Damn that’s cold! The shock of the entry cascaded across my whole body instantly. My skin felt like it would jump out of the suit and back onto the boat, if it could. I began to breathe faster, that was the time the mask chose to begin to fog (seriously?? what the heck is wrong with my spit?), and I could feel the start of the shiver response. I had not expected a dive in Easter Island to be the coldest one I’ve done. 

Easter Island dive temperature in November

Teja with the boatman leaving on a dive trip in Easter Island
Going on a dive trip!

My first clue should have been Michel’s assurance, when I signed up for the dive with Orca Diving Centre. “We have hot shower afterward.” I had simply nodded – I love hot showers. I’d definitely like one after any dive. Being an equatorial girl with very low cold resistance, it was the one civilised luxury that was the hardest for me to part from when I travel. 

My second clue should have been my Spanish dive leader’s instruction, “No, wear your wet suit too.” He had issued me both their 3mms, to be worn on top of each other (in the interest of packing light, I normally just rent suits). Those were all of their suits that were my petite size.

I thought, if I have 6mm altogether, maybe my 1mm long sleeve surf suit would not be necessary. But Christian disagreed. “I’ve had clients like you,” he added. Trust me

My third clue (yes, I even had a third clue!) was his follow-up question, “Do you want a hood?” I had never dived with a hood before. I normally find things around my head confining and uncomfortable.

But I did pause at this though. The water is supposed to be about 21 degrees. It seemed not much colder than when I dived in Manly Bay, near Sydney, on my first trip to Australia. I had a 7mm full suit then. It was a shore dive, and was definitely cold going in. Yet, I didn’t use a hood then.

Sure, Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific open ocean, but it’s tropical. Surely a dive in Easter Island couldn’t be colder than Sydney? The part of my brain that remembered its oceanography felt something was not quite right about my reasoning. But I shushed it, and said no to the hood. 

My fourth clue, was that Christian put a hood on himself. 

Getting over the cold water of Easter Island

Preparing for backward roll entry from a dive boat
Here we go!

In stressful moments, time compresses and you can somehow have long thoughts and flashbacks in just the blink of an eye.

I remembered all of the clues as I tried to calm my breathing, bumping into the hull of the boat with every wave. Fortunately there was only a low swell. The mask wouldn’t sit right, and I tried to fix it with one hand, while the other clung to the ropes. 

I signalled the ok, and we began the descent. 

But as the cold water washed over my head, the shivering intensified. Cold washed all over my face, numbing my scalp, and I couldn’t think. I aborted the descent. 

Christian surfaced shortly thereafter, asking how I was doing. Soothing tones. Soothing tones are very helpful when you’re trying to recover brain function, by the way. 

I thought, how lucky that I wasn’t diving with other people on this dive, and had the dive leader as my personal buddy. I could sure do without the judgy resentment that you normally get from avid outdoorsy types, when they feel you’re slowing them down. 

Take your time.

Remember. When you can’t do anything, do one thing – breathe. Breathe. Only breathe. Remember. I clung to the one thing that my open water dive instructor had drummed into me.

As I focused on my breathing, Christian reminded me of another important thing: I did not have to continue with the dive, if I was not comfortable. No pressure. Take all the time I want. 

I was so tempted. It was that cold. But how could I come to Easter Island, and not dive here? I’ve got to be really sure I couldn’t do it. 

So I said, wait. I was calm enough to remember. The way the wet suit works, is that the water must get in between, and then trap your body heat. I had to trust the theory. I must trust the science. Let’s see if my body could make enough heat. Somehow, I had to let the awful horrid cold water stay against my skin, and I had to wait until my body could heat it at least a little bit. 

And it did. 

Scuba diving in the Pacific around Easter Island
Be calm. Stay calm.

Fix the problems one by one.

Feeling rational thoughts return, I began communicating again. 

I told Christian my mask was bothering me and that I needed to fix it. So he held me bodily, in order to free both my hands to re-do my mask chores, deal with my hair, and put it on properly again. (Dives are when I am so tempted to just shave my head…)

I waited a moment longer to be satisfied that the shivering was indeed abating. Then I gave him the ok again. We descended, with Christian holding my hand. We waited for a while at the starting depth, until he was satisfied that I was coping with the temperature. Then he released my hand. 

I was doing it! I’m diving in Easter Island! 

Diver approaching, partially framed by coral reef on the left and below. A filefish is out of focus in the foreground, floating vertically in the water. The background is  perfectly clear, Pacific blue water.
How can a diver go to Easter Island and not have it in her dive log? Fortunately I had the foresight to ask for photography (no, I don’t have a dive camera, don’t judge me!).

Why it’s important to be a good dive buddy

I couldn’t help comparing the experience with Sydney. How the Spanish are quite different from Anglos. More comfortable with emotions, warmer, less judgmental. Less afraid to extend support and assurance through physical touch. 

