64, Manila, Philippines
Jacques Cousteau’s The Silent World provided the spark for me to become a diver.
I was fascinated by the adventure and the aquatic life. I wanted to be like his lead diver, Albert Falco.
I learned to dive in 1978, fresh out of college.
I remember having difficulty with removing and replacing the gear underwater on my open water dives in Anilao – we were using horse-collar BCDs, and my hoses and straps became twisted and entangled.
My own “explorer” life has contributed to the development and popularity of several offshore diving destinations in the Philippines.
I was part of the team that initially explored and developed Tubbataha Reefs as a diving destination in the early 1980s. They consequently became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I was also part of the team that explored the Pagasa Island, part of the contested group of islands being claimed by China, and observed firsthand poaching activities and collection of live groupers.
It was like being transported back in time with Cousteau, exploring new sites that people hadn’t yet seen.
There was a lot of coordination and logistics with the military necessary to make the trip happen. I remember being transported by C-130 complete with a compressor, a barrel of fuel, and scuba gear.
The poaching continued. The areas were only accessible by live-aboards during the summer months, so monitoring and policing were difficult.
Now we have park rangers policing the area.
Around 1982/1983, I accompanied a scientist sent by the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, in El Nido, Palawan. He observed that El Nido was a developmental habitat for hawksbill turtles. I told him we needed to do decompression stops after several bounce dives a day. He asked why since we were never going to the limits of the dive table. I said it would allow our bodies to catch up with the release of nitrogen in our systems.
Little did I know that years later safety stops would be an integral procedure in dive planning.
We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the “inner space” that is scuba diving. It’s just amazing what science has provided us that wasn’t available 10 or 20 years ago.
I think of Psalm 104 when I appreciate the beauty and rich biodiversity of the underwater world.
“Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.”
The best dive memory I have was a dugong encounter off one of the small isolated islands in El Nido. The dive started with the usual population of reef fishes and then, out of the blue, there was a dugong swimming past like it was a parade in review. My buddy and I couldn’t believe our eyes – that dugong was really far from the mainland.
There have been scary moments too. One time we were doing a nondiving survey in a lake in Mindanao. It was hot and humid and we were sweating, so we decided to strip to our trunks and jump into the lake, to the amazement of our local guide. We asked why he was wide-eyed, to which he replied, “Because there are crocodiles in the lake.”
We wasted no time in getting out of the water.
On another trip, I was working as a divemaster on a live-aboard in transit to Palawan when the gasoline-fed compressor caught fire at night, after dinner when everyone was preparing to go to bed.
The fire spread throughout the stern and the boat was in danger of being engulfed in the flames.
Training kicked in and I told everyone to proceed to the designated muster stations in the event we had to abandon ship. The fire was quickly controlled. It was a good thing the crew had done a fire drill a few days before we sailed, and their training kicked in.
I look back and think, “That was close.”
I’ve been a PADI® Member for 38 years.
It’s like growing up with someone. PADI has been supportive as I’ve continued up the educational ladder and it’s felt like belonging to a very close-knit family.
One time the dive center I worked for burned to the ground. When the staff at PADI heard about it, they sent support even when we didn’t ask for it, to get us back on our feet.
No questions asked.
In my early years as a Course Director, I heard many of my colleagues admonish fresh instructors to adhere to PADI’s Standards and Procedures. I couldn’t agree more.
Not everyone appreciates the importance of standards in relation to quality and service. The only way to get ahead was to go by this principle.
Standards are the backbone of everything we do, particularly in the dive industry. It’s like running well-oiled machinery – everything has a role and purpose.
I love teaching diving because, like Drew Richardson says, diving and teaching diving are transformative. I’ve trained instructors with college degrees who should have been focused on other careers and disciplines, but instead exchanged their suits and ties for wet suits and fins.
I asked a candidate from Hong Kong why he wanted to become a PADI Instructor when he had a high-paying job with IBM. He said it was always a goal and nothing would get in his way. Teaching diving had become a burning passion.
Now, another instructor candidate told me she was introduced to the underwater world at a local dive shop. After getting certified, she married her instructor and said, “Now I own the dive shop.”
That’s one kind of hostile takeover!
Really, though, it was a common love for the sea and each other. Diving became part of their adventure.
Alexander Haig said, “No one has a monopoly on virtue.” I’m just a contributor to the popularity and success of the dive industry.
Thankfulness and contentment are the secrets to happiness. Living a simple and uncomplicated life is already a great gain.
I’m a control freak. I’ve come to realize over the years that while preparation and planning are important, I am not in control of the uncertainties of life.
The motto I live by is “to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
The one trait you need to be a good husband is to listen and be supportive of your wife.
Sorry, that’s two.
Teaching diving sort of honed these traits in me over the years.
Same goes for being a good father. When the children see you listening and being supportive with your wife, they tend to also grow up with the same traits.
Happiest non-diving event of my life? Winston Churchill once said if there was one thing he would do all over again, it would be to marry Mrs. Churchill.
Olympha and I have been married for 23 years.
I would say “I do” again too.
Based on an article that appeared in the Second Quarter 2021 The Undersea Journal®
Asia Pacific, Training, Diving, Diving Lifestyle, PADI, PhilippinesPADI Pros