My twelve year old daughter is wearing her “I’d Rather be a Mermaid” shirt over her bathing suit and excitedly eating her breakfast. I, on the other hand, sip my coffee, acting chill but flooded with emotions. It’s been ten years since my last dive, will I remember how? It’s been years since my last dive…I’m so unbelievably excited to get below the surface and find my inner mermaid!!! It’s been years since my last dive….and now I get to take my daughter on her first dive so she can find her inner mermaid!! It’s been years since my last dive…why has is it been years since my last dive?!?
I guess it doesn’t help that I live 700 miles from the coast, a cold coast at that. Oh ya, it might also have to do with that little, big thing called having kids. Which brings a whole other flood of emotions. When Leilani was little, she was the kid screaming bloody murder all through swim lessons. For the first five years of her life, she bawled every single time we gave her a bath. As she has gotten older, she has grown to love swimming, showers daily, and loves the ocean, but at times she can become almost paralyzed by fear. So this was either going to be incredibly amazing, or incredibly terrible.
We started off a bit hurried and flustered. We were leisurely having our breakfast when someone from our resort knocked on the door to let us the know the dive shop was looking for us. We were supposed to show up at 8:00am. My paperwork said 9:00am. So we grabbed our stuff and ran down the beach to the dive shop, Belize Underwater. Fortunately, it was close. We quickly fill out all the paperwork for our Discover Scuba dive, and watched a video about safety, and the basics we need to know before getting in the ocean. Then we were fitted with all the dive gear we would need. Our guide, Ray, loaded all of our stuff into a wheelbarrow and took it out to the dock to load onto the boat. “Why is he putting our gear in the boat? I thought we started in the pool,” Leilani asks hesitantly. I can feel her nervousness. I can feel my nervousness too, but won’t ever let Leilani see it. We had talked a lot when we were back home about scuba diving, and what she could expect. She is like me in that she needs to be able to visualize what is going to happen ahead of time and how she will fit into that picture. Being thrown into the middle of the ocean on her first dive had not been part of that picture. I just smile and reassure her that it’s going to be amazing. We talk about what we hope to see on our dive, and I can feel her nervousness dissipate, and her excitement return. The boat ride out to Southwater Caye is super choppy, but she loves it because it feels like a roller coaster, and I am very thankful we both took Dramamine ahead of time. The boat ride is around 30 minutes, and the scenery is beautiful the entire way. I can’t get over the color of the ocean!! When we arrive at Southwater Caye, we pull up very close to the shore, in about 3 feet of water. The water is incredibly clear and calm, and the sand, a soft white. I am hugely relieved that this is where Leilani will learn to dive. This beats a pool any day!! Fortunately, Leilani agrees. Ray starts throwing our gear into the ocean, and we jump in after it. He is super patient and reassuring and easily builds up the excitement for scuba diving in Leilani. We slowly run through the basics….breathing, replacing your regulator if it gets knocked out of your mouth, clearing your regulator, clearing your mask, buddy breathing, as well as all the hand signals so that we can communicate under water. Ray makes sure Leilani is super comfortable with each skill before moving on to the next. My mama heart is full of pride watching her go through the skills. She is a rock star, and I know this is going to be an amazing day!
Ray thinks she’s ready for a test shore dive. He reassured her that if, at any time, she gets nervous, we will immediately turn right around and head back to shore. A promise that he never has to keep, because she is in love with scuba diving from the minute she dips her head under the water and takes her first breath. Swimming over a large bed of sea grass (where are those manatees I keep hearing about?), we swim out to the reef. She struggles a bit with her buoyancy at first, but who doesn’t on their first few dives? We get to the reef, and what is one of the first things we see? A very large barracuda. My heart skips a beat, or two. One, because I am in awe of that giant barracuda just hanging out over there, and two, because how will Leilani react to that giant barracuda hanging out over there?!? She is in awe as well, and I begin to relax. Her first dive she sees tons of fish, a barracuda, an eagle ray, a baby ray, a giant lobster, and feather dusters. When you get close to touching them, they quickly suck back into their tubes. They’re very cool! Here are some pictures from that first dive.
Once we get back to the surface, Leilani is so excited and can’t wait for her next dive. But first, lunch. The boat picks us up and takes us to a different spot on Southwater Caye. It’s so beautiful, Leilani asks me if it’s man-made because everything looks so perfect. I’m glad we packed some of our own food because the lunch they brought looks delicious, but has pasta in it. They do have rice and their famous Marie Sharp’s hot sauce that we have all grown addicted to, as well as juice. Leilani is almost too excited to eat, but I do get her to sit down a few minutes to get something in her and then we explore this little island.
Before long, it’s time to head back out past the reef for our second dive. This entry is going to be a little more challenging. The waves have gotten bigger and we have to back roll off the boat. I can tell Leilani is stressed. I go first, then she goes. I can tell she’s worried she might not make it over to the buoy to start our dive. I reach out to her and she swims to me and we head down. When the waves are choppy, it’s best to get below as quickly as possible. I can see Leilani visibly trying to relax herself after those stressful few minutes. But it doesn’t take long as she is back in mermaid mode. We’re going deeper on this dive to 40 feet, which is the maximum depth for her age. She is really funny to watch because she is having so much fun. She is swimming like a dolphin, and like our guide said, she looks like she was having a party down there. At one point in our dive, she looks at me and makes a heart with her hands. My mama heart kind of explodes. I am so proud of her!!! This turns out to be an amazing dive!! Probably one of the best I have ever done. We see lionfish, nurse sharks, and a fever (yes, I had to look this up), or group, of eagle rays swim by us all in perfect formation. I swear there should have been music playing during this most perfect moment. The abundance of coral of all kinds is amazing. There is a lot of soft coral here and it looks as if the reef is slowly swaying to it’s own music. You can tell Belize takes pride in its reef system, the second largest in the world. It looks very healthy and there is an abundance of life down there. Leilani got truly spoiled on her first dives and she has been begging to get certified ever since. I am super excited to have a new dive buddy and look forward to future dives with my little mermaid.