My first wreck dive

As a recently certified woman diver my weekend has been planned around my 55th birthday. Proving there is no age limit for scuba diving I am in my fifties, my son in his twenties and my sister in her forties. To celebrate my approaching 55th birthday I have bought my own scuba gear and I will be diving my first wreck with my son and sister. We have come together to share our love of all things scuba. Still very much a novice diver I am both excited and apprehensive to be diving a wreck. The dive gear shopping didn’t go to plan, the weather is looking ominous. As a woman diver, newly certified, I am hoping I can keep up with my younger more experienced dive buddies – after all there is no age limit for scuba diving.

Body Care Banner

Age limit for scuba diving

Leaping out of bed on my birthday, enjoying a good coffee and breakfast before triumphantly diving my first wreck is the plan. Instead my stiff muscles move begrudgingly, my back aches, even my cuticles are sore. I haven’t run a marathon or even been to the gym. I have been buying dive gear and trying on wetsuits. Waking up physically exhausted after a marathon is understandable but waking up fatigued from trying on wetsuits is pitiful. I am not giving in; I am reclaiming my youth. I am proving there is no age limit for scuba diving. I have decided I am in the body of a 35 year old and I am proving it on my birthday dive weekend. 55 is the new 35 when you dive

Birthday card and coffee
Women scuba diving in their 50’s

A small concession – I enlist the help of my sister Natalie to tug on my wetsuit before heading to the dive center. Josh my son, having seen way too much the day before, quickly disappears. He is more than likely shaking in a corner somewhere – images of his half naked mother, in the center of a busy dive shop being pulled out of a wetsuit haunting him.

Woman scuba diving – fins first

At the dive center nervous excitement fills my body as I look around at the women divers next to me, competently setting up their gear.  Out of breath and a little overheated from putting my wetsuit on so early, I try to look confident as I put my BCD on my tank; backwards; twice. Slightly flustered I make a guess at how much weight I’ll need and slip the integrated weight pockets into my new BCD. 

“At least I won’t have to wear a weight belt” I think to myself. There’s raw fear in my gut as we head out into the unknown.

Schools of baitfish

Woman scuba diving – the nerves are winning

At the dive site the boat lurches in the swell, bending over to rinse my mask I watch in dismay as my snorkel is ripped off and disappears under the boat. Disconcerted I am still determined to be exhilarated not nervous.  Feeling I am in good hands helps, with a good instructor and informative dive brief I am ready to dive.

Our backward roll has us battling the surf as we follow the lines leading to the wreck. I’ve underestimated my weights, struggling to descend, I am using the rope to pull myself down. The current rips through as I battle to keep hold of the rope and my torch, I am having trouble equalizing, and I am worrying about my buddies and poor visibility. I am beginning to think there is an age limit for scuba diving and I am past it. I am overwhelmed and feeling my inexperience.

Divers descending down a mooring line EMPTY NEST DIVER
Descending down the mooring line

Eerily through the gloom the wreck looms ahead of us.  It is quite a sight.  The current has lessened & I am starting to enjoy the dive, I descend to 23metres quite comfortably, noticing an increase in my air consumption. Huge schools of baitfish dancing in front of us quieten my mental chatter; entrancing me by their sheer numbers.  The highlight must be two big eagle rays gliding above us. Natalie looks at me clapping her hands. I try and relax into the dive, amazed at the size of some of the fish swimming by. There is no age limit for scuba diving.

Woman scuba diving – new dive gear

My new dive gear is feeling foreign. My BCD is comfortable and I appreciate the power of my fins though my legs are feeling their weight.  Natalie & Josh both better on air than me stay on the wreck as I head up the line for my safety stop.  Again, the current is racing through. Clinging to the rope, I watch my 3 minutes slowly tick by, my left calf cramping as I struggle to stay in position. Finally, my safety stop is complete. I haven’t been able to stretch out the cramp and swimming to the boat is debilitating.  Twisting to pull off my fins at the ladder causes my calf to cramp even more if possible. There is an age limit for scuba diving, I am past it. Relief rushes through my body as I finally make it up the ladder and onto the boat.


Woman scuba diving – pleased to be aboard

I wait for Nat & Josh to surface, both come up looking worse for wear. Natalie who suffers seasickness even in calm water is very green around the gills and it isn’t long before Joshua is hurling off the back of the boat. I wasn’t the only one to struggle with the taxing safety stop.

Natalie is keen to get back in the water just to get off the boat. Wanting an easier descent, I add extra weights to my integrated pockets. Josh is hiccupping loudly and nauseous with no choice but to sit the next dive out. I secretly envy him. Conditions have worsened during our surface break and my anxiety levels are high. The ocean is looking formidable as we backward roll into the water.

Woman scuba diving – out at sea!

” Swim, swim, swim” the guide yells to me, as I desperately try to pull myself down the line. “Did you see that?” I hear Natalie call. My weight pocket has dislodged and sunk. Another weight is added to my wet suit pocket. Still underweighted and lopsided I can’t get straight, I am fighting to descend and start to panic. I can’t manage it, exhaustion is flooding my body and my calf is cramping again. I am in a world of pain. I have no choice but to return to the boat, unsure if I can even swim back. With help I get back on board. They offer to weight me correctly and get me back into the water, but I am done.  Every inch of my body is shattered.  There is an age limit for scuba diving and I am past it. Mentally and physically I am exhausted. Both miserable, Josh and I watch as Natalie surfaces from the second dive. She spends the trip back throwing up.


Worsening weather means our planned shark dive for the following day is cancelled.  Josh heads to bed and stays there for a week, I hobble around like an old lady, every cell in my body aching, Natalie is unusually quiet. Nobody feels like champagne or dining out.

Storm clouds
Dive cancelled

Woman scuba diving – too many firsts

Unfamiliar gear, my first dive away from the Keppels, out in the very open ocean, strong current and depth. I will never put myself in that position again. This was a defining dive for me and I learnt a lot about diving and myself. You must dive within your limits, I spent most of my time out of my depth and having to manage my anxiety. I was diving with a good company and with a good instructor but I should have tried my new gear in familiar surroundings and waited for better conditions.


Age limit for scuba diving?

I am back to believing there is no age limit for scuba diving and I am sticking to my mindset – 55 is the new 35 when you dive. I am determined to get my body and mind strong and healthy. I will practice, learning from every dive until I am a confident, relaxed and competent woman diver. I love diving and owe it to myself and the sport. I will face the challenges head on and celebrate my achievements.

It’s never too late – TAKE THE DIVE WITH TANYA

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Published by emptynestdiver

Learning to dive in my fifties has been a great adventure, I am a senior scuba diver but young at heart.

6 thoughts on “My first wreck dive

  1. Enjoyed your story and found a lot to relate to. I’ve had those moments too. It’s all valuable learning. I’m determined to be competent, confident, independent, fit enough and keep active.


    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes I feel the same as you, it is part of the reason I love diving, I really have to overcome different challenges and push my boundaries. When I get it right it is so good and I learn when I don’t. I’ve come a long way already, but still have a journey ahead


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