Under The Sea

by Andrew Stein

me underwater

Me and my scuba gear off the coast of Tulamben, Bali

Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter. Take it from me. Up on the shore they work all day. Out in the sun they slave away. While we devotin’ full time to floatin’ under the sea. Down here all the fish is happy, as off through the waves they roll. We got no troubles, life is the bubbles under the sea. Since life is sweet here, we got the beat here, naturally. We got the spirit. You got to hear it under the sea. The newt play the flute, the carp play the harp, the paice play the bass, and they soundin’ sharp. The bass play the brass, the chub play the tub, the fluke is the duke of soul. The ray he can play, the lings on the strings, the trout rockin’ out. The blackfish she sings the smelt and the sprat, they know where it’s at an’ oh that blowfish blow. Each little snail here know how to wail here. That’s why it’s hotter under the water. Ya we in luck here down in the muck here under the sea!

Sebastian’s version is quite accurate, but how would I describe being under the sea? It would be easier to stay in the abstract and describe it as unreal, as a sense of freedom, and as both calming and exhilarating. When the most prevalent sound is that coming from my own breath, my visibility only reaches about 15m, and I am completely weightless, it is both an empowering and frightening experience.

underwater fish

We found Nemo!

It is my first day diving. At 9am, I’m greeted by my dive instructor, Wayan, whose streaks of long gray hair immediately make me feel more confident. I am soon fitted with gear, which is no small task with Scuba after accounting for the suit, the booties, belt, flippers, mask, snorkel, buoyancy control device (BCD), regulator, pressure gauge, and a tank of air. Although SCUBA is short for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, I am not sure what part of this list accounts for said apparatus or if its the whole outfit. The humidity and warmth of the Balinese air makes this fitting a bit sweaty, which only heightens the anticipation of submerging into water. We learn what attaches where, twists how, and is needed when, and then we climb into the pool relieving us of the weight of the “apparatus.” After some scuba practice, we file out of the pool careful not to fall backwards as we remember what’s on our backs, we then have a quick snack, and its off to the sea.

We grab our fins and masks, and let people half our size and twice our age carry the tank and BCD’s down. Some of the women balance the tanks on their heads, sometimes with no hands and then walk down a less than even path. Quite humbling. After waddling out over small rocks into the water, we check all the equipment one more time, and start to deflate our BCD’s. Initially, I start to hyperventilate because it is unnatural to breathe underwater, but I force myself to take long breaths and eventually calm down. I look around, realize I am in fact breathing fine, and begin to follow the instructor around a ship wreck of a sunken US ship, the USAT Liberty. The coral formations on almost every available ship surface and the life swimming through it completely distract me from the fact that I’m 15m underwater and breathing out of a tank. Fish come up to my mask and almost seem to run into me.  That said, I did learn that objects may appear closer than they are because of light refraction through the water, the plastic, and then the air inside the mask.

USAT Liberty

Everything is OK in front of the USAT Liberty

Later in the dive, the guide makes his hand flat and places it perpendicularly in the middle of his forward. During most of our training, Wayan performs an action and we repeat, but I am unsure what I am supposed to do at this point. He repeats the forehead chop motion and then points off into the distance. At the end of a line created by extending his pointing finger, I see a shark. Again, this is frightening and calming all at once. No one including the shark is in any rush; however, we do turn around at this point and head back in the opposite direction. The forehead chop is not a chop, and instead it is a shark fin. Good to know.

Other than for running out of air, I feel I could stay underwater indefinitely, and when this dive concludes, I am excited and ready for the next one after lunch.