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HOW I BECAME A DIVE PROFESSIONAL

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dive professional - Lash teaching diving in Thailand

HOW I BECAME A DIVE PROFESSIONAL

part 1: DECIDING TO BECOME A PRO DIVER

In early 2004, six years into my world travels, I was propelled into my professional diving career, primarily because I needed to earn a living again, darn it. However, it wasn’t a whim that lead me to a diving career. I’d been interested in diving ever since my teens, when I first discovered such an amazing activity existed…

dive professional - Lash teaching diving in Thailand

Lash teaching diving in Bali

Gearing up to dive

During university I’d eagerly attained my diving certification in an accredited course. Since then the enticing idea of working as a dive instructor sat in the back of my mind. Conversely, my university dives in an old rock quarry in Pennsylvania in late October (read ‘freezing, nothing to see’) definitely did nothing to persuade me to repeat the experience! And so it was many many years later that I actually started diving in the sea on coral reefs. 

dive professional- Dive Shop in Malaysia

Dive Shop in Malaysia

Dive Shop in Malaysia

In the meantime, during my travels around SE Asia I had visited numerous dive shops in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia asking the dive pros about diving life and pouring over tropical fish books. I also took every chance to snorkel on reefs of numerous islands I visited. Because of the cost of diving, however, I didn’t join any dive tours until I visited the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns, Australia in 2003. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef had been a long-standing dream, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to dive it. In addition, by then I was seriously considering a diving career and thought I’d better find out how much I actually liked diving- on tropical reefs vs. freezing rock quarries.

diver- coral reef- Bali

part 2:   PADI OPEN WATER COURSE IN CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA 


dive professional- Coral reef- anthias- Bali

Coral reef swarmed with colorful anthias

Coral reef swarmed with colorful anthias


 In June 2003, there I was in Cairns, Australia, Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! I had to see it! I decided to repeat the first level diving course (Open Water Course) because it had been so very long since my original course back in University days. Retaking the course also provided a great opportunity: observe a dive instructor in action with the aim of possibly becoming a dive pro. 

dive professional- diving - Bali

diving in Bali

Preparing to dive

 

The course went fine… except… once again, to my shock and dismay, the sea near Cairns was much much too cold for me! (It was 26°C/ 78F) The sea was so frigid, in fact, that I gasped in shock every time I jumped in the water, practically hyperventilating. Following that I’d force myself to submerge then spend every dive with one thought only- get the hell out as soon as possible! Forget looking at marine life or enjoying myself- my mind and body were stiffened, stunned from cold! 

lionfish

lionfish

lionfish

 

Between dives I wrapped up in towels, drank hot tea, then retreated to the bathroom where I’d burst into tears then talk myself into joining the next dive! I was pretty damn miserable. So miserable, in fact, that upon completing my course I burst into tears again. I was so grateful I never had to do that again!!
 

Besides freezing water, the boat trips from Cairns out to/from the reefs were fairly horrifying. The sea was heaving, huge waves splashed on-board repeatedly, the wind was blowing  so that I was already ‘frozen’ and half seasick before I even had to plunge into the sea.  On top of the cold rough conditions, the reefs we dived were in pretty poor condition, not nearly as beautiful as the reefs I’d snorkeled in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia! All in all, the Great Barrier Reef was a sore disappointment to me. Big bummer for a childhood dream!

 

Needless to say, after my Cairns experience I had serious doubts about my ability- or desire- to pursue a diving career! However, I suspected the real problem was simply the cold and rough seas. Recalling all the fantastic snorkeling I’d done around SE Asia, I suspected- HOPED- I could enjoy diving in warmer conditions. 

Corals - seafan- wreck site

Corals and seafans at wreck site

Corals and seafans at wreck site

And so, in early 2004, just 6 months after my horrendous experience diving in Cairns, I set out questioning various dive shops around Thailand about dive training and professional work…

 part 3:  DIVE MASTER TRAINING IN THAILAND

After visiting several dive shops around southern Thailand I finally chose a shop at my favorite of favorite places in Thailand: Railay Beach, most famous for  world-class rock climbing and its stunning rock cliffs lining beautiful white sand beaches. With great luck, 2 western women I’d known at Railay since my first ‘long term’ stay there in 2000 had not only become divers but were running the dive shop! Pam, the manager, gave me a fantastic package deal for doing all the dive courses up through the first pro level- Dive Master. I took her up on that offer…

Tonsai Beac- Krabi- Thailand

Tonsai Beach, Krabi, Thailand

Tonsai Beach, Krabi, Thailand

 

Well, actually, I decided  to first enjoy 5 days of leisure diving (‘fun diving’) to find out if I actually did indeed like diving enough to make a career of it. Happily, from the very first dive I absolutely loved it!! All week long every dive was fantastic. I was hooked… and what a relief! My previous ‘horror’ diving experiences had all been due to cold! Diving in Thailand- water temps. 28-30 C/ 82-86F- was absolutely marvelous. Yeah!!

