The colors are what surprised me the most.
Whenever I have gazed into the ocean -- even when the water was clear, or only tinted with a wisp of turquoise -- the creatures and terrain my eyes could pick out under the waves looked muddied.
I would have told you the fish and rocks and coral were a fuzzy brown, grey or muted green. I had no idea that looking into the ocean from the vantage point of an ordinary human is like looking at it through sludge-colored glasses.
That is, until I tried scuba diving at the Islamorada Dive Center in the Florida Keys.
I signed up for a ‘Discover Scuba’ class, which some folks call a Resort certification.
I started by learning the basics of what I’d need to do, sitting down with my instructor, Drew.
Though I had no experience whatsoever, I was working on my skills in the pool within the first hour.
But that afternoon was when the real magic happened.
My husband and I climbed into on a boat and traveled out to two shallow coral reefs, where we would do our first-ever dives with Drew.
The captain and Drew helped me into my gear.
I gave one last look at the boat and prepared to take the ‘giant step’ I’d been taught to do.
Then I plunged into the water.
Underwater, the fish that had looked ordinary before were transformed into breathtaking works of art, striped with vivid yellows and blues and blacks. Mainly, they were unafraid of me. It seemed I was just another one of the gang, a big, slow, clumsy fish that had to wear a lot of gear and was a pathetic swimmer.
Look at the fish -- and at me!
I listened to the sound of my breathing as I floated in an utterly alien universe, filled with wonder at the sharks that silently glided past me, at a ray winging its way across the ocean floor, and at the coral, alive and strange and dancing with the rhythm of the sea.
To say I’ll always remember it is an understatement.
I hope if you’re visiting Florida, that you’ll Discover Scuba too. It’s the experience of a lifetime.
Photos by Lauren and Paul Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA