You have every reason to be scared of scuba diving, especially if it's your first time. Taking it from the meaning of "scuba"–"self-contained underwater breathing apparatus," you're basically breathing from a repeatedly refined man-made system underwater in a space that isn't your primary habitat. Overthinking is expected. Because as scuba diving introduces you to the beautifully blued environment underwater, you'll encounter safety concerns. But those fears, you'll get to diminish sooner or later with these experts handholding you into the depths.
Diving students Joey Arenas and Ilongga blogger, Katrina Loring, completing dives in Anini-y, Antique for their certification.
There are the licensed divemasters, who lead dives, teach intros, and ensure safety of certified divers. And then there are the dive instructors, teachers who are certified and higher ranked than divemasters. The certification isn't just for wall display, obviously, as some find it a "license" to explore more unconstrained.
"Diving itself already makes you feel 'free', but after getting certified and receiving that card you just feel a lot more liberated. It feels as if you could go anywhere. Anywhere within 18m/60feet that is," certified diver Joey Arenas says.
For years, the world's largest diving organization for training, PADI, has been educating and certifying new divers interested to explore life beneath the surface. Did you know that the posted segment story of PADI's beginning is actually titled "Two Friends, a Bottle of Scotch, and an Idea?" The birth of PADI actually began with the buddy system, where you're never not diving with another person watching you. It's the biggest element of fun and camaraderie that colors every diving adventure.
From left: Divemaster Mike Huang, then-diving student Joey Arenas (now certified), and Advanced Diver Sam James (who has begun doing safety dives, steps towards become a divemaster)
A couple of PADI certified divers and a divemaster from Antique helped to realign us all on what we needn't be afraid of when learning scuba diving while sharing their own experiences in the sport.
First up, Iloilo resident Mike Huang. He is a licensed divemaster working closely with TheDivehouse.com in Anini-y, Antique (a 1.5-2hr drive out of Iloilo City). Here, he outlines a bit about his journey to being a divemaster.
What motivated you to try out scuba-diving for the first time and how old were you when you were officially certified?
MH: "Pure curiousity is what got me motivated. When I was young, I was really into marine animals and the aquatic life. I did my first intro dive when I was 15 and then got certified when I was 24."
When you were a young kid, what did you want to be, did you ever imagine you would become a dive master?
MH: "As a kid, I really don't remember what I wanted to be. I guess, a pilot? Not sure. (Laughs.) No, I never imagined myself being a divemaster at all."
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What jobs have you held other than scuba diving before ultimately becoming a Divemaster?
MH: "After college, I tried working in a bank for a year and as a financial consultant but it just all did not feel right for me."
What made you decide to become a Divemaster, and not just an advanced diver?
MH: "I decided to become a divemaster because I wanted to work in some places like El Nido and Tubbataha Reef (Palawan) and at the same time to see the other dive sites in the Philippines. It's more of like a paid vacation!"
Divemaster and medical student RJ Magalona (above) was also taught by Mike earlier on in Antique
What was your most challenging, scary, or most adventurous memory so far as a Divemaster?
MH: "At 180ft,. my regulator malfunctioned (the device inserted in the mouth that delivers breathable air to the diver). Parang equipment failure pero almost lahat fail safe naman. I pressed the purge button too hard and the diaphram folded from the inside and it started leaking and water was coming in, partly because of the pressure at that depth. Parang on the technical side na 'toh, ha. Good thing lang na I had the presence of mind to open the shell (of the regulator) and put it back to its proper position. So, yon! (Laughs) Tagal na 'toh, this happened siguro mga 2006 pa."
What's a scuba-diving myth that you think as a divemaster should be slammed or corrected (misconceptions of other people that prevent them from trying diving)?
MH: "Overthinking and paranoia causes them to believe they're going to die. No! No one dies under my boat. First, they think they're going to panic and then drown. I'm the one who's going to prevent that from happening. That's what we do best."
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What is the most unique or challenging teaching case you’ve encountered as a divemaster?
MH: Each diver or individual is different. First of all, we need to assess them and find a way to build that trust. Okay, last Holy Week, I was diving with a 33 year-old young woman. She had problems equalizing and overthinking, so what I did was I told her 'Relax ka lang' no need to panic. I'm here. Dont be scared. We have all day, no rush. We'll take it really, really slow. I don't know if she remembers everything I told her, but at the end of the day she did it and that look on her face, like she couldn't believe she actually did it, was priceless. That's why we as dive professionals must have a lot of patience.
Ilonggo diver cousins Sam James and Kiera Bauman
Our other companion, British-Filipino Iloilo resident Sam James is an advanced diver who has also done several deep dives with Mike. He has just begun his own journey towards becoming a divemaster but still recalls all his inescapable moments of horror in his first time.
Sam's advanced open water temp card
What motivated you to try out scuba diving for the first time?
SJ: "My whole family has been diving since I was a kid growing up here. My dad has been diving in the UK since he was in university, and both my aunt and uncle were instructors. Both my parents encouraged me to snorkel then eventually dive when I had the opportunity. I guess I was 10 when I did my bubble maker course, it just sort of started there. I was officially certified end of February this year.. I haven't even got my official dive ID cards yet. I've since clocked another 25 dives since I got my advanced diver qualification."
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What do you think is a common concern amongst people who have never tried scuba diving?
SJ: "Everyone has similar fears before they first try diving: "What if water gets in my mask? What if I run out of air? What if I lose my regulator? What if I see a shark?" You'll be taught the basic skills required before you first go down...even be made to practice everything in the shallows. You won't dive too deep just yet so you will be able to see the bottom. Your dive master or dive instructor will explain everything to you before you go down and answer any questions you have to put you at ease. Even if you want to abort the dive because you're scared or nervous, it is ok. It is better to be comfortable than panic when you reach the bottom."
What was your “aha” moment like as a new diver?
SJ: "I used 1000 psi on my victory dance while was in the water. A third of what was in my tank. It was my first shark though and I was super hyped about it."
What was your most challenging or scary moment so far?
SJ: "Most challenging moment for me is starting my divemaster training. Doing the job of safety diver is...intense, at least for me. The divers I look after, literally risk injury or death if something goes wrong or I mess up. It's a lot of responsibility. Diving can be dangerous if you don't respect the ocean."
Ilonggo divers winding down at Salt Gastro Lounge in Iloilo CIty. Mike Huang, Sam James, Joey Arenas, and RJ Magalona
Photography by Mike Huang
What would be your advice to anyone who is curious but somewhat afraid to try scuba diving?
SJ: "My message would be this: It's OK to be afraid. Find a well recommended dive establishment, talk to them and go down with someone who makes you feel comfortable, and is willing to listen and work through any questions you have or fears you have.... There's no reason why you can't dive, even if after going out if you don't like it at least you can say you tried it! But to really describe what it's like down there? I can only say it's like being in a different world. Words can't describe your experience under the sea. I'm just lucky enough that it isn't a once in a lifetime experience for me!"
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Photos from: Instagram.com/blessmybag, Instagram.com/samjamesthefirst, RJ Magalona, and Mike Huang