Diving in Cambodia
PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre, Scuba Nation assists in the preparation of Cambodian salvage divers
PADI Course Director Gerard Leenen, from Scuba Nation Diving Centre, Cambodia who was recently conferred Knight of the Royal Order of Sahametrei for his hard work and commitment to the local community in Cambodia, explains his involvement and the development of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre/ Golden West Diver Preparation course. The course will lead to the formation of the first underwater UXO (unexploded ordnance) salvage team in Asia.
In 2006 Len Austin from Golden West Humanitarian Foundation Cambodia walked into our Scuba Nation office in Phnom Penh and spoke to us about setting up a Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) underwater unexploded ordnance (UXO) Salvage Divers team program to be supervised by Golden West. We talked about things and sent a quote but heard no more about it.
Skip forward 6 years. In 2012 Allen Tan, the General Manager from Golden West, approached us again about this. It was to be funded by the US Department of State and the Office of Weapons Removal & Abatement and was now a GO project.
The basic structure of the program was for one month of training. We started with 40 volunteers from CMAC for Phase 1. After two weeks of training by Golden West Instructors and staff, mainly involving physical fitness, swimming, discipline and some academic work, the 40 candidates would be whittled down to 20 for the two weeks of Phase 2. Phase 2 was teaching the PADI Open Water Diver course and overseeing the subsequent dives, where Golden West staff with salvage divers from the US Army and Navy would take over the training. I was to be present all through Phase 1 in Phnom Penh for consultation and during Phase 2 off the coast of Sihanoukville.
On the first day of Phase 1 there was an introduction to the program and the guys were straight into the pool. It was obvious that this was going to be an experience all on its own: most of these guys couldn’t swim and due to their lack of body fat, almost none could float! Fortunately, they had an extremely competent Cambodian swim teacher who trained in Australia and she was great. Within a week, she had them all floating, swimming front crawl and snorkelling.
After the cut to 20 candidates to start Phase 2, the training moved to the coast. I had to design power-point presentations with many illustrations as most of the 20 cannot read or write English, but we had 2 excellent translators who managed to translate on the spot as I did the lectures. It became quickly apparent that the academics were going to be a big challenge for a lot of the guys, some of whom had very little formal education and had barely been in a classroom up to that point. We quickly adjusted the schedule to allow more time to be spent on the academics. Soon, I began to see the strong ones helping and explaining to the weaker ones, which was great - and for me - this was the start of them becoming a team.
At the same time, the guys were still doing physical training and also experiencing their first breaths underwater with the confined exercises. We split them into teams of 4-5 and all were allocated buddies to bring home to them the teamwork concept, something the Army and Navy guys really wanted to emphasise. It was very different from training during our normal courses and it was funny to see that if the guys did something wrong after being told several times how to do it, the Army guys would make them do press-ups. We’re still thinking about trying it out with our usual students!!
By the end of the 3rd week we moved our whole operation to Koh Rong Island for the final PADI Open Water dives and then on to the special training. The 4 open water dives were great and the students loved it; we worked on buoyancy and did the PADI Open Water skills. For Dives 3 & 4, we took them to the reefs and showed them the corals and marine life; all the students came up with big smiles on their faces.
We certified 15 Cambodian CMAC staff for the PADI Open Water course and handed them over to Golden West to continue 4 extra days of diver training. Joining us then were 3 US military salvage divers who observed the students, and advised the Golden West instructors who took over from Scuba Nation. They were assessing if the candidates were ready to go on to further salvage training over the next few years.
We were acting as safety divers for these dives and it was incredible to see the candidates doing exercises with black-out masks, low visibility and entanglements. These are divers who had just passed the PADI Open Water course 3 days ago and some of whom could barely swim 3 weeks ago. Absolutely amazing!
To qualify as a success, Golden West needed four divers to qualify for the Salvage team. We are extremely proud that ten candidates achieved the first level of Basic Salvage diver and the US military Salvage divers will take those ten to be trained as the first ever Cambodian Salvage diver team, and in fact the first in the world of its kind. Due to the success of this program, the US State Department are now looking at repeating it elsewhere in Asia and in Africa, which is a great tribute to the hard work and teamwork, of Scuba Nation and Golden West.
As a complete surprise that blew me away, at the closing ceremony, I and the lead instructors were presented with a knighthood of The Royal Order of Sahametrei by H.E. Prak Sokhon on behalf of the Cambodian Government in recognition of our services over the past months to the development of the CMAC/ Golden West Diver Preparation course.
As a PADI Course Director and Scuba Nation owner, it was an honour to be selected as the PADI Dive Centre to run the program with Golden West, The US Department of State, The Office of Weapons Removal & Abatement and CMAC. For me personally, it was a pleasure and privilege to work with the teams of people involved. The biggest satisfaction was to see Cambodian CMAC people, some of whom had never been to school and could not swim 4 weeks ago, change into a great team of PADI Open Water divers and go on to bigger and better things. I am so proud that I and Scuba Nation were a part of that. It has changed my life forever and I have learned so much over the last 4 weeks that will stay with me to make me a better PADI Instructor and Course Director.
Gerard Leenen - PADI Course Director
Click here to view a short video of the Cambodians during their diver preparation course.
To contact Scuba Nation Diving Centre, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tel: Phnom Penh, Mobile: +855 (0)12 715 785 Sihanoukville, Mobile: +855 (0)12 604 680 Email: email@example.com or visit their Website : www.divecambodia.com and www.cambodia-idc.com
Diving in Cambodia
Gerard Leenen awarded Knight of the Royal Order of Sahametrei in Cambodia
PADI Asia Pacific is delighted to extend sincere congratulations to PADI Course Director Gerard Leenen from Scuba Nation Diving Centre - who was conferred Knight of the Royal Order of Sahametrei on February 28th 2013 - for his hard work and commitment to the local community in Cambodia.
