A Journey from Landlubber to Master of the Underwater World
Written by Lasse S. Oszadlik, PADI divemasterIt’s 30 degrees Celsius (not Fahrenheit you savages), the sun is bombarding my ginger skin with scorching rays of unparalleled strength, I’m slightly dehydrated and in very new surroundings, with scrap metal welded tricycles swarming around, busy and beelike, and thousands of people trading, smiling and doing their everyday stuff. Inside the van the driver expertly maneuvers the lawless streets and after a good 50 minutes I see it – the black and blue sign with double diver-ok-signs, the golden gate to MCP (or rather the dirt road and slightly muddy entrance, but salvation seldom comes in the figure of gold and glory).
I have never dived before and I have planned to become a Divemaster. The decision was spontaneous but dwelled upon for many years, and when a random ad on facebook appeared before me with MCP’s information, the decision was easy – if I ever would become a diver, I might as well do some good for the environment in the mean time. Rarely doing things to a minimum, the divemaster was the only option for me, and so it was agreed between our two parties, MCP and me.
I was warmly welcomed in the botanical garden premises of the MCP camp by the widest smile and friendliest demeanored Irish you could ever imagine, and the name is spelled as weird as her hospitality is great. Aoibheann [Efin] showed me, and the 3 other arrivals around the camp and told us all the basic information we would need to know for our stay here. I had chosen 11 weeks for my stay, enough time to do a Divemaster and also contribute to the important cause that MCP has fought for over 2 years now.
The next day training began, and I was met by an American Instructor with the name of Chase and the game of extraordinary teaching. By his side was a Divemaster to be, Spanish Mar, who should become one of my greatest influences in my early training. The open water course and the advanced open water course flew by in short time, and I learned a great deal from the professional and very entertaining duo of Chase and Mar, who, with their uncompromising expertise and insisting on having a great time, showed me diving as good as it can and should be: Safe, skillfull, fun, and eyeopening to the wonders of our blue planet (you may read the last part with the voice of David Attenborough for full effect).
Onwards t’ward glory and wetsuits I was met with delight the prospect of taking my Rescue diver course under the supervision of the Irish Smile. Together with me in this course was a man I should become very much acquainted to over my next 8 weeks. Antonio, or Tony, is a man whose like I’ll probably never meet again. Never have I had the joy of such a truly happy attitude towards life, work, the people around you, and especially the environment of which he of all understood the importance and worth of fighting for. Tony works in the government of the Philippines, and part of his work is to demarcate the Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s), which is strenuous, never ending work, mostly at 25-30 meters depth. But no matter the day, the weather, the problems or the (sometimes) lack of results due to many unforeseen or unmanagable occurences, the man never stopped smiling, laughing, joking, singing and being an absolute maniac in the good sense. Thank you Tony! The Philippines thank you, the coral reefs thank you and Gaia thanks you dearly.
The rescue diver course went by with lots of hard exercise and a steep learning curve, and before you could say “whew! That was hard but fun and very useful, I feel like a better diver, who’s focus is now more on my fellow dive buddies and the safety of the dive as a whole instead of being on me and my buoyancy control” we were certified rescue divers.
A part of the course was first aid and emergency management, led by a sweethearted and knowledgeable instructor named Ashley. Quickly the inside jokes of “protection” and “my name is your name” arose, and to much enjoyment we felt ready to handle the most common, and some uncommon, injuries one can expect before, during and after a dive.
And thus I became a Rescue diver within my first 3 weeks, now the Divemaster course was looming in the horizon, but since I was still very green in diving, I had to become blue, and what better way to gain experience than by working for the environment as well.
Mapping divesites and demarcating MPA’s became my primary duties. I had quite some experience with navigating from my time in the army, and so mapping dive sites came natural to me. With great training and sparring from French Laura and her inspiring excitement for frogfish and the frogfish dance (imagine your arms down your side, slightly bend elbows and hands turned 90 degrees, away from your body, palms down and then doing a kind of boogie/swing movement in your arms and hips, like patting on the heads two small kids who can’t stay still) I became well known in the different dive sites and found a real passion for working with specific goals and procedures underwater.
