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My own thoughts on diving are that SCUBA is for everyone, who is medically fit to of course; in fact, I believe that everybody should try diving at least once in their lifetime.
I took to diving, in my eyes, far too late in my life my (mid-twenties) and the minute I got out of the water after that very first dive, I said to myself that I wish I had done it sooner than at twenty-six years old.
I have now taught hundreds of people to dive and have been a dive professional for over twenty years and with thousands of dives racked up, I feel I am in a unique position to help people in their quest to find the best places to scuba dive.
I am aware how difficult it can be, intimidating in fact, to walk into a dive shop and ask questions; even asking questions online can be off-putting.
• Scuba diving seems so clicky
• There is so much dive jargon
• Feeling out of your depth
• Very strange environment
• The other divers look so experienced
Everyone and I do mean everyone including Jacques Cousteau and Hans Haas had the first-ever dive experience.
I have seen some excellent instructors learn to dive from the very beginning as discover scuba divers and have seen people almost too afraid to get their head wet turn into great Instructors and Divemasters too.
Scuba Diving is not a closed shop -it is for everyone and anyone that wants to do it.
The first time that you breathe underwater is one of the most unusual feelings a person can experience. Being surrounded entirely by water yet still being able to breathe... easily; is very peculiar and one moment that you will never forget -it truly is an amazing moment.
My first ever dive was in Australia in Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef. This was a fluke as I had never really that much about diving. I had tried snorkelling few times yet never really thought about diving.
I was told by someone that the best way to see the Barrier Reef was by aeroplane, it is quite spectacular that way. Now being a humble and broke backpacker, I opted for the far cheaper option to see the reef with a mask and snorkel.
I remember clearly that day, I was picked up from my hostel early morning and ferried off to the boat. Once on the little vessel, all the snorkellers and divers were given a boat briefing; the trip itself took over two hours to get to the little sandbank where we would snorkel.
I remember chatting with a guy from Scotland he was actually going to dive that day, yes my first ever conversation with a real Scuba Diver. He told me he had done nearly twenty dives, I thought wow he must know everything about diving.
After the divers went off diving we team snorkel were dropped off onto this small island where we would do our thing around the reef.
It was OK, I saw fish but found it a little annoying with water keep trickling down my snorkel.
After a short while the divers surface and went back to the boat, then instructor whose name I still remember (that is the effect of diving) said if anyone would like a free go of scuba gear then come here.
What a free go, go on then I’ll give it a shot, how hard can it be; I thought. There were two of us eager for this little freebie. We kneeled down underwater on the sand and copied what the instructor did, regulator and masking clearing, all very straightforward stuff, although the other guy did have a few problems and kept bolting to the surface.
I could not understand why he kept doing it, I do now know of course. He had booked the course in advanced and had some preconception about diving which had gotten to him -he was thinking too much about it.
I did two dives that day, the other guy never did the second dive, I saw reef sharks, two turtles and a Napoleon wrasse which I still have photos of.
That day changed my life forever and I thank my lucky stars that I was given a free go or I promise you this ‘I would never have even tried it.
I got out of the water that day and thought to myself why oh why have I never done this before -what an experience.
I remember hearing a girl on the boat say to the other instructor: ‘is this your real job?’
To which he just laughed and said: ‘it’s my job and my hobby.’
I just thought you lucky bastard what a way to earn a living.
I still remember so much about that day and it has stayed with me for so long now and I want to share that experience with my own children someday too.
Shortly after that, my time in Australia came to an end and I returned to sunny England with tales to tell... a couple of months went by and a friend of a friend said to me that the local Nautical College is offering dive courses on a government scheme, whereby you can learn all the PADI courses up to Assistant Instructor.
I signed up the very next day, then I worked as many hours as I could at my job to make enough money to be able to support myself for the three months without an income; it would take that long to ‘learn how to really dive.’
I learnt in a classroom with 15 other people how to do dive and fortunately for me, I sat next to the cleverest guy in the room and he helped me with stuff I found harder to understand. He had done four dives before, you see, so he was also a bit of a legend.
I loved every minute of it, not the classroom bit so much, the under-the-water bit I was born for, or so I felt. We would drive every day up to the Lake District in the North of England and do up to four dives a day in freezing water.
I was one of the lucky ones as my drysuit never had any holes in it.
Three months later we did our final exam, a mini IDC, which you must complete to enable you to become an Assistant Instructor. I passed it and I could not believe it, I had done it.
