10 Ways to Survive the Divemaster course

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!

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Divemaster life… Silly posing mandatory. Always.

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*

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Frogging around the USAT Liberty wreck, Tulamben Bali

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…

Arriving in Bali: Choosing Where To Do My Divemaster

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…).

Slowing down to appreciate the journey
Slowing down to appreciate the journey

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…

The yoga school has its own sacred cow. Don't see that at the village hall class with Pat.
The yoga school has its own sacred cow. Don’t see that at the village hall class with Pat.

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…

The Best Dog-Friendly Beaches In Cornwall

There’s so much to do with your furry best friend in Cornwall; the county’s renowned for being dog-friendly, after all. Even so, there are a lot of beaches that are closed to dogs in the summer, which usually means from Easter until October 1st. So, if you’re off to Cornwall with your pooch for your summer holibobs, take a look at the best dog-friendly beaches I discovered from my wanderings.

Nahla’s tail curl rounds pertly and proudly when she sinks her paws into the sand. Seeing her trot around on patrol, ears pricked and tongue lolling out the side of her mouth always makes me smile. The digging, the running into the sea, the chasing around with other dogs… What more can a doggy ask for?

The dog-child let me bury her in the sand. Bonkers animal.
The dog-child let me bury her in the sand. Bonkers animal.

Newquay

The beaches of Newquay allow dogs and they’re stunning. If your dog is off-lead, you just have to watch out for the surfers. There are so many surf schools constantly in and out of the water, so this may either freak your dog out, or in the case of Nahla, I had to stop her from joining in! She was well up for catching some waves. Newquay Beach Newquay Beach It’s also a fab town to wander around afterwards: as it’s a surfer’s mecca, surf shops line the streets, as well as tattoo and piercing parlours, reflecting its younger and edgier vibe. The day we went, the sun was thankfully shining and we chilled in the outside area of Walkabout. It has huge, squishy bean bags to sprawl out on and looks out over the sea. Perfect spot for a cool beer and a bowl of H2O for the hound.

Holywell Bay

Just a few minutes’ drive away from Newquay was my favourite beach of the trip – Holywell Bay. It has so much to explore – sand dunes with meandering paths, a long stretch of beach and there’s a snack hut for the daily ice-cream craving, as well as bodyboard/surfboard hire. I also noticed some enterprising individual was hiring out large, round discs for sledging down the steep sandbanks. Ace.

You can access the beach by either parking at The National Trust car park for £5 or, if you can squeeze on the St Pirans Inn pub car park, they charge £3.50. From there, it’s a 5 minute walk across the grass and dunes. The best thing about Holywell Bay is that if you keep walking away from the crowds, you find secluded coves where you feel like you have all of nature to yourself. I walked as far as I could and got cosy in a nook in the cliffs. Nahla could bounce around without annoying anyone and I could sunbathe in peace. Enjoy a moment of secluded calm as the sun sets over a shimmering horizon and take in the sounds of the marine birds calling to each other. IMG_1806 IMG_1810 Duporth

I made the mistake of typing this place into Google maps on my phone and got big, frowning eyes from the bear when I kept being sent round and around in circles. This is a beach you can’t drive to. Ah. You have to park at Charlestown, a pretty little harbour with some impressive ships, and take the South West Coast path about a mile west (there are wooden signs all around the SW Coast Path, so you don’t need to know your bearings!). It’s only a small beach, but it’s a good spot to play fetch after you’ve wandered around Charlestown.

Charlestown and the South West Coast Path that leads to Duporth
Charlestown and the South West Coast Path that leads to Duporth

I’d say Charlestown is the draw and Duporth is somewhere for your dog to let loose; the route also provides some impressive, panoramic views with old forts along the way. Just a note about Charlestown – there aren’t many dog-friendly pubs, so go for lunch al fresco at The Pier House and look out at the harbour. It’s also worth heading in the other direction of the SW Coast Path towards Carlyon Bay for some doggy-friendly trails: narrow paths give way to wide-open green spaces for some decent bombing around (maybe only my dog bombs).

Trebah Gardens Beach

The private beach at Trebah Gardens, Polgwiddon Cove, is a piece of secluded delight. The water is so clear and worth getting your toes wet from the shingle beach. Get your chops around a moreish ice-cream from the Boathouse while you take a load off and look out at the maritime scene. If you want to access this beach, you have to visit Trebah Gardens, which is well worth a trip.

Dogs are allowed on leads along the paths of real flower power. The colours are knockout and, as is the case with Cornwall’s vistas, the gardens reminded me of a land untouched by humans, when nature ruled the Earth. I felt like I was in an H.G. Wells novel, hurled into a land before time.

Nahla splashing around at the private Trebah Gardens beach
Nahla splashing around at the private Trebah Gardens beach

In the summer, the giant gunnera are thriving. I was joined by a couple of mates the day I visited these gardens, and we felt like we were in ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Kids’ as we skipped through the gunnera passage, shouting skywards, “Dad! We’re in the rhubarb patch!”.

Claire's a crouton in a giant salad
Claire’s a crouton in a giant salad

These are just a few highlights – Cornwall has so many dog-friendly beaches to enjoy and we went to plenty more than those that made it into this feature. Which are your favourites?

A good site I used to find doggy beaches is Cornish Coast – click here for a map of beaches where dogs are allowed.

Nahla: She’s A Rotty-Lab-Staffy Cross

You chat to anyone with a dog. People strike up conversation with you about them, what their name is, how old they are, they’ll talk to the dog a bit… I think dog owners are a bit like parents, in that we think our dog is gorgeous and special. But I really think Nahla is.

Cheeeese
Cheeeese

The usual opening line is, “What breed is she?”, sometimes followed by, “What do you feed her, then?” or “Are you going to have puppies from her?”

