My spectacular snorkeling experience !

©2013 Nim Gholkar All Rights Reserved BEWARE ! Conditions apply (as follows) when reading this article:


EXPERT SWIMMERS: Between 6 to 12 times AVERAGE SWIMMERS: Between 3 to 6 times BASIC SWIMMERS: Maybe couple of times. ( I am being particularly generous) NON-SWIMMERS: Aha! No sniggering allowed. Just lots of sympathetic noises and saying ‘There, there, we share your pain’

All my life, I have wondered about the emotions experienced by bungy jumpers or sky divers when they complete their tremendously brave feats. I have seen photos of exhausted but exhilarated people shaping their fingers into a victorious ‘V’ and posing for photos seconds after completing a particularly terrifying jump. And I have always wanted to do something really brave and challenging and then posing for a similar photo.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a terrible coward, and there is no way on earth I would be cajoled into jumping off a cliff (even with a harness holding me relatively safe) for no particular reason. I actually cannot see ANY reason for flying off perfectly safe and solid ground, but my beloved bungy jumping friends tell me the thrill is beyond words. The fact remains…..I WAS DETERMINED TO HAVE A PHOTO OF Myself AND MY V FOR VICTORY SIGN. Since I was not going to bungy jump or sky dive or go water rafting or scuba diving, I was at a loss as to how to go about posing for this photo. I mean, I could have well posed with a victory sign when my first article was published in a local newspaper, but…that would not hold the same punch.

There was the tiniest gleam of the perfect opportunity during my recent visit to beautiful, sunny Cairns in Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s loveliest wonders. “Oh you must go scuba diving when you get there” all my wonderful, brave “expert swimmer” friends said. “If you don’t go scuba diving, you must absolutely go snorkeling” said my equally wonderful “average swimmer” and “basic swimmer” friends. I looked around for similar, terrified souls like me…and guess what? there were NONE. (Snigger number one by the expert swimmers!)

This is where I point out that I do not swim. I am petrified of the water, and even a king’s ransom will not bribe me to wade into the ocean. (Loud sniggers by all three categories of swimmers).Oh, I might dip a dainty toe into the water as the waves gently touch the shore, or I might get into the shallow end of a pool, where my feet are safely on the ground, but that is about how far my bravado travels.(Non swimmers, please please nod and agree)

When we arrived at Green Island (about an hour from main land), the boat crew advised us that we would now be travelling further (for a little under an hour) into the Outer Reef. We would then get onto a ‘pontoon’ and that is where the scuba divers and snorkeling champions could display their enviable talents. My kids and hubby were in a state of bubbling excitement. Finally…finally…they would be able to jump into the water and swim with the fish.

‘Mum, take lots of photos’ they yelled out at me, as they began wearing snorkeling gear. I watched as all the gorgeous, brave people around me began preparing either for scuba diving or snorkeling. There were loud shouts of delight as one after another, they plunged into the water. I stood at a distance holding the towels and a camera. There was only one thought swirling in my mind. This was the perfect opportunity for doing something wild and yet relatively safe and finally, for the first time in my life, posing for a photo with a V for Victory sign. But my feet were frozen to the ground and I could not move.

A young japanese life guard, who was standing and peering out into the ocean, suddenly noticed me standing nearby doing nothing more daring than balancing four fluffy towels.

His eyes widened in surprise. “Ma’am, why are you not in the water?” he said, in a tone of such undisguised astonishment, that I managed to barely forgive him only because he was so young and so obviously brave.

‘I don’t swim’ I said, trying to sound dignified and failing dismally. (Expert swimmers, please stop shaking your heads)

He looked at me as though I had just told him I had three heads.

‘But ma’am, you are at The Great Barrier Reef…..”

I was tempted to tell him with just the slightest hint of sarcasm that although my swimming prowess was questionable, I still was cognisant of my surroundings. I chose to smile instead and remain silent.

