A hideous green face
locked eyes with mine, its jaws opening to display needle-sharp teeth. The
moray eel guarded its nook in the reef. I hovered in shallow water and went
no closer. My dive companions were drifting away slowly on the current
through muted sunlight and clouds of brilliantly colored tropical fishes. A
few vigorous kicks with my fins and I caught up as they swept along, flying
weightlessly over a sea floor festooned with coral, sea urchins and algae.
We were exploring the exciting undersea world of sheltered Maunalua Bay,
east of Honolulu, Hawaii. And for most of the people in our small group it
was the very first taste of scuba diving.
The day began at the
Outrigger Waikiki hotel, where the introductory poolside lesson was free. A
dozen winter season visitors, ranging from teenagers to retirees, gathered
to listen and decide whether they really dared to take the plunge. Eric
Weber, a youthful but confident teacher with a company called Aqua Zone,
introduced us to the equipment and the principles of breathing compressed
air under water. I had taken an intensive four-day scuba course the year
before, and had qualified for the certificate required to rent tanks and
dive without an accompanying instructor. But I had not been scuba diving
since. So, even for me, it was good to be reminded of the basics and to
re-acquaint myself with the gear. After a brief written quiz, Eric took us
into the pool and drilled us in the use of mouthpieces and air regulators.
A few people gasped and sputtered, or found it hard to adjust to swimming
with masks and fins. Some decided not to continue.
The rest of us piled
into two vans and headed off for our open-water dives. From a small yacht
basin, a roomy dive boat took us out into the bay, where the skipper tied up
to a mooring buoy. Donning our wetsuits and tanks, we flopped into the
water and tested the breathing apparatus. When Eric gave the signal, we
followed the mooring line down, pulling ourselves hand-over-hand while
gulping to adjust our inner ears to the increasing pressure.
The water was only 25
to 35 feet deep. When we reached bottom, the shimmering surface—and our
boat—were reassuringly visible just above us. If we had problems breathing
or clearing the pressure from our ears, we could reach the surface quickly
and safely by exhaling slowly during the brief ascent.
Eric herded the group
together, checked that we all were breathing normally, and led us away among
patches of sandy bottom and protruding heads of coral. The fish species—fat
spotted puffers, bright parrotfish, long needlefish and exotically shaped
Moorish idols—were abundant and spectacular. Dappled light produced a
kaleidoscope of shifting shadows and subtle colors. Several people snapped
flash photos with disposable underwater cameras. Even at this depth, the
ocean swell sloshed and gurgled, generating intermittent surges and stirring
up little dervishes of sea floor sediment. Marveling at the sights and
sounds, I lost track of time. All too soon, Eric checked our air supply
gauges and led us back to the mooring line, where we ascended to the boat.
exhilarated by the dive. Bobbing in the warm sunshine, we high-fived each
other, exchanged impressions and relaxed for brief snacks and drinks of
juice or water. The skipper moved the boat to a different buoy nearby and
asked who wanted to go for a second dive. One or two gave it a pass, but
the rest of us were eager to strap on fresh tanks and go back down.
This time Eric led us
straight to dens favored by one of the most fascinating animals that
frequents the local waters. He peeked under some overhanging rocks and
waved us closer. There, tucked in the shade with its head nearly retracted
into its shell, was a green sea turtle about four feet long, an endangered
(but now protected) species that often weighs over 1000 pounds. When
resting, they can remain underwater for two hours.
Soon, another turtle
emerged from behind a cliff, swimming slowly in our direction. We let it
pass and followed along, fluttering with our fins only 10 or 15 feet away
from the huge beast. It eyed us occasionally, but seemed unperturbed as it
cruised gracefully through the tranquil undersea domain. A couple of other
turtles could be seen, but just barely, out at the very limit of
visibility. Heading back to the boat, we were again surrounded by vast
schools of tropical fishes, but tagging along with the turtle would remain
the high point of a very satisfying day.
Several of my
companions were now really hooked on scuba. One, a teenage boy from Texas,
told his dad in no uncertain terms that, on their next seaside holiday, he
wanted to take the full scuba certification course. This would allow him to
make much deeper dives. As for me, I realized that I had no such
ambitions. In my qualifying course we had gone down 100 feet, where the
light dims, colors nearly vanish, and it can be dangerous if anything goes
wrong. I was content to limit myself to the much safer and relaxing
experience of these shallow-water beginner dives. And happy just to spend a
glorious afternoon now and then sharing the ocean with the fishes, turtles
and other exotic creatures.
Aqua Zone charges $
89.00 for a boat outing with one dive, and $ 120.00 for two dives. In
Honolulu I stayed at the fine Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach hotel,
www.outrigger.com . The hotel offers combined accommodation and dive
packages with Aqua Zone. For rates and further information, see
I flew to Honolulu with
Harmony Airways, which offers excellent service between western Canada and
I flew to Honolulu with
Harmony Airways, which offers excellent service and fares to Hawaii from
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (TOM KOPPEL)
is Canadian freelance writer and author with more than 15 years of travel writing experience, including features in Travel Holiday,
Financial Post Magazine, Canadian Living, Historic Traveler, Beautiful B.C.,
Western Living, Country Inns, Reader's Digest, Georgia Straight, Porthole, Islands etc.
Tom is now working on his third book as well.
about this writer.)