This short-ass was never going to be a supermodel, but I can review scuba gear and apparel, hell yeah!
While completing my Divemaster course out here in Bali, I was asked to pose for a few publicity shots for Asli Desain, a new Indonesian sportswear brand.
We had a good old laugh while I tried to look seductively at the camera, holding wrenches and stroking cylinders. You’d think after working on the Top Model TV shows I’d be able to smize like a pro… But I can’t take myself seriously enough (I’ve omitted the shots of me pouting and wetting myself laughing when I couldn’t concentrate).
I love the ‘Diver’ hoody, which looks and feels fab on the boat between dives and the ‘Born 2 Dive Forced 2 Work’ rash vest says it all about divers.
It’s a fun and edgy new clothing line to hit the sportswear market; you can tell the brains behind the business are divers, because their products are both practical and look good. Rule #1 of diving is to look cool, right? It’s in the manuals somewhere, I swear…
If you like what you see, they have loads more designs on their Facebook page too.
As I near the end of my Divemaster education with Crystal Divers in Bali, I realised I’ve learned a lot more than just meeting the requirements set out by PADI. Becoming a Divemaster takes a certain amount of thick skin and resolve, even though it’s a given that you’ll have fun along the way.
If you’re thinking about going pro and turning your love of the ocean into something deeper, take a look at my top 10 survival tips… They’re based on my experience and I’m sure you’ll be able to add to the list if you’re already a dive pro or in the middle of the course yourself!
1. Have fun.
Hopefully, this one will come naturally (that’s why you’re doing it, right?), because you learn more and remember more if you’re having fun. So enjoy the course and you’ll get the most out of it. Plus, the dive industry is a social one; if you’ve got a monk on, the customers won’t have a good time, which is bad for business. Unhappy face from the boss. Have a beer and chat nonsense after a long day’s diving and the guests will be asking to dive with you again.
2. Don’t take criticism to heart (too much).
This is true of any job, but diving involves risk – both to yourself and, as a Divemaster, to others – so sometimes you may get flak from an instructor if you made a mistake. But if you messed up one day, it’s their duty to pull you up, because they care and they don’t want anyone to get hurt. Don’t dwell. Take it on the chin, learn the lesson and move on.
3. Forget the rank you held in your ‘normal’ job.
You may have been a manager, you may have commanded respect from your colleagues and have reached a position of authority in your workplace, but that counts for toffee when you assign yourself to the DM course. You’ve gone back to an entry-level position and you’ll know about it. You’ll be a bit of a skivvy sometimes and be expected to fetch and carry, set up other people’s equipment and be the dogsbody. But being part of a dive centre requires teamwork and just like anywhere else, you have to prove yourself to be accepted.
4. But remember it’s an education…
This is a learning experience that you pay a huge wedge of cash for, so choose your school wisely and know the difference between proving yourself as a worthy dive professional and just being free labour. You meet people who’ve left other dive centres because they didn’t learn anything and were just used to clean hotel rooms and mop bathroom floors. That is not what the DM course is about.
5. Get used to funky smells.
Damp neoprene and rash vests hum. I used to catch a whiff of my dive gear at the end of a holiday and gip, but when it becomes your life, you just have to get used to that stale saltwater tang permanently. By all means, give what you can a wash, but don’t expect fragrances of jasmine and ylang ylang to greet you for long.
6. Accept the bad hair days (every day)
Gone are the mornings where I’d get up and wash and dry my hair for work. Your hair will be a sodding mess, because it’s always tied up and tangled with seawater. Accept that this is a different lifestyle and enjoy not having to fuss about with hair and make-up. It’s liberating! But I do admit I’ll try to give my hair a good conditioning treatment as often as I can, because long term, the sun and sea will ravage it to split-ended shreds.
7. Learn about the watery world.
Divers are united by a love of the ocean, whether that be reefs, wrecks, the deep and dark, big fish, little fish… So read up on what you find underwater and share it with those you go diving with. It’ll earn you respect and form bonds with your dive buddies.
8. Be an eco DMT.
If there’s nothing left of the ocean, there are no diving jobs. So take care of our big, blue heart and show others how to dive responsibly. That can mean good buoyancy, picking up trash, being careful around marine animals – and asking people not to touch or harass them (especially photographers, who may poke around to get a good shot) – as well as learning about how important the ocean is for human life. Only when people understand that our survival is linked to the ocean will people care and make positive changes.
