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Koh Phangan: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things!!!

Chaloklum

Welcome!!!

Welcome!!!

The village of Chaloklum is located in the north of the island, and is a sleepy, laid back fishing village. 4 of the scuba diving schools are based out of here and for most of the year the dive boats leave from this pier. There is really only the main island road and a short village road with shops and restaurants on either side. We have everything from delicious Thai food, great street food, delicious western food and even TWO Italian restaurants! While Srithanu is the yogi hang out, Thong Sala is the “city” and Haad Rin is the party, Chaloklum is that perfect in between with everything you need from quiet to party and an amazing group of locals and expats that make it feel like home!

we are a drinking village with a fishing problem…. so come over and join the fun

My Beautiful little village

My Beautiful little village

The World’s End International Cafe Bar and Restaurant

For the perfect morning coffee or a sumptuous sandwich for lunch… World’s End is the perfect spot. Situated in front of the pier you have an incredible view of the boats coming in and out and can watch the day to day life of a fishing village pass you by.
Run by Lotta for the last 6.5yrs it was originally opened in 2005 and is pretty much a landmark and meeting place for every expat in the village and indeed, the island. Lotte has lived on Koh Phangan for 13yrs, arriving here with her husband and working as a dive instructor. As it happens to so many of us, they came for a few months and never left, ultimately making the island their home.
Among all the incredible options on the menu such as huge baguettes with a wide range of fillings, to quiche, full English breakfast, oatmeal and fruit shakes to die for you will find the most popular item, the Eggs Benedict, truly something worth treating yourself with.
Another plus to the incredible little gem is the options for vegetarian, vegan and even gluten free, making sure there is something for everyone.

For those of you wanting to get married on the island, here is a little secret, Lotta makes the most delicious, stunning wedding cakes!!! So be sure to look her up!

If do one thing in Chaloklum be sure to visit The World’s End!

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AA Massage

This fantastic little gem is run by a wonderful Thai lady named “A”. She has had it for 3yrs and it is conveniently located behind the 7/11 on the curve of the “main” street of Chaloklum. She often has 1 or 2 helpers that are under her training and they all do a phenomenal job. 350baht (around $11 USD) for a 1 hour oil massage is my preference, I try go at least once a week. If you are looking for a great relaxing massage to help work out the kinks of travel, visit AA Massage!

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Genny’s aka Cucina Italiano

Genny’s is the ultimate treat while you are on the island and a place I always remember when I leave. Located right on the beach on the “main” road of Chaloklum, means you get to sip red wine while dining on homemade pizza or pasta made by Genny, a local legend! Watch as the tide comes in and on quiet nights you might get serenaded by Genny when he brings out his guitar… The food is amazing and the atmosphere is one of a kind. If for some reason it is full on the terrace, no worries, you can sit next door at Lost Dog and enjoy a drink while still ordering your food at Genny’s, ’cause this is how we roll on the island, relaxed and laid back!

Lost Dog

Located right next to Genny’s is another great stop, they make delicious burgers and have cold beer. Also a pool table for some fun in the evenings. You will find a lot of the local expats gathering here each night and they are always happy to welcome a newby… also if Genny’s is full, you can still order pizza while enjoying drinks and the sunset at Lost Dog

Holy Grill

Meat eaters rejoice!!! This is the place for you, but fear not they have veggies too for those of a more discerning palate. Holy Grill is run by the phenomenal couple, Hinch and Francis, they will welcome you to the Grill and make you feel at home. With the all you can eat BBQ buffet for 220baht, it makes me drool just thinking about it. Hinch’s master BBQ skills produce varieties of chicken, beef, pork ribs (my favorite), fish, veggies (another favorite), add to that bread, salads of all varieties and an apple if you wish. It is well worth the price and definitely worth the atmostphere.

On top of that Hinch and Francis are amazing for other reasons, they provide many BBQ’s for fundraising, just recently it was for the Scuba Drivers bid to save Sail Rock (our prized diving site) and before that an awesome event to raise money for our local humane society, PAC.

A definite itinerary stop where ever you are on the island.

Indy Kitchen / Chaloklum Travel

Needing to book a bus ticket and a little peckish at the same time… well have no fear, Bea and Go have you covered at Indy Kitchen and Chaloklum Travel. Located near AA massage on the “Main” road of Chaloklum. This family run business right out of there home makes you feel welcome and part of the family, especially when the kids are around. Bea and Go have to be 2 of the most amazing people in the village, Bea’s cooking is outstanding (I recommend the crispy pork on fried rice) and both of them are experts on anything travel related within Thailand. I take all my friends and couchsurfers to see them. They are honest and clear and don’t try and make you buy the most expensive choice. Truly wonderful people, with the cutest kids!!! Oh and Bea bakes delicious yummies…..

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North Beach

For the best sunset drink you need to follow the dirt beach road passed 7/11 to the end and there you will find North Beach, a great spot for an afternoon drink while watching the sunset.