After the exam and that very evening, the whole class went out to celebrate, we slapped each other's backs, thinking we were all the next James Bond and dreaming of where we would open our own dive shops; we never saw one another other again.
That summer, it was game on, I went to Turkey for a week’s holiday, thinking to myself I will ask in every dive shop I find about work, if I get a job I'll stay. I must admit doubt was in the back of my mind -why would they give me a job I only had sixty dives.
The very first shop I went into I was offered me a job, we will pick you up in the morning at your hotel -be ready and bring your equipment.
Holly shit, are you kidding me I was off skipping down the street, then I came to a sudden halt with the realisation, I did not have my own equipment, oh I am going to look a real muppet now.
I will never forget those guys in Bodrum Turkey, Motif Diving I owe so much to. So, again feeling blessed that I had fallen into this business more than anything else.
I worked there all season and learnt my trade, teaching hundreds of beginners and even helping out on Open Water courses too.
I saw the smiles on people’s faces when we would bring them back to the boat. Some people were so happy they could not contain themselves, the odd one did not like it (never understood that) though most love every second of it.
I dived so much that first year I thought I was growing fins and gills, the water was about 20 degrees and far colder than Thailand how my bones ached towards the end of the season. It was a wonderful time and I am still in contact with today the friends I met in Turkey.
I learnt so much there I was on my way to becoming a JEDI.
The following season I went to Thailand on my own to Phuket, why I chose Phuket is a good question and to this day all I remember about it was it looked a great place to go.
I stayed a couple of weeks there and fell in love with the place. Begrudgingly, I went home and found a job for the winter of 1999. Just after the millennium parties had faded I decide that I had enough money and don’t need to work for a while what adventure should I do now.
I decided to do the full instructor course, but where, where else, Phuket of course. I contacted a few companies there and settled on one I trusted to do the full IDC (Instructor Development Course).
I scraped through the academic side of it by the skin of my teeth (again), the diving bit was easy to me. I was told off by the examiner from PADI for being too cool during my rescue scenario. I took it all in and use it every day.
After passing the final exams, I had spent all my money and had to go back home again. I spent the next four months working every hour to get the money together to go back and work in Thailand as an instructor.
I had met a guy out there who was staying in the same Patong guesthouse as me and he was a dive instructor too.
He had said that he could get us both jobs on Phi Phi Island as instructors, are you kidding me, Phi Phi Island what a dream job that would be. So I worked in the UK a while and got more money together.
A few months later we went and both got jobs and I taught my first ever full Open Water Course that very week Phi Phi. I thought I knew it all after my season in Turkey -I didn’t of course and again I learnt so much on Phi Phi Island.
Over the years I have worked on Phi Phi probably in total for about three years. I even worked my way up to manage a dive shop there. It was the best shop on the Island and perfectly placed on the beach it was something out of a dream.
Unbelievable is the only word I can use. I was in a dream... now people were saying to me is this your only job -what do you really do for a living. I used to joke with students sometimes asking them what they did for a living and then comparing my office to theirs, I thought it was funny, it just made them pull faces at me.
Since those days I have worked on Phi Phi Island several times since and worked on Phuket dive boats, Khao Lak, Koh Chang; I even made a cameo appearance in Pattaya to teach a good friend of mine who has very bad dyslexia to dive.
My favourite diving though is working on the Liveaboards, you can just pack your gear, jump on a boat and disappear for anywhere up to a week. You just sleep and dive your way through the duration of the trip, it’s is paradise.
Whenever I am not diving for any amount of time I do get a little down, it has become a way of life to me as it has to so many others.
I can introduce you to divers/instructors who have been diving for years and years, longer than even me and still have so much enthusiasm for it... oh the stories we can tell.
I have not even touched on the actual things you can see in the sea here in Thailand because this article has gone on far too long already and we would be here all day.
So I have written a website, which I will be adding to every week with more places to dive and more things to see in Thailand.
Nobody owns scuba diving and I was so lucky to even be given the chance that day on the Barrier Reef to dive.
I feel blessed that it has touched my life and I am so thankful for it, it is how I met my wife (if not for scuba we would never have met) and now we have a beautiful daughter too.
It sounds cliché I know yet scuba diving changed my life as it has changed many other lives too.
If you have anything you would like to know about diving simply ask me and I will tell you straight. If I can help you in your quest for whatever it is you want to know about diving in Thailand I will help, that is my promise.
It is the least I can do for Scuba Diving as it has given me so much.