9. Get involved.
Doing the DM course isn’t just about ticking off the boxes you need to fulfil to get your certification card. It’s about getting stuck in to everything going on at the dive centre. That could mean decorating for a party, going to talks related to diving or mucking in on Project Aware activities. And it’s not just about doing extracurricular activities for the sake of it – you become part of a dive family. *cue ‘Cheers’ soundtrack*
10. Respect the role.
A Divemaster’s job is admired, even though instructors get the glory of teaching people how to dive and therefore of opening up a whole new and exciting world. But you’ll often find that students come to you and have a quiet word about something they’re uncomfortable with or unsure of, because as a Divemaster, you’re the dog’s nuts: a) ‘Divemaster’ sounds cool and b) you’re not the teacher and so students feel they can confide in you.
Because new divers now look up to you – and because your role is to assist instructors – doing the DM course requires a huge amount of respect for the trust invested in you. Being a Divemaster Candidate is often associated with having a wild few weeks off work. It’s the perfect career break activity for people already in love with diving: you learn a lot, you go somewhere exciting and you meet fun people. However, it’s also a chance for people to revert to their teenage years.
Yep, I include myself in that bracket.
Instead of slaving away in an office all day, followed by a stinking commute, you’re plunged into a college-like environment, where you work hard and party hard. I did learn to watch the partying, because sadly, I’m not a teenager and I broke myself. But let’s not pretend that a few beers and dancing on the bar after a day’s diving isn’t fun…
What were your first experiences of going pro? I’d love to hear your pearls of wisdom…
The weeks are whizzing by on my Divemaster course. You get in that rocking rhythm of dive, eat, sleep, repeat pretty quickly and, before you know it, you’ve become a part of the dive centre. I’ve learned so much since I started, but I’d be gutted to leave already. If you’re thinking about ‘going pro’ with PADI, take as much time as you possibly can to make the most of the experience. I’m hoping a few months will make me a decent Divemaster and leave me with the confidence that I can work as a dive professional. And if I don’t end up working in the industry, I’ll at least be handy on liveaboard holidays!
Now that I’ve got a decent grounding, I feel more confident to look after people. After three weeks on the course, I was assigned as a dive guide for a couple from Switzerland on some fun dives. Paying customers, on holiday, trusting me! It felt amazing to show people new places and beautiful marine life.
In my first review of the Divemaster course, I mentioned how I wanted to share my love of the ocean with people; this experience gave me that and it’s exhilarating. If you’ve followed this blog since I started diving, you’ll know that I’ve been in love with exploring the ocean for a few years now. To look after people who have only just started diving and help them to make lasting memories gave me a happy glow: getting to talk about the ocean and the creatures who call it home is a joy. I obviously throw in my Eco missives surreptitiously too… Luckily, I’ve only come across divers with big, blue hearts so far here (and mainly decent buoyancy, phew!).
I’ve guided a couple of fun divers since then too and I found my way back to the boat both times. You’re probably thinking, ‘yeah and?’. But I’m notorious for my lack of navigation, so this marks a monumental leap forward for my underwater nav (my instructor wrote ‘WTFB?’ in my logbook when I got lost at the end of one dive… I’ll let you work that acronym out). So I’m allowing myself an air punch for leading people around a site and bringing them back to the ladder of a boat. Boom-shakalaka.
Away from having fun (how dare I?!), I’ve been assisting on courses, including a Rescue Diver course, which I remember with both dread and fondness from when I did mine a couple of years ago. Playing a panicking diver and victim is much more fun than being the rescuer, I can tell you. There are an inordinate amount of people nearly drowning in those three days… Many divers say that it’s the most rewarding course you do on a recreational level, though, as you feel in a position to help, should there ever be an emergency. *touches wood* Hopefully, I’ll never come across one, but knowing what to do makes you much calmer in the water.
Once you’re a certified Divemaster, you can also conduct Scuba Reviews or Tune-Ups for people who have been out the water for a while and need a skills refresher. I’ve been allowed to do a couple of these, which was a little taster of what being an instructor must be like. I loved the teaching aspect and seeing people feel comfy in the water after a break. Once we’d gone over 20 skills, they seemed much more excited about diving again, even if they’d been a bit reluctant to spend a couple of hours in the pool at first.