But he would not give up. ‘Listen to me, ma’am’ he pleaded. ” You have come to this wonderful destination. It would be criminal not to get into the water. You must see the reef and all the coral and the multi coloured fish. Please! Do it for me. I insist”

I looked at him for a few moments and then said “Ok”.

On went the life jacket, then the goggles and finally the snorkel. As I wore the gear, I felt very brave as though I finally belonged to the wonderful heroic population of this world. I had visions of myself gliding peacefully, gazing out at the beautifully patterned fish as they swam around me. Now, before all the non-swimmers start making grand preparations to banish me forever from their tribe, let me finish my story.

“I don’t swim” I said firmly to the life guard.

“See that platform out there in the water?” he asked, pointing to a platform that was half submerged in the ocean. “Just sit on it, hold onto the railing and first put your head into the water”. He showed me how to breathe under water and then gave me a gentle push to move forward.

Now just imagine this ! There I was with fancy snorkeling gear on, looking for all the world like a champion diver, and slowly edging my feet into the water, one centimetre at a time. I was holding onto the railing like a drowning man holds onto a raft. I hate to mention that I was still standing and not even shin deep into the water yet. Suddenly, my kids who were out there in the water somewhere noticed me in all my snorkeling finery creeping in slow motion into the waves. ‘Mum!’ my son yelled out in astonishment. ‘what are you doing?’

I tried speaking through the snorkel, but…cough…splutter….it was impossible. I made a gurgling sound and hoped that no one, other than my astounded kids and husband, was watching me. As I tried sitting onto the platform, all the while holding the rail, the waves lapped gently around me, and for a few terrified moments, I had visions of being swept out to Antarctica !!! ( Expert swimmers have just choked on their coffee!). I sat there for a few moments and clung to the railing as though it would any moment disengage from its position and leave me floating in the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly the young life guard was beside me.

“Ok ma’am, now just put your head into the water and breathe like I taught you” he said.

I prayed to all the powers in the world to save me, and then dipped my head into the wonderful azure blue waves of the Pacific. I obviously hadn’t listened very well to the breathing tutorial, for within seconds I was spluttering and was certain I was dying. (Expert and average swimmers reading this are now in a state of permanent shock). I must have had my face in water for about 30 seconds, but I managed to see ONE black and white striped fish and some beautiful coral. (Do not for a moment forget that I was still on the platform and not really into the ocean at all!!!).

As soon as I had seen those few sights, I stood up, removed my life jacket and began walking up the steps back to the pontoon. The deed, in my eyes, had been done. I had actually seen the reef, however briefly. The life guard stared at me dumbstruck. Within seconds, he found his voice and said “What are you doing, ma’am? Aren’t you going out into the water?”. I detached my snorkel and smiled at him. “That is about all I can manage. But thank you for everything”. He seemed puzzled and unable to comprehend what I was thanking him about.

I knew though, deep down in some remote corner of my frightened heart, what I was thanking him for. He had seen a terrified individual and coaxed her into at least giving it a shot. But what I was silently thanking him for above all else was that he did not once laugh. He could have. But he didn’t.

As I got out of the water, I waved to my husband who was still out there swimming. As he held up his camera to snap my photo, I held up my fingers in a V for Victory sign. After all those years, I finally did get a photo that I have always longed for. I may not be brave like the bungy jumpers and sky divers and scuba divers. But I had taken a tiny tiny step towards getting outside my comfort zone. To me it was a personal victory of sorts.

So, my friends, this is the story of a frightened woman who took baby steps to conquer a life long fear. It is the story of a lifeguard who did not laugh….a story of a victory that will remain unsung because it was hardly made of heroic stuff. But I will remember the day forever…it will provide many a laugh at a family dinner…it will be remembered as ‘the day Mum nearly saw the Reef’. In my own personal memories, though, I will remember it as the day I risked ridicule and learned to truly laugh at myself 🙂