Photo by Sarah Train

Photo by Sarah Train


For the best

Crow Bar

On the way out of Chaloklum on the road to Tong Sala you will see the sign for the Crow Bar, run by a wonderful couple Chris (Estonia) and A (Thailand), it is often the home away from home for many of us. Warning this is not a ONE DRINK bar!!! Most of us only leave in the wee hours of the morning and if you are too inebriated to drive you can always crash the chairs until you sober up. Thursday have phenomenal live music and if A is cooking you are assured of an incredible meal! Just be careful when someone convinces you to “squeeze the chicken” as there are consequences… It is the Thai version of the Cheers pub, where everyone knows your name.

Mae Haad

Just outside of Chaloklum is a beautiful beach with a little island attached by a sandy strip. Mae Haad beach is a stunning place and one of the best places to go snorkeling, they even saw a whale shark there once. White sand, lots of coral, and massages right on the beach.
Here is a little clip of something exciting I saw while snorkeling :

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Posted by on November 15, 2015 in Thailand, Travel

 

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WHALE SHARK!!!!

When a Great Dive Becomes AMAZING!!

For me every dive is good, some are great and then there are the amazing dives. It doesn’t have to be that the visibility is astounding, or we see something huge, some of my amazing dives involve seeing my favorite nudibranch or a small octopus. But, if truth be told, there is at least one creature in the oceans that guarantees me a truly incredible and amazing dive, and that is a Whale Shark, the largest fish in the sea.

Sometimes however, it is not easy to get a guest as excited as we are at the prospect of seeing one, seeing their faces turn to utter horror at the words “shark” and “largest”. In fact some instructors have begun altering it to Whale Fish in order to calm the nerves of those who do not know what to expect. But one thing is for sure, no matter who you are, no matter where you are from or how many dives you have had or even how many times you might have seen one of these incredible creatures…. you will be wow’ed!

There are truly no words to explain it when you first see this behemoth of a fish glide right past you. Sometimes it can be mere inches away but you are completely unawares, only to turn and gasp at it’s sheer presence.

Whale shark at Sail Rock

Whale shark at Sail Rock

Past Experiences

I have had the opportunity to dive with whale sharks on multiple occasions thanks to my time diving here in Thailand. But there are 2 occasions that truly stand out.

#1 During my time training as a divemaster I had to return with one guest who had sucked his air faster than his companion, so while the instructor continued with her I began the ascent with him. It was a rare occasion where the visibility meant you could barely see 1meter / 3feet. I gingerly followed along Sail Rock knowing that the boats were “parked” above the chimney which started at 6m/18ft, so I followed the rock at this level keeping the guest close at hand. Suddenly a vertical thermocline created a 2m/6ft, swathe of crystal clear water, rather disorientating to enter after concentrating so hard on finding the chimney. At the precise time I entered from my side, a ginormous, vacuum cleaner type mouth, emerged from the other side. It took me a few milli-seconds to realise it was a whale shark and not something out of a sci-fi horror flick, and quickly hugged the rock in order not to touch it, indicating the guest should do the same. I swear we had to suck in our guts in order for it to get passed, it was that close. At the end of the dive we were the only ones to have seen it, a truly unbelievable experience… it’s not everyday you very nearly french kiss a whale shark.

silhouettes...

silhouettes…

#2 This was the dive that made me realise I might want to pursue becoming an instructor. It was my final dive after completing my Divemaster before leaving the island. We had a group of 6 Spanish and one of them was terribly nervous having quit barely 10min into the first dive. We decided on the 2nd dive that I would remain with her at a shallow depth while the instructor would take the other 5. We remained at barely 6m/18ft for the beginning of the dive until I heard the tell tale banging of tanks indicating something cool, another diver gave the “whale shark” signal and pointed the direction. It was the 4m/12ft, juvenile that had been around the boats for a week or so. Somehow, I just knew where it was heading and began slowly manoeuvring my diver closer and a little deeper till we got to a small pinnacle about 9m/27ft deep. Within seconds of us getting into position the whale shark changed direction and swam directly over us, enjoying the feel of our bubbles on it’s belly. It was so close we could have touched it (which of course we were careful not). After that I could not get her out of the water, she wanted to see everything, experience everything, and near the end even attempted to chase down the whale shark to get closer. She was so happy and excited at the end of the dive attributing the entire phenomenal experience to me… it made me feel fantastic and realise that showing people the undersea world might just be something I wanted to do permanently…

This wasn't our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

This wasn’t our shark, but it pretty much sums up the experience.

Most Recent Encounter

It was nearing the end of September and whale sharks had only been sighted once or twice near Sail Rock, but we knew they were in the area. Most of dives up until this day had been Discover Scubas or courses, not giving me the luxury of diving for fun and being able to look around or carry my gopro. On this day I had an advanced fun diver, so not only was it going to be a fun dive but she did not require tons of attention but instead preferred just a guide.

News of the whale shark quickly spread and we all got in the water excited at the prospect of seeing it. It lived upto it’s reputation and swam above us for half of the first dive at about 14m/ 45ft.

On the second dive we descended over East Pinnacle, a pinnacle that sits just a few kicks from Sail Rock at approximately 17m/55ft below the surface. We dropped down and started exploring, the only divers at the time. Glancing at something over my shoulder I saw the whale shark suddenly emerge from behind us, he swam around us and descended. We were so excited and when other divers approached I was thrilled to give them the whale shark symbol and, as if on cue, he appeared again circling us and in general making our day.

