After completing my Divemaster course on Koh Samui I knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Diving had taken a hold me already two years before when I had completed my first Open Water dives. The beauty of the ocean taken to a whole new level now entwined with the tranquillity of freely moving beneath the waves. In a world where you are now accepted – you are now an unknown threat to the mean, magnificent Titan Trigger Fish – who sometimes takes pleasure in circling you and maybe charging you to remind you whose home you are really visiting. You are now always ready for your nibble maintenance at the cleaning stations from the cleaner wrasse – ready to nab that wax out your ears and chew off any flakes of skin around those pesky mosquito bites. Then there are the fusiliers – the team that just glide, mingle and circle you like the stars beneath the ocean, their train always gracefully patient until you approach ready to engulf you like a fantasy from a nature documentary. And that’s without passing the other divers, when you see your new pals you have briefly spoken to gliding past with another group, the smile you can see through the eyes in their mask and the excited wave you give as you secretly hope they are admiring you as much as you are admiring their grace and control. The world for me now was beneath the waves, from the start of each day – carrying heavy tanks and feeling like a hardened cog in a well-oiled machine. The machine taking people to their favourite places to experience this secret feeling, the feeling only a fellow diver can understand. The excitement and chatter between the mixtures of nationalities as the engines of the boat begin to roar. The pre-journey announcement always making you giggle as someone advises people politely not to shit on anyone else’s head and to apply suntan lotion as soon as possible -as coral can be damaged by its wash off and the tomato fashion is really not the new look for any season.
Now I was on the other side of this, I was deeper beneath, not only was this new sensation now on tap to me, but I was an influence to the safety and enjoyment of others. I could speak directly to everyone encourage them to share their stories and feelings as we ventured out. Firmly remind everyone of the essential safety procedures, whilst intertwining the tale of their future adventure around my favourite dive sites. This is now a gift – I can see the worry when a diver has not dived in a long time, or when a newbie is feeling unsettled in taking on a fun dive with a new group outside their Open Water Course. I can share their worries and relate to them – as I was them once. I had that same look in my eye doing my first steps off into the big blue ocean from the boat, I unnecessarily shook myself up at the unknown of my first deep dive onto the big wreck. So this look makes me smile because I know when they realise they can trust me and remember what they’ve learnt to feel safe within themselves their smile will be the biggest of the groups when we come up at the end of the dive from truly enjoying it.
Now I had travelled to Koh Chang, my favourite area of Thailand, an island paradise where the smiles still remained genuine and not hardened by the onrush of endless tourists over the years. A place where you are still surrounded by jungle and palm trees still line the streets. Where you can sit along the road and see the ocean from the dive shop in Klong Prao. This was my dream, even more a centre with a great team and a friendly atmosphere, that didn’t take its safety lightly, were my main concerns. I didn’t want to enter an atmosphere where it felt as though you were beside the coolest kids on the block and they were too busy sizing you up to offer a friendly smile. As we all know when people tell you this work is the dream job some people take this to heart and assume this means they must be
pretty amazing to live such a life and have such a role. To my relief here was different – the smiles were genuine, the conversation was relaxed and the ease at being here felt natural. At this point I was the happiest I had been coming back to Koh Chang from the busy Koh Samui and having every worry about this decision diminished and having it affirmed as the right move.
My main concern about retuning here at the end of June had been the weather, as with everywhere it is impossible to fathom how it would be and not one can truly confirm it to you. I kept thinking- “Would rain every day? – Could we still dive? Would there even be any people here at all for diving with? Or alternatively could it actually be quite, nice and pleasant and not super busy as the peak season?”
With great relief I soon realised it wasn’t quite like the dramatic stories I had heard, yes it did rain, yes for some days it rained all day, but I liked that excitement and we still went diving. You just need to remember a raincoat for the journey and then cue dramatic music for the big jump.. woah! Did I feel like I was in the most exciting drama film or what?! Shouting “Everyone ready?!” Across the rain. Descending beneath real waves and not lake-like conditions. Feeling the incredible warmth of the sea on the jump in. Now I was a real diver, this was really an ocean and this was an adventure. Diving in perfect seas is beautiful – but diving with 5m visibility can be a challenge, you focus yourself, you see every section about you, not getting lost in fields of coral, but homing in on that nudibranch and being surrounded by the schools of fish you didn’t see coming from just one turn around a corner, finding that buoy line perfectly as a surprise for your group, as its not clearly waiting for you and for everyone to see as your ending the dive. And then in a couple of weeks the sun breaks out, the sun will just break out incredibly and the waves will die and it is like the hidden beauty of rainy season where you can feel like the world just momentarily twisted itself to its January position and now it was like that blissful paradise everyone is looking for. Of course there’s many days when it will rain in the morning or the evening and sun will come along once the clouds have cleared. There is a true magic to this unpredictable and changeable time of the year and I always enjoy it.
But the romantics of being here and diving I could talk about all day, to my course now – the Assistant Instructor course- the reason I came here. The welcome was the old Divemaster tests.. Oh no.. I sailed through the new ones and was constantly reminded how easy this all was now and how tough and in depth it really used to be. So I took the exams… all of them unrehearsed and just with the raw knowledge fresh from my “super easy” Divemaster exam and now we could see what work we really had to do. The Divemaster exam was changed not long before I took it by PADI – but this doesn’t mean you don’t still need to know the old information required before, it just means the tests aren’t as stringent until you work your way up to the Assistant Instructor and Instructor levels- then they are just as hard and in depth. But luckily for everyone coming here Andi firmly believes from trainee Divemaster level the old tests are still essential to learning development, so you will always have plenty of time to improve your knowledge and prepare yourself for any future steps you plan to take beyond this. Plus you can tell everyone with passion and pride that you still took the old school “hard version” and passed!
