Scuba diving in Croatia: How I failed at my first underwater experience
If you’ve been around for a while, you might already know that I’ve been in love with the seaside since forever!
Water sports and activities are my favourite past time and while I’m not proficient at any of them, I love to practice each time I have the chance. You might recall that time a few years ago when I took a kite surf session in Tarifa. Or when I had my first surfing lessons in Lisbon (gaaah, I look at these sunny images and cry inside right now missing my salty hair!).
Over the years, the thought of learning scuba diving slowly made its way on my bucket list as well. You know, that type of “one day I’m gonna’ do it” recurring thought, always bugging me in the back of my mind.
Until I found out there was a scuba diving club in my own hometown (which is about 800km away from the nearest sea!). This meant I had no more excuses… I took the plunge and signed myself up for a diving course sometime in March 2019.
Learning to dive in a pool
It was a cold spring month and every weekend morning was dedicated to scuba diving lessons. After a short intro, we soon dived (see what I did there?) into theory, starting with the equipment and all the way to the rules and dangers of scuba diving.
The practical lessons were taught at a pool, where we got familiar with the equipment. Putting it on, jumping in the water, hand signals, descending, breathing, trying to stay on the bottom of the pool and so on.
When the exam day arrived I felt that I nailed it. I scored well both at theory and practice. We had to jump in the pool without equipment and put on everything underwater. Truth is, I was super nervous before jumping, but once I hit the water my mind instantly cleared up and focused on what I had to accomplish. Nothing beats the feeling of being at ease underwater!
All in all, that day I left super confident and eager for the final exam: diving in a lake or the seaside. A club trip to Croatia was coming up in July, so… I picked the seaside.
Scuba diving at Rab Island
After a long day of driving, we finally arrived on the continental coastline of Croatia and boarded the ferry to the island of Rab, our destination. It was so soothing to breathe the salty air again and watch the waves dance around the boat.
I was tired, but excited for the next day!
First day of diving we all gathered at a set location for briefing and pairing each to our buddy and then went off to the diving centre for our equipment. Here is where the chaos began.
We were a lot of people (about 40) and everyone wanted to get a hold of their equipment, but we had to try them first and see whether they fit. Picture 30 to 40 people crowded in a small shop, dressing and undressing wetsuits, boots and masks, shouting for a bigger/ smaller size, water dripping everywhere, the slabs becoming slippery and me barefoot trying not to break a leg.
I don’t know how we all managed to get equipment, take two tanks each and head to one of the three boats we were assigned to, but we did.
Our first destination was a diving site called Mag Prolaz. The boat journey was pleasant and relaxing. I was so happy to be at sea! Sun was up, water was blue, wind was on point, problems were behind. Perfect day for a dive!
Mag Prolaz and my failed first dive
We arrived at the diving site: briefing, buddy check, everything was ok… let’s get in the water! Jump done, all good, now let’s start the descent.
And it all went wrong for me.
I couldn’t properly descent. It wasn’t the smooth process I had expected, but rather an active struggle to descend more than 1 meter. I kept trying and trying and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. Panic also started to creep in.
One of the dive masters concluded that I needed more weights on me, so we added more. This did make the descent somehow easier, however I hit a second problem.
Due to the first failed attempts, I lost my confidence and found it hard to focus. The rest of the group was already down at the bottom, waiting for me and my buddy (who had no such issues), and I was feeling like wasting my buddy’s experience, who was supposed to stay with me until I manage to safely descent (which could mean indefinitely) instead of going on an adventure with the rest of the group. The guy was super cool about it, but still, I couldn’t brush off the feeling of guilt.
Probably because of the pressure I put on myself to hurry up, I couldn’t focus well on equalising the pressure in my ears. This lead to ear pain each time I descended more than 2 or 3 meters. The more I tried, the more it hurt. I remembered from the course all the injuries that could arise from improper equalisation, so I decided to give up.
I remained with a smaller group (people that had similar issues to mine) nearby the boat and tried to practice the basics at lower depths. Once the pressure to hurry up was off of me I could descend a bit more, around 4 meters, but I still felt a moderate sting in my ears.
For the second dive of the day, I decided to remain on the boat altogether. I was having ear discomfort and didn’t want to push it anymore.
That evening I returned defeated to our accommodation, but it didn’t stop me to watch a ton of YouTube videos with diving tips and tricks. Who knows, I might have missed something…
10 meters under at Misnjak
Second day, we’re off to another diving spot – somewhere around Misnjak. This time I treated my ears with an oily solution recommended by fellows who had the same problem. I was still scared after the previous day experience, but I pushed myself despite the fear. Having a lot of people encouraging me also helped tremendously!
However, I didn’t feel confident enough to hurry up and head with my group, so I decided to stay nearby the boats to practice the basics more.
And I could finally descent without ear pain! I did have a slight discomfort at times in my left ear, but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a bit of ascent and an equalisation technique.
This gave me a tiny confidence boost that, after all, maybe I can do this!
Diving into a cave: Medova Buza
Last dive of the trip was in a small underwater cave (Medova Buza). This was a light dive, but the problem was that I am a bit claustrophobic. Being confined in a tiny space, all the sand lifted up by the previous divers, I couldn’t see where I was going and was having repeat thoughts that I was stuck and I’d never get out alive. On a logical level was unrealistic, because it was an easy dive, I was with a group, I had enough air to last at least half an hour and I had a light with me, but sometimes it’s hard to silence your emotions with logic.
Regardless, it was a mental battle to keep my brain calm and focus on the diving aspects. I could barely enjoy the stalactites and the bat poo scattered everywhere.
The only part I really loved about this dive was the entrance to this cave: you had to pass through an underwater arch, into the cave’s first room, which had a round hole in the ceiling. Light rays were leaking in through that hole and glimmering on the blue water surface… Wish I had a camera with me!
Lastly, diving advice from a newbie
The only advice I can give you after my first diving sessions is to not hurry into it, especially if you’re with a group and there’s added pressure to keep up. Listen to your body, try to relax and do it in your own tempo. There are many risks of injuries that can be super easily avoided if you simply do things right – so do them right. If you don’t know how, ask your buddy or the dive masters! 🙂
Depending on your personality, might also be better if you know your buddy in advance, for that extra sense of security.
And practice, practice, practice! I can’t wait to practice again!