering and choking like an unused car engine.

Johan didn’t soothe nor coax me. He just waited patiently.

Take Three.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing slowly and deeply, feeling the oxygen and nitrogen mix flow unhindered into my lungs. While going through the motions of removing the mask and placing it back on my head, I fought the rising panic that stemmed from the inky blackness.

Instead, I concentrated on my breathing, holding the tip of my mask flat against my forehead while blowing out air through my nose. The subsequent air would then replace the water in my mask.

Finally, Johan squeezed my arm twice, signalling that the exercise was over. I blinked and Johan came into view, grinning. We fist-bumped in the water, celebrating my success at finally overcoming this stage.

What a start.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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