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The transition from UK diving, to the most diverse reefs in the World (through the eyes of a PADI Instructor working in Borneo)

Lion Fish

The transition from UK diving, to the most diverse reefs in the World (through the eyes of a PADI Instructor working in Borneo) – by James Williams

Six years ago I learned to dive. For the first 4 years, diving on the South West coast of England was what I knew diving to be, now I find myself in Malaysian Borneo where I have learned the true meaning of the phrase ‘leisure diving’.

UK diving, how would you describe it? Murky, cold, dark, rough? Its fair to say that its not for everyone. UK diving has built a kind of reputation as a place that either the hardcore or the crazy dive. When people consider the UK as a dive destination I think many imagine a quarry,  for some, not so appealing, for me I love it!

Personally I’ve never dived in a quarry. All my experience in UK waters is in the sea, an enclosed bay, a small uninhabited island 1 mile off shore, or wreck diving.

My first experience was unsurprisingly my PADI open water course, the first step in most divers ‘career’. I remember it vividly, walking in off the beach in a dry suit, hood and gloves, lugging about 12Kg with me, second guessing why I decided to do this. We sink beneath the waves to find 1meter visibility, its about 12 oC at a push. I strain my eyes trying to keep sight of the instructors fins about 2 feet in front of my face. Eventually we come across soft corals and sea grass beds, blennies scuttling all over the place, scallops flapping about and even a jellyfish comes into the limited view. When we surface I realise that I am hooked, ‘this is amazing’.A few years later I’m taking my PADI advanced course. We’re about to start our navigation dive and we’re in open ocean being thrown all over the place. We descend to 20m, a flat wreck that’s been bombed awaits us, but you cant see it, the visibility is 0m. One by one we take it in turns to lay line to follow around its jagged edges as the surge smashes us into the wreck. I hope there is someone at the end of the line because I can barely see my hands. At the end we ascend using the shot line again. On the safety stop I’m constantly clearing my mask and people are pulling faces at me. It turns out my mask was filling up with blood. We get back on the boat cut and bruised and absolutely freezing. It was the best dive I’ve ever done!

What I love about UK diving is the challenge, after every dive you feel as though you’ve accomplished something.

Pretty Coral Reefs

Now compared to this, my first experience of diving in Borneo was another kettle of fish.

2009, I’m on holiday in Borneo. Where better to go diving?

Sabah, Malaysian Borneo falls within the coral triangle, a collection of the most abundant and biologically diverse reefs in the world. It is home to arguably the best scuba diving the world has to offer, and some of the rarest, most spectacular marine organisms within human reach.

My first dive here is in Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP) in Kota Kinabalu, with a company called Borneo Dream.  This time diving is alien again, I’m wearing a shorty wet suit and my guide is in a rash vest and shorts. I’m wearing 4Kg, my guide is wearing 1Kg, this can’t be right. As I hit the water from the back of the boat its like jumping into a bath tub, the water is 30 oC. The sea state is flat and calm and as we descend I can see for ‘miles’. The visibility is about 20m and there are fish everywhere! Throughout the dive I can’t contain my excitement, as a result my air consumption is absolutely pants. Consequently I end up having to end my dive early and surface with one of the Divemasters, leaving the rest of the group behind. At the surface I was speechless, I’m then told that we were only down for 30 minutes and I’ve completely guzzled my air with excitement. Until then seeing that kind of image of coral reefs, turtles and seahorses, squid and lion fish was only something I had seen on TV or in a book, to see it in the flesh was just mind blowing!

Green Turtle

Green Turtle

Today I find myself working for Borneo Dream, living the dream you could say. Even now having dived the area hundreds of times, covering the same dive sites, I’m still in awe of the absolute beauty of the place and I still get excited before every dive. Even when you think you’ve seen it all TARP surprises you…there is never a dull moment. Diving here feels like less of a sport, and more like a cruise. Here we rarely have to battle the elements its just sun, sea and scuba. The relaxing nature and spectacle of the diving here, reflects of the customers faces. I’ve yet to have a student / customer who hasn’t beamed a smile at me during the day.

However despite the nature of diving here, I will always have a soft spot for UK diving. Muck diving and wreck diving are available here so I can still get my fix, albeit not in quite the same capacity. Once you dive Borneo though you’re spoilt for life there’s no turning back ;)

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