Selfie with a whale shark.

Selfie with a whale shark.

They are truly phenomenal creatures, the largest I have ever had the honor of swimming near was a juvenile of maybe 5m/16ft, I can’t even begin to imagine an adult of 10m/32ft….

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Diving into Open Water

The PADI Open Water Course

For most people delving into the world of diving, doing the PADI Open Water course is the first step. For those with less time or more nerves there is also the Scuba Diver course, shorter and certifies to a shallower depth with more restrictions.

The Open Water course takes 3-4 days and will ultimately certify you to dive to 18m / 60ft with a buddy/fellow diver. It is a great course that introduces the students to all the basic skills in an easy succession to ensure the students comfort.

Playing Favorites

I must admit, so far I do have a couple of favorites and it just so happens they were 2 Open Water students. Shon and Mike are a pair of friends from completely different backgrounds and yet most likely brothers in a previous life. Shon, from Israel, met Mike, an engineer at a diamond mine in Arctic Canada, yup you heard right… while traveling in Japan and planned to meet up again in Thailand and do their dive course.

Shon contacted me through couchsurfing and asked many questions concerning class size, cost, where to stay etc.. he was considering Koh Tao as it was cheaper but ultimately liked the idea of having a small private class with me. So it was decided I would host and teach them, great fun would ensue. Shon arrived the day of the Full Moon party and was a hoot, ensuring he not only bought a couple of rolls of toilet paper (amazing how expensive that can get with couchsurfers) but also winning my heart with a reeses peanut butter cup! He headed off to the party and arrived back to pass out in the morning. Meanwhile Mike (who I had assumed was Japanese as all I knew was that they had met in Japan) was flying in from Arctic Canada, after numerous flights and a ferry to the island most people would be exhausted, Mike on the other hand walked from Tong Sala to Chaloklum!!! I repeat walked!!!! Probably a good hour or more with a number of hills. Shon met him and brought him over and let’s just say he wasn’t Japanese, too funny, what a pair.

Mike, Shon and me, please ignore laundry in background

Mike, Shon and me, please ignore laundry in background

Nerves

Probably the one thing that can ruin a course is when the student’s nerves get the better of them, when the “what ifs!!” emerge. While Mike was completely chilled (at least he appeared to be) and taking all the videos in stride with a few questions, Shon’s nerves began to show. Completely understandable considering he was learning in his second language and needed certain words translated. But the moment he said “I have one problem, I can’t breathe through my mouth”…. the headmistress in me came out, the only way to stop the nerves was to make it clear that he had nothing to fear and if he still had these fears after the pool session, then we could discuss them… especially since the whole premise of scuba is to breathe through your mouth. That calmed his nerves dramatically.

This is an important skill to learn as an instructor, some students will need hand holding and tender words, others need a good stern demeanor and an aura of confidence. You just have to know which one and how much to dial it up or down.

Pool Sessions

For the PADI Open Water course there is a required set of 5 sessions in the pool, these can be done all together or over two days. We started in the morning and ended up finishing 5 hours later, very prune like, but happy to have completed all of them.

Once I had them prepare their equipment enough times they could do it blindfolded, it was time to breathe underwater. I knew both of them were nervous so we first just breathed through the regulator above the water, then just the face in the water and finally down on our knees. For me being on my knees in the shallow end gave me a good 5 inches of water above, for them they had to bend over and hunch up… the joys of being tall. As soon as we went under I could see the light bulbs begin to glow and the excitement begin to grow. We whizzed through the skills and the boys were amazing!! A lot of laughs were had.

Wolverine??

Now while Shon was the charismatic, fun loving socialite, Mike was.. well from Arctic Canada with a certain Wolverine quality about him. During one session of diving Shon and I surfaced after completing a skill, to see Mike at the steps, chin on hand… I nearly passed both of them right there and then, they just looked like scuba divers!

At the pier

At the pier

Open Water

Finally completing copious videos and quizzes and finals, it came time to take them into the deep and so we headed off to Sail Rock. Once again they amazed me, even with their nerves they kept calm and completed all the skills with flying colors. All the time they called me Master Sensei, awesome guys to hang out with.

Ready to go!!

Ready to go!!

Dive 1 was the hardest, nerves and distracting fish proved hurdles they luckily got over.

Dive 2 was much better, they flowed through the skills and seemed more confident.

Dive buds!

Dive buds!

Dive 3 on the second day, proved a slight hitch with full mask removal, but once again they overcame their nerves and carried on, even with a bit of a current.

Dive 4 proved to be the one where the veil lifted, the nerves dropped away and much fun was had. Most of the other dive boats had left and it felt like it was just us at Sail Rock, the boys conserved their air well, we got down to 18m with no problems equalising like the first 3 dives. Truly spectacular.

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Neil of Scuba Futures with Shon, Mike and 2 other students

So Proud!!

I felt very proud to announce that they had successfully passed their course and were now PADI divers. I hope to meet up with them again in the future and just head out for a fun dive, no skills or tests required!!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0971.

Thanks boys for being such amazing students!

Great Students

Great Students

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Let the Work Begin!!!

