(This post has been slightly adapted from the original post in Chasing Contours)

When we are much younger, our true passions are purer, and clearer. We get to a certain point in our lives where these interests or dreams call us back. Often, ‘life’ (or parents – with all their loving intentions) get in the way.

For myself, it was the love of the sea – beneath the waves. I started diving because of my Papa. When I was 14, I inherited his vintage stainless steel regulator, and studied under the instruction of Mary Lou Santos (NAUI). From 1997, we enjoyed numerous dive trips around the Philippines: Batangas, Bohol, Bicol, Dumaguete, Cebu, and Palawan. Unfortunately moving to the UK in 2002 put a temporary stopper to my diving, I wasn’t attracted to cold water diving and was in university at that time.

Our first trip to Coron was in December 2007 – we were one of the few tourists exploring the islands. Back then, the roads were not paved, the resorts and food were limited, and we had the islands pretty much all to ourselves. This was when I fell in love with Coron of the Calamines Islands.

After returning several times between now and then, I finally took the bull by the horns and committed to a long-time dream of eventually becoming a SCUBA Instructor. But first, I needed to become a Divemaster. We had been going back to Reggae Dive Centre (formerly known as Rocksteady) over the past few years; it made sense to go back to train with them, last November 2016, I signed up.

Karin, the owner and Course Director, runs her shop like clockwork. She treats the team like extended family, correcting us where we need to improve, but also happily joining us for a meal and a beer after a long day’s work.

It was an early start everyday. I would be woken up by the roosters at 03:00, 04:00, and 05:00…finally getting up at 05:30… Coffee and a small breakfast, and out the door to RDC.

On our way to the Dive Bangkas!

At 06:45, we start loading the jeep, the boats (bangka), fixing gear, checking out boat assignments. By 07:30 some guests arrive to get fitted for some gear. By 08:00 the jeep is full of our guests for the day and we set off to the loading area where we embark our assigned bangkas.

There are usually 3 planned dives, and each day, we greet our guests with enthusiasm for the day ahead. There is always at least one instructor on board if there are training sessions happening. We return to port between 16:00 and 17:30, and stay behind to carry tanks and gear off the boats.

Here’s a short feel-good video of a typical day diving with Reggae Dive Centre:

The training was coupled with assisting Instructors ‘Wizard’ and Dennis. It was also great having someone to train alongside. Elisa had travelled from Italy, and was my buddy for some of the exercises we had to complete. I had learned much from the BSAC training I received in the UK, and the PADI training mainly complemented what I had learned. It was great to have an opportunity to practice and polish the necessary skills a good DM should have, particularly in natural navigation, problem solving, and rescue situations…not to mention making the dive interesting and fun for guests.

There were also some physical tests, like a timed open water 400m swim without fins, mask, or snorkel; 800m swim with; treading water for 15 minutes, and staying upright with hands raised for the final 2! That was the longest 2 minutes of my life! Although I wasn’t particularly fast on the 400m open water swim test (I can’t swim in a straight line for some reason), I finished within the time limit and really appreciated the fitness level divemasters and instructors need to maintain.

Despite the repetitive nature of the dives, each dive was still unique because our guests varied in skill and experience. During one of the days, Karin instructed Elisa and I to explore some of the wrecks on our own. This was one of the most fun parts of our training, where we descended down to Morazan Maru and Olympia Maru on our own, communicating to each other who would lead which section. This exercise allowed us to plan our dive, and explore some areas we have not previously seen.

Part of the training was the underwater gear exchange (exchanging pretty much all our gear except wetsuits while using only one regulator between us for air), we completed this in good time and with no panic. Wizard also took us through some problem-solving situations, where he became a problem diver. From narcosis, tank removal, gear malfunction, tank not switched on properly, to losing gear, touching marine life, chasing fish, buoyancy control problems…he covered almost all situations that divers can experience underwater. Elisa and I had to lead and make sure to look back and observe Wizard regularly, aiding him when necessary. When we surfaced, we felt prepared…although really wanted to kill our beloved Wizard for being such a problem :-P.

Measuring and mapping Lusong Gunboat

If you are thinking about training as a PADI Divemaster, I would thoroughly recommend it; it’s not a breeze, but if you can commit, have enough experience in diving, and are generally cool-headed in stressful situations, then this is a great stepping stone to professional diving and progressing into Instructor level.

Post-dive photo: Kara guided Katherine and Harry along Barracuda Lake

I personally want to continue as a divemaster first, gaining more experience, and ideally shadowing a good instructor and learning more from him or her. If you are new to diving, especially diving in Coron – diving the wrecks can be challenging but rewarding; your buoyancy skills have to be tip top  – this skill in weightlessness makes it a lot more fun.

Post-dive stretches and saying goodbye to the sun

Everyone around me during this time was professional, fun, and open. Everyday was a combination of great conversations and some really funny, unforgettable situations.

And so the dive day ends with a cold beer (sometimes), a tired but happy body, and lots of smiles all around. My next goal now is to find an Instructor Internship, where I will work for a few months and be trained as an instructor to give me even more flexibility.

We should never forget our childhood dreams, even when we feel like we have to be ‘adults’. Give time and space to ourselves to explore what makes us feel alive…even if it means taking risks and going beyond the realms of comfort.

Kara & Elisa: Divemaster ‘Wannabes’ now Divemasters :-P