With the SNUS sign in front of the small sundeck, I feel certain that I have found the right place among the many diving centers in Amed Beach, Bali.
“Hi! I’m Miabell from ScandAsia. I’m here to see Kira,” I say to the friendly staff sitting on the deck, as I walk up the small wooden stairs.
Danish owned diving center in Bali
Kira Strand Hald is the Danish owner of Amed Jepun Divers, along with her Canadian partner, Serge Desrosiers. The two opened the place in 2015 after meeting at the Gili Islands back in 2013. Their story was covered by ScandAsia in 2019.
“Kira and your diving instructor will be here shortly,” says Yoga with a genuine smile. Yoga is one of the staff members who is currently doing his teacher training to become a diving instructor. He shows me to a seat, and serves me something cold to drink while I wait.
Shortly after, Made, my instructor for the day, arrives and introduces himself. Like Yoga, he greets me with a welcoming smile, that instantly makes me comfortable in his friendly hands.
“I have to warn you,” I say. “I have never dived before. I’ve never even tried snorkeling. I’m not even sure when was the last time I had my head underwater. Honestly, I don’t really go into the water. So, you’ll have your hands full with me,” I confess – expecting him to give up right away and call the whole thing off. Instead, he just smiles and reassures me, that everything will be fine.
Extensive health check
Made then hands me an extensive form to fill out.
“It’s important that you read it carefully and are able to say ‘no’ in all the boxes concerning your health status,” Made points out, while I stare disoriented at the page filled with possible health concerns.
First one: History of ear infections.
“Excuse me. Does this mean that I can’t go diving if I had an ear infection when I was two years old?” I ask with a wide-eyed stare, illustrating my concern.
“Do you still have any symptoms today?” Made ask with sincerity and without mocking me. “No,” I reply slightly embarrassed. Made sends me a warm smile, assuring me that it will not be a problem.
More like a gathering of friends
As I go through the papers, one of Kira’s Danish friends from back home, Andreas, arrives, as he will be joining us on the diving excursion.
“I thought her friend Caroline was the one joining us,” I say to him as he introduces himself with a smile.
“Caroline is my girlfriend. When we are here, we fight about who gets to go diving. We have two small kids, so one of us has to stay back with them. Today I won,” he says with an even wider grin.
Not long after, the entire team is here on the small but welcoming deck – Kira, Serge, Andreas, Made, Yoga, and me.
Made puts on an introduction video, created for beginners such as me. While I try to absorb all the information and ignore the serious warnings about the many dangers of diving, I get distracted by the warm atmosphere and lively small talk around me. Half-listening to the video, I manage to strike up a conversation with Kira, who enthusiastically and instructively shares her extensive knowledge and passion for diving. She manages to ease some of my biggest concerns, like getting water in my eyes or what happens if the pressure in my ears gets too high. Making me feel more calm and comfortable as we start to get ready for the underwater journey.
Getting into the suit
Made takes me to the equipment room and finds me a wetsuit.
“Try this on,” he says.
Made unzips the back of the suit and hands it to me. I take off my shorts and begin the challenge of squeezing into the heavy thing. After I manage to fit both legs through, I encounter difficulties when the wetsuit reaches my hips.
“I think it’s too small,” I tell Made, with frustration engraving my face as I struggle to pull up the suit.
“Just pull harder,” Made advises. “It will be too big on the top if we go up a size,” he politely adds, avoiding further comments on the matter.
After a couple of minutes, a few tears, and a lot of sweat due to a combination of my struggle and the tropical heat, the wetsuit is finally on and Made zips me up in the back.
During my fight to fit into the suit, the rest of the group has already suited up and gathered all the equipment – ready to go.
As Kira had already explained, we would simply walk out from the beachfront instead of sailing out on a boat to where the water is too deep. One of the staff members drives us there, and a few minutes later, we are on the beach, getting ready to enter the water.
Made once again goes through the most important hand signals with me before instructing me on how the vest and oxygen tank works. He then helps me put on the vest with the 18-kilogram heavy tank, which almost knocks me over. Fortunately, Made is there to catch me as I’m about to fall. In the meantime, several divers appear from their dives and greet Kira, as soon as they see her. Illustrating how diving in Amed is not just a sport, but a community.