Come Discover Scuba Diving

And so with certificate in hand the work begins to filter in, first up were a couple of DSD’s. DSD is a discover scuba diver, folks who are trying out diving for the very first time. They require an introduction, orientation of the equipment, complete 3 basic skills and usually the instructor holds onto them during the dive in some manner to control their buoyancy. This is an excellent opportunity for the instructor to instill the love of diving, to encourage the guests to continue to take the open water course and beyond. It is also an excellent opportunity for an instructor to scare the living daylights out of someone if they are not careful. Luckily that seldom happens.

Trying to get used to handling DSD’s is one of the great secrets, for some instructors they have the DSD link arms, or hold onto elbows, or the instructor holds the tank of the DSD and let’s them just enjoy while the instructor acts as a taxi driver… I prefer a variety of these, depending on the DSD themselves.

My first 2 DSD’s were French, so with the aid of Thomas, a Divemaster candidate, we were able to do the briefing and everything in a combination of French and English. I almost had them interested in doing their Scuba Diver Certification (just below Open Water Cert), but they decided they just wanted to go out and enjoy. They had been diving in Malta once before and were excellent students, in fact it was difficult to get them out of the water, especially after the second dive.

Great DSD's and an Awesome DMT

Great DSD’s and an Awesome DMT

My next DSD turned out to be more of a challenge. A wonderful lady from New Zealand, living in Phuket. 4 of her family were already divers and were taking their Advanced course, while another 2 were taking their Open Water course. So this was her entry into the world of Scuba Diving. During the orientation and the knowledge review she seemed calm and confident. Then I got her in the water and she was nervous but ok. When we got to the line there was a bit of wave, but we managed to get down a bit below the surface and begin the skills. We had to pop up once or twice as she was getting very nervous. It didn’t help that another instructor waiting for the line had his brand new divers too close and we both got nudged in the head by fins… luckily he was able to move them before anything more serious.

We headed down and stayed really shallow as she had issues equalizing. We only made it for 15minutes before she decided to end as we surfaced out came the regulator and she fed the fish… she felt so bad for doing throwing up, but I just kept swimming and told her not to worry, the fish were happy. She had really enjoyed it but just felt a little sea sick, which can easily happen. Back on the boat she fed the fish a few more times but was determined to try again. This time the dive was 16minutes and she did much better with equalizing and swimming and is now tempted to do her Open Water. A very educational morning for me.

Later on that week I had a request from another Dive School to take out a DSD from Israel. Dana was a sweetheart but her english was not perfect so we took a little extra time to explain everything. This must be one of the most entertaining DSD’s I have taken thus far, we were diving at Sail Rock and usually going around the rock and enjoying what you see should take you 20-30 minutes at least. We zipped around the rock 3 times in 31 minutes. It was like having my own little propulsion vehicle, I just held on and had her drive me round, a nice change from having to be the driver. She so badly wanted to go deeper but due to equalisation problems she was having I decided to keep her around 6 meters, which meant I had to keep pushing on her tank to stop her from pulling us down. The second dive she did much better so we were able to get a little deeper. Dana loved every minute of it and had excellent air consumption, in fact I started to think her air gauge wasn’t working or she wasn’t breathing. By the end of the day she was super excited and wanted to do her Open Water Class as well. A great day diving!!!

DSD Dana!!

DSD Dana!!

I truly love taking DSD’s and seeing the expression on their face when they discover the underwater world for the first time!

Tune-uos and Fun Dives

Other than DSD’s another section of divers that do not involve a few days of course work are the Tune-ups and the Fun Divers. Tune-ups are the ones who are certified but just not been in the water for a period of time and need a refresher. Fun Divers are just that, out to have fun, already certified and loving diving!

My first Tune-up was combined with a fun dive. The mum was getting a reminder and her 12yr old daughter was fun diving. The 12yr old was an absolute natural and her mom picked up the skills perfectly, although had some issues with buoyancy so I kept a hand on her tank just in case. The second dive was tremendous, both of them were phenomenal and at the end of the dive the mum said something that made my day:

“That was brilliant!! I have never felt so comfortable diving before in my life!!! Thank you so much I think I want to do my Advanced Class soon!!! Thank you again!!”

Great family of divers

Great family of divers

My most recent Fun Divers were a father and son. Another great day diving in fairly challenging conditions, there were some waves after the first dive but then a storm moved in, getting back onboard after the second dive was more akin to riding a bucking bronco in a rodeo, but we all survived and enjoyed the ride. The son had just passed his Open Water course and was doing his first fun dive, he was a little nervous but did fantastically, a few buoyancy issues on the second dive but he compensated very well. His Father on the other hand was a Divemaster who had logged hundreds of dives and had freediving fins that were almost the same height as me.

Now THOSE are FINS!!!

Now THOSE are FINS!!!

So all in a days work of being a Dive Instructor… can’t wait till the work week begins again!!!

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Dadum…Dadum..Dadum Dadum Dadum (Jaws theme) The Final Day is Upon Us!

Classroom Presentation

The final morning arrived with me awake at 5.54am, this was becoming a trend, found coffee and worked on my classroom presentation while I waited for the lads to arise. My presentation was from Project Aware and focused on the main forms of ocean pollution. I was super excited when I saw this, as my degree was Environmental Education and this was right up my alley.

