Overcoming fear to discover a new world

Courtney Trenwith overcomes her phobia of the ocean depths to embrace a new, watery world.

The ocean may make up two-thirds of the earth's surface but most travellers seem content to stay on dry land.

I was among them until recently, but my reason was more to do with an irrational fear that would send me scrambling for the sand at even the feeling of a piece of wayward seaweed scraping my leg.

Countless times I embarrassingly talked my way out of the most basic of water experiences - from riding in a rubber ducky as an 11-year-old to snorkelling the picturesque islands of Thailand in my 20s.

But something miraculously sparked my fascination with the big, bad ocean while I was on a backpacking sojourn through Vietnam.

Perhaps it was a fellow travellers' inspiring tales of encounters with graceful and ghastly fish, or the sense of bravery one seems to subconsciously develop when travelling, but I found myself joining a 'discover diving' trip off Nha Trang on the Vietnam coast.

On these dives, an instructor takes care of the essentials, such as ensuring you've got enough oxygen and buoyancy, while you simply glide through the water and become entranced by the scenery.

It's the perfect carrot to entice anyone unsure about getting their scuba diving licence to sign up.

It was still another two years before I found myself in the Brisbane Dive Academy shop and I'll admit time had washed away some of the wonderment I had felt during that first dive, and fear had partially resurfaced.


I was aiming for a Padi open water certificate, the most common type worldwide. Usually, it's taught over four days, two days theory in a classroom and two days diving in a pool and in open water, such as a river or ocean.

For those who are time poor, like me, Brisbane Dive Academy also allows you do the theory online and sit a test in the shop, cutting down the course to just one weekend.

However even at home the theory is tough and can take an entire day to get through.

The water skills are not any easier. Swimming to the surface without air, clearing my goggles of water while still under water and swapping to my partner's (everyone should dive with a partner) air without getting a mouthful of salt were among the most difficult.

But my instructor promised it was like learning to change a tyre – you may never have to do it but you'll be damn glad you can if you do.

Near the end of the second day my skin was withered and I was exhausted after six periods under water, either in a public pool or the Tweed River. My original enthusiasm was waning under the pressure of repetitively going over skills that made diving seem too hard and nothing like the tranquilising experience I'd had in Vietnam.

But finally our reward came; our last qualifying dive was free of skills training.

There was nothing else required of us but to skim through the ocean, 18 metres below the surface, trying not to grin too widely to avoid taking in the salty sea, and simply marvel at the circus of colourful marine life carrying out their daily rituals, dipping into coral and rock crevices or idly swimming past unaware of their mesmerising effect.

It is nothing short of exhilarating to emerge from the water not only having witnessed a fascinating new world but knowing that it would no longer be kept secret behind a curtain of fear.

The two-day Padi Open Water diver course costs $479. See http://www.brisbanediveacademy.com.au/open-water/ for details.