“You won’t feel the weight of the tank when you’re in the water,” Made reassures me, while I’m busy observing the friendly vibes around me.
“But I have to get to the water first,” I reply, short of breath. I bend forward like an old, hunchbacked woman, and slowly start walking toward the waterfront where Kira and Andreas are waiting for us.
“Will you take a picture of us?” Kira asks the staff member who drove us to the beach, handing him her phone. The four of us line up. With Made and Kira standing on each side of me, they both help me stand up straight long enough for a photo, before we all walk out into the water.
Entering the Unknown
Slowly, we walk out into the deep blue sea. While I can still touch the ground, we stop and begin the exercises. The first step is to get my head underwater. With Made holding my hand, I stare into his friendly face and follow him down until my face starts to touch the water. Panic slowly rises as it touches my lips, my nose. I try to submerge it all, but it feels like I can’t breathe, and I quickly resurface, gasping for air.
“It feels like I’m drowning,” I gasp. Panic is painted across my face. For a moment, I contemplate whether or not I can quit now. Then I remember Serge, Kira’s partner, telling me how everyone hates diving in the first five minutes.
“No one likes the first five minutes of their first dive, but after five minutes, people love it. It’s quite addictive once you get past those initial moments,” his voice echoes in my mind, followed by my own cocky voice saying, “I promise to give it at least 10 minutes.” There was no way I could back out now.
With Made still holding my hand, we slowly start by getting my face underwater without making me feel like I am drowning. After a couple of tries, we then proceed to snorkel around close to the shore.
Slowly, I find myself getting further and further down. Gradually, Made gently guides me under the surface in a way that makes it feel natural. I spend the first 30 seconds underwater. Then a minute. Soon, two minutes. I begin to get used to breathing underwater, accustomed to the bubbles, and improving my technique to control the pressure in my ear channels. But after a while, the pressure becomes too intense, and I resurface.
“Hello,” says Made as he too reappears. “Look at you,” he continues, wearing a big, genuine smile. “You’re like a different person,” he says, making me feel as proud of my minor accomplishment.
Shortly after, we descend again, and the intervals between my need to resurface slowly but steadily expand. Made keeps communicating with me, using hand signals underwater to ensure I’m always okay. And I am.
This is a whole new world opening up. It is as if time stands still. Everything moves in slow motion. The sunlight filters through the water, creating stars around us. Little blue fish sparkle like luminescent light bulbs amidst the mustard yellow, velvet-looking plants on the seabed. A stream of even smaller silver fish suddenly passes us, before we swim straight toward some larger yellow fish. Their huge eyes seemingly looking directly at me. In fear of swimming into the fish, I once again ascend to the surface.
“Hello,” says Made. “Who are you?” he then asks, sending me a smile that makes me smile even wider and I find a strange comfort in knowing exactly how he will greet me as we resurface.
Time flew by
The movement underwater might seem like slow motion, but time flies by. During our last round, I spend ten minutes underwater without interruptions, descending to a depth of 3 meters, when Made and I swim into Kira and Andreas.
As we all resurface, it turns out we have been diving for an hour. The first five minutes felt like an eternity, but the last fifty-five felt like fifteen.
Slightly reluctant, I follow the others back to shore, where I quickly start to feel the weight on my shoulders again. A weight that had been lifted during my time in the water.
Once again, Made is there to catch me, and he offers to carry my tank along with his own. An offer I have to refuse, even though he keeps insisting. Instead, he supports me all the way to the car. Just as he supported me underwater.
“You did so well,” Kira says as we reach the others. “I’m so proud of you,” she adds with a warn and friendly smile. I can feel myself smiling, not just from the compliment, but due to the whole experience.
When we return to the Amed Jepun Divers shop, Serge is there to greet us.
“How was it?” he asks right away. I have to admit that he was right about the first five minutes, as well as he was right about it being amazing, once you pass that hurdle.
“Be careful,” he warns. “It’s quite addictive,” he adds with a smile, and I already know that he is probably right about this as well.