Confession: I have a fear of scuba diving

Scuba Diving hasn’t always held a significant spot on my bucket list. That is until earlier this year. Out of nowhere, I became obsessed and diving shot to the top of my 2014 travel goals.

After a short stint in Hong Kong, I was headed to Thailand for a month. What better place to do my Open Water Certification than Koh Tao? This small island is home to approximately 50 dive schools and is second only to the Cairns, Australia for annual dive certifications.

Going in I had not a care in the world. No underwater anxiety here. I could swim, I loved the ocean, and I’d have a whole tank of oxygen – what could I be nervous about about?

Right before heading to Thailand I spoke to a good friend of on Skype who couldn’t believe I was planning to dive. “Denise, I don’t think you’ll like diving, you’re claustrophobic, “ she warned. What? I thought she was crazy! Yes, I’m claustrophobic, but only in hot, congested crowds of people. Going underwater would still provide plenty of open space. I thought it’d be a calming effect to leisurely swim quietly with colorful fish. Little did I know.

I arrived in Koh Tao and immediately went over to Roctopus Dive to sign up. I’d start early, and after I loved it, maybe I’d go ahead and get my Advanced Certification. I was already trying to be an overachiever.

Introduction to Diving

I chose to do my certification with Roctopus specifically because it’s a small dive school. I prefer an atmosphere where people know your name and I wanted more personal attention. Plus I liked their vibe.

It just so happed that I started my certification the weekend of Koh Phangan’s Full Moon Party. And with everyone heading to the island next door, I was the only person in my dive group. I wanted small, but a group of one? As a solo traveler, it was a small bummer.

After a half-day of watching videos, I rocked the training pool session. I could swim, I could flood my mask with water, and I thought maintaining neutral buoyancy came pretty natural to me. No problem, I was going to be a scuba diving super star. Ha, so I thought.

Day Two: Taking it to the Ocean

The first dive was a rocky start. Oh, I had an array of problems. I recently had a cold so my ears were in pain. We didn’t have the right weights so it was a bit of a struggle to get down. And my jaw was hurting from the mouthpiece due to my TMJ, (random…who knew?) I was having some underwater anxiety, but I thought my other issues just exaggerated it. My instructor Josh could not have been more patient, and as it turned out, not having a group was a stroke of luck.

I was frustrated, but I’d be in Koh Tao for a while. I still had time to turn this around. The best decision would be to take a break, regroup, and start again the following week.

Over the next few days, did I want to get back? Heck no!

At the same time, I didn’t want to quit. I just had to get past a hurdle. Everyone comes to Koh Tao to dive and everyone was getting certified around me right and left. So I went back.

Scuba Divers

Nope, this isn’t me. Look how calm and peaceful they are…show offs.
Copyright: irisphoto18 / 123RF Stock Photo

Dive Certification: Take Two

This time I had a group of three, plus a dive master who would be my buddy for the day. This was great, a buddy with experience, as opposed to a newbie. I was feeling pretty good, (cough, cough), until we went underwater. My ears were better. My jaw was better. I had proper weight. So what was wrong with me?

I felt completely trapped. The underwater world is large, but for me, it was the equivalent of feeling locked in the trunk of a car. Yes, I could breath, but it did not feel like fresh air. All I wanted to do was rush up to the top. In scuba diving making a made dash to the surface is not the best idea in the world. To keep your lungs in check, you have to come up gradually. Ugh!

I tried to push though it.

I kept thinking: Denise this is ridiculous, it’s all in your head. Just look around at the pretty coral and all the other people happily swimming along.  You’re fine. Yea, that pep talk didn’t work. I wasn’t afraid from a safety standpoint. I knew it was safe and I wasn’t going to die. I just had to bust out of there.

I signaled to my buddy and we slowly started to make an assent.  It was the most miserable five minutes of my life.

For the love of God, I just want to get to the top.

Can we go now?

Tick, tock….

How about now?

Finally to the surface, all is right with the world again.

But it doesn’t end there.

At this point, I still didn’t want to quit. All I could think was I needed to conquer my fear.  I just had to get in right mindset. Right?

So I did it again. And it was my shortest dive yet. I may actually hold the record for shortest dive time in the history of the world. This time I had the added fear of having to do that mind numbingly slow accent again. Me: If I just quit now I can easily rush back to the top without a problem. And that’s what I did.

It was now time to quit.

All and all I tried it four times. At some point you just have to call a spade a spade. Scuba Diving just isn’t for me. Being the type of person who hates starting something without finishing, this was tough to swallow.

I felt like the biggest scuba diving failure ever. I could not wrap my head around it. I’m not afraid of water, heights, flying, roller coasters, social situations, spiders, snakes, needles, etc. I just can’t dive.

Okay, I’m also afraid to drive a motorbike, but that’s for another time.

At least I gave it a fair shot. I didn’t quit immediately, and as frustrated as I was I kept a good attitude, (at least on the outside).

In the end I completed enough tasks to be awarded a Scuba Diver Card. This means I can continue to dive with a professional. But to tell you the truth, this just felt like a reject card. It was like being in grade school and getting a Participation Ribbon on Field Day.

I was torn on writing this blog.

I have no problems confessing my fears, but I didn’t want to scare anyone away. I know some people are afraid of scuba diving and I don’t want to add to their fear. If you have a desire to do it, give it a try! Hundreds of people get certified in Koh Tao everyday without any problems. I really do believe it’s perfectly safe and so many people love it.

On the flip side, not too many talk about their fear of scuba diving and unsuccessful attempts. If you’ve had an experience like mine, I’m right there with ya and it’s okay. Not everyone has to dive and there are plenty of other activities for us. I personally excel at lying on the beach while drinking cocktails. It’s so much cheaper and no equipment required!


I still highly recommend Roctopus Dive. They were awesome and my instructor Josh was the best. Through all my trials and tribulations he could not have been nicer or more accommodating. Price wise, all schools in Koh Tao are about the same, so make your pick based on other factors such as group size, PADI vs. SSI, online reviews, the quality of equipment and the staff.

4 Responses to Confession: I have a fear of scuba diving

  1. Lisa May 17, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

    I feel the same way. I can’t comprehend diving. I can’t master most of the skills. Even though I’m active, healthy and fit!!

  2. Scott November 29, 2016 at 3:30 am #

    Denise, I went on two dives with an instructor in Pensacola, FL, and found it quite unnerving. My ears felt like they were going to explode despite my not having a cold (and I had ensuing mild ear pain for a year when flying after that), and the sensation of being underwater was highly disconcerting and anxiety-provoking. A fear of heights, looking down at items below me. Yet of being trapped thirty feet below the surface and unable to rise quickly if an emergency arose. In short, I hated it and never did it again because it made me so anxious and just wasn’t enjoyable. You’re not alone.

  3. Adam August 9, 2016 at 7:49 pm #

    It’s fine. I tried it five times before I quit. I don’t enjoy it but I guess people don’t like to admit it. Especially men:-)

  4. Mindy September 22, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    I’m with you Denise, I love the water and such but am claustrophobic so the thought of going diving scares the absolute heck out of me…trapped. I love that you gave it a shot, a real true effort – kuddos to you!

    I’ll be lying on the beach, cocktail in hand with ya :)

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