My first dive!

Diving School CocoLooking back at my year living in Costa Rica, there were lots of ups and downs (including when  Mario ransacked my little house, and fighting expat loneliness), but my only bona fide regret is that I didn’t go to diving school to get SCUBA-certified. So during my recent vacation, my friend Bobbi Jo easily talked me into doing the one-day DSD course at Diving Safaris. I tried not to think about it, and I’m glad I didn’t. If I had stopped to imagine being alone trying to do something so outside of my comfort zone, I know I would have chickened out. In the end, one of my friends agreed to go with me, and the excitement mounted. Yet even that didn’t prevent me from eventually chickening out

But then I redeemed myself!

Diving Safaris diving school

When we arrived at Diving Safaris, Melissa, my SCUBA newbie partner in crime, and I couldn’t stop giggling and cracking jokes. No surprises there — those are two nervous girls for you! I was so excited, it was ridiculous, but also so uncomfortable. Doing anything new is scary, but I am also not even the slightest bit sporty. I wasn’t prepared for how awkward I would feel.

Diving Costa Rica Melissa Christensen

So proud! Melissa’s first time being fitted with gear…


Melissa was much faster than I was getting into her gear. Me? Yuck — I couldn’t believe I was expected to get into this weird rubbery bodysuit and then do anything remotely athletic with this heavy gear on my back. As I would find out later, on that note, I was right to be nervous…

Diving Costa Rica

Do I look as awkward as I feel?

At Diving Safaris, we met Paul, who is SCUBA-certified but wanted to do the DSD class as a refresher. We knew right away that he was in another league, even though he tried to be humble and convince that he really did need the class. Just his lack of nerves alone put him miles ahead of us.

Diving School Hermosa

Paul was just “a little” bit more relaxed than Melissa and I were.


During the DSD class, you go over all of the basics and practice breathing under water in the pool. I actually quite liked the breathing part — but everything else drove me nuts. I am too much of a perfectionist and kept coming up out of the water with a million questions, even as our saintly instructor, Mark, kept trying to tell me stay down. We went in circles around the tiny pool, and the humongous gear made Melissa and I feel like manatees. With four adults in the pool, and all of that gear, I started to feel really claustrophobic. That’s when we were told we’d already spent more hours in the pool than most beginners. (We were not surprised.) So we gathered our things and headed out to open water.

So excited!


Our captain? Dani, who I’ve known for years. I had no idea how calming he would end up being!

Diving Safaris Costa Rica



Melissa and I were cursing these unwieldy outfits, blaming them for our discomfort and for our feeling like beached whales. And then… Lisa stepped out looking like a supermodel. That difference right there almost made this city girl quit everything and move back to the beach!

North Pacific Tours

“If you live in Costa Rica and own a boat, you might look as tanned and sporty as me.”

And then it was the moment of truth. I looked at them like they had to be kidding. You fall in backwards?


Paul of course went right in and disappeared like a fish with the other pros.

Diving Costa Rica Diving Safaris

Melissa and I? Graceful we were not…

Costa Rica diving DSD

“I have to do what?”

Costa Rica diving

Holding on for dear life, I bided some time…

A miracle did happen, and we both finally ended up in the water. And that’s where the trouble started. We had been so excited to get out of the small pool, but we had been picturing the ocean as having a flat surface so we could practice like we did in our chlorinated oasis. Oh, no. The waves were lapping against the boat, and the gear felt so different, and we were even MORE claustrophobic with the three of us holding onto a rope with the waves slamming us into each other.

There was no way I was going to make it down without a one-on-one teacher, and without more space. But when I realized how difficult it is to swim with all that darn gear on…

I panicked.

They got the gear off, and within seconds I was swimming around, calm as a cucumber. But I don’t take defeat so easily. I climbed onboard in a huff. Then Dani turned everything around — The next site was “mas tranquilo.” Smoother waters?

Sweet! I started to plot.

Melissa got out of the water and told me that it was better one-on-one, but she hadn’t been able to neutralize her ears. Together, we figured out what to do at the second site. Mark, obviously, had no patience for our scheming. (No matter what happens, always, always, always do what your instructor says.) But who can resist us?! We convinced him to throw a line out with a buoy and just let us bob around, holding onto the rope. He was worried that one of us was going to go rogue and swim down without him. Us scaredy cats? No way. He’d be lucky if I swam out ten feet towards the buoy.