Diver - coral reef

Diver on colorful reef

Diver on colorful reef

I promptly signed up for the remaining dive courses and set out to become a PADI Dive Master… 
Here’s an email I sent in the midst of my Dive Master Training…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Hello everyone…

Here I am on yet another visa run to the Malaysian border. I completed the visa run yesterday and am hanging out in Hat Yai city for a couple nights before returning to my Dive Master training…

Lash teaching diving in Thailand

Lash teaching diving in Thailand

Pre-Dive check with student

Since I last wrote, I finished my Rescue Diver course and am currently about 1/2 way through the Dive Master course… Well, I had no idea how much we have to learn and do!! We have to study physics, physiology, decompression theory, equipment structure and function, among other subjects. We have to assist on Open Water, Advanced and Rescue courses, practice guiding divers, pass swimming skills, map a dive site, make an emergency rescue plan, do boat briefings and dive briefings, pass a stress test, among other activities, and take 8 short exams in the various subjects. In addition, we must have 60 dives upon completion.

divers - Bali

divers in Bali

Briefing divers before dive

It’s all very interesting but really a lot to do and learn!!  Supposedly it’s possible to complete the course in just 3 weeks, but I really don’t see how!! I’ve scheduled myself for 6 weeks and am really busy busy busy immersed in diving! I may even need an extra week to finish everything without being overwhelmed by information.

Black tip reef shark

Black tip reef shark

harmless Black tip reef shark


So far, half way through my training, I’ve studied the hardest subjects, taken 5 of the 8 exams, practiced leading divers, assisted on 3 courses and done my first boat briefing (welcoming the customers/students on-board and briefing them on the boat and trip)  I’ve already done 53 dives. Considering that I started with 4 dives that’s a lot! At this rate, I’ll actually end up with more like 80 dives and will have to ‘work off’ the extra 20 or so by working in the shop, which suits me just fine…

Lash teaching diving in Thailand

Lash teaching diving in Thailand

Ready to jump in for dive!

 I’ve also acquired my first wetsuit! Yeah! A full-length 5mm suit-  very warm! I can actually feel hot water flowing around inside! Much warmer than the 3mm shortie suits I’d been wearing from the shop! I’ve bought some diving tools as well, including my ‘wheel’, which is a devise to calculate safe diving depths/ times for dives. I bought a diving watch, underwater slate and pencil for writing messages, tank ‘bell’ to catch people’s attention, and a ‘safety sausage’- an inflatable tube that sticks up out of the water to alert people that divers are below. This keeps boats away from the area where we’re going to surface. I was especially happy to get my wheel and watch because I’ve been able to plan my dives and monitor time/ depth, which allows me to lead dives. With all my new gear I’m really feeling like a diver now!


 Despite all the studies and activities I’ve completed, I still have loads more to do!! Whew!! This week I’ll assist a Rescue Diver course… and then move on to all my other tasks and studies! As I mentioned, I may need another week to complete it all! 

Lash at Tonsai

Meanwhile, I have managed to fit in some social life. For one, all people in the bungalows surrounding me are long-term residents, most of whom I’ve known a few years. They’re all good pals. It’s a little neighborhood! 2 are divers, the other rock climbers. Besides that, a traveler I met about 4 years ago came to visit me here and has been around 2 weeks. Next week a friend from Australia is coming to visit. I occasionally get to one of the many parties for a dance and chat with friends, though I don’t see my old Thai climbing buddies too often. 

Lash teaching diving in Thailand

In addition, the daily diving boat trips are always a social affair with new customers/students every day. There’s usually 5-15 customers on-board plus the diving staff and boat crew. Speaking of which, I’ve basically become one of the staff now! That means helping to load/unload equipment, pack it up, clean it at the end of the day and… do boat briefings. Gone are the easy days of being a leisurely student!

Busily immersed in diving, Lash
———————————————
After completing my Dive Master Training I worked one year as a Dive Master then took my Instructor’s course in 2005. Since then I’ve been working around Asia as a PADI Instructor. It’s a fun, rewarding life packed with bountiful nature and enthusiastic students.


Find out what a coral reef is like by checking out my underwater photo galleries and reading my dive site stories– under  adventures tab.  Contact me or leave a message below to ask about diving around Asia and/or learning diving. Thanks for joining me!

Lash

        cheers, Lash

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