Aside from the skills drilling, I’ve attended a conservation workshop and evening presentation about Molas, or ocean sunfish, and the Marine Protected Area (MPA) around Nusa Penida. As I was lucky enough to see a couple of Molas on a dive, it was fascinating to hear about the traits of the largest bony fish in the ocean… Researchers here are currently trying to track their movements and work out why they come to Bali’s waters at this time of year. They are a truly unusual sight – their fins lay vertically on a huge, round body and they circle past you with curiosity. You might think they’re not that pretty to look at, but you know me, I’m a nature pervert and I think they’re magical.
I balk at clichés in writing, but I can’t explain starting the Divemaster course any better than saying they throw you in at the deep end.
They’re not trying to trick you, but they let you take control of the course, because it’s up to you how much you get out of it, after all. So, they let you ask all the questions about the dive centre: where you can find what kit and what the procedures are, what you can do to help. It’s like starting a new job and the admin of a new place is always the hardest part, I find.
You might be wondering why the hell I’m talking about paperwork and not the diving, but that’s how a Divemaster course is. You become part of a dive team and dipping your fins in the ocean is just one part of the experience. You quickly learn that progressing from a fun diver to ‘going pro’ means being good at customer service and looking after others. So, I’ve had to control my itchiness to get in the blue every day and slow down to learn theory and observe classes in the pool.
My first day consisted of assembling my kit blindfolded with two other DMTs (Divemaster Trainees). So clearly, all our kit was tangled together and we had to feel our way around twisted regs and mixed-up integrated weight pockets. I think I need to give it a few more gos, to be at one with my kit. Scuba zen! We also did this at the bottom of the pool – all the kit was in the deep end and we had to jump on in and get togged up down there. Note – find anything you can to allow you to breathe first!
We had a giggle riding the tanks around the pool and sipping air directly from the tank. Good to know if I have a bust o-ring underwater and my regs aren’t working.
In the first couple of weeks, I’ve been observing how instructors run courses, from Discover Scuba Diving (a course for those who haven’t dived and want to have a go at jumping in that big blue), to Open Water courses. I’ll be able to assist on these in time, along with other courses, like Advanced Open Water, Rescue Diver and tune-ups for those who haven’t been in the water for a while. We’ve also been developing our navigational skills, learning first aid and practised search and recovery with lift bags. I had so much fun learning how to tie three knots – bowline, two half-hitch and sheet bend. Convinced I could be a sailor.
Now that the first couple of weeks are completed and I’ve studied the first few chapters of the Divemaster manual, I’m able to get out into that beautiful ocean and start to pass on my love of the marine world (as second fiddle)… This is how people get sucked into the next level and want to become an instructor, because you want to be the one to share your love of diving with others.
So far, I’m loving the challenge of learning a different side of diving. Knowing how to teach is opening up a whole new side of it for me. Instead of just doing the skills without thinking, we have to slow down and learn to show how you perform a skill. So if I have a bit of water in my mask while I’m diving, I clear it without thinking. Now, we have to be almost like dancers or presenters in our movements, showing the steps and making it look easy. We practise the PADI skills circuit, which currently includes 20 skills, plus 4 skin diving skills. I’m copying our instructor, who is the Course Director and owner of the centre, until I develop my own style. But for now, it means I’m getting marked highly, because she can’t fault her own style that I’m mimicking, boom.
My first taste of interacting with people new to diving reminds me so much of my first time getting wet; it’s so great to see them get over any initial niggles and worries and then watch them have a rocking time underwater. I can totally see how teaching people to dive can be addictive – it’s like grabbing someone’s hand and saying, “Hey, I can take you to the moon”. They’ll remember you and the experience forever.
The jet lag is gone and I’m now safely in Bali, ready to take on, what I’ve been told, is the most fun course diving has to offer – a Divemaster internship.
I’ve spent a week on my tod, wandering around Sanur, finding my feet (apart from a couple of chats with the locals – one taxi driver, Norman, said I looked like I was 18 and would I like to meet his son? He’s got high cholesterol from eating too much rice, but he’s having acupuncture and is losing weight now. Oh yeah, I was tempted by that offer…).