Finally the troops arose and we headed off for the center. I decided to go first and get it over with, realised I was shaking when I attempted to write on the board… This could be an interesting presentation. However, I got through it, thoroughly enjoyed it, and so did everyone else in the class, all the boys said it was great and we even had an awesome discussion on pollution and clean-ups and changing habits with Examiner Colin putting his 2 cents in. I asked him about becoming involved in Project Aware and he gave an email stating that they would be lucky to have me!! Well that’s a great compliment!

Then scoring time…. 4.7 out of 5. Colin actually stated that I deserved more, that the presentation was excellent but still gave me 4.7, oh well sounds good to me!

All the boys did great presentations from Wreck Diving, to RDP work. But the best statement out of all of us was by Drey who was doing a presentation on Peak Performance Buoyancy. Coming from the Bronx he has a certain way about him, and his personality shined through with this:

Dudes! PPB is like Jedi mind tricks man! You just THINK NEUTRAL…. and you areeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

He had the course, the equipment, everything sold to all of us even if we had it already, even the examiner wanted to sign up. Brilliant job mate!!!

Two Skills Down…. 1 to Go!

All too soon the final test arrived, we geared up and headed to the boat, leaving our Course Director on the dock waving nervously at us. We got all sorted with our kit and then chatted among ourselves about the skills we had to perform. Each of us had 2 skills and then we had to complete Rescue skill number 7 (rescue of an unconscious non-breathing diver at the surface).

My skills were CESA (my nemesis returns) and Bowline. Not too bad in the long run but still not my favorites.
Once the group was together and Examiner Colin had arrived we went through our briefings, as I got into mine the boat started moving and I did a bit of a samba as I finished off. As the others went through theirs I accidentally happened to catch a glance of the marking slate, big mistake, even if they hold it in front of your face don’t look, because I convinced myself that I had screwed up somehow and the pent up stress started reaching a boiling point. I held it together and kitted up preparing for the GIANT stride off the boat which was about 3 times my height. I think if my nerves had been calmer I might not have been able to jump because I would have realised just how high it was, only after I surfaced and motioned “O.K.” did I see the true height of the jump.

We hung out in the water waiting for Examiner Colin to finish his other groups briefings and to get his gear on. Finally it was on like Donkey Kong… or something like that. Drey was first and got through no prob, then Jet, again no prob. Then it was my turn…

My vision narrowed, possibly even caused my eyes to cross, I began concentrating on breathing, all I had was 3 skills to get through and I would pass… Why did it seem like I was climbing Mt. Everest. In the briefing I had stated that we would start the CESA from the surface but since the others had gone first we were already underwater, so I wrote on the slate that we would begin from there.

As I mentioned before in the skill circuit section of the confined water, a CESA is a Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. As an instructor I have to make sure I am within contact of the diver, make sure they don’t hold the line, that they emit a continuous “ahhhhhhh” sound and don’t take breaths, otherwise they need to repeat it. Due to my statue Neil and I had decided the best position was for me to be in front with my left hand holding the line and the bcd and my right gently touching the regulator to feel for vibrations. This was perfect except for the fact that I had limited range of vision vs being able to see from fingertips to fin-tips.

I got the first “student” to the surface and didn’t see any problems the examiner might have given him, but as we got back to the bottom I began doubting myself. The second “student” actively pulled on the line, so I caught him holding it, and had him repeat the skill. But right as I was about to start the second one, a cloud passed my vision, my weights I was wearing on my calves to help keep my feet down loosened and I motioned to the examiner that there was an issue. When he wrote on his slate “What is Wrong”… I managed to take a breath, clear my vision and write back “all good”, F*&k it I was just going to get through it.

My next skill was the bowline. Since it was a skill that would be in the Advanced course it is encouraged to have 2 or more students tie it at the same time. Of course trying to focus on 2 at the same time when your nerves are on edge is not very easy. When the second student had an issue I had him wait and focused on the first who had just finished tying the knot. The way he pulled it made it look strange but still correct, however, the examiner came and looked at it, which made me look at it again and convinced myself it was wrong. So I motioned to everyone else if they were ok and had him do it again. He really struggled this time, after 3 tries I took the rope and showed him, then he did it perfectly. I then moved on, continuously checking on everyone and caught all mistakes that were made.

Moving to the end of the line, I kind of felt like I wanted to throw up, I was pretty darn certain I had screwed up and would have to return to repeat this section in 3weeks on the next exam date. Of course I happened to be the first in line so all the other kept having me do the skills, liftbag, hover, alternate air, while the rest of them just relaxed at the end of the line… I was wrecked by the time we surfaced.

Rescue Exercise 7

The final test was here, although I was still convinced I had failed the underwater section. We waited as 2 of us paired up at a time rescuer and victim, then the victim would become the rescuer. When it was my turn to be the victim my rescuer almost drowned me, pushing me down and letting water in the mask, I think I may have started trying to make a little fountain through the top of the mask. He was also so focused on keeping my airway open that he almost broke my neck… but at least I would have bee saved!