Or so I thought.

Once out there, Mark taught me how to drag the rope down so I was all the way under the water. Thinking that was as far as I would go (I did it! I really did it!!), I calmly bobbed up and down with the buoy in the waves, holding onto the rope beneath the surface. Then Mark started doing these wide slow-motion flicks with his hands. Huh? He hadn’t taught us that hand signal. Ohhhhh…. Let go.

And I did!

School of fish





Mooray ©DivingSafaris


I was not taking photos (these are Bobbi Jo’s) — I was too busy hanging onto Mark for dear life. But we saw some really cool fish, and the experience was almost otherworldly. We followed a sea turtle around, and I saw a barracuda. The only thing that freaked me out the teensiest bit was when we’d get up close with something, before I was graceful at “backing up”. I was always worried I was going to bump into something! At one point, I felt my neck get stung by something — but nothing was going to stop me from staying under there as long as they’d let me.

I did it!!

I’m not angry; I was just concentrating really hard.

There exists a photo of me flailing about, grabbing onto Mark, but I am relieved to say that I honestly can’t find it.

**Ed Note: Supermodel Lisa found that exact flailing-about photo. I was not lying when I said I was holding on for DEAR LIFE.

Underwater Diving School DSD

I always thought I was somewhat graceful until I saw this… My death grip.


Bobbi Jo, next time I’m doing the full certification. It’s only taken three years, but I am finally ready!


I was a guest of Diving Safaris, but all opinions are my own.

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. Oh wowe, I’m thrilled to hear you finally got your head under the water in Coco bay! Monkey Head is a great site, we had great fun training to be PADI Divemasters during our 3 month stay in Playa del Coco. Looks like you had blast too. I recently wrote a piece about panicking underwater during my training, I’ll send the link to you in a mail, you might find some comfort in reading what I went through.

  2. Ahhh!! People keep telling me I need to learn how to dive. But, I’m like you. Perhaps if we did it together, I’d feel braver!!

  3. I would do it with you!! We were NOT naturals, but I still got under. So if I can do it, you can! And if we did it together, we could take as looong as we both needed!

  4. I love reading articles like this, because I was exactly the same, but now I love it. I’m trying to get my dive instructor in Mexico this year! I can teach you if you want! Be brave!!

  5. LoL! the scuba pic of you is amazing. I get the exact same “angry focus” face when I’m learning something new….or at a Heavy Metal show 😛 Congrats on conquering a fear!

  6. I am so happy we were able to get you out diving. The hard part is over and from here on in will be much easier now you have a taste of the excitement. You never know what you’ll see out in the Pacific Ocean, above or below the water, it is magical! It it a city below the surface of the water, with schools of fish doing their own thing, swimming around in a hurry. I also like to think of it as underwater TV but there are no repeat shows.

  7. Omggggg I can so relate. Its so terrifying and mind blowing all at the same time! Congrats Chica!!!

  8. I can relate to this too…I had a free diving lesson included in my Whitsundays sailing trip in Australia…I couldn’t move around with all the gear on either! And I am so tiny…I know they say that you’re supposed to be weightless in water, but it sure didn’t feel that way and I was stumbling all over the place. I couldn’t get the breathing right and I felt claustrophobic being literally weighted to the bottom, so I gave up. Never tried it since, but I feel like I should!

  9. Oh my gosh I can’t imagine little you with all of that gear!!!

  10. This post makes me like you even more than I already did. I LOVE that you’re an adventure sports wuss too!!!! At least you got over your fears and did it. And you looked adorable in the process 🙂

  11. I am such a wuss!! But I love showing people that that doesn’t have to stop you!

  12. I am sooooo proud of you for doing this!!!!!!!!! What an awesome post! The first time I learned to dive was on a live a board in the Great Barrier Reef by myself. I was SO nervous, but I ended up falling hopelessly in love with the sport.

  13. PS You look GORGEOUS in your wet suit! PPS I actually usually don’t dive with a suit at all because I hate it so much.

  14. I managed to get stung by a jellyfish WITH my suit on — I am going to stick with it for now! Wait — it’s a sport? If I get the hang of this, I have a SPORT?!

  15. I get stung with and without them so I’d rather feel free without it! I hate getting stung ugh!!! And yes totally is a sport!

