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How I Overcame my Fear of Water by Learning to Scuba Dive

Pummeled by waves at the beach as a child, this diver now confidently dons scuba gear when she enters the ocean.
By Kasia Dietz | Updated On March 24, 2021
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How I Overcame my Fear of Water by Learning to Scuba Dive

Scuba Diver and Instructor Pool Training

A scuba diving instructor comforts an open water student in the pool. Pedersen

I waded into the seemingly inviting ocean with extreme caution, eyeing the approaching crest as it rose higher and higher above my eight-year old body. Rather than dive into the wave as I had been taught by my courageous brother, I hurled my small frame against its force. Conquered by a wave twice my size, I tumbled through the salty waters as the wave crashed, unaware of which way was up. With a mouthful of saltwater and a broken spirit, the ocean spit me out onto the shore as gracefully as it had enveloped me. I dragged myself up the shore like a bedraggled cat, vowing to learn how to swim, or at least to grow taller than the waves.

In time, I did grow tall but my fear of water continued. I rarely entered the ocean, the playground of my childhood, unless the tide was low and it took on the appearance of a mellow lake. Swimming pools offered a chance to practice the doggie paddle which did nothing for my self-esteem, as I watched friends confidently master the breaststroke. I signed up for swimming lessons and failed them, twice, unable to complete a back dive. Still afraid to hold my breath underwater, I gave up my aquatic pursuits, accepting that maybe swimming wasn’t for me.

Years later at the age of 32, I found myself on the alluring island of Ko Phi Phi, Thailand, in the midst of an around-the-world journey during which I was conquering my fears. As a woman traveling solo, I didn’t have many, but my trepidation of water remained strong. Resolved to overcome this fear, I decided to dive into the deep end, literally. Barely able to dunk my head in the water, I signed up for a PADI Scuba Diving Certification.

The second time we dove several meters to the bottom of the sea, clad in wetsuit and dive tanks, I panicked and came up for air. Did I think I couldn’t breathe underwater, even with all the proper equipment and an instructor by my side? A few dives later, I got the hang of it and my fear slowly subsided. I began to pay more attention to the kaleidoscopic, underwater world than to the one of anxiety rooted in my mind. The vivid and varied schools of fish, sea horses and algae I encountered upon each dive became a welcome sight.

Woman Overcomes Fear of Water

The author enjoys a swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

Courtesy Kasia Dietz

It wasn’t until exam time which included swimming several laps around the diving boat that my endurance was tested. Still not a strong swimmer but no longer afraid of being washed ashore, I gathered all the strength I could muster to complete the task. This proved as much a test for my confidence as for my diving certification. Following my fifth and final dive, the thrill of the underwater world had me hooked.

During this year-long journey, I rode a dune buggy in Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha, traveled 48-hours by train from Lhasa to Beijing, sky-dived above the majestic landscapes of New Zealand, and climbed the Great Wall of China. But learning to dive and overcoming my fear of water on that remote island in Thailand became my greatest accomplishment.