Scuba school - does hyperventilating really work for first timers?

January 18, 2017

PHOTO: Tracey Jones

PHOTO: Tracey Jones

PHOTO: Tracey Jones

PHOTO: Tracey Jones

PHOTO: Tracey Jones

Daredevil Tyla ‘Tourist’ Harrington has discovered the further she gets from terra firma the greater the terror. So deliberately plunging into a liquid world where you are the outsider was bordering on the insane

I’VE never thought about how I would die.

In fact, I’d never really considered it – until I decided to try scuba diving.

Then I’d locked in my death and was on the way to planning my funeral.

Let me take you back to the start when scuba diving was a great idea floated by my travelling partner. I was sure I wouldn’t break a sweat over it.

And was I wrong.

I guess on the way to Bali I’d accepted the best way to observe a fish is to become a fish, so yes (I said), let’s jump in the ocean and give it a go.

As it turns out I am not the strongest swimmer and I do not find the ocean as calming as some do.

But I do love animals – all sorts – so that counts for something, right?

Unfortunately this was no reassurance to the Tyla on the bus to the dive centre. Fate (or death) awaiting her.

I was over exaggerating, I can admit that now.

Particularly because we had booked with Bali Reef Divers, a five star dive centre in Amed and Tulamben (we were diving at the latter) on the east coast of Bali.

The resort was beautiful; a swimming pool, a bar and a little restaurant with rooms for those who had booked to stay (I could not see obvious signs of a morgue).

It was just a shame I couldn’t take it in right at the beginning because hyperventilating prevents someone from taking in (let alone) enjoying their surroundings.

Our instructor Barbara was everything you expect in a scuba diver. Cool, relaxed, patient and funny.

After taking us through the usual do this/don’t do that it was time for our practice dive in the pool.

So on went the wet suit, the tank and the flippers.

But what are all these cords?

I’m not quite sure I can manage this Barbara, I thought in my head, but wasn’t brave enough to say out loud.

What does this do and where do I put it?

I feel a little bit claustrophobic already (and no, I didn’t tick it on the box we had to fill out before stepping into the water).

Sorry, what did you say Barbara?

We’re about to go under water?

Damn it Tyla, why weren’t you paying attention?

Under we go.

So here is where everything washes away, and I start to see how easy all this is, right?


Despite the surface being just centimetres above my head, it might as well have been a million miles away.

Sorry Barbara – I cannot breathe slowly (in and out, in and out) – I must breathe as quickly as I can so that I freak myself out a bit more and use up all my oxygen.

Oh shit, you’re doing that gesture which means I have to breathe slower. Ok, I’ll do it. No, it’s too much; I must go back to the way I was.

Aah, much better.

Oh, but it’s really worse.

And so you get the picture.

Breathing under water, with an instructor literally holding my hand, was not my thing.

It didn’t help that my friend was behaving like this was her 500th dive, not her first.

She was a professional and I was pathetic.

Fast forward some other skills I did not master and it’s time to go in the ocean.

Please Barbara, ask if I still want to go through with this.

I’ll tell you no and I’ll get changed and go and enjoy a cocktail by that restaurant over there. It’s the little things, you know.

Barbara didn’t ask so off I trotted to the ocean, certain I would be left behind in Davy Jones’ locker.

I kept thinking Nemo – you’re going to see a clownfish.

Take a deep breath and think about Nemo.

“I will hold your hand until I think you are confident enough for me to let go,” Barbara said.

“All you have to do is look at the fishes.”

Bless you Barbara. Will you please tell my parents I love them?

And so we walked out to the ocean, tanks on our backs and flippers on our feet.

Barbara’s hand at the ready, underwater we went.

The panicking continued – my eyes were bulging – and my hands were clenching poor Barbara’s hand.

Please don’t let go of me.

I’ll pop my ears with this hand, see?

Before I knew it we were at the bottom.

Look, Barbara said with her hands.


I don’t think there is another word I can use to describe what was in front of me but it’s not a good enough grasp of English, or excitement, to do it justice.

Beneath the waves really was another world – the world I had heard everyone talk about but could never imagine.

A world that fortunately did not take my breath away – I could breathe. And I had never felt more alive.


There you are. Oh how cute and small you are.

And there’s your dad Marlin and your distant relatives, hi guys!

Barbara, let go of me now, I am ready.

Thank you.

But yes, please do stay close just in case Jaws drops in.

He didn’t. But hundreds of other fish did.

If time travels fast on land then imagine it on fast forward times three under water.

As soon as we were under we were back up again.

When we surfaced I felt privileged to have witnessed what I had and silly that I had thought about death in the face of something so beautiful.

So when Barbara asked if I was ready for a second dive I said “yes”.

It wasn’t until I was back at the resort, feet safely planted on the ground, that doubt started to resurface and I decided to bow out and count myself lucky.

Now that all has been said and done (and I am alive) I would highly recommend this to anyone. Even if you are afraid (or terrified) like me, still give it a go.

I can almost guarantee you won’t die.

My only advice to you and my future self is to say yes.

Scuba dive, travel the world and do things that terrify you.

They say everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

Damn right it is.

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