Do you know why it’s important for a less experienced diver to have an excellent buddy, precisely when they are having trouble? It has nothing to do with diving skills. Every certified diver already has the skills they need when in difficulty. I realise it now, reflecting on that dive in Easter Island more than a year ago. 

It teaches you, the less experienced diver, how to be a good buddy yourself, and that being a good buddy is what an experienced diver doesThis is what makes the sport safe, especially for solo travellers around the world.

Must-do dive photography on Easter Island

I had almost forgotten that I signed up for dive photography on this dive. You know, what with onset of hypothermia and all. It felt a little weird to have someone follow you around taking pictures, and sometimes being asked to pose! 

This was the first time I paid for photography on a scuba diving trip. While I have a waterproof camera for snorkelling depths, I hadn’t yet decided to invest in scuba photography. There was no rush. I thought I should work on dive skills before overlaying photography. And anyway, I don’t need to take photos of everything. The whole point of why I enjoy diving is that it forces me to do the difficult thing of fixing my attention on the moment. 

Still, I was not likely to come to Easter Island again. It was not super expensive, so why not? I always wondered what I look like while I’m diving. Did I have good form? After all, I was grateful for the last time someone took photos of me in the water

But the real reason why getting dive photography in Easter Island was among my smartest decisions, was revealed soon after. 

There was a moai, underwater. 

Easter Island sunken moai dive spot. The moai replica lies face up and slightly propped up against a coral outcrop.
Is that a… moai?

The sunken moai dive spot

I wasn’t picky about which dive site Orca planned to take me to. I had intended to do more than one dive, so it didn’t seem to matter. But Orca clearly knew which dive site to pick for a tourist’s first dive around Easter Island. 

To be clear, this moai is just a replica. While there really are moai found toppled into the water around Easter Island, the real moai have since rolled down to depths beyond recreational dive limits. 

So instead, they dropped a replica to a more convenient depth, laying it against the base of this coral mount. I’m not sure how long ago it was, but by this time coral was already beginning to colonise its surface. Amusingly, sea urchins had decided to hang around under its nose, giving it the impression of untrimmed nose hair! 

Christian did a better job of getting my epic photos done than I would have, changing angles and taking plenty of shots. There was a current throughout the dive, including at this spot, which sometimes worked for or against me. For every photo that had my hair billowing photogenically like Ariel in the Little Mermaid, there’s one where it stuck out in funny ways. 

Yes, it’s kind of gimmicky. That said, would you say no to a photo of you with a moai – but underwater? That’s right. 

I wonder what they would do, when the coral completely grows over it? Drop another one, I guess? 

Marine life around Easter Island

Aside from the main attraction of the sunken moai, the dive at this part of Easter Island was pleasant, but not overly abundant in terms of sea life. Not compared to, say, the Maldives. The points of interest revolve around coral structures, all of which appear healthy. It was also the clearest water I had dived in, a pristine Pacific blue. 

Usually, in my Southeast Asian experience, intact coral but low marine life abundance means that the area is extensively (but not destructively) fished. That said, we still saw the odd schooling fish, and lovely individual fish among the coral and foraging over the sandy beds. 

Running out of heat on my Easter Island dive

I was coping reasonably well with the temperature for much of the dive, except when a prevailing current flowed more coldness over me. But eventually, I began to shiver again. Worse, I began to feel really hungry. My blistering fast metabolism had done all it could to make heat, but it was running out of fuel. 

Fortunately, it was almost at the end of the dive. So we began our interval, and ascended. 

I never found out how much more there was to see, or if we did the whole planned dive. Chalk this up to my dive leader’s social intelligence. I mean, why is it necessary to tell people what they missed, when you know they can’t do anything about it? And yet, we all know the type who has to one-up you about it.

One of the best things about faraway travel is, you learn different ways to be. The experience shows you people can be different than the bad habits you see in the cultures you grew up in. 

Being cold on the boat ride back to Easter Island after a scuba dive
Hooooo it’s cold!

The really, really, really hot shower!

I shivered all the way back to the island. I remember little of how I actually got to the shower, but Orca took care of everything and funnelled me to it, understanding it was the top priority.

My hands were shaking as I unlocked my locker. My head was swimming, and my heart racing. I began to understand how cold can lead to cardiac arrest and loss of consciousness. But I was still lucid. I could still control it. 

The shower was thankfully as good as advertised. It was blistering hot. Clouds of steam fumed all around, and I had the suspicion that if my skin wasn’t so numb, I would have found it far too burning hot. I didn’t even get out of the wet suits for a long while, just allowed the heat to revive my skin and the warmth seep in, as if I were a reptile.  

