40 Feet Below

I have always been slightly terrified and intimidated by the ocean.


This is unbelievable.  Whoaaaaaa.  Breathe.  Equalize.  Hit the record button on the GoPro.  Oh whoa, right there!  Giant Pufferfish.  Holy shit.. amazing coral. get the shot.  wait, turn around… sea turtle!!! Holy shit!!  and on… and on it went.

This was my first scuba dive aside from a half assed attempt sometime back in my adolescents where I hyperventilated and wasn’t able to go.  Some fifteen years later I was now off the coast of Kauai 40 feet below the surface of the ocean drifting along with the unseen currents of the deep- transplanted into an entirely new world in which I had never known.  I imagine this is what it is like when one skydives for the first time; or when you are 5 years old and blow out the candles of your birthday cake with all of your mentors and friends.  Or maybe it is when you first cast a fly rod and hook up with a monster rainbow.  I imagine the ladder to be just as impactful as scuba diving, however, it is rare to be placed in an entirely new world, with your lifeline on your back.

35 minutes into the dive my guide of 4, asked us how we were doing.  Amidst the mind blowing scenery I was surrounded by, and my innate nature to capture moments with video and still imagery, It was at this moment that I first remembered I needed to check my oxygen/nitrogen mixture that enabled me to breathe underwater (something your guide is supposed to ask you about every 5 minutes.)  Slowly I grabbed to my left, where the gauge is drifting by my side, only to realize that it was flashing red.   I looked up at my guide and pointed to my situation.  At this point in time he was approximately 15 away.  He motioned me to swim towards him and as I was doing this my oxygen supply slowly began to run out.  I had never been taught the steps to rescue yourself or another, it was a discovery dive, I was certified for only 30 days under the leadership of a guide.

Its an odd feeling when you realize your life is on the line.  As I fully inhaled, exhaled, i could feel my lungs expanding and contracting yet with each breath there was less and less substance.  Less oxygen.  I was slowly suffocating in the deep.  In the matter of about 5 seconds my oxygen supply completely ran out.

I will attach many life experiences as to why I did not panic.  If I liked writing enough, I would tell you all about them.  But I don’t. Writing takes too long. (I know I’m slightly victim to the instant-gratification generation)

In this completely zen state of mind, out of air, 40 feet below the surface of the ocean, I somehow felt comfort.  I knew this was serious, but in such situations one cannot panic.  As this all was going on, I didn’t have time to even think to not to panic.  It was intuitive.  Years of studying the flow of nature and challenging myself in extreme situations all came to this one moment.  In a flurry, remember this all took place over about 15 seconds, the guide handed me his back up respirator.  I cleared the mask and we surfaced immediately from 40 feet below.  Now breathing on his tank, we headed to the boat just below the surface.  I felt weightless and had an overwhelming sensation of survival.  There was a massive amount of pressure in my sinus cavities and my nose was bleeding.  My eyes felt twice there size and my face swollen.

I had faced my worst fear and came out alive.  ALIVE.


Everyone shortly returned to the boat.  There was still a second dive slated for the day so I kept my experience with death to myself.  We passed it off as me failing to equalize and release pressure from my face mask as I descended into the depths; but I knew why.  Mike knew why.

We motored to the next spot and I decided not to dive given the horrible sinus pressure and trauma I had just endured.  I really wanted to go.  When you get bucked off a horse or bull, you get right back on.  This was something bred into me at a young age in my home state of Kansas.

So instead I decided to snorkel near the surface.  What was to follow was a gift from pachamama, or mother earth, and I will never forget this symbol of life and death.

An incredible sea turtle arose from the depths as I floated in the abyss and stalled within 5 feet of me.  Sea turtles rise from the ocean floor to signal fish to feed on the growth of their shells and and bodies.  As the turtle approached, approximately 30 fish gathered around the two of us.  In a cocoon of long nosed butterfly fish, blue parrot fish and lowfin chub, we floated in synchronicity for the next five or so minutes.

Keep calm, and Dive on.




About rtylergross

I am a professional photographer with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Photography from world renowned Brooks Institute. Please don't hesitate to contact me, leave comments, or inquire about any of my work! It is all for sale all the time and I look forward to helping you with the next project. Cheers

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