The sleek white bow of the boat cut through the choppy waves of the pacific ocean as the early morning sun danced across the surface. A cool breeze made the blazing sun bearable as sea spray blasted off the sides of the boat. The engine roared as it sped us towards the first dive site of the day: Tortuga, just off the coast of Playa del Coco, Costa Rica. Images of every undersea documentary I had ever watch were playing through my mind as we prepared to do our first open water dive. My heart rate increased and I noticed I was gripping the lip of my seat tightly, probably a good thing as the boat was swaying about rather erratically. I heard the pacific was a different beast than the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean and looking into the emerald green depths I wondered what lurked below the surface. The worst part is I forgot to bring a GoPro!
Small islands dotted the coast line and the boat slowed as we neared a small cluster, waves smashing across the jagged rocks surrounding them, sending sea water 15 feet into the air. Martin’s voiced snapped back my attention and he went over the dive objectives and skills we would be practicing. I listened carefully, well as carefully as someone excited to go scuba diving for the first time can. We would be descending down a line due to the current that was common in the area and once settled on the bottom would do a tour of the reef, practice some basic skills and see what wildlife we could find. With all the logistics sorted, it was time to gear up! I grabbed my wetsuit and dived over the side, easily slipping it on in the water. Right away I noticed the current and had a small swim to get back to the boat after only a few seconds. I hauled myself back on board and clipped on my BCD and weights. Lincoln and I did our buddy check, BWRAF (Buoyancy, Weights, Regulators,Air and Final check) was easy to remember with a little saying Martin taught us “Bruce Willis Ruins All Films” I still have that run through my head to this day any time I am getting ready to go diving.
We would be doing a back roll entry for this dive and even having practiced it in the pool the day before I was a little nervous, there is a big difference between a 2 foot tall wall at the pool and a 6-7 foot drop off the side of a large boat. A little burst of air into my BCD to keep me afloat on the surface and I was ready. I watched Lincoln splash back into the water and give the OK sign and steadied my hand against my regulator and mask and let myself slip backwards off the boat. I looked up at the sky for a split second before I crashed into the swirling sea of bubbles and my view was filled with the bottom of the boat for a moment before I bobbed back up to the surface and made my way to the mooring line we would be descending along. Once the group was all assembled Martin gave the signal to do a 5 point descent and we began our adventure under the waves.
Visibility was about 25 ft, not amazing but I didn’t mind, I was having too much fun. I slowly descended and watched the line disappear into the depths. I was the last to reach the bottom, where everyone was waiting for me. I signalled what was up and Martin nodded and gave the sign asking if I was ok. I gave the affirmative back and we started off on our dive, Linc next to me as my dive buddy. Immediately I was blown away by the sheer amount of life surrounding us everywhere we looked. Large schools of fish darted in between the craggy rocks of the reef, large puffer fish milled about looking inquisitively at us as we swam past and several spotted eagle rays glided past us effortlessly and disappeared off into the haze. I was amazed and felt sea water creeping into my mask and realized I was grinning and causing my mask to leak. I quickly cleared it using the skills we had learned and went right back to soaking in the incredible scenery.
A large moray eel was lurking in a large crevice staring out at us, its mouth open in what I assumed was a snarl (this is actually just how they breath). My mind flashed back to the stories I had heard of people losing a finger or having a chunk taken out of their arm by these powerful creatures and I respectfully kept my distance. A good lesson to learn, nothing in the ocean is out to get you or hurt you, as long as you are respectful of each animal. You are a visitor in their world after all. We continued along the reef and came across several lion fish and martin pointed out a couple extremely well camouflaged scorpion fish. I would have simply passed by them thinking they were rocks. Every creature was so unique and well adapted to its under water world, predator and prey alike. This was exceeding everything I had always dreamed about.
a cheeky little puffer fish
The skills we would be showing off that day were mask removal and regulator recovery, something I was hoping would go smoothly. In the pool it was fine but with 20 meters of water above you its a different story. Lucky for me they went off without a hitch and gave me a big boost in confidence in my ability to not drown myself. With the official business out of the way we were able to continue our tour of the reef and enjoy all the crazy sights it had to offer. There is something special about the feeling of floating weightless watching all these micro stories unfold and I knew I was hooked for life. It boggles my mind to think all this life exists over 70% of the earth’s surface most people never get to experience first hand. As we ascended back up the mooring line, doing out safety stop at 15 ft for 3 mins, I had a lot to contemplate and a new found level respect for the ocean and life in general. This to me is one of the biggest benefits of scuba diving, it makes you realize just how small you are on this planet and how lucky you are to be here to experience it, even if for a short time.
I broke the surface with a huge grin plastered on my face, swallowed a mouthful of the sea while switching to my snorkel and paddled my way to the boat. Climbing the ladder was a little shaky as the boat swayed side to side and I flopped down on the seat and unclipped my gear. I turned to look at Linc and saw a big grin that mirrored my own. Scuba diving for the first time (and every time since) was an amazing experience. And it was only the first dive of the day.
A day and 3 more dives later we broke the surface as fully certified open water divers. Martin’s easy to follow instruction had made the entire process a blast and I was eager to continue learning new skills. As the sun set over Costa Rica we clinked our beers together in appreciation with all the staff of the dive shop and eagerly listened to tales of various lessons learned and some cautionary tales from all the experienced divers around the table. My log book had so many more pages to fill and I couldn’t wait to get back in the ocean. With 5 days left on our trip Lincoln turned to me and said “SO, think we should do our advanced open water?” I just smiled in response as the warm evening breeze flowed through the open air bar bringing with it the smell of the sea. He already knew my answer.