  16. That is so exciting!!! I’m so glad you went ahead and tried it anyway.

    I went scuba diving for the first time in Tenerife and totally freaked out on the boat, since it was my first time out at sea and not close to the beach at all. I calmed down and eventually made it underwater, but unfortunately wasn’t able to equalize and kind of hurt my ears, and therefore ended up not scuba diving at all 🙁 Snorkeling was pretty cool though. I’ll have to try again in Costa Rica!

    PS You look gorgeous without make up on.
    PPS Your knuckles are really white when you hold on, haha!

  17. Oh no! I was so happy I’ve been popping my ears like that for years on airplanes — Melissa wasn’t able to do it either. 🙁 How cool that that was at least your first time way out in the ocean! That is my favorite place to be. 🙂

  18. Ha! Love it! I had a similar experience in Jamaica– but I lasted about 2 minutes before I was so overcome with claustrophobia that I surfaced. I think I’ll stick to snorkeling 😉

  19. Oh no! For some strange reason, that’s not the part that scared me at all. But Mark said he had someone do that right before us. I can totally see why! It’s a scary concept!

  20. Congratulations! I know I would be totally freaked out too. I am still getting used to the ocean, and even snorkeling can be troublesome for me at times.

  21. @Cacinda 150???! Wow! I don’t even know what to say!

    @Rease I had no idea you weren’t a water baby!

  22. I grew up in STL! The first time I saw the ocean I was 5, but seaweed touched my leg so I flipped out and wouldn’t go back in. I didn’t see the ocean again until I was 22!

  23. LOL true!! Yes, my fam went to the beach every year, so I guess I was spoiled!

  24. You are awesome! I am kind of freaked out by the thought of diving, so I will not judge your death grip, but I am feeling more and more like I will have to give it a try eventually.

  25. Bobbie Jo says:

    Abby…You are a ROCK star!!!! Each time will be more fun and you will see more stuff because you will enter the chill zone….NICE!!!!

  26. @Emily You’ll get there! Mine was also a gradual surrender…

    @Bobbi Jo — YOU CHANGED MY LIFE!! Thank you sooo much!!

  27. Love the way you look into the camera while diving! You won’t believe it but I’ve never dived before… still on the bucket list! 🙂

  28. Going backwards into the water is definitely frightening, I just don’t think humans instinctively want to go backward. So glad you took the plunge 😉

  29. Are you hooked yet? Are ya, are ya?? Huh?? 🙂

  30. Yes! Yes! I totally am!!

  31. I lived in Costa Rica for 7 years. Never dove either:) FInally did it in Honduras, on Roatan.

  32. That’s so funny!! Ohhh, I hear Roatan is nice. So jealous you got to stay in CR for seven years!

  33. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I was going to get certified a couple years ago then I realized how few vacations I took where I would have a chance to use the certification and thought twice about it.

    Looks like you had a great experience!

  34. Great new name and design, Abby. Congrats, with that and the diving 🙂

  35. Thank you, guys!! 🙂 🙂 Both a new blog name and the dive seemed very risky lol

  36. Congrats Abby for feeling the fear and still taking the plunge. Love the look of your new site! 🙂

  37. Thank you!!! It’s a small sign of big changes ahead!

  38. You are my hero. Scott and I are going to get our dive certification soon! Btw.. when I first saw this site I thought it was something you were guest posting on. Now I totally get it!! No more Vegas. haha

  39. You guys will love it! Now I really want to get certified…

  40. I am shocked you never did this when you lived in Costa Rica. But good for you for going back and doing it.

  41. I know… I kept putting it off for financial reasons — and I didn’t want to go alone. And then I suddenly moved back!

  42. Yeah! So proud of you! I was scared my first time, but now I’m hooked. Anytime you’re up for a shark dive, let me know 🙂

  43. I really want to get certified and go for real! It took me like four years to even DO the first half-day, so we’ll see lol

  44. I believe it is very important to have a good diving instructor on your first dive. I had a cool Canadian man, it was in Koh Tao in Thailand back in 2008, he was so chilled and relaxed that there was no possibility to feel stressed. Maybe I myself felt more natural, but I loved it from the very first second. I think diving os for everyone, but only if you really enjoy yourself, like everything else in life I guess 🙂 ha ha ha

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