Finding Nemo

“My soul is full of longing for the secrets of the sea, and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me…” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We spent a few days obtaining our passports to go under the sea! I have never felt so out of my element before. Before we even cracked open our books or sat down with our instructor, we watched a video about all of the scary things that can go wrong while scuba diving. We learned about the fish and coral elements that could hurt us, found out we could get disastrously sick if we ascended to the surface too quickly (historically referred to as “the bends”), and that we could possibly experience nitrogen narcosis if we were deeper than 100 feet in the water (we’ve heard this is like being high on drugs; those that have experienced it usually don’t remember what happened while they were too deep). Romanticized dreams of life under the sea immediately turned into nightmares as I wondered how I’d ever been attracted to such a dangerous activity?

The next afternoon, after learning how to set up our dive equipment, our instructor took us to a nice, sandy, shallow area where we got acquainted with our new mer-people bodies. We went over some important sign language since we’d be without voices underwater; I paid close attention to the “I have a problem sign”, realizing it was the one I’d undoubtedly use the most. Then we sank about six feet under the water where we rested on our knees on the ocean floor and practiced some essential skills, like: how to clear your mask when it becomes filled with water, how to find your regulator (the tube connected to the air tank that you breathe through) if it should get knocked out of your mouth, and what to do if you or your diving buddy run out of oxygen.

While our instructor reassured us that we would most likely never be in such a situation (he’d gone on over 1,200 dives and never had a shortage of oxygen) it was good to know what to do in case of an emergency. This new information was exhilarating, overwhelming, and yes, terrifying. It didn’t help that while practicing these skills some Sargeant Majors – pesky, little, colorful fish – were darting all around us, innocently nipping away at our flesh. They were particularly attracted by a mole on my leg and bit it right off! They wasted no time trying to clean up the bloody mess that ensued. If this was how the creatures at six feet under behaved, what would the scary ones 18 meters below do?!

After becoming sufficient enough at our new skills, we went on our first dive. My goal: don’t drown. Seemed reasonable enough. We descended slowly, using the anchor rope to make our way down. My heart beat faster and faster as the surface got farther and farther away and I tried to focus on clearing out my ears as the pressure continually built up. Once we’d arrived at the bottom we had a simple task before us: follow our instructor. Matt proved to be amazing at this; he was like an excited little fish in his exploring, turning this way and that and looking quite at home as a merman.

I, on the under hand, could not, for the life of me, obtain any sort of buoyancy. It was not just “sink or swim” for me. It was sink, or swim, or float. I was an absolute yo-yo on that first dive. One moment I’d be bouncing off the ocean floor, praying I wasn’t destroying anything too important, and the next, I’d be on my way to the surface. My erratic movements left me totally confused and distraught; it was all I could do to make any horizontal progress in my vain efforts to keep up. One frightening moment I was alone in a foggy world. I could not see Matt or the instructor. I vaguely remembered something about how when you’re under the sea, everything is magnified, so when you turn your head 180 degrees, it actually looks and feels like you’ve turned a full circle (which can leave one very disoriented!). Sea urchins quickly became the bane of my existence as I imagined myself landing on them and their sharp spikes piercing my skin. One thought became clear: I was a menace to life under the sea and if the coral could have raised its voice, I would never have received a passport to its world.

sea-urchin (

Later on that night, Matt giddily went on and on about all of the wonders he’d spotted under the sea. “Did you see the blow fish?! What about those things that popped back into their homes when you’d get too close?!” I had been so sidetracked by trying to figure out what the heck I was doing that I didn’t even have the wherewithal to enjoy the beauty around me. Most dejected, I wondered if I would be the first person my instructor would have to fail.

Somehow, miraculously, the next day everything clicked for me. With the first day jitters out of the way, I had better control over my breathing and joyfully said goodbye to my yo-yo ways. Blown away by life under the sea, I could not get enough of the unbelievable colors, the business and intricacies of the underwater world, the way a huge school of fish moved together as one, the amazing symbiotic relationships, and so much more. Never again will I look out over the ocean without wondering what wonders lie beneath. My days wishing I was a bird are over. Now I just want to be Nemo.

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