Ala Moana

A Beginner's Scuba Dive

Zoë Wong-Vanharen

The scenic Makapu’u Point Lookout over- looks the sea cliffs and the Makapu’u Beach Park below. The Hawaiian islands are well-known for its blue, crystalline waters and white sand beaches. Photo by Megan Chai

Inhale — a sound reminiscent of Star Wars’ Darth Vader breath fills the water. Exhale — bubbles burst out of the regulator, looking for the fastest way to the surface. I pump some air into my vest, and immediately feel myself rising away from the coral beneath my fins. Down to my left, I can see my brother gliding near the sea floor, his fins kicking up sand as he swims.

For Thanksgiving break, my family took a trip to O’ahu, one of the eight major islands in the archipelago of Hawai’i. Apart from visiting relatives, my parents gifted my brother and me with one of the most amazing experiences: scuba diving.

The sun was bright on the water in Kewalo Basin, and boats floated with the tide, tied to the docks. We were going to dive to a depth of approximately 10 meters, something many people our age might never dream of doing.  

My brother and I were excited to see what was in the water below us. Before I knew it, I found myself jumping off the back of the boat, plunging into the salty water with heavy equipment. The guide, who was bobbing in the waves already, directed me towards the rope which anchored our boat to the ocean floor. The rest of our crew was waiting, inches below the surface, getting used to breathing through their regulators and masks. Everybody fumbled with their vests, looking for the button which will release the air in them, decreasing buoyancy. Bubbles shot up, and we started sinking, following the rope down and swimming towards the coral reef beneath us.

Freshman Trevor Wong-VanHaren floats towards a green sea turtle resting un- der a rock ledge. Turtles can hold their breaths for 30 minutes at a time. Photo by Zoë Wong-VanHaren

Underwater, the sound of our breathing was amplified. A spotted moray eel’s head emerged, but after seeing us, snaked back into it’s rocky cavern. Our guide signaled for us to follow him, and we found an outcropping of rock with a sandy bank below it. Under the rock hid our dive’s most interesting creatures: sharks and turtles. Mingling together in their conjoined hiding place, whitetip reef sharks and green sea turtles rested peacefully upon the sand. The sharks were not aggressive and didn’t pay us much mind as we watched. The turtles, or “honu,” however, looked on with caution, one retreating further into the darkness. A second started moving out, tilting its head up towards the light, resurfacing for it’s next breath. Green sea turtles can go half an hour without breathing, a seemingly impossible feat for humans. Even with scuba gear, we didn’t stay underwater as long as they did, we couldn’t risk running out of air. All around us are “humuhumunukunukuapua’a,” Hawaii’s state fish. The reef triggerfish has a stripe of vibrant blue, and it pecks at the coral as it shoots past a school of black-and-yellow Moorish Idols.

In Hawaiian, there is a saying: “malama ka ‘aina,” or “protect the land.” As I am underwater, I observe the life that was around me, and think about how my life could affect those of the native flora and fauna. After being a part of nature and experiencing the beauty of the ocean, I now have a deeper appreciation for the protection of both the land and sea.