Plakkie thief, incompetent diver, master of the CESA and maker of conundrums… these are but a few of the titles I earned during my time at SV.
I came to Johannesburg over Christmas, got stuck and was looking for a new hobby – something I couldn’t do anywhere else and could brag to my friends about back in London. After seeing a lovely bald man with incredibly sculpted legs wearing dark wash cut-off jorts and an awfully inviting “Talk to Me about Diving!” shirt, I decided to take him up on the offer. Dickie was my scuba diving fairy godmother, and I was Cinderella in a wetsuit that didn’t quite fit and a curfew at 8 P.M. every night (Thanks, Cyril!). The Open Water Course only took two weeks, but gave me the experience of a lifetime. Scuba is more than just breathing underwater, it’s laughing so hard from a failed CESA that you burst into a curtain of bubbles, it’s so much excitement from spotting a shark your brain forgets every hand signal you’ve ever learned, and, more than anything, it’s a lifestyle. Sitting around the campfire at Bass Lake talking about anything and everything, and drinking more than my little Asian liver had the capacity to process, I remember thinking that this was living.
Now, don’t get me wrong – Bass Lake is great. However, there’s a reason they call it Bass Lake. It’s not because the lake is full of funky fresh musical basslines, but more because of the copious numbers of bass swimming around like they own the place. It was like having the same thing for dinner every night, which is why I jumped at the chance to go with Scubaversity to Sodwana Bay. I had a hit of Bass Lake and I needed more – I felt like the world’s most softcore adrenaline junkie following a group of absolute crackpot divers into their world, which was slowly becoming my own.
The week began as all good weeks away do, with a very rude 4 AM meet up time. Driving (if you can call what Pieter does with a car ‘driving’) half-awake through the dark like zombies bopping away to music that ranged from Queen to Crazy Frog, we were quickly jolted awake by a cheeky little gun fight in a Pongola marketplace. The car ride was almost a premonition of all the things to come – early mornings, good tunes and good times, and the DANGER, not of a gun, but of a popped O-ring.
Coral Divers immediately felt like home, in the sense that my KAK was instantly all over the tent floor and I knew where all the bathrooms were in case of emergency. It was so easy to get swept in to the excitement of the first dive, like slinking schools of fish we were moving around setting up gear, planning our dives and getting ready for launch. The ocean breeze and mountainous waves almost masked the hurling sounds manifested by my seasickness. The second we hit the water though, any thought of discomfort turned into pure joy. The open ocean is the closest thing I can imagine to outer space. I’ll admit I haven’t been, but in my head they’re more or less the same. The latter is probably a little less wet. Turtles glided through the water and up to meet the sun, and sharks blended into the blue but the feint outline was enough to give you a rush. I felt the sand between my toes as we raced under the sea.
Science dictates, however, that what goes up must come down. Just as I had settled into nice, smooth and blissful diving, the string of O-ring tragedies struck. My delusional levels of self-confidence could not help me now. Let me set the scene: some divers who shall not be named took their sweet time coming back from 9 Mile Reef, so our launch was delayed by half an hour. Knowing this was going to be a nice long dive however, we had no complaints! We were looking forward to taking our time as well. When we finally arrived to Simon’s Cave, I descended like a happy little stone. We saw a turtle in our first few seconds – surely this is a good omen, I thought to myself like a common fool. Then, slowly but surely, I start to hear a TSSSSSSS sound sneak up behind me, like when you let the gas out a balloon. Checking my SPG, I realized it was none other than ME. Shit went from 210 to 140 real quick. My O-ring had popped. Marina, wearing a cape instead of a wetsuit, dashed over and, as I would later put it for the whole week, SAVED MY LIFE. I’m being a bit dramatic, as I am naturally inclined to be. I remember being more angry than panicked. Sharing air, Marina and I swam around and she wasted our air by laughing at me while I was positively fuming. We had to surface after just 25 minutes, and as we came out of the water, I orally inflated my BCD while swearing like a sailor in between breaths. Seasickness took over as our skipper ‘Georgina’ danced to ‘Boom Boom I Want You in My Room’ and we waited for the other divers to complete the dive. It was a mess and a hilarious experience I won’t soon forget.
Just as I thought my O-ring woes were over, our next dive proved me wrong. I trusted Marina with my LIFE once, so I trusted her with my cylinder. Everything looked good, I had my seasickness tablet, my mask squeeze was looking so cute, and my cylinder was ready. We made our way out to 1/4 Mile, rolled off the boat, and started descending. Almost instantly I was surrounded by mist. TSSSSS – too familiar a sound, and too familiar a foe. I started signalling to my fellow divers down below, but they clearly had other priorities and had already reached the bottom. I was floating at the surface thinking they must have thought I was waving my hand just to say hello. Yet again, Marina saved the day and the dive. I mean, she surfaced beyond 18m/min I’m sure but the O-Ring waits for no one. We swapped cylinders and were able to dive like normal. I will absolutely hold the grudge against my O-Ring till the day I die, but am ecstatic to go back with stories to tell.
I can’t name a moment where I was not having a LEKKER time; we partied by the pool, buried the Mahindra, and spent nights watching the stars. Gazing up, it felt like you could touch them, and I thought about outer space again. It’s the kind of moment where you think about your place in the universe, the world and everything. In that moment, I thought that where I was and the ocean were more than enough for me. At the end of my time here in South Africa, the title I bear most proudly is the one that designates me as a proud member of the Scubaversity family. I thought of myself as being stuck in South Africa, but that’s not how it feels anymore.