Tuesday, 17 July 2012

How an Essex lad became a dive guru

Anyone who has been to a Trawangan Dive quiz night will be familiar with James, our quizmaster and one of the lead PADI Instructors at our dive resort on Gili Trawangan.
His story from office job to dive god is a familiar tale to many of us in the dive industry. At one point, we all decided to say goodbye to the usual nine-to-five in order to take a leap of faith into the world of diving. And just like the rest of us, James has no intention of ever going back…

What was your previous job?

After studying accountancy at college in Essex, I started my first job with a construction company in East London. I was 18 years old at the time, and I stayed there for 3 years. It was awful, really awful.
The daily commute was mostly spent sitting in someone’s armpit listening to some idiot chatting rubbish on his mobile. The late night’s journey home was inevitably on public transport, trying to avoid catching anyone’s eye in case they had a knife and an attitude.
To be honest, I hated England. It was cold, boring and it never stopped raining. If my family didn’t live there, I could happily never step foot in the country ever again.

Not your happiest moment then! So what did you do?

I saved up some dosh and booked myself on a six month trip around Africa. It was an overland trek in a bus with a bunch of other people who were disillusioned with the real world. It was my first trip outside of Europe so it was big eye opener. We started in Cape Town and I learnt how to dive there. But blimey, it was cold. The water was 13 degrees – we had to wear a 7mm semi-dry and I was still freezing! Despite this, it was an amazing experience and I continued to dive throughout trip.
Lake Malawi was my first taster of diving in fresh water. Lots of different fish and also different planning was required because it was also altitude diving. In Zanzibar I had my first dive in warm water and I couldn’t believe the change it makes. I saw loads of stuff – turtles and lots of different reef fish. In between, the trip included numerous safaris, white water rafting, trekking to see gorillas, etc. It was fantastic. And for six months, I lived in a tent and learnt how to make a fire, how to cook for the group and got in touch with my inner caveman!

Did you head back home at the end of the trip?

Absolutely not! When the trip ended I flew to Bangkok, Thailand and celebrated New Years Eve at a full moon party Koh Pha Ngan. Mental. After a month or so of partying in Thailand, I made my way to Borneo where I volunteered at a wildlife centre called Matang Wildlife Centre. This involved helping with the orangutans, helping to build enclosures and lots of trekking into the mosquito-infested jungle.

After that, I made way round the South-East Asia backpacker circuit including Laos, Cambodia, Philippines and Singapore. I dived whenever I got the chance. In particular, Sipadan blew my mind. There was so much going on during each dive that I didn’t know where to look.

And then, did you head home?

Nah! I applied for a working holiday visa and headed to Australia. I’d always wanted to experience life down under. Rather than making a beeline to Sydney like everyone else, I went to Melbourne. I was worried that Sydney would just be London-on-Sea.
And for the first time in what seemed like ages, I got myself a proper job as an accountant again. It was the easiest way to earn some decent money. After all the travelling I had done, it was nice to enjoy some of the comforts of the developed world again. I had a good group of mates that enjoyed a drink or two, so every night was spent down the pub. And at the weekend, I would try to get away. On one occasion, I headed up to Cairns for a dive trip on the Great Barrier Reef, which was cool, but not really what I expected.

Did you continue your PADI education there?

Actually, it was on the way home that I stopped off in Malaysia and did my next course in the Perhentians islands. I had planned two weeks of chilling on sun-drenched, palm tree lined beach before heading back to the UK. But I was bored after a couple of days so I signed up for my PADI Rescue Diver course with Emergency First Response. It was a fun course with loads of people pretending to pass out underwater or drowning on the surface. I had to tow a fat guy for what seemed like miles. It was good workout.

Were you excited to be going home after so long away?

You would think so. But no, not really. Of course it was nice to see friends and family. But the main reason I went back was because I had run out of money, not because I wanted to return to office life.

Nevertheless, I did get an accounting job again. I figured it was time to grow up and stop running away from responsibilities.

After three months in the job, I realized I didn’t actually want to grow up so I saved up some more money to go travelling again and then quit my job! Again!

How did you find out about Trawangan Dive?

I did a Google search for ‘diving in Indonesia’ and the Gili islands popped up. I emailed various different dive centres and the reply from the manager at the time, Amy, was the quickest and the funniest. That’s all it took! I booked my flight the next day and a month or so later I arrived on the island.

What do you think of the Gili islands?

When I arrived, I was really pleased with my choice. It has the best balance of social life and diving of any island I’ve been to before. Sometimes you arrive in a diving destination and while they are picture perfect, there’s absolutely nothing to do in the evening.

If you don’t want to dive the Gili islands (which would be damn shame) you could still do lots of things – kayaking, sunbathing, snorkeling, horse riding, trek up a volcano in nearby Lombok, etc. Some girls even sunbathe topless so it provides the guys with a nice pastime between dives!

How was your PADI Divemaster Course?

I honestly loved every moment of it. I had Philip as my mentor and it stood me in good stead for the rest of my diving career. I assisted on lots of different courses from – Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver and Rescue Diver courses. Every Divemaster’s favourite is the assist on a Rescue Course – fainting, screaming, puking, bleeding, panicking! So many opportunities to channel my inner drama queen!

I’ve seen you in a fair few costumes since you arrived…

I do love a costume party! I’ve been dressed as Tarzan, a school girl, a go-go dancer, the Hoff, and many more besides. And who can forget the teenage mutant ninja turtles? That was for my snorkel test at the end of my Divemaster course – another mental night I can barely remember!

How did the find PADI IDC?

Ayala is an fantastic PADI Course Director. The two weeks went by so quickly because we were so busy. I was under the impression we would be locked in the classroom all the time, but there were so many workshops, we never seemed to be out of the water.

I think I surprised many (including myself) with my knowledge development presentations. My Essex accent is a constant source of amusement for the people I work with, but in the classroom presentations, apparently I changed my accent and became a polite Englishman speaking the Queen’s English. It’s never happened again since!

And what about the PADI Instructor Examination?

For my PADI IE, we went to Bali. The conditions were much different to those around the Gili islands. We had 5 metre visibility and raging current that made the open water presentations kinda challenging. In comparison to the other groups there, we seemed to be much better prepared and this showed in the final marks – I passed with flying colours!

And so you began your new life as a PADI Instructor…

When I came back I helped out doing some diving and then they offered me a position as a permanent dive instructor at the dive resort. Financially things are much easier now. I can make ends meet without having to dip into savings. In fact, I’m even managing to save a bit as well. I love teaching and the variety it brings. One day I’ll be conducting a Discover Scuba Diving session and the next day I’ll be teaching Deep Specialty or Enriched Air.

What are your plans for the future?

I really want to stay on the island long term and would like to invest some money in property at some point. The island is slowly getting busier as more people are venturing outside of Bali and there are lots of good investment opportunities.

Obviously, I’ll continue to work at Trawangan Dive as well though. This place really is home now. I’m going to continue hosting the weekly quiz night until I get thrown off it! It’s a good laugh. Some people commented the other week that it was the least serious but most entertaining pub quiz they had ever been to. Job done!

Originally published on the Trawangan Dive website for PADI professional courses:


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