Scuba diving for the first time

Have you ever wanted to dive but the thought of being underwater scares you off? When I turned 50, I decided that there were enough excuses – now was the time to take the plunge (pun intended). Female, fat and 50 – diving for the first time!

Eating and drinking are the hobbies I’ve been doing particularly well in the past 10 years, and now it was time to find a new hobby that didn’t involve just eating and drinking. Consequently, I had put on a heap of weight and managed to get myself up to 120 kilos.

I’ve friends who have talked about their love of diving, and this was the new hobby that we signed up for in Bali. After some research, we chose to do our 3-days 2-nights open water certification with Pro Dive Bali. We had no experience and we’ve done a little bit of snorkeling but I’d been avoiding the beach and water activities for some years.

A couple of days before we were due to start our Open Water Certification, I started to freak out. Maybe we should just cancel. Maybe we shouldn’t go. I’ve got a lot of doubts since I’m overweight. I think I need more fitness tests. What if I freak out during the dive? What if I can’t breathe underwater? What if it’s too scary? Or too overwhelming? Or I got claustrophobic. What if I drowned!

Giving it a Go!

It was probably too late. We’ve booked in, paid and just go! We just told each other that if we are indeed too fat or unfit for diving then we’ll just hang around in Tulamben, nothing to lose and we’ll see what happens.

We were picked up from our hotel and taken first to the dive shop in Seminyak to go get our gear. Then, I realized I need to put a wetsuit. I didn’t even know if there is a wetsuit that will fit me. I’m a size 16-18 and I don’t know if it’s going to work. They look at me and handed me a wetsuit. This was going to be interesting! I can’t even buy a pair of jeans without trying them on, let alone a wetsuit.

Drive to Tulamben

Gear collected, we started our 3-hour drive to Tulamben which was beautiful. We passed rice paddies, a little bit of the ocean, up and through the hills, through coconut farms and temples by the roadside. To be out of the hustle and bustle of Seminyak was a delight.  

Accommodation

We arrived in Tulamben. Our accommodation included all our meals and a really nice clean room set in a tropical garden. ProDive have their own pool on site for doing the first part of  Water Certification. Our afternoon started with delicious lunch of noodles, tempeh, and veggies overlooking Mount Agung.

We were delighted to discover that there is just two of us doing our Open Water Certification. This means there was nobody there to watch me potentially fail, freak out or witness the other things I was horrified might happen.

Pool Exercises

After lunch, it’s time for our fitness test. This could be the deal breaker for me!

To my immense relief, I was given a choice – 10 minutes of treading water or 200 meters swim. I naturally chose the 10 minutes treading water. Being a fat girl, you float well. That extra padding serves one purpose but probably doesn’t outweigh any other good purpose.

Next, we set up our gear and moved to the pool to kit up.

When you are actually carrying around 30 kgs of excess weight it’s hard on your body but you get used to it. But when you add 15-20 kgs of diver gear, that’s just nearly too much to manage. With my BCD and full tank, I can’t walk to the stairs. Was this going to be the end of my diving before I had even entered the pool?

After some words of encouragement, a bit of grunting and huffing and puffing, I managed to get into the pool. And, then we start our pool exercises and it brought me back to the times when I was a kid playing around in the pool with my friends and having fun. But now it’s different. I’m with my dive instructor and I have to put all my trust in him. I think, “There are plenty of people who have done it before me. I’ll be completely fine”.

The thing I found is that being in the water in Bali in the afternoon is that you get sunburn. Not only I am female, fat and fifty, I’ve also got red hair. And the pale skin that goes with that red hair gave me super sunburn on the scalp, face, and chest. You can’t put a sunscreen on the mask but you can use zinc cream and that’s now my best friend.

We did all our exercises in the pool and that was all good. We end the day with a delicious dinner, we went back to our room and we slept for around 14 hours.

The Actual Scuba Diving

We woke up and super excited and nervous because now we will already go to the ocean. It was still the two of us with the dive instructor which was awesome. So we had our first dive in Tulamben. It is a really beautiful spot. It has some beautiful corals with lots of colorful fishes and deep drop-offs. It is home to the USS Liberty Shipwreck.

“USAT Liberty was a United States Army cargo ship torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-166 in January 1942 and beached on the island of Bali. She had been built as a Design 1037 ship for the United States Shipping Board in World War I and had served in the United States Navy in that war as animal transport USS Liberty (ID-3461). She was also notable as the first ship constructed at Federal Shipbuilding, Kearny, New Jersey. In 1963 a volcanic eruption moved the ship off the beach, and Liberty’s wreck is now a popular dive site.” -wikipedia.org

It was a shore dive so our entry was from the shore without using a boat. We had to put our gears on and walk into the water. The shore has round volcanic rocks. I had a little bit of trouble getting into the water. If yesterday I needed 10 steps to the pool, but this time I had to walk about 20 meters to walk down to the beach. And from there, from where we are getting ready we had to deal with the waves and uneven rocks. I was knocked by the waves by the time I got into the water. Keep in mind I was carrying some weights and gears and with my size, it’s a pretty challenging task for me.

The First Dive

So we got to the water, walked a little and went down underwater. I think we went down to about 6 meters. That dive didn’t go deeper than 10 meters. That first dive was a little bit of a fun dive. As soon as we go down we saw a massive school of fish. They were all circling and I couldn’t believe that they were in front of my eyes.

It’s a huge school of fish, doing their own thing, and ignoring us. They were beautiful. There were hundreds of them. It’s only something I’ve seen on TV. I didn’t expect that the first time I get to the ocean, went underwater and this is what I would see. We hover around and watched them a little bit.

