January 10, 2018

Let’s go Scuba!

Some people, like myself, still think they’re pretty good at sports.
So it came as a shock for me to finally realise that the brain might be sending the wrong signals to my body. The brain thinks the body is still 25 and the body knows it’s not.
Thus, on my last visit to Cape Weligama I decided to forsake some of the, shall we say, more strenuous activities and choose one that allowed the maximum of enjoyment with the minimum of physical effort.

Let’s go Scuba!

Now, for someone who last went shallow Scuba diving in the Aegean some years back, I was not PADI trained. Did I need to be to enjoy the riches of the Indian Ocean on Cape Weligama doorstep?
Apparently not. BUT, I did have to have a thorough grounding on the equipment and all the safety measures needed to ensure I surfaced again.

Whilst the sports centre is just outside the Cape Weligama boundary, it was just a 3 minute walk to the East Beach.
The centre is located in a spacious house and the array of equipment is truly impressive.
No matter what your body size is, there’s a wetsuit for you together with a vast array of face masks, flippers and other necessary equipment.
There’s also a fully equipped training pool with a maximum depth of about 4 feet that’s used to acclimatise newbies.
All the suits are black and yellow to increase visibility underwater even though the waters are crystal clear. It’s important your dive partner can see you at all times.

As I’d fitted scuba gear before it was still necessary to get the right fitting of all the equipment and that’s a feature I appreciated, as the staff spent considerable time both fitting and adjusting the suit and goggles.
Of course, when it came to the flippers, the demented penguin look was overwhelming and a cause of much merriment for my 2 friends who accompanied me – even though they declined to go with me on the dive.

Then it was off to the training pool.
Even I can’t get up to much mischief in that, but its purpose became crystal clear.
I had to first prove that I could swim 300 metres and it was a lot safer in the pool than in the ocean.
I also had to demonstrate that I was comfortable wearing all the diving gear and wasn’t going to go into panic mode. Thankfully, having worn it before I was OK but it’s easy to see how someone could become claustrophobic – especially when the tanks are lifted on your back.
They feel awfully heavy in the open air and in the shallow confines of the swimming pool but the buoyancy soon adjusts. Sitting on the bottom of the pool for 10 minutes learning to breathe slowly is just boring though. But necessary.
Even though I wasn’t applying for my PADI certification because that can take up to 3 days, what I went through in 2 hours preparation was essential, even though I would only be in relatively shallow water.
Removing my flippers and tanks we walked the 100 metres or so to the gently sloping beach, eagerly watched by a small group of local children and teens.

Forsaking the famous back flip from the side of a boat, we simply waded in through the gentle surf until the water was chest high and then donned our masks, adjusted the snorkel, turned on the air and waded out until we were submerged.
I didn’t feel worried at any time and I wasn’t pounded by the surf either. Actually, the instructor stayed about 5 metres away from me and ready to assist should I signal help.
After he helped me adjust my buoyancy we swam about 100 metres straight out to sea but it was still too shallow to see anything of interest except a pristine sea floor.
Until we reached the reef.
Then it was akin to arriving on Oxford Street in the middle of the tourist season.

Fish everywhere although not in great shoals as portrayed on TV.
The more common ones are fairly dull silver or grey and, to be honest, I was unable to distinguish one from another.
But some of the others I did recognise.
Especially the Clownfish – having seen “Finding Nemo” several times. (I remain a child at heart)
And the Honeycomb Toby fish as it always reminded me of a dress worn by Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”
And the Clown Triggerfish because it looks like crazy paving.
And about 15 types of butterflyfish because most are bright yellow and hard to miss.
All of them were just lazily lounging about or digging in the sand for food.
I actually felt like Gulliver watching a city at work and play.
The only sound is your own breathing and I was tempted to hold my breath so I experienced total silence but that’s a little dangerous but sitting on the floor next to the reef is allowed and actually encouraged.
And that’s just what I did. Why exert yourself looking around. Why not let the world come to you!
Pretty soon a few brave souls decided to investigate me. Was I worth a nimble? Actually no.

But did it matter?

This was mesmerising and I can understand why some divers risk running out of air as they become transfixed with life around them.
It was pointless trying to count how many species were there never mind how many fish.
What I wanted was an experience and it was delivered in spades.
Thankfully, not a whisper of reef sharks although they are occasionally sighted.
After 30 minutes sightseeing like the tourist I was, it was time to head back to the beach and remove the air tanks. Of course, after being weightless for half an hour the sudden realisation that gravity exists was somewhat crushing and my legs jellified.
This elicited further laughter from my friends who had waited patiently on the beach and commented, as I removed my mask, that I looked nothing like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale who caused so many female hearts to beat faster.

I was grateful for the Golf Buggy to whisk me back to my Bungalow for a hot rain shower and a well-earned rest with a drink.
I went out thinking I would have a relaxing afternoon floating about.
I returned exhilarated and exhausted and thankful that the Cape had lived up to its reputation as somewhere where something different can happen every day.