Unresponsive diver was almost twice my size. I’m tiny: about 108 lbs (~47 kilos); 5 feet, 4 inches (165 cm) at most. We were in chest-deep water, relatively calm conditions (at least!), but a rocky beach was still ahead of me.
“I have to at least try getting him out. I can’t fail by trying, but by quitting.”
I stopped, took a deep breath, and thought about the different beach exits I had learned the previous day during my Rescue Diver and EFR PADI courses in Tioman as I gave him two full rescue breaths. I knew it would be more than five seconds before I could give him another one, as I had to get him out of the water as soon as possible in order to perform chest compressions (full CPR).
“Dragging him by the arms won’t work: upper body is my weakest point. Piggyback is my only option: at least I’ll be mostly using my legs, my strongest area.”
I swam, then walked closer to shore in order to safely go on my knees without water blocking his airway, but deep enough so I wouldn’t have to deal with his full weight just yet. Then, I carefully placed his arms over my shoulders and slowly tried to stand up…
I struggled. I stumbled down.
I tried again, my legs wobbling as I gradually stacked my body up.
“I’m up, I’m up!” I internally cheered.
I took another, yet more determined breath as I fixated my eyes on the shore, avoiding the rockiest path.
One step. Two steps…
I was still up.
Then, less than five minutes later, there I was: I FREAKIN’ MADE IT. No time for celebration though, time is crucial. I slowly went down on my knees, sliding the diver on the sand. His fall was a bit harder than I would have liked, but at least he was laying down, neck in a safe, neutral position and ready for me to open airway and begin CPR right away.
“That was good! Good. Great”
Said Scuba Guru Grahame Massicks, as he’s locally known, as he sat down.
“Wow, I never thought I could do that!” I yapped. Grahame responded: “I told you it would be easier than the drag, specially given your size.” It was the final day of the course: he had taught me well.
This was my first time taking a PADI diving course with an independent Master Instructor. While I enjoy taking courses with recognized dive schools, I wanted to try something new in Malaysia.
No schools would take me for a Rescue Diver course unless more people signed up.
I went ahead and sent an inquiry to Grahame anyway. While he teaches on-demand, he recommended I take his Nitrox and unique underwater photography course instead. This is when I learned why other schools had turned me down: the more students in a rescue course, the more scenarios to apply your skills in.
Grahame said the Rescue Diver course in Tioman Island was still doable though, even if I was the only diver signed up for those dates. However, we would have get creative.
So what did he do?
He took me in a couple of dives with two of his Open Water course students.
We actually had some incidents that could have become accidents.
One of his students went on an uncontrolled ascent due to over-inflating his BCD (buoyancy control device); while the second student panicked, having trouble breathing. I was able to put some rescue diver (and even Divemaster) skills to the test, even though I was on a customized, fast-paced, one-on-one course.
It changed my whole perspective about PADI diving courses. I’m sure a larger dive school wouldn’t have provided me the real-world experience and personalized attention Grahame gave me.
Salang Bay’s beauty and Grahame’s 15+ years of experience as a dive instructor in Malaysia are some of the top reasons I booked a PADI course with the Scuba Guru in Tioman. I can’t wait to go back to that island and learn from him again.
After seeing his portfolio and accolades (including being semifinalist in several prestigious photo competitions) though? I want to take both of his PADI-approved Distinctive Specialty Courses: Digital Photography Diver and Intermediate Digital Photography Diver. Then, I will finally be able to share high-quality underwater shots with you!
Are you a certified diver? Have you ever taken a private diving course?
Special thanks to Grahame Massicks for offering me two diving courses of my choice on a complimentary basis. I was not paid for this article or positive reviews however. As such, this story is an authentic account of my very own experiences. By taking the combo Emergency First Response and Rescue Diver course in Tioman Island, I pushed past many of my fears and perceived limits. It was a very personal, transformative experience and can’t thank Grahame enough for believing in me the whole way.