“I want my, I want my MTV” or so sang Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits back in 1988. I didn’t exactly have this tune in my head when I came to Phuket, but I definitely woke up singing it on Saturday 30th May.
You see, America’s MTV were in town, shooting a reality TV show in the vane of Survivor. They started with 28, twenty-something year old American guys and gals, trying to successfully complete physical challenges without elimination so they could share in prize money of around USD$100,000 plus other prizes. The schedule is fairly rigorous and when they weren’t shooting, the cast were housebound. I call them cast rather than contestants, because each of them have contracts with MTV that go over several seasons and MTV exclusively owns their pretty American faces for the next 7 years.
The cast had the day off from challenges. So, for a day of relaxation, they decided to charter Sea Fun’s boat to “Discover Scuba Diving”. And lucky me, in my capacity as a Divemaster Trainee, was enlisted to assist them in their discovery. Unlike a normal Discover Scuba Diving trip, these customers were only going to do one dive due to time constraints so this was just a half-day trip which would turn out to be long enough for me.
When you think of young Americans in their early 20’s, what image comes to your mind? For me, I pictured white home boys with their pants hanging somewhere below their Calvin Klein clad buttocks plus baseball caps perched too high on their heads. I was only expecting males, so I hadn’t created any mental image expectations of girls.
Ina and I waited with anticipation at the end of Chalong pier for their mini-bus to arrive so we could welcome them and escort them to the boat. Unsure of what to expect and joking about the worst case scenario.
The bus eventually arrived and of course the first people to emerge were three very loud-mouthed and crass American males. “Hello, hello, let’s go f***ing diving” were the first words to greet us. Oh dear. Maybe we were about to experience the worst case scenario we had imagined. We ignored the obscenities, introduced ourselves and shook their hands.
Not far behind them was another male and four females. We watched them as the walked down towards the boat, showing off for the camera as the the crew filmed their movements. Yes, MTV were filming their adventurous day off and yes, there is a chance that you might just see my face on MTV. We all had to sign releases so they could use any footage of us.
They guys were tall and muscular. Their clothes showing off their shapely arms and the odd tattoo. The girls were small and slim. Two blonde, two brunettes. If I had to label them, two were princesses, one was an athletic cheer leader type and one was the rock chick in the style of Pink but brunette and her arms covered in tattoos (she was to become my customer for the dive) . The girls were much quieter than the guys, polite and lacking the macho arrogance displayed by the guys.
On the boat, Ina conducted the boat briefing. This is standard for every dive trip to let the customers know where things are located on the boat and basic rules such as the cabin being a dry area and no flushing toilet paper down the marine toilets. As part of the briefing, she explained how the afternoon would run and asked if anybody was a certified diver to which one of the male cast members responded, “No, but I’m a certified muff diver.” Oh how I cringed. I tried my hardest to keep a straight face but I’m sure it displayed a grimace of disgust and the thought, “You are a loser” kept running around my head.
We ate lunch on the sundeck, and I kept my distance, somewhat repelled by the arrogant, showy energy dispersed by the group. After lunch, I went downstairs to the main cabin to check my phone. The guys walked in, ready to watch the “Discover Scuba Diver” educational DVD and as they entered, Mr Certified Muff Diver asked “Who in here wants a f***?”. I ignored the ridiculous question, finished what I was doing and walked out as quickly as possible. Were these guys for real? Did they really think this type of pathetic behaviour was cool? Do people really want to watch people acting stupidly like this on TV?
The guys and girls were split into two groups based on their teams which meant all males diving together and all females. Fortunately for me, I was diving with the females. We sized them up for fins and masks and helped them into their gear ready to take their first step into the underwater world.
Discover Scuba Diver students must learn some basic skills before they can dive such as how to clear a flooded mask and how to recover a regulator if it is knocked from their mouth. I jumped in the water first and descended to 2 metres, waiting for Ina and Craig, the instructors to teach the basic skills and then one by one send the girls down to wait with me until all the girls had successfully performed the skills and were ready to dive.
The first girl was the Rock Chick. She learned the skills very quickly, descended to me and I took her to the sandy bottom at 5 metres where we could kneel and maintain position due to the slight current that was running. She was so excited to be in the water, her eyes wide open with amazement and excitement. The other three girls took much longer to learn the skills. So there we sat and waited, watching the fish swim past us and around the nearby coral until finally we were ready to start diving.
I accompanied and looked after the Rock Chick. She was so excited that for the whole dive she swam non-stop and with such speed that I hung on to her pressure gauge for the whole dive and was towed around. No fin kicks for me. That probably sounds nice and easy but in reality it isn’t.
One of the unexpected things I have learned during my Divemaster course is that being a Divemaster/Instructor is no easy job, it is hard work. When you think of a Scuba Instructor, what mental image comes to mind? Do you think of the Caribbean or somewhere else warm with sunshine, warm water, instructors casually teaching their students, a couple of hours a day, laughing and socialising with them, breezing through the day, diving and having their students follow them along? If so, you’re kind of right but wrong at the same time.
When someone doesn’t know how to dive, you are watching them the whole time. This is no longer about fun diving for you. This person is your responsibility to make sure their dive experience is safe and enjoyable. You need to manage their buoyancy, make sure they are calm and happy and that they are not too far away from you, if they get to the point of letting go of your hand or you being able to let them swim by themselves.
Many first time divers can’t manage their buoyancy properly and add too much air to their buoyancy control device (the jacket you wear that the air tank attaches to). This causes them to shoot up towards the surface and you have to grab them anyway you can, pull them back down and release the excess air.
Some first time divers swim too fast or they don’t swim at all which means you are either dragging them along with you or pulling on them to slow them down.
Now imagine the situation where you have two first time divers you are looking after and neither of them want to let go of your hand or are able to control their buoyancy plus you have to communicate with them underwater via hand signals that they often forget. Not only are you managing yourself in the water, but you now have two dependents. This type of underwater work is hard and tiring.
So my Rock Chick diver was a fast swimmer, and I got a free tow around the dive site but it was still not an easy dive trying to control which direction she went, forcing her to stop or circle back when we were too far ahead of our group and getting her attention to make sure she was ok. However, she was rapt with the dive. We surfaced and she yelled out with joy, “That was f***ing awesome! I felt like an f***ing fish!”. Ah, what a poetic description of the experience.
After diving, you will find most divers are tired and quiet on the return trip and it’s not uncommon to have a boat load of sleeping divers. This is generally because of the nitrogen build-up in their bodies which takes some time to off-gas. But I also like to think it’s because of the peace and serenity they have just experienced in the underwater world and the meditative effect of diving. And it was no different with this MTV group. After the dive, the showy, arrogant, loud-mouthiness disappeared, apparently washed away and what was left was some young people talking about their surreal, reality show lives.