“You breathe too much” – Scuba Diving off Nosy Komba

Whale Shark

I’m a fairly inexperienced scuba diver, with fewer than 20 dives under my belt as of this writing. My most recent trip was in October 2018, near Nosy Komba.

I did five dives over three days, plus a few frustrating minutes of snorkeling. More on that below.

Highlights Video:

Scuba Diving Nosy Komba - October 2018

The reefy footage in the video was filmed in the marine reserve which surrounds Nosy Tanikely island.

Pursuit of the Whale Shark

The timing of trip was all about seeing a whale shark—the world’s largest fish. I went at peak season, when they are migrating past the northern tip of Madagascar. I had been here before, two years earlier to get my scuba training wheels, but back then it was too late in the season to see whale sharks.

Image Credit: Matt Martyniuk (CC BY-SA 3.0)

If you watched the video above, you already know that I did see a whale shark.

It wasn’t the kind of spiritual moment that I was hoping for — how other people I know have described their encounters with whale sharks. And it was nothing like the jealousy-inducing videos you can find online, where people are practically frolicking with these gummy beasts.

Noob Insecurities

As a noob scuba diver, I find myself on outings with people who have much more experience than I have—dozens of dives; hundreds of dives. They get their wetsuits on faster than I do. They spit in their facemask more expertly. And they move through the water seemingly with less effort.

The divemaster is kind of a combination tour guide, lifeguard, and critic. His/her minimum job is to keep you alive. I understand. Dead tourists are bad for business.

I always feel like I’m screwing up, or slowing everyone down. I especially get this feeling when the divemaster tells me as much.

And when I’m not slowing people down, I’m burning through my air tank too fast because of my inefficient flipping, which means that everyone has to surface when I surface, even if they still have plenty of air.

On the second day, my divemaster told me, “You breathe too much.”

Which induced an earworm with this bitter lyric for the rest of the day:

And there’s still life in your body
But most of it’s leaving
Can’t you give us all a break
Can’t you stop breathing

Elvis Costello, “Suit of Lights”

Economy of Movement

You aren’t supposed to scuba dive with whale sharks — it’s snorkeling only if you intend to swim with them. (If you are scuba diving for some other reason and one comes up and taps you on the shoulder, that’s okay.)

When we found a whale shark out in the open ocean, we were prepped to enter the water gently and swim towards it. Try not to spook it.

When I plopped gracelessly out of the boat, the shark was already in retreat. I was paddling as hard as I could. Here sharky. Here sharky. I’m your new friend. But the shark was getting away gracefully along with its entourage of remoras and pilot fish.

I got tired and slowed down. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of my fellow tourists starting to overtake me; a plus-sized woman from Ireland.

Oh hell no!

I wasn’t going to give up the chase as long as she was still charging in the direction of the fish. Surely I’m in better shape than she is.

Whale Shark near Nosy Komba - Oct 2018

Afterwards, nursing my ego, I thought about all of the time I spend on my bike — not racing, not touring, not performing stunts, not even formally exercising — but just getting around.

Sure, my legs are stronger than those of some sedentary person. But I probably am also much more efficient than I realize, only because of thousands of hours in the saddle. I told myself that the economy of movement when I’m in flippers and a wetsuit will come with experience.

So I need to plan my next diving trip.

The dive shop in Nosy Komba is: Nosy Komba Plongée

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