The Great Leap (Learning to Dive on Pulau Tioman)

A few months ago, I wrote about Richard’s beginnings in scuba diving off the shores of beautiful Koh Tao, Thailand. Despite what I may have said or written at the time, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would not in a million years try it for myself. The thought of letting myself deflate towards the bottom of the dark ocean sent shivers down my spine that clutched me at the ribs and left me panting for air. But all that changed with my dive on Pulau Tioman.


Being of the mildly anxious variety, I struggle for air well above sea level from time to time, so having a pressurized whip cream canister and a sippy straw for my only supply did not sound like a cool idea. Couple that with the fact that I am an overall well-rounded wimp – count me out of any extreme sport or anything involving heights, suspended walkways, speed, fast-moving water or narrow spaces – and you can very well assume that scuba diving and I were never meant to be.


But for some reason, my fear of diving kept nagging at me long after we left Koh Tao and got me in a perpetual state of questioning. With the lifestyle I had chosen for myself (leaving everything behind: a roof over my head, my friends and family and a budding career to pursue backpacking full time at the ripe old age of 32, when everyone around me was getting settled into family life and prosperous careers), wasn’t the fear of the unknown what had been fuelling me for most of my adult life?

Yet, there I was, scared shitless and wondering if fear hadn’t become a hindrance rather than a motivator in my life. Was I getting into my own way? Or was that what getting old was supposed to feel like? Anais Nin once wrote that “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”, so seeing no other way out of this catch-22, I decided to grab the bull by the balls and signed up for the PADI open water certification course with B&J Diving in the little Kampung of ABC in Pulau Tioman, Malaysia, the following week. Either the bull loses its balls or I do, I thought. And I decided to try the dive on Pulau Tioman.


ABC was more than we could have hoped for. What we had read about Tioman and the fact that we would be arriving in the midst of Singapore National Day Holiday had left us thinking the place would be overdeveloped with resorts and overrun by Singaporean tourists, but it was thankfully neither. ABC is a quaint little one-street village by the sea with wooden bungalows sprinkled along the shore out of which I reckon we had picked the best one: a spacious chalet at a place called Bamboo Hill, high atop a cliff with amazing views over the sea at the far north of the town and a very lively jungle wildlife right next door. The room had the best bed we’ve seen in months, a kettle with an unlimited supply of tea and a hand towel in the bathroom.

A fricking hand towel! Like, we be high rollers, bitch.

Sure, getting to Tioman involves the rites of passage that are the godawful city of Mersing and the unpredictable and rather cramped ferry ride (it goes with the tide), but upon setting foot on the sandy shore of ABC, everything is quickly forgotten. Our now traditional island getaway fruit stash in tow, I was ready to take on diving the next day.


I cannot recommend B&J diving enough if you are in this neck of the woods and wish to either learn how to dive or improve upon your skills. Martin, the owner, was great at working out the logistics before our arrival over emails despite the very busy time of year and I was able to come and do my course on very short notice. Their accommodation was unfortunately fully booked, but this turned into somewhat of a blessing as we really enjoyed our stay at Bamboo Hill. B&J felt very homey, had safety as a top priority, small classes (we were 3) and a lovely crew of passionate divers to boot. They were mostly from the UK, which was cool – I love me a slice of Blighty, as you know.


For some reason, the prospect of the boat dives was what made me the most nervous, having previously witnessed my boyfriend disappear underwater like some kind of frozen Leo DiCaprio never to be seen again with tears in my eyes on an especially hormonal day. Fortunately, the first two open water dives with B&J were conducted from the shore and this very much contributed to ease my nerves and leave all my teary Titanic-filled nightmares behind.


And so the day came. Clutching my blue open water guidebook in one clammy hand and a freshly picked mango in the other, I walked into B&J feigning self-assurance to the best of my ability – fake it until you make it has succeeded me in my professional life, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t stand in the face of fear this time around. A brief first morning of theory in the B&J classroom and we were fast in the swimming pool trying out our equipment, so fast in fact that my nerves forgot to come along.

Perhaps it was the fact that my instructor James got me feeling very safe from the get-go, or was it all the Britishness around me? I think I was too busy drinking James’s every word to think of my own state of mind. Whatever it was, in the blink of an eye I was underwater with as much ease as one can have trying to be neutrally buoyant for the first time with an alarming quantity of outlandish equipment on my back, having the time of my life, and the least worry in the world.



The next morning, James announced that it was time to take it to the sea and that’s when it hit me, once I shushed that little voice inside me who briefly said ‘dafuq you doin man’ and followed the rope down to the bottom like a very brave girl on my dive on Pulau Tioman. That’s when I understood. How calm it was under the waves. How strange and magical and eerie and amazingly wonderful this underwater garden was. And unlike snorkelling where I just felt like a mere observer from above, I was now a visitor in my own right to this fabulous supernatural enchanted forest. To this unexpectedly soothing place I never knew existed.

My fear of open water diving was based mostly on ignorance and I am so so glad I took the leap and enjoy my first dive on Pulau Tioman. I’m not saying that I’ll be jumping out of a plane tomorrow morning, but I’m feeling all sorts of amazing right now and I want to high five myself a little bit. So. Yey!

Have you done something scary recently? I would love to hear!

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