How glad I was that I paid extra for photos! I couldn’t face the thought of doing a second dive. 

Heat, glorious heat!

When I finally emerged to sort out my post-dive chores, Christian told me when to come back for the photos. 

“Where do you usually dive?” he asked. Yeah… It must be super obvious that I was not at all adapted to even low-20s temperatures! 

“Malaysia,” I answered. “Maldives,” I added, since it was the last place I dived at before coming to Easter Island. I tried to explain. “The water is never less than…”

“Ah, 30 degrees water,” Christian interjected immediately. Pretty much. 

Afterwards, having put on all of my clothes (all!), I went out onto the grass under the sun, and just baked there for a while. Ah… heat. 

Warm again

Image vs reality on social media

While updating the formatting on this post in 2021, I decided to add this section. It ties back to why I wrote this article in the first place, to tell people the real story behind the cool photos I post on social media from this dive. In fact, I use an image from this dive as a default profile photo. It amused me how much credibility the image gave me on a range of topics, as if it implied, would you know more of the world than someone who has done this?

I’m normally handicapped in being heard due to the need to overcome stereotypes about what someone with my gender or ethnicity ‘ought’ to know. So, while in the beginning it was just a cool photo, I confess keeping it so far due to the convenience. But I also don’t mind if people know how prosaic the experience really was. And that it actually represents something relatable, not intimidation.

I guess it represents my duality as well; in that I’d rather we prefer what’s real, but I accept that I have to live in a world where image trumps substance.

dive photo pose with replica sunken moai in Easter Island
Cool photos are from a cool moment. It doesn’t mean I do cool things all the time.

Carbon offset information to Easter Island

I went to Easter Island as part of a longer journey around the world. Had I gone close to my original plan, a return flight from Kuala Lumpur to Easter Island via Sydney and Santiago produces carbon emissions of approximately 17,414 lbs CO2e. It costs about $87 to offset this. 

Are you also incapacitated by 20-degree waters? Prepare adequately for diving in Easter Island, coz it should absolutely be part of any diver’s Easter Island itinerary!

'How Cold Could It Be to Scuba Dive in Easter Island?' dive story on travel blog Teja on the Horizon | dive spot with replica sunken moai

10 Responses

  1. Hi Teja! Your blog is very nice. What a great place to dive. I really like it. A scuba diver always looking for some new places to dive. Thanks for sharing such beautiful and adventure places through your blog. Keep posting.

    • Teja says:

      Thank you! For some reason nobody ever mentions scuba diving, when they write about Easter Island. People don’t make time for this when they come! They should totally stay a little longer on Easter Island for this.

  2. Candy says:

    What a wonderful post! I’ve never dived (on my bucket list) but I can’t imagine doing so in such cold water. What a trooper you are!

    • Teja says:

      I think a lot of divers wouldn’t consider 21 degrees that cold haha! There’s a reason why marine mammals are often padded with blubber!

  3. Wendy says:

    Oh my gosh, I can totally relate! I don’t dive, but I went snorkeling in Silfra in Iceland. They warned us that our faces would go numb and they were right! I was seriously wondering why I wanted to do this, but in the end it was worth it. Thanks for sharing your dive experience in Easter Island.

  4. Penny says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this article for so long. One thing that really resonated with me was ‘soothing tones’. I’m hydrophobic but for some reason I love dives. I get panicky at the surface and the moment I submerge, everything feels right and I can quite literally feel my pulse calm down. That’s why I need to scout through the available diving schools before I pick one. I need the calm vibe. In my experience, I found myself most comfortable with calm instructors and small groups.

    • Teja says:

      Hahahaha sorry this took so long from when I posted the FB promise! I had to get the reflective stories out of my system before I can write the fun ones!

      I’m the same. The first dive is when I am uncomfortable going down. But once down, my whole body remembers this is ok, and indeed the feeling of being surrounded by water is the best thing – it’s magical. I don’t even have to see anything, just floating and moving in 3D is what does it for me. I also carefully look through reviews of dive centres too. I try to figure out which ones are the ‘go go go’ ones frequented by the commando types and stay far away! I like the chill ones who like new people and spend time including them into the destination.

  5. Christina says:

    Sounds like you had an incredible dive! Even if I knew how to scuba dive, I would not do this because of the cold temperature. I cannot handle the cold whatsoever. The replica moa is a nice touch. Of course, we all want to travel to see natural and original marks of history, but since you cannot see the original, I think it is nice they made this an option. Also, the marine life photos of the fish are amazing! And I love your writing :)

    • Teja says:

      The thing is, it’s apparently 20 degrees is not super cold for people from temperate countries (or with more erm… let’s say insulation)! But yeah, I cannot stand cold, so consider this story a PSA to people like us who are contemplating diving in Easter Island – suit up all the way!!

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