Demarcation we’ve talked about, but it’s worth mentioning again the importance of this. The work is done primarily, almost exclusively, by the Bantay Dagat (watchers/guardian of the sea in Bisayan, the local dialect, although it does sound like an ancient Ninja Warrior Club of the Highest Enlightment and Badassment, which is not too far from the truth if Ninja is substituted with Environmental). They drop sinkers at the outskirts of protected reefs and areas, and then people like Tony swim down, singing and smiling, and attach ropes with floaters to the sinkers, so that fishermen and other sea bobbing personae can recognise the areas in which not to interfere. That is important work! And they do it with a minimum of gear which makes it all that much more impressive.
Some time passed and I was considered ready to begin the Divemaster course and become a Divemaster Trainee, a DMT.
My instructor was a fellow redbearded blonde lightskin… ahem, Danish, I mean (in reality he is quite tanned, has a dark blonde beard and light brownish hair, but you get the picture… or not).
Daniel proved to be what the Divemaster course promises, a mentor and a good friend besides a highly qualified scuba instructor. We embarked on our journey towards mastery with much enthusiasm and inside jokes; such as “hashtag scubagoat”, and a weird high pitched version of the sound one makes when pondering something new or profound, which would be deployed everytime the conversations would slightly resemble or touch upon something naughty.
On top of the regular training and theory, divemaster duties were to be fulfilled as a part of the journey to become a skilled and (somewhat) experienced professional member of the dive community. The duties included mostly logistics such as filling tanks for the 30 or so divers, who all needed 2 tanks a day, and securing water, snacks and spare equipment for each truck going to their separate location to do various surveys and tasks. The duties, trivial as they might seem, were fulfilling in the sense that there was always something to do, and the responsibility immediately layed upon me was welcome and motivating. It is after all why one becomes a divemaster – to make sure other divers have the best time possible. ‘Best’ meaning everything from fun to, in this setting especially, effective.
Weeks passed by with not only required drills and dives but also extracurricular activites to harden and develop me as a Divemaster to be. This really touches the essence of diving and dive training at MCP: The fact that this place exist first and foremost for the protection and well being of the environment, thus requiring excellent divers and diveskills from both employees and volunteers as to 1) do the most accurate surveys and 2) not damaging the fragile aquatic life in the process. To make excellent divers for MCP activities, the standard programmes issued by certifying agencies are not enough. Therefore extra training is required and the end result is formidable divers doing formidable work. This ensures the divemasters be even better as to set the example and have the knowledge and experience to guide and further develop the already accomplished volunteer divers.
As a newly coined professional member of the dive community, a Divemaster, a DM, a role model, I felt ready to commence the final chapter of my MCP novel. I would now do more mapping and demarcating, assist with courses, while also functioning as a go-to guy for new volunteers and divers for help and advice, and so it came to be. Already new DMT’s had started their journey and embraced the duties I once employed, and I was free to delve more deeply into the essence of being a MCP volunteer diver and not an MCP volunteer trainee diver. This suited me well, and as new volunteers and especially new divers came to the camp, I could confirm my training was effective by helping with all sorts of issues, based on a large knowledgebase on diving and diving equipment, and, also important, I confirmed my choice of becoming af Divemaster was the right choice for my diving career.
As I kept learning from helping and advising new divers, I was reminded of a profound truth about diving – you never stop learning and developing. You can always improve on something, and if you get to gain experience and become a better diver while helping others do the same, you could not ask for a more serene feeling of mutual benefit and purpose in diving.
On top of all this comes the fact, that all this springs from the rock solid bed of volunteers’ and employees’ dedication to marine conservation, which makes the blooming flower of diving so much more beautiful to behold.