I hate snorkelling.
Which is weird, right? Because doesn’t everyone love inhaling salty water until they vomit, then being rocked from side to side by the unforgiving ocean until they vomit again, all while several hundred fish swarm around their faces and then one swims all up close to their vagina?
I hate snorkelling for all of those things and more. I just can never seem to get it right: my gear always seems to suck because I’ve never not spent the entire time with seawater in my mask and mouth; I’m always seasick; fish make me nervous; I’m terrified of jellyfish; and I break out in an itchy rash whenever my face is submerged in saltwater for more than a few minutes.
I’ve tried so many times to fall in love with it.
I snorkelled in Phang Nga Bay and ended up surrounded by fish — for most people, the goal of snorkelling; for me, the scariest outcome. I snorkelled in a tiny secluded bay in Turkey, where I dived as far down as I could to catch a video of Dave, forgot I couldn’t breathe underwater, inhaled the biggest gulp of water possible, then threw up. I snorkelled in the Maldives and, in an attempt to prevent water from seeping into my mask, secured it too tightly and ended up with a migraine for the next three days.
This year, I decided to give it one more shot. I was in Aitutaki, the Cook Islands, where the snorkelling is supposed to be some of the best in the world. If I didn’t like it there, I wouldn’t like it anywhere.
Aitutaki’s lagoon is more than three times the size of its land, so if you opt to remain on land, you’ll be missing out on a huge portion of what makes the island so special. In other words, I had no excuse. Cruises are popular, and every day, a handful of boats ferry tourists out onto the water, all of them focusing on the underwater world. My lagoon cruise included three snorkelling spots on a full-day tour.
As the engine shuddered to life, I busied myself with focusing on the islands on the horizon to try to keep myself from throwing up. After dropping anchor, we sat and listened to our captain as he ran through a list of things to know.
We’d be snorkelling a shipwreck surrounded by giant trevallies. They were like underwater magpies — attracted by shiny things — so we had to remove our jewellery. All of it. Unless we wanted to be followed by dozens of them for the next hour. I definitely did not.
I snapped my mask over my head and positioned my mouthpiece next to my face. To my surprise, I didn’t feel as nervous as I’d expected. As in, I could stand up and I wasn’t crying.
I wobbled my way over to the side of the boat, watching as everyone either jumped or slid overboard. Following the father of a French family, I clambered up onto the wooden bench and balanced on the hot edge of the boat. Next, I swung my feet over the side so that they were dangling over the water, having made the executive decision to leave my flippers on the boat for now — I was clumsy enough as it was.
I watched the ocean swell beneath me as I contemplated the circling giant trevallies and how they looked just like piranhas in my overly-anxious mind. I took a few deep breaths, reminded myself that I wasn’t nervous, gulped, and then pushed off the side.
And then I stopped.
Something yanked at my crotch and I paused mid-fall. I was submerged up to my knees but the rest of me was somehow managing to dangle in the air.
“Oh nooooo!” the French dad cried out from directly in front of me, sending his daughter’s face spinning around in my direction. She let out a gasp.
What was happening?
I let out a perplexed “ack!” as I tried to figure out how I had suddenly learned how to levitate. The pain in my ass crack shook me out of my confusion and I flung my arms behind me to secure myself on the side of the boat with my elbows. A jarring pain shot through my right arm when I smashed it into the side. Only then did it become clear what had just happened.
As I’d pushed myself off into the water, my bikini bottoms had become snagged on something — some kind of hook, maybe, or a cleat for a fender — and there I was: dangling over the side of the boat, desperately thrashing my legs around in the water, and wondering how on earth I could ease the rapidly increasing burn in my vulva.
I kicked my legs back and forth as I contemplated whether it would be best to let go and hope my bikini ripped in half in a way that could be easily repaired, or force myself upwards and back on board.
At one point I tried kicking my legs like a frog, accidentally pausing with them spread wide open, bikini pulled to one side. And there was my vagina.
Hi, everyone! My name is Lauren and I’m the author of the book, How Not to Travel the World.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” the dad groaned as he watched my failed attempts to kick myself back on board. His entire family was in front of me and I was showing them everything I had.
“Goodness!” squeaked out the mum of the British family, who had just spotted my plight.
“Excuse me!” called the dad to the captain, waving his arms in a panic. “I think she might need a little help.”
I forced a grimace that I hoped looked like a calm-and-totally-in-control-of-this-sitatuation smile and I blurted out, “It’s okay! I’m fine! Honestly! I’m just a little stuck!”
Knowing that I had mere moments before the captain spotted me flailing like a moron filled me with a sudden burst of energy. With one final push, I managed to hoist myself up from elbows to my hands, then slide back onto the boat.
“Are you okay?” called out the French dad, who looked more mortified than I felt.
I let out a squeak in return and nodded, staring back at my entire tour group who had just seen my vagina.
And that was when I decided I would never snorkel again.