Last call for Cebu Pacific flight 3052 to Cebu city… A young couple race towards the gate with matching Aqualung rucksacks covered in PADI badges and dive resort stickers. I dream of the adventures they’ll have floating with turtles and thresher sharks in the Philippines!
Airports are always exciting places to be. I sit people watching and reflecting on how quickly 4 years working in Riyadh passed since I nearly quit after the first year. My mind wanders … 3 years earlier my friends had said to me “Come on, come to Jeddah with us, then go home. There’s this dive group going but you can just snorkel. You’ll love the Red Sea corals …” True! A 13 hour bus ride later and we arrived at a resort to find the warmest welcome from a cheerful group eating huge pots of sinigang, rice and lumpia. Tastes delicious! A quick sleep and everyone is in the water just after sunrise. I watch them from a distance donning wetsuits and gear, diving, then relaxing talking about diving, then diving again… and then they dive again after dark! Are they crazy? I don’t really get it and have no intention of ever diving, (3 years ago earlier I had a near drowning snorkeling incident so there was no way I’d ever put anything in my mouth again!) but they are certainly having fun! And the snorkeling (mask and fins only) is just wonderful. Welcome to the underwater world the “RDA way!”
We’re now in Yanbu, it’s 7am and we’re on a boat heading out to the coral reefs. I’ve just found heaven in Saudi! I snorkel in this glorious hot bath surrounded by stunning fish, watching the trails of bubbles left by divers as they take giant strides off the sides of the boat.
Raul, our instructor, quietly observes then signals for me to follow him to the anchor rope and try his octopus regulator. I explain I’m scared to put anything in my mouth but he assures me it is easier than a snorkel and encourages me to try. We descend a few meters … it’s just breathtaking in every sense! Amazed to be in amongst the corals, I quickly forgot I was breathing so naturally from the reg. That was it! I was completely hooked and badgering the group about when could I start diving! Salamat Maestro! Best encouragement ever.
Back at the villa, Memen instructs me to watch the DVD before dinner, then just as I was about to put my head down for an early night, “Helen, quick, swimsuit on! Time for skills in the pool!” 5 minutes later I was fumbling around with mask clearing and buoyancy as everyone cheered with encouragement during my PADI DSD!
The next day, seeing me comfortable in the water, Raul took me for my first shallow dive. Awesome! Loved every second. Feeling so enthusiastic, I kept giving the thumbs up sign and the next thing I knew we were back on the surface! Ano ba! I’ll never forget the “OK” dive signal again!! The rest of the day was a delightful blur of swimming ashore to a stunning sand island, wacky photos and a delicious fish barbecue.
2 weeks later I’m in the pool doing Open Water (OW) skills having decided to renew my work contract to stay and learn to dive! Life is all about priorities!! Hmmm mask removal? I grit my teeth and manage to do it. Ugh! Extra skills practice with Abu (AI), paid off when, 6 months later my mask strap broke 50ft deep on Chicken Wreck. I simply replaced my mask and held it in place for the rest of the dive as I had no intention of missing out on my first wreck dive! Lesson learnt: solid skills prevent panicking!
As you have probably gathered, the RDA philosophy is for everyone to enjoy diving safely and to live life to the full. Translation: action packed! You have the rest of life to sleep! Seriously, the team goes to great efforts to maximize dive time and take care of the divers, prearranging all gear, tanks and travel logistics to save precious dive time at resorts. During OW, skills are done with the instructor but there is always a 2:1 ratio with DMs and AIs so you feel confident there is support close by. Once certified, you can dive with a DM for your first few dives with the group to build confidence.
So here I am, a newly qualified Padi DM, reflecting on some of the happiest times of my life traveling the world and diving with wonderful RDA buddies, my extended family. I wonder where and with whom my 200th dive will be!
Dive adventures include …
Philippines: Remote, natural, unspoilt islands… a place to keep returning to and the best diving I’ve experienced so far ... Coron: Deep wreck dives, Barracuda thermal lake and island hoping. Malapascua: Deep dive early morning to watch thresher sharks. Sabang, Puerto Galera: famous for nudibranchs, sea horses and critters. Romblon: a peaceful haven of bamboo huts, white sandy beaches, crystal clear water and an array of soft corals and critters. Batangas, Aniloa: Arrive at the picturesque bamboo Dive and Trek resort by boat then enjoy turtles, giant jackfish, frog fish followed by superb local cuisine. As I edit this, I have just been handed some freshly made Turon, the local banana and caramel snack. Delicious!
Kenya, Kilifi: drift dive the Indian Ocean with soft coral gardens, caves and mammals. Kilifi Creek is a protected spawning ground for many fish and a haven for nudibranch.
Atlantic, Azores: Strong currents, deep dives with mantas, sharks and cetaceans.
I hope this encourages other new divers to explore our fascinating underwater world as RDA has encouraged me.
MARAMING SALAMAT RDA BUDDIES! I can’t thank you enough all for a truly wonderful 3 years of diving fun, friendship, and future adventures to look forward to. Love you all. Magkita tayo sa susunod na kapata ilam sa dagat!
PADI SAFE: Safely Ascend From Every Dive RDA SAFETY: Safe, Adventurous, Fun and Exhilarating Times for You!