Then it was my turn to rescue! Our Examiner this time was another course director from Koh Tao named Bob and the very amusing Rescue 7 went something like this:

Kathy: Diver diver are you ok
tap on shoulder and flip him over…
Bob: just push him under
Kathy: His buoyancy, my buoyancy, his weight belt, my weight belt, his mask, my mask..
Bob: oh look what a cute little white mask
Jet: it bends too
Bob: oh how cute it is squishy a little squishy mask….
(this was the background conversation for the rest of the rescue)

At least it helped me relax a little.

And the Results Are???????

Back on the boat we had to wait for Examiner Colin to finish with his other group, I pretty much was at a constant point of needing to through up or cry or both. Then as the boat headed back to dock we did our debriefings, then we had to wait for the second group to do theirs.

Finally our group started getting results. Neil was on the boat and looked anxiously at me, I made the “I don’t know, maybe problem” signal and just looked really worried. Then it was my turn, I felt like I was about to receive a death sentence or be told I was not worthy…

Colin: alright Kathy let’s start with skill 2, the bowline
(Oh shite that’s not good, means I failed skill 1, why does he want to start with skill 2…)
Colin: you did a good job and managed the group, maybe move on to another diver if one takes to long and return to him but overall good job.
Kathy: mmmhmmm
Colin: Now skill 1, the CESA, did you notice anything with the first diver.
Kathy: No but he told me later he held the line
Colin: Yes he did, could you see him from fin tip to fingertip.
Kathy: No not really with my height I tried to make sure I had hold of him and to check the regulator.
Colin: OK next time I think it is better if you hold the line behind you with the left and the bcd with the right and just watch the bubbles, if he takes a breath the bubbles stop. He was just using the line as a guide so we will say missed problem. Now you were trying to tell me something underwater, what was going on.
Kathy: Yes sorry got nervous because I had a feeling the first student had done something wrong and then my calf weight came loose, but I sorted it out and could continue.
Colin: ok good, well then the scores are for the CESA 4.0 and the Bowline 4.4, any questions?
Kathy: ummmm am I an instructor then???
Colin: well I have to do some paperwork and such first…. but yes!!

At that point I realised I must have been holding my breath the whole time, I just wanted to hug him, I stood up and almost fell down, I started crying like a baby. Neil who had started filming was wondering if this was bad news and if he should stop filming, no one including myself, was sure if I was crying or laughing or both. When Neil asked how I felt I just said “I want to through up!”

I have never felt so much emotion rush through me at one time, and the single thought through my mind was “I am finally cool!!!”

Enjoy the following video showing my journey:

A huge thanks goes to:
*Ron and the team at Eugene Skin Divers who got me hooked on diving in the first place
*Ricardo who encouraged me to do my Divemaster here on Koh Phangan
*Monique Richards for first suggesting this crazy idea.
*Neil Richards of Scuba Futures for training me and putting up with so much, you are truly the finest instructor I have ever met and hope I can live up to your legend!
*To http://haadyaodivers.com/en/index.php for being so great to work with before and now after the IDC
*Jet and Drey for being great friends and Course Director Dave for all his help.
*Lulu, Thomas, Marius, Davey and everyone else at the shop who helped out
*The great group of guys who made up our group during the IE from Easy Divers, Koh Tao

And especially to my parents who supported me completely as I pursued another crazy idea and fulfilled a lifelong dream… now let’s teach those Guppies to Dive!!!

I Passed!!!!

I Passed!!!!

Examiner Colin!

Examiner Colin!

Newest members of the Pro Team PADI

Newest members of the Pro Team PADI

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand

 

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Dom Dom Dom…… DAY 1 of THE INSTRUCTOR EXAM!!!! (read in voice of Darthvader)

Off To Koh Tao

Our valiant course directors, Neil and Dave, had hoped that with 3 enthusiastic Instructor Candidates we would have enough for the PADI examiners to come to Koh Phangan… However with Koh Tao leading the pack with lofty 37 candidates we all met up at the pier and headed off for some rather nerve racking adventures…

Waiting for the Ferry

Waiting for the Ferry

Turned out to be a wonderful day to relax on the one and a half hour ferry ride, with our fearless Course Directors hobnobbing with the PADI examiners in the air conditioned section of the boat. Jet, Drey and I tried to make conversation without unintentionally leaking in course material… which was rather difficult as it pretty much consumed most of our minds.

As we neared Koh Tao we were greeted by a rather ominous looking cloud.. could this be a sign of what was to come??

Heading to Buddha View

It always seems to be that no matter which side of the ferry you sit on they always seem to unload on the opposite side and you have to squeeze through the aisles, other tourists and locals trying to push in front, until you eventually emerge at a slightly unsteady looking gangplank that leads to the outside. However, we made it out, made it to the taxi and were off to the resort we were booked into, Buddha View. With 4 boys and me, it meant they shared 2 rooms.. and the cost… while the little princess got her own room (YAY!) and the full cost (Bugger!!). Ultimately I was thankful for my own room though so it all worked out.

We got settled in, grabbed some lunch, apparently when you order a sandwich of any variety at the resort restaurant you get precisely 7 fries… we tested this theory over the next few days and it came to 7 fries every time… I ordered my own plate of fries and got 14… there must be a trend. That evening was just time for dinner with copious amounts of Thai food all shared and, at least for me, an early night!

