Exploring a Less Fearsome Coral World in St. Thomas

Coral World, St. Thomas, USVI

I can’t breathe. I can’t get my breath. There’s too much air; it’s choking me. I can’t get back to the surface. What do I do? The weights are too heavy. I’m going to drown… I’m sorry, Athena. Mommy can’t come home to you. I’m not going to make it this time. I’ve failed.

I have fears. Great ones; debilitating. People always assume that I’m not afraid because I jumped out of a few planes or I’ve tried some extreme adventures, but put me under the water with a regulator in my mouth and I have a panic attack. It’s disappointing, disheartening. I try to look at fear like a challenge. I’m capable of over-coming it but scuba diving has beaten me.

Every year, I create a bucket list of activities that I’d like to experience. I put a lot of thought into which items should make the list and if it’s humanly possible to accomplish every item in one year. Readers, friends, and family often think that I’m completely unrealistic about my goals, but I believe the more unrealistic I am with my dreams and goals the more I’m able to achieve.  Last year’s list included 50 items and I completed all but two of them – an African safari and using a regulator (scuba diving or SNUBA) under water. Two weeks ago, I visited Namibia for an African safari and made my number one bucket list item a reality. That only left using a regulator under water.

Yesterday, I visited Coral World in St. Thomas for a SNUBA experience. SNUBA is a form of diving that is a mix between snorkeling and scuba diving. A diving regulator is used but instead of air coming from tanks strapped to the diver’s back, it comes through a long hose from tanks on pontoon rafts on the surface.

Todd, my instructor, was calming, encouraging, and supportive. Even the way he looked at me gave me confidence. I was going to do it! I could do it.

Coral World SNUBA, St. Thomas

We practiced on a platform first. There were three of us but I was the only one nervous. The other two guests were a newly married couple who were comfortable using a regulator and had an introductory scuba course and dive experience under their belts. I had an epic failure under mine. The last time I tried SNUBA in Aruba in 2013, I couldn’t get over the fear and I let it take hold. I gave up and left defeated. Exactly one year later, I found myself trying again here in St. Thomas.

The practice run encouraged me further. I was keeping my head in the water and I could breathe with the regulator in my mouth. Then, we headed out further and I had to actually dive down. It all went south from there.

The over-whelming sense of panic. The loss of rational thought processes. The fear… gripping me, taking hold. Did I do it? Did I swim away, defeated… again?

NO! Not this time! I kept trying and so did Todd. He encouraged me to take the belt off for a while until I felt more comfortable. He talked me to in a calming, reassuring tone. He believed in me. He even tied a line to the ocean floor so I could pull myself down that way. He set me up for success.

Coral World SNUBA, St. Thomas

After only a few minutes without the belt on, I decided to try going under once again. Todd distracted me at the bottom by letting me feed the fish with some food he had in a bottle. It gave me something else to focus on and my body naturally responded rather than me over-thinking it.

Coral World SNUBA, St. Thomas

He must have seen the panic creep up on me after feeding the fish and he reached for my hand. We held hands and explored the ocean floor together, pointing out coral and other interesting sights. I found a place outside of my comfort zone and something changed. It just happened. I could breathe. I noticed that the exhale was much longer than the inhale but it wasn’t a problem anymore. It was happening naturally. The bubbles floated by my face and I could hear my “Darth Vadar” breaths but it wasn’t scary; it was beautiful.

Coral World SNUBA, St. Thomas

I wasn’t on top of the water looking down on another world. I was immersed in it. And I realized that that’s the beauty of travel. This is the experience that I crave, that is addictive, and that makes long flights, delays, and jetlag all worthwhile.

You may say it doesn’t matter if I succeeded or not as long as I tried, but I don’t believe that. I want more for myself.  I have fears and they can be intense and intimidating, but I won’t let them become crippling. This time, it was the encouragement and support from Todd that helped me get through one of the most frightening experiences, but I still did it. I found a way and I will continue to push my limits and fight for a world less fearsome. I will not die an unlived life. I love fear and the feeling of overcoming it. Success. We are all capable of it.


92 thoughts on “Exploring a Less Fearsome Coral World in St. Thomas

  1. I’m so glad that you managed to overcome your fear. The first time I used a regulator I freaked out, but once you get used to it it is the most incredible experience.


  2. Leslie Would you like to come to St Croix USVI and get a free flying lesson in a Diamond DA20 aircraft at our flight school? Let me know.

    Fiona Horne Marketing Manager Bohlke International Airways RR#1 Box 9936 Kingshill, VI 00850-9710 [email protected] 310-779-9609 Cell 340-778-9177 Office 340-772-5932 Fax http://www.bohlke.com ‘Number 1 FBO in the Caribbean’ 2012/13 ProPilot Magazine



  3. I was cheering for you as I read this post. Well done!! And thank you for being such an inspiration to us all 🙂

    P.S. Those underwater photos are beautiful!