There are loads of places where solo travellers gravitate and quickly make friends, but Sanur isn’t one of those places. There are a lot of couples and families on holiday, just chilling out. But I’m not here to just wander around and be on holiday, so it’s no great shakes: my purpose was to sniff out which dive school I’d like to do the Divemaster course with.
I visited the 5* CDC PADI centres, as I figure I’m going to get the best service there and I want the teaching to be thorough. So that helped narrow my search a bit, as there are so many dive schools here. Not really a surprise with such a biodiverse ocean at their doorstep.
It’s hard to choose between the best schools, because they’re all well certified for a reason. I chatted to Blue Season Bali (who I applied for the Best Dive Job In The World with all those years ago!), Bali Scuba and Crystal Divers. They all had slick operations and I would’ve been in good hands with all of them, but in the end, I went with Crystal Divers.
I can’t give you a better reason than that I got a good vibe from them. They’re really flexible and will let me take as long as I like to do the course, which is exactly what I want. I don’t want to rush through it and pass the exams without the experience to back it up; I’ll have more hands-on experience of how a dive centre runs day to day. After working for myself for a couple of years, it’ll be nice to be part of a team again. Even if it’s only for a few months. Who knows where this will lead, anyway?
I also went with them on a couple of fun dives and they have it all down pat. In my first day of diving in Bali I saw a frogfish, two white tip reef sharks, nudibranchs and octopi. Hmm, pretty amazing.
I’d recommend just walking around and asking your questions before you choose where to do your Divemaster course. A website only gives you so much information and if you’re committing your time, money and effort to this, it has to be the right choice for you. They also seem like they know how to party on many levels – I met them the other night for a round of bingo. Bonkers. Seriously though, I’m an old fart who doesn’t go clubbing anymore, so I don’t know how I’ll keep up with these 21-year-olds…
I’ve also been doing lots of yoga at a lovely yoga school by the sea while I’ve been at it. There aren’t many moments in life where you get to work on yourself and force yourself to go through total loneliness to see how you cope. I’m away from my loved ones and my comfort blanket that has become my dog, with no idea what the next few months, or life in general, have in store for me. It’s the first time in my life I haven’t had a plan with a back-up plan, with an idea of what’s going to happen after that plan.
I am terrified, but I’m also working hard to be passive with myself and see where I go now. Yoga is all about the power of now and I think these past few months have been the first time I’ve had to bring the focus totally to the present. I’ve always been two steps ahead in my mind – most of us do it on a daily basis. Mindfulness is difficult, but is calming and doing yoga feels like giving a gift to myself. For those who have never done it – it’s not simply an exercise class, but takes so much thought and changes your perception of the world.
Although it seems like I’m wandering off track, there are a lot of similarities between yoga and scuba diving – in fact, I’ve done yoga scuba before! It all comes down to breath, which means life. So, I’ll keep on breathing to control my haywire mind and hopefully, find the stamina to drink all night and dive all day…
For a couple of years now, I’ve been giving MCS Sea Champion workshops to universities, community groups and clubs. They’ve all left me feeling warm about humankind; the participants have been genuinely interested, even if that’s meant challenging me and asking questions I’ve sometimes had to research afterwards, and give a fuller answer at a later date.
I’m learning all the time, which I’d say is probably true of even those on the front line of marine conservation. As a volunteer, I’m constantly expanding my knowledge about such a vast subject and enjoying the process as a diversion from my profession.
One of the ways I’ve shown how I get actively involved, which gives real colour to my storytelling, is to play this video that was created during my time on Koh Tao. Coral farming was one important aspect of the conservation efforts on the island. We gave coral fragments, that would have otherwise perished in the sand, another chance at creating life, by using them to create artificial reefs. These in turn, and in time, will create habitats for marine life. It all adds up to creating biodiversity, which ultimately is necessary for humans to survive too.
So take a look at this mini-docu to see how we helped create new life. If you’re a diver, give this a go! Give something back to the ocean to say thanks for all the amazing memories and experiences it gives us.
If racking up as many dives as possible is on your travel wishlist, you can’t cram in much more than going on a liveaboard.
