My family and I boarded the boat at 12:30. It was a hot and bright Hawaiian day and the smell of sunscreen was stirred up with every breeze. My brothers and I walked down the dock to our snorkeling boat, and looking down through the wooden slats, we could already see hundreds of fish.
My siblings and I found a spot on the top deck to sit. My older brother and I sat down in the two chairs at the front and waited for the engines to start turning. Slowly, we began to move out of the bay, cutting through the crystal clear water. After departing, the boat picked up speed. To our right, the Pacific ocean stretched beyond the horizon. To our left, cliffs covered in greenery hung above the ocean. The sun gently warmed us and wind ripped our shirts around as we traveled to our first destination.
A man came up to our deck and started asking for our shoe sizes. After collecting the information, he returned with fins and goggles for all of us; we were almost ready. With the engines off, our captain gave us a short safety briefing and told us to jump in. My excitement was building and I grabbed my fins and snorkel.
“Gracie, are you going to jump off the back with us?” My dad had his snorkel around his neck and was standing with my little brother.
“Yeah!” My excitement had mixed with nerves.
I watched my dad jump in, and then my little brother. They called out to me to join them but I remained standing on the boat. Should I use the ladder to get in? I wondered to myself. My excitement had started to turn to doubt and I felt jittery. I stood staring at my brother and dad in the water. Do it, my heart told me. My mind continued to hold back. I paused and then leaped off the boat into the water with fins and snorkel in hand to silence my thoughts.
When I hit the water I sank deeper than anticipated. The water was moderate but still shocked my skin. I had not been ready for the transition. I quickly realized how unprepared I was with my fins still in hand and my snorkel in the other. Panic rose inside of me as the water got closer to my face. My eyes stung with saltwater. I knew I had to get on my fins so I could more easily tread water, but to do that I would have to let go of my snorkel, and the snorkel would definitely sink.
Oxygen came into my lungs in ragged, short breathes. I needed air.
“Dad–can you–take my–fins,” the words came out choppy and short but he grabbed my fins so I could tug on my mask. Once I had that on, I grabbed my fins and made a feeble attempt at calming down.
I forced my head underwater to try to calm myself down, but the snorkel made breathing more difficult. My heart pounded and my ears were filled with an eerie clicking noise. I flipped my head out of the water and gasped for air. I looked around and realized how far away our boat was. When I turned back around, my brother and father had continued without me.
The thought of being left behind terrified me and I shoved my head underwater and kicked hard to catch up to my family. I could only see blue until I saw my little brother’s flipper. I moved past him and the blue became huge rock formations covered in coral and teeming with fish.
My panic subsided and I felt the waves rock me gently back and forth. I learned later that the bizarre clicking noise was actually the noise of fish-eating the coral. The sun was warm and the fish moved about so gracefully. I felt big and clunky in their world. A blackfish with electric blue markings swam past me and back down to the reef and I followed it. I dove down closer to the rocks, fully submerged in the Pacific, finally calm.