Now my days were filled with studying again, lift bags… sea currents… equipment… everything… I always aim for 100% so the quiet days that allowed much time for reading and reviewing formulas was the perfect timing for me. The days when the flurry of people would come for diving was exciting too, I continued to learn and develop, I was still monitored and advised by the instructors – as I was then a newbie fresh out of my Divemaster course. And for this was so thankful, the endless wealth of tips and pointers, the mean stare to toughen up that quiet little voice that was now only half way to projecting across the boat as it started it before the trip. I was not so much a trainee still as a team member in training, every journey back the look would unsubtly hint towards the check list until the eventual click and excitement came and the resulting journeys become a show of proudly thrusting the completed checklist in their direction before the look could appear. Yes I was now reliable and become a proper member within the team!
The pool work was the most exciting, as with the Divemaster you have to redo every skill you have learnt, but not just doing it. You have to be comfortable; it has to be second nature, now you are not in your Open Water Course focusing on calming yourself and simply trying so hard not to flail. Now you are focusing on your “student” and you are slowly emphasising each step so that they can focus and figure how to make this work for themselves. As an Assistant Instructor you are now emphasised a lot more with assisting Open Water students, demonstrating and explaining skills to Discover Scuber Divers who have not studied a book or watched the information filled cheese-fest fun of the PADI Open Water Videos. So now even more so your skills and their slow formulated production are key. The added fun to this was now there was a sheet for the Confined Water Presentation, now I got to talk through my skill and explain in a fun way why this was so essential to scuba diving. The more and more we rehearsed on land and then practised in the pool the more this flowed. Even to this day I value this training and explain to people how clearing the mask is a simple step by step action that’s most like to be needed when you get the giggles at your buddy underwater and your face creases let in various amounts of water for you to clear. I feel if you can understand why and how a skill is valuable it means more to you and remembering it is easier as is its ability to click in your head.
Performance of skills in the Open Water in a similar way with slate in hand fun explanations beforehand and reviews after was another skill set I needed to practise and complete. Did I mention in Confined and Open Water we also had our “students” not quite understand resulting in common mistakes we needed to spot and gently explain at the end without removing their enthusiasm and confidence. This all was the greatest learning curb and the patience given and sometimes various explanations, when I struggled to grasp the details for the requirements the first time, made the difference to my approach and ability to handle each section of this course.
Overall I am simply in love with Koh Chang, the natural beauty, the scenic sunsets, the local restaurants and family run shops; there is Tesco and 7/11 but they have not taken over yet and there is take away food. But it is take away Thai style – the men with their stools attached to mopeds, the restaurants always willing to pack it to go, from ice cream, fruit, soups, one dish on rice, sausages to pizza, there is nothing missed from the commercialism of other places I have visited. I enjoy that I can visit a local family run business and see them appreciate returning business – whether your only able to point to the menu and smile or whether friendly chit chat can be swapped between you each time.
For diving I will admit you won’t find super humongous fish as easily as other places, however the reefs are home to such a large variety of fish and life it never disappoints. The biggest wreck in Thailand is also sunk here -woah!, that’s just a treat for everyone no matter where they have dived before! Imagine a boat purposely sunk in the perfect depth for divers and marine life, the ocean has literally taken hold of it and claimed it as part of its world now. It is covered in shells, scorpion fish and eels, around it swim schools of chevron barracuda, schools of fusiliers, long finned bannerfish, spotted boxfish – so so much life surrounds this wreck I cannot even describe a fraction of its glory. Especially those days when the Whaleshark comes by for a visit! When the plankton is full in the water then we will often see a Whaleshark passing Hin Raap, Hin Luk Bat, The HTMS Chang and they can be spotted for a fair few days each year. You have to be lucky with the timing- but every company has various videos diving/snorkelling alongside these incredible creatures. For the dive sites we visit most often the depths are perfect mainly 5-15m and currents sometimes but not normally strong as we are very protected by the gulf of Thailand here which is a fairly shallow shelf if you are talking in terms of the sea.
I would recommend any training with Scandinavian Chang Diving… because… the people are genuine. This place is not a factory or anywhere near. People here are still listened to and work together more like a family than just a team. Your safety is taken very seriously and no matter how many times someone advises they have dove to 35m or 50m in Egypt or wherever – you will still not come to the depths of the big wreck at 30m without a deep diving license or Advanced Open Water. The risk will simply not be taken and your safety first means they are happy for anyone to walk out over this. Your training is taken seriously and I cannot emphasis the development I experienced in the 2 months I spent on my Assistant instructor course. In the end the best place for anyone is a personal choice- it is the place you click with and feel most comfortable and can put your trust in. For me this will always be Scandinavian Chang Diving, which is why I strongly recommend them.
Above all else I recommend you give scuba diving a try, always take your courses at your own pace. Look at your own development and not others and realise entering diving a not just a hobby or passion, its adding another dimension to your life. With the people you meet and the places you will choose to go, the calmness from submerging yourself, it somehow connects to your soul, diving is special and so we must give something back too, think about our oceans and the privilege we have with the ability of being able to embark on any diving journey literally at our fingertips.