THEORY AND STANDARDS… be afraid be very afraid

The next morning dawned with me awake at 5.45am…again! I wondered around, grabbed a coffee at 7-11 and waited for the others to arise. Today was the dreaded theory and standards exams, approximately 3 hours of brain numbing physics, math, physiology and PADI standards (luckily that section was open book).

We arrived at the center, just a short walk from the resort and got settled into our seats. There were 3 PADI examiners and they gave us a brief intro, all the while with slide in the background reading:

WELCOME TO YOUR EXAM…RELAX!! A bit of an oxymoron if you tell me.

During the whole intro they would randomly as k questions like “who loves to dive?” “who wants to be an instructor?” “Who is awake?”.. most of us were too nervous to even blink let alone answer enthusiastically so we just sat wide eyed in the horror that awaited us. Eventually with a bit more joking and teasing more and more began to participate and on the question “who knows how to clean a mask?”, I finally tentatively put up my hand….

“You there what’s your name?” I think my eyes glazed over and I stopped breathing….
“Umm Kathy”
“Correct, now show us how”
I proceeded to do a half decent explanation of mask clearing with hands shaking, my tongue numb and my brain short circuiting…
“Excellent, moving on”

I believe I heard a little yelp of “YES!” from behind me in the form of Neil, who I believe nearly wet himself when the examiner pointed at me.

And then it was time to start…

I had Theory first, and it took me about 45 minutes to complete it, nervously I got up and realised I was the first one to finish, I handed in my exam and the Examiner asked “Are you finished?”, my reply was along the lines of “I think so” as I glanced around at everyone else still feverishly working through it… After a 5 minute break I dove back in, this time the open book Standards Exam. You would think open book would make it easier, but no it just seemed more confusing. After about an hour or so I finally completed it and walked to the front for my scores…

Examiner Colin: Well on your theory you got 96%, you missed one question in every one of your sections.
Examiner Rob: In your Standards you got 98%, you also missed one question.
We all looked at each other and they said together: At least you are consistent!

Woohoo passed!!!! Feeling light headed, slightly nauseous and giddy at the same time I exited the classroom. Neil was nervously waiting at the resort and met me half way like a proud parent!

Calling a good friend to tell her the results

Calling a good friend to tell her the results

Jet and Drey followed shortly afterwards but not before giving their Course Director Dave a few more grey hairs!!! They too had passed with little trouble.

Confined Water Session

The next hurdle to jump was the confined water session at one of the local pools. We each had a skill to teach and 5 skills to show. I had Mask Removal, replace and clear. One of the easier ones in theory. As a dive instructor when teaching courses there is always at least a day or 2 in the pool teaching the students the basics, you have to be able to be clear and concise, praising the student for something they did right (this can be difficult to think of sometimes) and reminding them of things to improve on. You also have to be a very very careful to follow the standards exactly, such as skills that have to be in shallow water, my skill being one of them.

With 3 groups of 6 candidates all squeezed into the pool it was very easy to think that we would just stick to our one spot and ignore the depth, thank heavens for one of the guys in our group who mentioned his having to be in shallow water, as it had not even crossed my mind, being so focused on the skill itself.

When my turn came about I moved the “students” into shallow water and had my back to the deep water, I went over the briefing stating the skill, the importance of the skill, signals and then a review of the skill. I just bought a new slap strap (the comfortable cover that goes over the plastic mask strap) and as I showed the removal aspect the mask slipped off with my movement, not what I intended. I am pretty certain my heart stopped or at least missed a few beats, but I just kept going. During the actual underwater part where I demonstrate and then have the students copy, the examiner is behind me telling the students to do a problem. I caught both problems all though was a little slow on one of them. At the surface I congratulated them stated what a good job they did, “I like the way you both looked up when clearing”, reminded them of issues, “but I did notice that one of your had your mask upside down, remember to always find the nose piece with your thumb so you have it the right way, great job guys excellent!”.

SCORE TIME: Fearing my mishap with the mask coming off during the briefing might effect my score, I moved nervously over to Colin the Examiner. A score of 3.4 is required with top marks being a 5.

Colin: Great job Kathy, nice briefing, clear and concise, excellent you scored a 5!!!!
Me: really???? I mean thank you

Glancing over to Neil who looked like he was trying to send me mental instructions and seemingly leaning as far forward as he could, I tried to casually hold up 5 fingers, he returned the sign with the expression of “really 5????”, “yup 5!!”. Now all I had to do was survive the 5 skills in a row.