We continued on our dive and we went to where the drop off is. There are a beautiful coral fence and lots of gorgeous corals. We just went a little bit out from the wall and I look down and I saw a deep blue void of nothingness. It’s crazy! I was like how can we be here? I don’t know what’s on the bottom of that and I feel like I’m floating in space, I’m weightless. It’s just magical! I was just so excited to see it. I could have hover there for ages but obviously, I couldn’t because there are two other people with us.

Going back to the Beach

We then went down to 11.9 meters and a bottom time of 37 minutes. It was then time to get back up to the beach. I was exhausted by then and we got to the edge of the beach. We came up near one of those dugout canoes which was handy because we can use that for getting some balance in pulling myself up. I managed to stand up which took a lot of effort.

Then the first wave came and knock me over. Then I can’t literally get up with the tank and the exhaustion. There were people around and I was so embarrassed. Russell and our dive instructor helped me up which is very nice of them. But still, I can’t stand up with the gears on me. It’s too hard and I can’t do it. Like this is just ridiculous. The diving part in the water is great but getting in and out of the water isn’t really working for me.

They ended up taking my gear off of me, my BCD. I felt really bad because that meant that I had to carry my BCD. But there’s no way in the world that I could get out of the water on my own. We came up to the beach and we had our rest. We talk about the dive which is awesome.

Coral Garden of Tulamben

We then get ready for our next dive which was the Coral Garden of Tulamben. This time, I had a lot of trouble getting in and out of the water with my BCD on. You know, I like to put my BCD in the water. Actually, part of the open water training is learning how to wear and remove the BCD while floating in the water. So I did that and it made my life so much easier. Although, I still get knocked down by the waves and still bashed up my knees. I had scars on my knees for a few weeks.

We get into the water and do some of our exercises like buoyancy control and sitting like a little yogi. Then we dive to the coral garden and they’ve got some Buddhist Statues and other statues that they’ve sunk. I like the statues but I prefer looking at the corals and the schools of fish. It was still lovely to see.

Coming out of the water this time, I did not walk or tried standing towards the shore because I know I’ll be knocked over and the waves are now bigger. Our diver instructor was fantastic and he understood that I didn’t have the physical strength to do it.

I removed my BCD as we came up to the water and floated around until we reach the shore. So that was day 1 of our ocean diving. We’ve done everything. All my fears, concerns, thinking of limitations were gone except for the fact that I was really too unhealthy, too unfit and too fat to be able to look after myself properly. It’s not really the position where I really wanna be. Like I was not comfortable with it.

After the Dive of Day 1

We get back to our accommodation and had some light lunch. I was so exhausted with from my struggles with the tanks and my own weight as well as with all the activities that we did.

We then had a few beers. We still didn’t quite figured out that the drinking wasn’t really working with diving. We went to sleep at 3 in the afternoon and slept through to the morning again.

Diving Near the Shipwreck

On day 3, we wake up and still feel exhausted despite the fact that we had a decent sleep. I was so tired and I don’t know if I can go diving. I thought maybe this is too much and that I overestimated what I can do. I got through the two dives and got some bruises and now my body is physically exhausted. I didn’t know if I can do it and maybe we can finish our open water some other time.

I told my husband that I was so exhausted. He just said that we’ll keep on going, it’s just two dives, then we’ll never have to dive again. Then we can say that we got our Open Waters and achieve what we wanted to do. It sounds fair enough to me.

We went up and had a big breakfast and meet our dive instructor. I told him that I was really tired and I didn’t think that I can carry my BCD and tank in and out of the water again. He said he was expecting that and he was cool about it. He said he’ll look after me for that.

I was glad that I didn’t back out. There were many instances that I felt like not going or continuing. I had thoughts that it wasn’t for me. And now, it was my best decision that I persevere.

First Dive of the Day

We went down to the beach. The waves are a little bit bigger and people are getting knocked out by the waves. I did quite feel bad about getting rid of my BCD but seeing people getting knocked out by the waves, I considered my bruised knees. We are using a short wetsuit so my knees are getting scratched and bleeding from the previous day.

On our first dive, we went out to the sunken USS Liberty. It is a sunken supply ship which is broken into three pieces. It sits at about 20 meters and it’s so beautiful. There are corals growing all over it. It’s a huge ship and it’s the first underwater wreck that I’ve seen. We went down and we had to swim out not too far and did our exercises. It’s the last part of the exercises for our open water.

Like a Child

We were just swimming and didn’t expect anything until I saw the hull of a ship above us. I was amazed to see it from below and I was like a child again. I always love reading Enid Blyton’s books when I was a child. And I felt like I was in one of Enid Blyton’s adventure book.

We then just continued diving around the wreck. We saw some other divers and some beautiful and big fishes in the area. That was third and final dive. It was just amazing and I was so glad I did it.

We came back up and rested. We got to do the same thing all over again on our fourth dive. When it was over, I felt really glad that I actually did that. We then get back to our dive center and had our lunch.

We went back to Bali and had our open water diver licenses. I was still fat, still 50, but I still achieved it and I didn’t think that I would. I doubted myself many times.

Life-changing

Now, in just over 7 months I’m up to 65 dives and I’ve got more dives booked in. I’m hooked completely. It’s been helping me to stop drinking. I’ve lost another 20 kilos of weight. I’m now exercising regularly. It’s been a life-changing activity. It taught me that if you find something that you like, do whatever you can do to be better at it. That’s what it has done to me.

I am now a FEMALE, 51, NOT-SO-FAT Scuba Diver.

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