Sebastian from little Mermaid was right. It IS better under the sea! 2021 started off with checking off at item off my bucket list – diving! My first scuba discover diving experience was just off the small, sun-shiny, beach town of Unawatuna.
We woke up bright and early (some of us slightly grumpy), and reached Una by 9am after a 1.5 hour drive from Colombo.
Diver’s Land, Unawatuna
Diver’s Land is located just past the main Unawatuna stretch and is right next to a blue fish market structure. It’s hard to miss, but if you do, use this Google Maps link to navigate.
Our instructor, Lahiru was more than helpful and patient. We had a few minutes to stretch and build up the butterflies as they got the equipment ready. 4 kits – 1 instructor to accompany each of us during our Discover Dive.
What’s a Discover Dive?
Discover Diving is perfect for beginners who want to get a feel of what its like to be a beautiful fish – or in my case, a seal (especially in my dive suit!). Diving beginners are escorted with a licensed PADI diving instructor during the entire dive. Note – this is ideal if you don’t have your PADI Certification.
Lessons in Life Diving
Lahiru provided us with liability forms to fill, and once we ha-ha’ed and signed the forms, we wore our seal-like dive suits and got ready for our lessons.
The first lesson was on land. Perched on the bench like eager, nervous beavers, Lahiru started to demonstrate how to use the equipment, how to breathe and various other scary stuff – like how to pop your ears, how to retrieve your oxygen pipe and mouth piece if it happens to fall out while you’re 11m under! Ha ha- I totally got this; at least that what’s I repeated in my head during the entire diving trip.
Once that was over, we took our equipment and headed to the boat; butterflies in tow.
Diver’s Land speedboat took us to the main Unawatuna Bay, for our second lesson in shallow waters. This is where I felt my butterflies turn into anxiety moths. After 15-20 minutes of trying to get used to breathing under water and practicing all the safety protocols, we were back on the boat!
I had Lahiru all to myself during the entire dive trip, while the other instructor handled my partner.
Do you know why divers fall backwards from the boat? Cause if they fell forwards, they’d still be in the boat! *cue laughter*
We sped off to mid-sea, near a bunch of rocks in the middle of the sea. As the boat anchored, and we were strapped with oxygen tanks, weights and flippers. It was time.
Our instructors fell backwards first off the boat, followed by my partner. I was the last man standing on the boat with the boat-driver. He got me to sit on the edge, counted to 3, I held my breath, and pushed me backwards into the water.
For a second there, my brain somersaulted along with my guts and everything inside me. Lahiru eventually swam towards me as I tried to waddle and stay upright with my tank strapped to my back like a suicide vest (bad comparison, I know).
It was time.
Using the diver’s symbol, Lahiru checked whether I was ‘OKAY’ . I mimicked him and ducked my head below surface to get a bearing, but could only see up to my flippers.
And guess what?! panic. The butterflies that turned to anxiety moths, flourished and emerged into full-grown anxiety demons. My heart swelled and my ears blocked off blood supply to my head and all I could hear was the sound of my eventual death through drowning 11m under the water, a little bit off the coast of sun-shiny, golden Unawatuna Bay; where people would probably be drinking beer and eating hot butter cuttlefish in a few hours.
Lahiru was incredibly patient with me and told me to take my time. My wonderful partner had skidaddled off already with his instructor – talk about support! PFT. Lahiru was my new partner- I would die for with him.
It really puts your mental well-being into perspective, especially when you have to talk yourself into calming down and getting a grip. A few short seconds later, with my heart still clinging to my throat like a kid on his dad’s leg, I signaled Lahiru ‘OKAY’, he nodded. Mouth pieces were back on. And we swam. First along the anchor line and then horizontally along the seabed.
I focused largely on breathing and not dying, while Lahiru guided me through the waters – all while holding my hand like a parent holding a kid through a crowded shopping mall.
We greeted some fish, and eventually found ourselves next to a daunting shipwreck, that towered before me. Wow oh wow.! We swam over it, close to it and around it – it was stunning.
We swam further, spotted a sting ray and more fish. My mask was now 80% fogged, except for 2 small spots which allowed me to peek from. Now one of the things you learning during your dive lesson, is how to get rid of water if it leaks into your masks.
Look towards the surface.
Hit hard at the top of your mask
And the water will get sucked right out.
Although there was no water in my mask, but it was foggy (because I kept exhaling through my nose). And I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell Lahiru that my mask was foggy – simply for fear of what he’ll ask me to do 11 meters under the sea. I wanted to live – remember?
Tip – Don’t use your nose at all. Just forget about your nose. If you happen to breathe out, it’ll fog up your mask and hinder your visibility.
After 30 minutes, but what felt like 7 minutes of heaven & hell, we were back at the anchor and taking more pictures before heading back to the surface.
What Lies Beneath the Surface of Una
Unfortunately, due to various affects of global warming and neglect, the reef was a skeleton of what it used to be. Corals, or what was left of it, were bleached white, and fish were scarce.I definitely want to get my diver’s license, so I can plant some coral reefs and help rebuild what our species has destroyed!
5 Quick Diving Tips
Every 2 seconds, your ears will get blocked. And there’s two ways to pop them, swallow spit the usual way; like how you would when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. OR hold the bridge of your nose/mask and blow out. I couldn’t master the latter technique, so I just swallowed spit constantly. It works.
Remember to breathe like a normal human. I took long breaths but let them out quite fast.
Listen to the hand signal instructions carefully. The ‘Thumbs Up’ signal actually means ‘go up’, so if they ask if you’re okay, mimick the same signal.
Look around and keep your eyes open. I was too busy trying to remember to breathe through my mouth, that I didn’t sight-see as much as I should have.
There really is nothing to worry about. Lahiru from Diver’s Land never left my side, except to take pictures of us.
Overview of the Discover Dive
Lessons on land & in water – 30 minutes
Dive time – 30 minutes
Dive depth – 11m
All equipment is provided
Rate – LKR 5,000
Best time to go diving in Unawatuna – Jan through to March.
Diver’s Land provides a GoPro for the entire excursion. Lahiru took plenty of pictures of me hyperventilating, struggling to breathe and ofcourse some cooler ones next to the wreck, and with my partner – who I decided to forgive for abandoning me.
We finished our dive by 11:30 am and checked into Agnus Villa on Rumassala Hill. The view from the rooms was the sole reason I booked the property; and it did not disappoint. We had the view of jungle beach and the Peace Pagoda on our left and the historic Galle Fort on the right, separated by the beautiful, glistening waters of the Indian Ocean.
We spent the rest of our holiday swimming in Jungle Beach, drinking beer at Wijaya Beach, swimming in Dalawella Beach and even found a secret spot to submerge in.
The next day, we stopped at Angel Beach for a bite and cocktails. Drove around the Galle Fort ,where we had our traditional momos and gelato and headed back to Colombo.