When I first visited Koh Tao, one of the most diving mad islands in the world, I only intended to stay for a week. But something told me to stay, and a few days later I landed a job as a receptionist in a scuba dive centre and was persuaded to take the plunge into the underwater world. Looking back I can see that I loved it, but something was stopping me from pursuing it further and training professionally. Now, four years later and back on the same island, I’m finally training to be a divemaster and it’s made me reflect on what my relationship with diving has taught me so far…
1. Give special attention to the little things
I’m incredibly grateful for that receptionist job, because no matter how boring my day was I knew that after work I could catch up with the instructors and hear about what they’d seen in the ocean that day. What struck me was that the creatures that impressed them most seemed ordinary. However, I came to understand that while many might be underwhelmed by the tiny size of a Nudibranch ‘sea slug’, these creatures are so fascinating that they’re superstars in their own right. Applying this to life on land has given me a deeper appreciation of the small things.
2. I’ve been selling myself short
Upon returning to the same island, the differences in myself from four years ago to now have been pushed into focus. What was stopping me from pursuing a career in diving? The realisation hit me hard – I didn’t think enough of myself and believed I wasn’t capable. I had no idea at the time that I was selling myself so short. With this realisation came a resolution to let go of the person I had resigned myself to be, and allow myself to become the person I wished I was four years ago.
3. You don’t have to follow life’s most obvious paths
Through hanging out with divers I’ve met countless people who started adult life on ‘steady’ paths. I have friends back home who are incredibly unfulfilled, but don’t believe that a different lifestyle is attainable for them. But it is! None of us are here by chance – we all made the decision to work incredibly hard to save money and make it happen, and you can make that decision too – whether you want to dive or take another unconventional path.
4. Age really is just a number
The cliche is true! In the world of diving there are no rules to say who does and doesn’t belong. I’ve met dive masters who are in their late 50s and instructors in their early 20s. As a result, the age range of the people I’m friends with has broadened, and I’ve benefitted from the life experiences and knowledge they’ve shared with me.
5. Even in paradise life can be tough
It’s easy to put your ideal lifestyle on a pedestal without knowing the cons, and there are bound to be negatives to every situation, no matter how dreamy. For dive professionals worries may include making enough money to get by each month, how long you can ignore your newest injury for before it keeps you out of the water and when your next friend is going to pack up and leave for an opportunity elsewhere. These are things I certainly hadn’t prepared myself for when I first arrived and have had to harden myself to.
6. I’m not doing enough
Back home it was easy for me to feel smug about my efforts to be eco-friendly. It seemed that I did more than the average person to save the planet, and for me that was enough. But I’m now living in a place where I can’t hide from ugly truths – the experience of diving holds them right up to my face. Cigarette butts release toxins into the water, plastic bags wait for the few remaining turtles to mistake them for food, stretches of coral become increasingly overgrown with algae and bleached white by global warming. With this in my face every day, I see that I’m really not doing enough to be on the right side of history.
7. Fear can be healthy
As a traveller I feel like I’m always hearing that cliched advice, “break out of your comfort zone and push yourself further”. Sometimes this is just what I need to challenge my fears and have an awesome new experience, but diving has taught me to also trust my instincts and properly assess my nagging doubts. If I don’t feel totally positive about jumping in the water, I will always stop and take a minute to dig a little deeper. Am I just being silly, or would I benefit from doing a triple check of my equipment? By listening to my fear I’ve avoided a couple of potentially dangerous mistakes, and now use feelings of doubt as a tool.
8. Trust is a beautiful thing
Underwater, your dive buddy is your lifeline if anything goes wrong. And things can go wrong. We all hear horror stories that linger in the back of our minds when we enter the water, but it’s comforting to know that your buddy has been trained to save your life. Before diving I had never had to put so much trust in people every day. You need to have absolute faith that they’ve got your back, and if you can manage this there are few better bonding experiences.
9. Silence is golden
To me there is no sweeter sound than slowly descending, letting the noise of the world above slip away and everything going quiet. It’s just you and your breathing; in and out, in and out. I’ve started to treat dives as a kind of meditation and am sure this has benefitted me out of the water too. When I’m stressed and need a minute to ground myself, I visualise myself under the water and suddenly all the noise is gone.
10. Don’t underestimate the worth of any animal
When I started this journey I had been meat free for 10 years, but still indulged in eating fish. It was my guilty pleasure and although I felt like a hypocrite for it, I just didn’t want to give it up. It didn’t take me long to realise that it is entirely possible for me to feel the same amount of love towards a fish as I do towards any dog, cat or cow. It’s easy for us to see marine life as something ‘other’, because their world is so different from ours. But I promise you that once you play with a curious little fish as it weaves itself around your limbs, you aren’t so fast to order that tuna steak at dinner!
While these lessons were all learned underwater, they’ve dramatically impacted my life on land too. I find myself a braver person knowing that I’ve dived 30 metres deep to explore a shipwreck. I’ve finally done what I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve given up eating fish as I genuinely see them as my friends now. I spend every day in a bikini, full of gratitude and pride for my body because it allows me to achieve my dreams. If you have the opportunity to try this incredible activity I urge you to consider it – and I think you’ll learn a lot more than you expect!
About the author
I’m Thea, currently living my best life on Koh Tao Island, Thailand. You can find me in the sea with a scuba tank strapped to my back, or in bed watching The Office U.S. Travel aim: solve a murder on the Orient Express. Favourite hostel: Savage Hostel, Koh Tao, Thailand. Follow me on Instagram – @sister.sol