First, I had to survive the Stress Test. The Stress Test is actually just a sadistic modification of / addition to the PADI-required equipment exchange, in which the trainee must exchange a full set of gear (including mask, fins, weight belt, BCD and regulator) with another diver while underwater and sharing one tank of air. What makes it the Stress Test is the barrage of other divers in the pool ripping your fins off, blowing a spare tank of air in your face, turning off your air, and generally doing everything in their power to make you fail.
I had done the equipment exchange in the pool with instructor Becs already, so I was pretty confident going into the Stress Test aside from one aspect — my eyes. I had fairly significant eye surgery two years ago and occasionally have painful flare ups of irritation. The last thing I wanted was to have some sort of eye infection or inflammation when I was hours away from the nearest general doctor, let along corneal specialist. So after a serious talk with my mentor about taking it easy on removing my mask, we hopped in.
As you can see in the video, we had one false start after being tangled in a Surface Marker Buoy string forced me to the surface. At times I had to wait an uncomfortable amount of time to have the air passed back to me, but overall it was actually quite fun! I was relieved when it was over, though.
Next up was the big one, the final initiation into becoming a professional diver: The Snorkel Test. Now, Anyone who has done their Divemaster Training or spent lots of time in the dive community knows that there is a heck of a lot of this going on:
Something about a day out on the reefs just goes hand in hand with a few cold ones knocked back at the bar later. And as much as I enjoy that aspect of Gili Trawangan and the dive world at large, I spent the five weeks of my Divemaster course (and a few years leading up to it) absolutely petrified by the idea of my snorkel test.
It goes a little something like this. After completing all of the official requirements to become a Divemaster, then comes the ritual Snorkel Test — something I’ve witnessed around the world from Central America to the Caribbean to Southeast Asia. At a bar or other public place, the “graduate” will be dressed up in a ridiculous costume that they quite obviously have no say in. Subject and depravity of the costume will depend on the graduate and their ability to be a good sport. Then, after entering the bar to a ridiculous theme song, the graduate/victim will be sat down to don a mask and a snorkel modified with a funnel on top. The contents of what goes into the snorkel depends on the mood and tradition of those pouring, but generally involves strong concentrations of various alcohols.
As the newly-inducted divemaster rips the mask of their face and gasps for air after chugging enough alcohol to kill a small animal, the partying really begins.
And that’s how I went from this,
To this, on the night of my own snorkel test.
I had been a ball of nerves that day. Going to art school meant I had never so much as stepped into a frat party and my college years had been markedly keg-stand-and-chugging-contest-free. Any yet for some reason my cohorts at Big Bubble dismissed all my suggestions that my snorkel test consist of me sitting on a stool politely sipping a mojito over the course of an hour while the crowd cheered me on.
Once I accepted the fact that I was going to be inhaling alcohol via snorkel, I focused my anxiety somewhere new — my costume! After watching a particularly skin-baring snorkel test earlier in the month, I had turned to Steve and promised that I would happily turn on my heels and walk off the island certification-less before I would do a sexy dance routine in front of a bar full of people in my bikini (before chugging the liquor no less!)
I was pleasantly surprised by what they had in store for me — a Brooklyn-inspired gangster getup complete with a gold chain, Sharpie tattoos and a Nelly-style cheek band aid.
I was quite relaxed at this point and having a good time with the group when I heard the rap music come on. Later I would reflect on the fact that simply walking from the back of the bar where I got ready out to the front where it felt like the entire island had gathered was the worst part of the whole ordeal — a few too many eyes teemed on me!
And onto the drinking. The trick to the snorkel test is that wearing the mask closes off the nose as as a breathing passage. If you’re the sort of person who regularly chugs beers, next time try doing it with your nose plugged. Not fun. So I took a deep breathe and hoped that I wouldn’t be one of the Divemasters that people would still talk about weeks later thanks to their horrible performance.
It was one of those moments when what is in front of your eyes slows down and what is in your ears seems to go on mute and you lose track of time. When I ripped the mask off and heard the cheers and saw the wide eyed looks around me, I knew I had done well. “Always the quiet ones!” exclaimed one of the island expats. “It was like you had no throat — it poured right into you!” said another. Then Steve informed me there were twenty two shots in the pitcher he poured down my snorkel. I promptly went to the bathroom to make myself throw up.
But not before taking a few ridiculous photos first.
What some might flag as peer-pressure induced binge drinking, others will defend as a right of passage and a tradition. While I had been quite jittery about the whole experience, it was much worse in theory than in practice. I prepared by hydrating heavily throughout the day, eating a good dinner, and asking Anders and my good (and sober and pregnant) friend Becs to keep an eye on me. And of course being proactive with the induced puking — apologies to my queasy readers.
I made it! I joined the ranks of professional divers everywhere who have survived the love child of a massive theme party and a college fraternity hazing. It felt good — though that might have been the liquor talking.
Have you ever heard of the Snorkel Test? Do you think you would survive it?
Many thanks to Steve Woods Underwater Photography for the underwater photos and underwater video footage in this post! Readers, please contact me if you are looking for a recommendation on where to do your DMT in Gili Trawangan.