Scuba Diving with Manta Rays (and sharks!) in Thailand

“Have you ever wondered why scuba divers roll into the ocean backward?” asked my dive instructor Fran, taking her regulator out, as we sat on the edge of the boat, ready to start our dive. I look at her confused and respond saying  “No idea, why?”

“Think about it, I’ll tell you after the dive” she said grinning, and put her regulator back on, gracefully rolling off the boat. I held on to my regulator and mask with my right hand, and waited for the captain’s signal to roll off the boat as well. The feeling of doing a backward somersault into the ocean is disorienting to say the least, and it took me a couple of seconds to catch my bearings once I was in the ocean. I gave Francesca the ‘all okay’ signal and added more air to my Buoyancy Control Device,  waiting for my father and sister to join us in the ocean. 

We were in Thailand for a family holiday and Dad, my sister and I had just completed our ‘Rescue Divers Course’, we were celebrating by going on a fun dive to a site known for its sightings of manta rays. With the regulators in our mouths, we couldn’t speak, so once Dad and Meghna rolled in, we gave each other the ‘all okay’ signal followed by ‘let’s go down’, and deflated our BCD’s. As we moved further down underwater I looked up at the beautiful trail of bubbles going up to the surface from our breaths. It was a sunny day and the ocean waters were clear and calm. 

Being underwater is always a magical experience, it feels like you’re in a different world. All you can hear is the sound of your own breath through the regulator and an occasional boat as it whirs past. It’s a surreal and strangely meditative experience. 

‘Follow me’ signalled Fran. I took a salty breath and began to follow her, trying to move my legs as slowly as possible so that I wouldn’t disturb the fish as they went about their day. 

Halfway through our dive, Fran turned back looking excited, frantically signalling something with her hands. I moved a little closer and my heart skipped a beat. She was making the sign for a shark! I kept breathing steadily but I could feel my heart pounding louder and faster. As I looked at the direction she was pointing at, I could see a black tipped reef shark swimming towards us. Reef sharks are significantly smaller than their much maligned Great White counterparts, the average height of a reef shark is about 5 feet in length. This was just a harmless small shark that only eats much smaller fish – but after watching all the scary shark movies, the familiar shape of its fin and its menacing teeth still brought a shiver down my spine. The entire encounter lasted about 30 seconds, the shark gave us a fleeting uninterested glance and swam away. 

Almost immediately after I noticed that everything was getting a little dark, “there must be a boat above us” I thought to myself, while turning to look up. Instead, I saw a school of giant manta rays swimming above. Excitedly I looked towards my sister and dad making the sign for MANTAS!!! They had already spotted the school, I could see them both looking up, completely awestruck. The school of mantas gracefully danced above us and we watched their performance completely enthralled by the beauty of these gigantic creatures. I felt so tiny in comparison with the majestic mantas. Too soon they swum away and Fran gave us a thumbs up (the signal that unfortunately marks the end of our dive). We slowly ascended up towards the boat and clambered back on (this part is always quite a task with the fins on our feet.) 

We took off our gear and my stomach rumbled as I smelled the green curry the captain had heated us for lunch. We all had big smiles on our faces while discussing all the sights we saw while checking our stats for the dive and filling our Dive Log Books. I remembered the question that Fran had asked me at the beginning of the dive. “Fran, why do divers roll off the boat backwards?”

Fran responded with a hearty laugh saying “Well, if you rolled forward you would just roll into the boat”.

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