Our latest dive trip to the south of the Red Sea marked our third liveaboard holiday (if you’re new to the term, it means you liveaboard the boat, spending days at sea, exploring the best dive sites and sometimes reaching reefs and wrecks that day boats can’t easily access).
Your first experience of it may be getting used to being in close confines with 20 strangers for a week, but as this was our third liveaboard, we embraced the dive, eat, sleep, repeat routine. That is all you do. Bliss. Well, it is if you love diving. If you’ve come to appease your other half and only want to do the odd dive, bring a well-stocked Kindle and don’t work out how much each dive is costing you.
A liveaboard is the only time you’ll get me out of bed at 6am on holiday every day. Sometimes 5.30am. I’m really not a morning person and when I first got into diving, I recall being a very grumpy mare with my boyfriend when he set the alarm for 4:30am to dive the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea. But it was my birthdaaaaay.
I’ve come a long way and even got a knowing wink from the other half when I said as much. I don’t moan about getting up anymore – but that’s helped by the Blue O Two cabin crew, who wake you up with a cup of tea. That’s the selling point, folks. Forget the pictures of pelagics, this should be in bold font all over the website – “The crew bring you a brewwwww!”
And getting up with the sunrise was well worth it this trip – I can honestly say this is the best dive trip I’ve ever been on. But that might be because I saw this fella at St. John’s…
Seeing a Manta Ray was on my bucket list. And it was as breathtaking and mind-blowing as you could imagine: my mask may have got a bit watery when I saw this beautiful creature, flying towards us like an underwater bird.
He was as playful as I’ve heard mantas are, circling around us and barrel-rolling, enjoying the feeling of our bubbles tickling his belly. Swimming right above my head, he was close enough for me to see the spots that uniquely mark every single Manta. I looked right into his eye as he swam past and wondered what he made of us lot. The only snag was that Mr. Adventure Girl (hee) got a cold and missed this dive, no! Oh, and some turdburger touched the Manta, prompting it to swim off. Livid.
Check out the magic manta as it happened…
And it didn’t end there, we were treated to hammerhead sharks, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, dolphins, hawksbill turtles and all the wonders of the Red Sea fish I’ve come to know and love. I’ve never seen so many of the higher trophic fish levels before, or ‘the big stuff’. So unusual is it for us to spot the big guys, that I usually had my eyes trained on a little nook in some hard coral, scouring for tiny crabs in pocillopora, when I’d feel a frantic tug on my fins to look into the blue.
This was the farthest south we’d ever ventured in the Red Sea and we’ll definitely be doing the Deep South itinerary again. The Blue O Two schedule covers St. John’s and Fury Shoals, balancing offshore reefs with magical swimthroughs and pinnacles. Check out the way that light streamed through the fissures in the reef to create an ethereal experience.
A huge selling point for me was that our dive guide, Elke, was extremely knowledgable and gave the most detailed dive briefs I’ve seen. It helped that she’s a marine biologist and so is an expert in the underwater environment. Plus, she records data on sharks for her conservation charity redseasharks.org, meaning that everyone can do some good on the trip, by sharing photos of sharks they see on their dives.
We were also fortunate to experience little to no current throughout the week, meaning that we actually slept during the overnight boat journeys. This itinerary covers a lot of distance, so there isn’t much moored-up sleeping. Of course it also meant that the diving was pretty gentle; no head-down finning and air guzzling.
Right, so it was an amazing week and one I want to do again. And again! But it’s important you’re prepared for the trek to get to this liveaboard. The boats depart from Port Ghalib, so you’d look at the map and see that Marsa Alam airport is the obvious choice, as it’s just minutes away.
But oh no, flights from the UK to Marsa Alam only operate on Wednesdays and the boat changes over on Fridays. So, you fly to Hurghada and then take a three-hour transfer bus down to Port Ghalib. And if you’ve been to Egypt before, you’ll know that you’ve got a good hour of faffing with visas and getting through passport control. Now, I’ll fess up here and reveal that we decided to go at Easter – no we’re not teachers, we’re just a pair of plums who didn’t check school holidays. So it was particularly manic, but still, from get-up at Gatwick Premier Inn to arrival at the boat took 17 hours.
We’ve figured a way round it for the next Deep South trip – fly out on the Wednesday, have a couple of nights in a hotel and get on the boat rested and ready for that 6am brew alarm.