Skill Circuit

There are around 27 skills every Divemaster and Instructor should know, from skin diving to mask clearing to hovering, and of those we get 5 picked at random that are done at the instructor exam. Our 5 included:
CESA (nemesis #1)
Mask Remove Replace and Clear
Hover (nemesis #2 – I checked if I turned upside down it was fine as long as I hovered)
Regulator Recovery
Alternate Air Stationary

The first one was the CESA, when you are low or out of air it is an option for surfacing when you are less than 9meters/29 feet from the surface and your buddy is too far away. You need to swim, elevating your arms and inflator hose while emitting a continuous “ahhhhhhhh” sound. It is one I have had problems with because I always forget to become neutrally buoyant before beginning the swim. This time round, I did great, only problem was that, at the start, Colin (floating at the surface in water that was fairly murky), pointed at Jet and I and then pointed to the other side of the pool. I thought this meant move to that side, so I merrily started swimming. I can only imagine what Colin thought, he got my attention and motioned the CESA signal, I swam back very quickly mumbling sorry into my regulator only to see Jet in the midst of preparing his CESA. OOPS!!!

Everything else went fine and I completed all the skills. Then came the scores…. unbelievably I got all 5’s!!!! Maybe Neil did get it all through to me afterall… There was hope for me yet!

 A great team to work with!!

A great team to work with!!

Tomorrow loomed with a classroom presentation and 3 skills in open water…. so close and yet so far!!!

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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Week 2 of Instructor Training

Pool Sessions

View from one of the pools

View from one of the pools

The copious amounts of book work continued however this time it was intermingled with pool sessions. Over and over again I practiced teaching students a certain skill and perfecting my own technique. Again because of shortness it meant creating techniques that would work for me and also work for students.

"teaching" Lulu and Neil.

“teaching” Lulu and Neil.

These included weight belt removal:
Normal: unclip weight belt and pass behind your back to the right side, clutch to chest then pass it back and reclip.
Problem: with my gear on my arms are too short to reach behind my back!
Alternative 1: kneel on left knee and pull weight belt over right knee, then return and reclip.
Problem: I have floaty feet and my right knee did not want to stay down and stable….
Alternative 2: lean forward, unclip and pull belt to right side and lean back, then nudge belt over right hip and sort of roll it on, clipping it as you lean forward again.
Problem: solved

Weight belt removal

Weight belt removal

Hover:
Normal: become neutrally buoyant and hover in a stationary position using your breath to control your level, you can hold your fins and look zen like or simply hang midwater.
Problem: my floaty feet mean I am unstable with each ankle attempting to go in a different direction.
Alternative 1: hold knees
Problem: upside down
Alternative 2: hold fins and attempt zen like position
Problem: upside down
Alternative 3: leave legs straight
Problem: legs start going in different directions again
Alternative 4: F*&k it, hold fins and just hover upside down and continue teaching
Problem: we all start laughing….

and so it continued with Neil realising with every skill that adaptions were needed, the good thing that I will know how to help divers with similar issues.

Regulator Recovery Skill

We had numerous other folks from divers to divemasters to other instructors all helping with the training. Really a great crew from Haad Yao divers and super supportive.

I was pretty saturated every day from hours in the pool followed by classroom and homework, but it seemed to all be getting through to me… slowly but surely.

Pool Session Brain Fart

It happens to all of us, the nerves just take over. On one pool session I was briefing how to hover with oral BCD inflation (using your breath to fill the bcd rather than pressing the button to automatically inflate). I briefed it all correctly, positioned everyone and prepared to give the demo. Hovers made me so nervous (see above) that I demo’d the auto inflate vs the oral inflate and didn’t realise it until Neil (my student) came and promptly began the skill with oral inflate. I believe i cursed in multiple languages through my regulator but continued seemingly unphased. At the debrief this would have been a 1 and therefore a fail, Neil said the only thing that may have saved me was the fact that I didn’t freak out when I realised my idiotic mistake… oops, at least now I am super aware when it comes to which version of the hover I am doing.

Being Scored.

Being Scored.

Working Together

Being the only student was great for personal tutoring, although I think I drove Neil back to drink! But it was also hard because you had no one to compare your level with, no matter how often Neil said I was doing great, I never felt good enough and was very hard on myself. as it so happened, there were 2 other instructor candidates doing their course with Dave at Sail Rock Divers, so we joined forces for an ocean dive and then a final mock exam pool session. A great way to meet others and see where your level truly was.

Instructor Candidates Jet, Kathy and Drey

Instructor Candidates Jet, Kathy and Drey

Final Ocean Dive

Neil decided to squeeze in one more dive at Chaloklum bay, Lulu a Divemaster candidate had to practice a lift bag and I needed to review a few more skills. However that day was one of THOSE days, where everything seems to go wrong.
– Our plan to dive right from Haad Yao, therefore requiring no driving, was thwarted by the weather.
– We called close to 7 people hoping someone was near Chaloklum bay to check the conditions there, finally someone could tell us it looked ok.
– I was exhausted and just couldn’t seem to get it together with my preparations, not to mention I had navigation, another arch enemy along with the hover.
– The visibility was almost non existent and we lost the line in an attempt to do the compass work
– Neil got a sinus squeeze during an attempt to find the weight belt and lift it for Lulu

The only victory was our search for the weight belt which had almost got lost in about a foot of muck at the bottom, I just saw a piece of the belt sticking out and we were able to bring it to the surface…. What a day!

And So The End is Near….

All too soon the teaching and studying came to an end as the Instructor Exam suddenly appeared and it was time to head off to Koh Tao for the 2 day long exam….. just breathe in and out in and out!!!!

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2015 in Scuba Diving, Thailand, Travel

 

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