So, welcome to the blog officially, beautiful Nahla. If you’re wondering, she’s a Rotty-Lab-Staffy cross. A line I trot out on practically every walk, as she garners such interest. I have the same conversation about her not being a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Every. Day.

Her mum was a Rotty and her dad was, apparently, a lab-staffy cross. We saw her mum in the rescue shelter and the rest is speculation.

My furry travel friend and all-round nut-job.

Camping In Cornwall With A Dog

The little furball has firmly lodged herself into my heart and lifestyle now.

That face… Heart-melter
That face… Heart-melter

We’ve had a good few adventures with the little smelly brown bear already, taking her to cottages in the countryside for long walks and rests by the fire in convivial inns. From staying in an old Piggery in the Peak District to relaxing in a country home by the beautiful Norfolk coast – to name just a couple of her jaunts – she’s a well-travelled hound.

I think dogs deserve a holiday as much as humans do; they must get fed up of routine and want to sniff new smells and pee in new spots. If only we had such simple desires, eh?

Travelling with your pooch is great fun, but it has its limitations of course. It can be a bit frustrating wandering around to find a dog-friendly pub or to find a dog-friendly beach in the summer.

I bundled Nahla up for a long road trip down to Cornwall for some camping, pasties and cream tea (she may have tasted a few crumbs). It was just the two of us, which does add another dimension of difficulty to travelling with a dog, mainly when you need to wee. I hate leaving her tied to a chair leg, while she frowns at the spot she last saw me. But I’ve learned to answer the call of nature quickly and people are generally kind and offer to watch her for a minute.

She is a fab companion and was the warm furriness I needed at night in the tent. You’re never alone when you travel with a dog; you just become do-lally after no human contact and start having full-blown conversations with them. It’s the socially acceptable version of muttering to yourself.

Getting There

I’ll post highlights of dog-friendly Cornwall, but for now, I’ll share my experiences of the camping and the journey there, to help make the long route bearable for you and your four-legged friend (because Cornwall is generally a long way for most of us!).

Driving with stops easily takes 8 hours from the north and the midlands, so I decided it would be kind to us both to break the journey into two and make an overnight stop halfway down. That made it somewhere around the Cotswolds, which I could reach in about 3 hours. With a lunchtime set-off, that gave us the late afternoon for a long walk to stretch the legs and to relax before spending the next day on the M5 and the A30.

I discovered Colgate Farm in Cheltenham during my research, which was perfect for an overnight stay. It was ideal for dogs: Nahla was allowed to run around freely, which she happily did with the farm’s little troupe of doggies. It’s also on the Cotswolds Way, so is a gateway to excellent walks. We stayed in the log cabin, which looks out onto glorious hills. It’s not a luxury option, but is a decent base for exploring nearby attractions and the walking routes.

Nahla's walk at Colgate Farm in the Cotswolds
Nahla’s walk at Colgate Farm in the Cotswolds

After trundling along the Cotswolds Way as dusk fell, I relaxed in the cabin while Nahla tired herself out by exploring the new smells and sights.

They leave the place stocked with breakfast goodies so you can eat at your own pace and when you like. There’s also a bench outside so you can make a brew and just have a moment of peace, listen to the birds and take in the countryside. If you want to stay connected to the outside world, there’s free wifi.

Accommodation costs £50 per person per night and wagging tails cost £5 per night.

The Campsite

Halfway point achieved, we pressed on down to our campsite near St Agnes – Blue Hills Touring Park.

If you’re looking for a pool and a clubhouse, this isn’t for you. But neither is it a field with a portaloo. This site offers you the back-to-nature experience you want from camping, but also has some modern comforts to remind you it’s a holiday, not a survival exercise. It has a decent toilet and shower block – and the water is nice and hot, so no dancing around in an icy trickle. They also offer you a fridge space if you haven’t brought the entire contents of your home and need somewhere to keep your bacon. I opted for electrical hook-up too, so I could charge my phone and blow up my air bed.

The campsite is nicely out the way to feel like a break from the rush, but then again, that’s Cornwall all over. It’s a short drive from the cosy village of St Agnes, which has everything you’d need – newsagents, gift shop, butcher, florist, pubs, restaurants and takeaways. Importantly if you’re travelling with your pet, it has a vet, which we ended up in…

It’s also a 5 minute walk away from the beach or the cliffs, which, if you’ve just arrived after hours of being in a car, make you stop and breathe a silent ‘wow’. Once I put the tent up and made the canvas palace ready for the week, I took Nahla for a local reccy around the cliffs of Perranporth Airfield.

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From there, you can follow the South West Coast Path a few minutes down to Trevellas Cove, a good beach for your dogs to play on. It’s out the way and too rough to swim, so all the day trippers and surfers are elsewhere. Or if you’re up for a few miles of walking, you can hike to Perranporth beach, where there are dog-friendly areas, surfing and rock-pooling.

This site is a good base to explore Cornwall from – I got familiar with the roads really easily without a satnav. Although I didn’t get it right every time and mumbled silent prayers when I ended up on a cliff-side lane in the pitch black, only just a tad wider than my car (and it’s an ickle Fiat).

The weather was shocking the week we were there (mid-July 2015), which does make camping rather difficult. I almost wept at not being able to get my stove going to make a cup of tea in the rain and practically snogged the lady who turned up one morning with a coffee van. The night of harsh rain and lightning wasn’t much fun for us either; I don’t know whether I was comforting Nahla or the other way around.

But there’s nothing you can do about that – you know you can’t bank on the weather in the UK, but generally, Cornwall is as good a bet as you can make. When the sun did come out it, you felt like you were a long way away from the UK and you wonder why everyone hasn’t tried to squeeze on that little foot of the country. The sea is blue! The beaches are bountiful! The smell of neoprene is in the air, oh my!