While out on the water with the Reef Checkers, I went on my first dive. It was a 29-minute Discover SCUBA Diving experience off Pelican Island to the depth of 35 feet. Marcus Lyng from Dive Tortola took me out. First we tried to use the mooring rope as our initial dive launch. Wearing Marc’s wetsuit, I learned that neoprene is extremely buoyant, and he had to keep adding pounds to my weight belt to stop me from bobbing up to the surface. Once enough weight was added, I did NOT like the feeling of being weighed down underwater—breathing apparatus or not, so I climbed the rope back to the surface, a little freaked out. I’ve been swimming as long as I can remember—my grandmother lived on the water, my friends and I all had pools growing up and summers vacations were spent at the beach—the heavy feeling underwater was counterintuitive to thirty years’ previous swimming experience.

Once back above the surface, I tried to explain to Marc that I wasn’t going to dive, that I couldn’t tolerate not floating, but he wouldn’t accept my refusal. Instead, he took the extra weights off me, and we swam to the shore of Pelican where I could stand up. Without waiting to hear my excuses, he guided me into the water, and we walked along the bottom. Instead of feeling weighted down, I felt like I was on land, only a little lighter. Or maybe on the moon. I popped my ears a couple times, but I was too distracted by the corals and fish names that Marc scrawled on the underwater chalkboard to notice how deep we were, and I intentionally didn’t look up. Next thing I knew, we were kneeling on the sand, and Marc was teaching me how to blow water out of my mask, how to clear my regulator and how to recover my regulator. I had just gotten accustomed to the idea of breathing with the regulator in my mouth, so the idea of removing it was not an appealing one. Marc smiled patiently as he waited and repeated the tasks that he needed me to complete. I finally did it, and he silently applauded.

Marc took me around the reefs, pointing out different fish, coral and the Reef Checkers in action. I noted that Marc rarely used his arms; in fact, he hugged them to himself while swimming—maybe in an effort to encourage me to do the same, but I was quite content pulling myself along against the resistance of the water. Turns out, I’m an arm swimmer.

When Marc indicated we should head back up, I pushed the button of my BCD and gently rose toward the shimmering light above. I felt like The Red Balloon. I probably should’ve looked up, though, because I almost rammed into diving instructor Bettina Dittmar who was waiting at the ladder, not far from the boat propeller. So maybe I was more like The Red Balloon caught in a ceiling fan.

Hopefully by Reef Check next year, I’ll be more experienced and maybe even useful. I guess I had some false notion that gravity was the cause of my natural klutziness, but it turns out I’m just as awkward underwater as I am above it.