Scuba Diving at Gaya Island, Kota Kinabalu

One of the amazing water sport, scuba diving, I intend to do for years and years but didn’t materialise. Finally, in my trip to Borneo I decided to try scuba diving as Gaya Island near Kota Kinabalu as I heard they have one of the good Corel reefs. In Kota Kinabalu, scuba diving is done on Gaya Island, which is around 20-30 minute away in a boat. Open water and advance open water certified diver can look at exploring sites like Sipadan or Lankayan in Sabah
Speed Boat ride to Gaya Island, Sabah
Being the first time diver, we opted for a Discover Scuba Diving course, as we were  not sure if we will be able to do scuba. There are various tour operators in Kota Kinabalu who provides Scuba diving certified course and also fun dives for open water diver. We booked our trip with Downbelow Marine & Wildlife Adventure.
Welcome to Gaya Island, Sabah
Our trip started early morning when Downbelow vehicle picked us up from our hotel and took to the Tanjung Aru dock. There were already people at waiting area for boat journey to Gaya Island. We were around 10-15 people in one boat. Once we reached Gaya Island, they separated the people who were opting for fun diving and those who will go for Discover Scuba diving. I was surprised to see all of them came for fun dives except 4 of us who were in for Discover course. They allotted one instructor for group of 4. Before the real course start, you will have to sign declaring fit for scuba which involved answering lots of questions about health and medications. It is better to get medical check up from your family doctor before opting for scuba and also cross check on any medicine you taking during that time. Once we signed all the forms and declared ourselves fit for scuba, they gave us gears to try and find the perfect size. After finding our Wetsuit, fin and eye mask with snorkel, it’s time to attend the class on the basics.
Our instructor, Chris, started our course with the basics of scuba. As you can’t talk under water, sign language is most important to learn and understand. Apart from sign language, few other important notes is taught with regards to pressure, understanding equalise techniques and skills to survive in various situations. Post theoretical knowledge, it was time for some practice in the shallow water. We strapped our tank and weight around us and started walking in the water. Generally, the first practice is in the swimming pool, in Gaya Island, the water around the beach is pretty shallow so we did our initial practice there. The tanks were so heavy, but as I went deep in the water it became light. The jacket you will wear which has the tank and mask attached to is called Buoyancy compensator or Buoyancy control device which can be filled with air so it allows you to float in water. 
Chris (From Downbelow) teaching us basics on Scuba Diving,
part of Discover Scuba Diving Program
Picture Courtesy: Downbelow Marine & Wildlife
You start first with breathing. Breathing in scuba is through the mouth using the mouthpiece. It takes a while to get used to it as in normal day we don’t breathe with our mouth. Once we got used to breathing and stay inside the water, Chris started with basic scuba technique and skills. Before we practiced in theory and above water, now it was time to do underwater. We practiced below skills:
  1. Equalisation technique
  2. Regulator clearing 
  3. Regulator Recovery 
  4. Mask Clearing 
  5. Buddy Signaling 
All these situations can happen during scuba and for practice, we do a mock of all. Once cleared all the techniques, it is time to go deep. It is not that simple to finish these techniques as our body tends to react to the situations which are near to danger and we end up coming up in the water. The key to achieving this is by calming yourself and focusing on your breathing.
Everything in water happens slowly, whether it is going down, coming up or doing a technique. Similarly going deep in water is done in parts. You go 1m down and equalise. Further deep and equalise. This is done to save your ears from pain and bleeding. People with sensitive ears will start feeling pain in their ears as they go down. In such situation, it is better to come up rather than going further down.
Scuba though, sounds easy is all about technique. It is also about being careful. A small mistake or over looking something small can leave to life time injury.
As we went deep after succeeding in all technique, water became colder, calmer and more fishes came into our sight. Also clarity in water increased as we went down. Swimming our way to the depth was indeed a memorable experience. Controlling your body underwater is quite difficult as water takes you here and there, but as you go deep, your swimming technique helps you in navigation. Also release of full oxygen from our lungs while breathing makes it better to go deeper. I had to take Chris’s help in navigation as I tried going down but my body was not listening to me. Once we reached at around 5m deep, he made me practice all techniques once again in deep water. Even if I try to take shortcuts, he made me do it again.
Underwater World which you can explore in Scuba Diving
Picture Courtesy: Downbelow Marine & Wildlife 
After this, you have an option to go for an open water certificate where they take you till 8-10m deep. By the time lunch time comes, you will be done with Discover scuba. As we came out of water tired, but happy hot lunch was served. After lunch, the second dive was there for people who wish to go deeper into the sea and get an open water certificate. Since we were not sure earlier, we have done till Discover and spent the second half doing other activity around the beach. Those who went for fun dive had an amazing experience, they saw clown fish, and many other fish at the depth of only 8-10 meter which was amazing, as something you have to go deep in the water to see such beautiful creature. 

Clean and quite water were perfect way to explore the world under water. Each meter down led to more excitement. Each fish bought smile on my face (though difficult to do when you are breathing through your mouth). This experience definitely made me go ahead and get further certification so that I see the beautiful Corel reef around the world. 

Successfully completed our Discover Scuba Diving Program

Mansi Oza

A travel enthusiast juggling a full-time gig in tourism with my love for exploration! Instead of tallying countries, I'm all about cherishing the experiences each journey brings. Whether it's blending business with leisure or diving headfirst into new adventures, I'm here to share the thrill of discovery with you! Let's embark on unforgettable escapades together!

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