      • You’re welcome! 🙂

        I really enjoy being in the water but I’ve never tried either of those. Actually, I have never been anywhere further than an indoor swimming pool! It’s definitely something I’d love to try though. Something about water (and underwater) which seems very relaxing and serene 🙂


      • Hi Lesley, it was a longtime ago, and I have not spoken about it since then.
        On a club dive a husband and and wife team were together. They were down 100 ft when he suddenly took in a lungful of oil from his air tank. he motioned to his wife that they needed to ascend, using the buddy system, sharing her air supply. Half way up she suddenly panicked and inflated her emergency life jacket.While she rose rapidly to the surface he was left to drown. The cause of the oil in his tank was due to a faulty seal in the clubs air-compressor. She survived the rapid ascent, but of course he died.


  4. Ohh dont be afraid. Everytime you starting to freak out, just focus on what beautiful inside the water…see that fish? You know? Try to focus on how underwater can be peaceful…you get used to it after a while an start admiring even more these amazing animals living and breathing underwater 😀


      • Awesome!! Im glad you could make it, it gets easier with time… and I hope you can get your PADI certification, it was always a dream I had and this year I finally made it… and in September Im getting the advanced 🙂 good luck to you, Im sure you will enjoy it, you are brave 🙂


  5. So pleased for you. It’s a great feeling. I love being near water but not on or in so when my dear husband bought a boat, I determined to learn to sail and we have just passed our NRA 1 and 2! I will be 70 next year so am extra delighted with myself. And. I love sailing and the exhilaration that comes with it. 🙂


  6. Instructors make all the difference in the world. Years ago when I first started SCUBA diving, my instructor also saw the panic in my eyes at about 25′ under but grabbed my hand and pointed to a school of colorful fish. Even though I felt like a toddler being distracted, it worked 😉 My suggestion for the “best place ever” to dive is Micronesia ~ specifically Palau. Words can’t describe the beauty of it all!!!


    • Thank you! It’s the continued support from my readers that pushes me further. Every time I post about an adventure and I receive positive support and encouragement, I push the limits even further. It’s a beautiful cycle.

      I appreciate your support! 🙂


  7. This irrational and totally rational fear of being submerged in water with a breathing tube or regulator has been a stumbling block for me too. It helps to have someone walk you calmly through the process and recognizes your fear but helps you move past it. My sons do that for me. When they jumped in the water to go snorkeling with no fear, they just assumed I would do it too. I struggled to do it for their benefit but I didn’t enjoy one moment of it. So I will try again. Like you, if I am afraid of something, I keep pushing myself to get over it or through it. Congratulations on pushing past your fear and conquering the last item on your Bucket List from last year. You have inspired me to make a Bucket List and I will share it once I have the courage to name all of my wishes. Thank you Lesley.


    • Without Todd’s encouragement and creative ideas, I would have given up… possibly for life. He is the reason I did it and he’s the reason I will get PADI certified. I will always be grateful and think about him each time I dive. 🙂

      You can do it and I love your positive attitude. I can’t wait to read about your success.


  8. Hey.. Great post! Respect the fact that you acknowledge your fears and taking steps to overcome it!
    I have a practical question… I see that you’re always on the go from one location to the next. Being an adventurer myself, that’s something that I would like to do. And altho I do things daily, I’m stuck at being at having to do things that are nearby due to work (adventurous lifestyle is expensive). I’m curious how you get around this financially…. Because I would love to be able to be mobile and do adventures worldwide!


    • I do this as a full-time job; most of my trips are sponsored. I work with tourism boards, PR firms, travel agencies, and adventure travel companies in exchange for social media sharing. I’m in no way making millions but it’s enough to support my expensive adventures. 😉

      While I do know a few tips to get started, The Planet D, http://theplanetd.com/, always share helpful advise and they have a media kit that shows what PR are looking for. I hope this helps.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope that all your adventure dreams come true.


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  10. I know both of us challenge our fears every year but kudos to you for SNUBA! I’m a certified diver – a hesitant one – but I dive every few months and I still get a little terrified every single time. However! I think diving with a regulator is much more comfortable then a breathing tube. So I give you credit because I’ll take my breathe on my back before I would through a tube. Good for you and good luck on certification, PADI is a great program but there are more affordable ones nowadays that are just as great.


  11. I worked right next door to Coral World at Coki Beach Dive Club until a few months ago. It would have been great to take you out diving! It opens whole new worlds to explore…


  12. Pingback: 2014 Bucket List | Bucket List Publications

  13. Pingback: Exploring a Less Fearsome Coral World in St. Thomas | strangerinastrangelandblogdotcom

  14. What a wonderful role model you are to all of us facing our fears. And what a great job you have created for yourself. This is my first visit to your site and I am very impressed.


  15. Pingback: Overcoming Fears of Underwater Diving | Coral World Ocean Park

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