Back in December, Dan and I came to Koh Tao, Thailand, for me to brush off my scuba diving certification and for Dan to sit on the beach drinking tequila and talking to people. Plans changed, as ours often do, and after chatting with the staff at the dive center, Dan was talked into starting his own PADI Open Water course while I went diving at the coral dive sites around the island.
After we left Koh Tao, having overturned Dan's conviction that he couldn't swim, we kept remembering the relaxed lifestyle of the people who worked at the dive centers we'd visited and the good food and smiley people in Thailand.
Hmm, we thought. I bet we'd enjoy being divemasters.
Fast forward five months, and we are stepping off the ferry back onto Koh Tao, shiny with sweat and excitement. We signed up with Master Divers, in our view the friendliest of a few dive centers we'd contacted, to do a six- to eight-week intensive divemaster course.
Under the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) system, a divemaster is the lowest professional rating. A divemaster is able to take people who are already certified to dive on an underwater tour, to teach snorkeling, and to assist dive instructors.
But before we could start the main stuff, we needed to take a few prerequisites.
* * *
John turned around, his finned foot resting on the edge of the Master Divers boat, scuba tank in place and regulator mouthpiece in hand. “The second rule of scuba,” he intoned, lecture-serious. “Is to look cool.”
And with that, he somersaulted into the twilight water.
Giggling, we followed him in just as the sun sank. It was our first night dive.
Besides making sure we remembered the rules of scuba (the first one, more practically, is 'never hold your breath') our instructor John took us on the five 'adventure' dives that make up the Advanced Open Water course. As well as night diving, we practiced underwater navigation and buoyancy, learned the different families of tropical fish, and experienced deep diving.
Two days later we were certified to go to 30 meters/100 feet deep, and ready to begin CPR training and our Rescue Diver course.
“Oh!” Thom screamed, his head disappearing into the blue bay.
“I can't swim!” he yelled when he gained the surface, arms splashing helplessly.
Dan and I looked around desperately for something to throw to Thom. Nothing looked very buoyant. While we searched, we heard another 'plop!' and then Chris starting to holler.
We groaned. “There went the other one,” Dan said. “Get the life-jackets.”
I ran to the back deck of Master Diver's boat to grab the blue-and-yellow jackets, but found them in a cubbyhole above the toilet--too tall for me to reach. Another diver stepped out of the toilet. “Could you be tall for me, please?” I asked, hoping he wasn't too alarmed by all the screaming for help. “Sure,” he said, handing me the jackets.
I jogged back to the front of the boat, where Dan had thrown a line attached to a small blue buoy to Chris. The other divers looked on, laughing and joking as I threw first one life-jacket to Thom and then the other. Both fell short about 10 yards so I grabbed my fins and mask and threw myself in after them.
“Diver, Diver, I'm a rescue diver!,” I shouted to Thom, as I proffered one of the jackets. He grabbed it, spluttering water.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” he replied, hanging on to the jacket. “I was looking at the fish and I forgot how to swim.”
Charlotte, our instructor, was waiting at the ladder, ready to take my fins.
“Good rescue,” she said. “A bit faster next time.”
After two grueling days of rescuing Charlotte's assistants from their suicidal tendencies of throwing themselves overboard at any moment, we were all set to start the real course we'd come to Koh Tao for—the divemaster course. To complete it, we'll need to study two books, participate in five lectures on dive science and theory, take nine exams, undergo tests of our in-water stamina, demonstrate the 20 basic scuba skills perfectly and assist instructors teaching lower-level dive courses. And, have a lot of fun.