IT is early in the morning. As usual, getting out of my comfortable bed proves to be a difficult task but when I hear the peaceful sounds of the waves outside, I am reminded of why I am here.

Lazily, I leave my bed and step into the balcony of my beach hut. Ahead of me is the calm sea. There is a beautiful golden glow in the sky as the sun is just above the horizon. I inhaled the fresh air. How blissful. Mornings like these are hard to come by.

After a short stroll along the beach and a quick shower, I make my way to my usual hangout joint next door. My divemaster is already there, sorting out some equipment.

The skipper is seen preparing the dive boat. I secretly hope that my dive gear is already assembled as it is something I don’t particularly enjoy doing. More often than not, I have to do it myself. Tough luck. Once everything is nicely set up, I enjoy my first dose of caffeine while mingling around with those around me.

In case you haven't quite figured it out yet: I am on a tropical beach, prepping for my dive. The dive centre gets livelier as more and more people arrive - students, fun divers, divemasters and instructors.

After an informative pre-dive briefing, divers make their way to the boat. I plod along, trying my best not to trip as I carry a heavy scuba tank on my back. I'm tempted to whine about how these tanks are too large for petite divers like me but instead, I channel my thoughts to the underwater adventure that awaits.


A diver in a swirl of fish in Tioman Island. Pix by Nik Fahusnaza.

WHEN FUN BEGINS
A short bumpy boat ride later, we arrive at our dive site. This is where the fun truly begins: the moment I back-roll off the boat and into the deep blue sea. As soon as my head dips beneath the water, I'm in a whole new world.

I can’t quite describe the feeling, but I am sure those who have experienced this weightless realm know how therapeutic the experience can be. The deeper I go, the more I leave my everyday worries behind.

At nearly 30m below surface, all I care about is myself, my dive buddy and my current surrounding.

As I occasionally struggle with my buoyancy and foggy mask, I get in close proximity with interesting sea creatures. Some are playing hide-and-seek with me. I wonder if this dive can be on the same par as the one I did at South Point, Sipadan, which was by far the best I have logged.

Spotting a huge Napoleon wrasse, several sharks, hawksbill turtles and an amazing Barracuda vortex in a single dive is not an easy one to top but who knows? I might get lucky.

You see, that is the fun part about diving: you can't tell what you are going to come across and when you will see it. You can dive in the same spot every day and never see the same thing.

I can be swimming through a sunken wreck for the tenth time and still feel the thrill of exploring a new territory. The sense of adventure is what drives me on. Not knowing what surprises may come my way is absolutely exciting.


Exploring the beautiful corals at D'Lagoon, Perhentian Island.

UNDERWATER WONDERLAND
After spending about an hour below surface, we perform our safety stop and slowly climb out of the water. Once everyone is back on the boat, we return to our dive centre. Being in an underwater wonderland left me in a very good mood. As I sit back and enjoy the boat ride, with my salty hair tangled up and my sunkissed face beaming with a smile, I reflect back on the things I have just experienced.

Once we are back onshore, rinsing and packing away our gear, I enjoy a delicious brunch with fellow divers.

While some people aren’t even awake yet, we are already exchanging stories about this morning's activity. This may lead to a couple more dives in the afternoon followed by a lovely sunset view at the jetty and possibly a group dinner.

If the sky is clear, I will stargaze in silence before calling it a night. It doesn't matter where I am - on the white sandy Long Beach in Perhentian or next to a Bajau village in Mabul. This is how I would spend my time when I'm there. It is why I dive.


Nudibranch - one of my favourite thigs to look for underwater. Pix by Afdzal Syahadat Husin.

Shanaz Shamsuddin is a drilling engineer who finds work-life balance by exploring the outdoors. Reach her at shanaz.shamsuddin@gmail.com

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