Review: Asli Desain Sportswear (modelled by little ol’ me)

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.

Enjoy, merfolk!

Thanks to Tanner Smith for the photography.

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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…

Divemaster: Week 3-6 In Review

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.

Underwater kisses...
Underwater kisses…

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.

Mapping a site with my fellow Divemaster Trainees
Mapping a site with my fellow Divemaster Trainees

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.

Oh, and there’s beer. Lots of beer…

Love and bubbles (and Bintang),

xx

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…

Review: Navy Spot Oil Cloth Constellation Luggage

If you spend your life living out of a suitcase, like I seem to, regardless of the purpose being work, pleasure or both, it’s important to have some reliable luggage that can cope with you battering it about.

Not only is durability a priority for me, I am a girl, so I like to cart my life around in something pretty.

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The cabin size case is packed full of travel style
As I write this, I’m waiting for a flight to Indonesia, where I’ll be running this blog from while I become a PADI dive professional (writing that made me smile, but I’m papping it). So, this is the perfect road test – or air, moped and donkey test – for the latest luggage range to come from Constellation.

They offer pretty, floral designs, which are lovely and ditzy-cutesy, but I liked the look of the Navy Spot Oil Cloth Collection the best: I do love a polka dot print and I thought this design was a perfect mix of cute and chic.

Coming in a set of three, you can buy them as separate pieces or the whole range if you want your cabin size case to match your weekend case, to match your two-week holiday case.

All 3 cases stack neatly inside each other for easy storage
Three cases stack neatly inside each other for easy storage
As I need to transport all my dive gear out there, something that can cope with heavy kit and keep it safe throughout the journey is paramount. The largest piece of luggage out of the three was more than ample enough for me to fit in all my equipment – and it felt sturdy enough to protect it. I’ll let you know when I get to the other side whether everything is still in one piece…

The dive clobber fits in perfectly
The dive clobber fits in perfectly
If you’re just packing pants and swimmers though, the largest suitcase really is roomy enough for you to take everything you’d need for your holibobs, including all your make-up bags and toiletries.

I managed to ram my cabin size case full to the brim with more equipment too, so that I can still work out there while I dive. It coped with heavy laptops, kindles, microphones, headphones, plus a change of clothes, magazines, make-up and endless trivial nonsense absolutely necessary for travel.

The cases really did look nifty stacked up next to each other and are easy to wheel about. The handles are nicely padded too, so no swearing needed as you heave them out of cars and onto trollies. Having a cabin-size regulation case also gave me peace of mind that I wouldn’t have a Meet-The-Parents-style argument at the check-in desk or on the aeroplane.

Constellation Close-Up

If I had to pick a snag about these cases, it’d be the little padlocks that come with it. Better to get some heavyweight padlocks if you want to ensure those baggage handlers don’t rummage through your smalls. But you’re not about to buy luggage based on padlocks, really…

If you’re looking for pretty patterns in your travelware that can cope with lugging your life around, this is a choice that marries style, affordability and practicality.

Please note: this luggage set was donated to The Adventure Girl’s Guide for review. www.constellationluggage.com/

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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.