My sister got it spot on when she saw the photo of me decked out in a wet suit with a bright yellow tank strapped to my back.
“I bet you had the theme tune to Thunderball going around you head,” she insightfully remarked.
Ever since I watched Connery despatch villain after villain under the crystal Bahamian waters I’ve yearned to slip into a bit of tight rubber and enter a world that seemed alien, breathtakingly beautiful and dangerously exciting.
But despite numerous trips to Bond-esque locations, it’s been one of the things on my bucket list that has remained unchecked…until a couple of weeks ago.
We were at the Sands Beach Resort in Costa Teguise, Lanzarote when the charming staff there mentioned that they worked with an excellent diving school, the tropically named Calipso Diving, and that I should give it a go.
It’s not that I’m scared of the water; I prefer the sense of freedom and elation that comes with tackling challenging seas to the mundane security of pools any day. But a few years ago I watched two male friends chicken out as they took their first plunge into the shallow waters lapping Phi Phi Island (incidentally their wives didn’t) and it planted a seed. So I guess I’ve subconsciously avoided it since.
The funny thing is that when you do things for the first time you realise nobody has ever told you about the little things like the preparation.
First up was what to wear. Those wet suits look too tight for baggy swimming shorts; surely bulge hugging Speedos were de rigueur, but I didn’t possess any. Might sound daft but I took along a pair of tighter fitting underpants just in case I couldn’t tuck the boxer swimwear into the suit (I’m not sure going commando would have been appreciated).
Gareth, my confidently cool, diving instructor allayed my fears on that one with a reassuring ‘yeah, perfect’ when I posed the question about the swim shorts – bless him he didn’t even smirk at my naivety.
Then there was the serious preparation; a 20 minute training video followed by further classroom tuition from Gareth. My head was buzzing with information by the time we went to get ‘suited up’ but I felt well and truly prepped.
Suiting up also came as a surprise. Curtis, another of the Calipso team, had prepared my gear and those babies are tight. As Curtis helped zip me up I couldn’t help notice my stomach race ahead of the zip like a breaking wave. I vowed to exercise when we returned home and hoped the suit would act like a corset.
Then it was down to the beach at Playa del Jablillo for a shore entry and another discovery. The oxygen tank and a lead belt to keep me on the seabed added up to quite a weight and although I wanted to look like Bond as I made my way to the sea I suspected I looked more like Pingu.
Once in the sea the buzz reached red alert levels as we ran through a final couple of tests to check I’d absorbed the preparation and then it was off into the deep blue.
Being underwater doesn’t bother me, but breathing underwater was a whole new experience that took quite a bit of concentration initially. Breathing deeply using only my mouth didn’t feel natural and I wondered whether I’d be able to keep it up for forty minutes (no jokes please) as the instinct was to want to include my nose in the process. The other thing was that every time Gareth showed me something particularly interesting I wanted to acknowledge with a grunt or a smile and that was a ‘no no’ as it only interfered with the breathing process.
After about five minutes underwater I eased into it and the breathing started to feel rather good, especially the noise – it was pure Thunderball – and I began to absorb the incredible world I’d entered. Shoals of silver, bright yellow and deep purple fish swam alongside accepting me without question into their world; a small cuttlefish whose markings rippled along its back eyed me as curiously as I eyed it and a starfish clung to my fingers. I was well and truly in Finding Nemo land.
Then Gareth indicated a section of sand that looked no different from any other; he gently wafted his hand and the sand parted revealing a large fish. He made a fin sign on his head…shark. This one was an angel shark, not dangerous unless provoked but, as it flicked its tail and eyeballed me before deciding to head off in another direction, it was one of those über wow moments and boy did I feel like 007 then.
The forty minutes was up in no time and as we emerged from the beach, the Pingu waddle was well and truly replaced with a self satisfied swagger.
I can’t describe the sheer sense of wonder at being under the sea. I felt humbled and privileged at viewing a tiny section of a wondrous world I’ve watched in awe hundreds of times on TV and in the cinema.
To paraphrase the line at the end of a certain series of movies – I will return.