Gerard was presented with the medal of The Royal Order of Sahametrei knighthood by H.E. Prak Sokhon on behalf of the Cambodian Government. This is in recognition of his services over the past months to the development of the CMAC/ Golden West Diver Preparation course which will lead to the formation of the first underwater UXO (unexploded ordnance) salvage team in Asia.
Well done, Gerard!
The Royal Order of Sahametrei is a medal presented by the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia by Royal Decree of the King of Cambodia. It is conferred primarily on foreigners who have rendered distinguished services to the King and to the people of Cambodia, particularly in the field of external relations and diplomatic services or, as a token of friendship.
To contact Scuba Nation Diving Centre, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tel: Phnom Penh, Mobile: +855 (0)12 715 785 Sihanoukville, Mobile: +855 (0)12 604 680 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Website: www.divecambodia.com and www.cambodia-idc.com
Diving in Cambodia
Gerard Leenen and Vicky Leah - owners of Scuba Nation Diving Centre, a PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia - have provided this interesting story, written by PADI Divemaster, Max Hay.
My name is Max Hay and I was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 1972. My father worked with the Cambodian Lon Nol government and when I was 8 months old, he was assigned to work at the Cambodian embassy in Washington D.C. While we were gone, Cambodia collapsed under the Khmer Rouge - my father, mother, 3 sisters, 1 brother and I were stranded in America.
We moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. My father was an avid fisherman and camping on the beach with my family had a strong influence on my upbringing and lifestyle. By 4 years of age, we moved again to Long Beach, California - a one week, cross-country road trip in my Dad’s Green Mercury - towing the U-haul. Growing up in a beach town - surfing, skim boarding, body boarding, just being in the ocean and hanging out at the beach with friends - was the thing to do. Free-diving to see crabs on the rock jetties planted the seed for breathing underwater; relaxation and deep breathing exercises appeal to me and scuba diving was a natural transition.
I made my first return visit back to Cambodia in 2002. Though I only stayed for one short week, I made a connection with the country and what was left of my family who stayed. During the Khmer Rouge period, around 2 million people died under the regime, up to 30% of the population.
My first time in Sihanoukville left a lasting impression with sandy white beaches, warm, clear waters and islands off the coast. I remember thinking, I like this place, I like this town - I would like to live the rest of my life in this country I left as a small child.
Coming back to America was an emotional experience for me. The connection I made with my family and my country of birth stayed with me; photos of my trip would cause a deep longing to return.
Once I did my first dive off of Catalina Island in California, I was hooked. My instructor mentioned diving as a profession and a seed was planted. It had been 9 years since my trip to Cambodia and not a day had gone by that I didn’t think about returning. The feeling of being anxious and not satisfied with my life, weighed heavily on me. The need for change in my life kept growing, I woke one morning and realised I had spent 40 years of my life in America and I wanted a new direction. On my mind was the suggestion of a career in diving and the images of Sihanoukville - the connection became obvious to me.
My second trip to Cambodia was a one-way ticket. I researched the dive shops and liked what I read about Scuba Nation. I did my PADI Advanced Open Water Course with them and was impressed with the instructors and the course. The diving off Koh Tang, an island 4-5 hours off the mainland, was memorable and it sealed the commitment for me. I made the decision to invest what little I had in my Divemaster Training course and take that first step in professional diving here in Cambodia.
I have been in Cambodia for 10 months now and it has been quite an experience. Working as a PADI Divemaster for Scuba Nation, I have the opportunity to dive the islands off the coast and make a living in a country where I am still rediscovering my roots and family.
Every day here is a learning experience both as a Divemaster and a Cambodian returnee; the future is one of hope and promise…let’s see what the next 40 years brings me.
As he gains more experience as a Divemaster, Max plans to continue his PADI Professional Development. An option for the future is to become a PADI Instructor.
Planning a trip to Cambodia? Visit Vicky and Gerard at SCUBA NATION DIVING CENTRE
The first and only PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre in Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Mobile: +855 (0)12 715 785 Sihanoukville, Mobile: +855 (0)12 604 680
Email: email@example.com Website : www.divecambodia.com and www.cambodia-idc.com
Diving in Cambodia
PADI Junior Open Water Divers in Cambodia
Continuing what is starting to look like a new tradition for the Beck family, we add our congratulations to Charles Jonathan (CJ to his friends) Beck who completed the PADI Junior Open Water Course in Cambodia with PADI Five Star Instructor Development Centre, Scuba Nation on 15 September 2012.
At 10 years, 3 days - he became the youngest ever to be certified at this level in Cambodia – not to mention one of the youngest world-wide. You need to be 10 years old to begin this course - so this is an amazing achievement in so short a time.
The PADI Open Water Course is made up of three parts: knowledge development sessions involving self-study, quizzes and instructor reviews; confined sessions practicing scuba skills in shallow water; and four open water dives in the ocean. For PADI Junior Open Water students, there is no allowance for their younger age (except a depth and supervision restriction) and the younger students complete exactly the same course as the adults.
“The previous youngest Junior Open Water diver to be certified in Cambodia was his sister, Kamryn 2 years ago and we’re sure this gave CJ the spur to try to beat her record.” Scuba Nation’s co-owner, Gerard Leenen explains, “The Becks now have the 2 youngest ever PADI certified male and female divers in Cambodia”.
“Our PADI IDC Staff Instructor, Fabrice Germaneau was particularly pleased as this continues his “full-set” of the Beck family – as well as Kamryn, he previously certified Mum, Jodi and older sister, Mikaela as Open Water divers and Dad Daren completed his PADI Divemaster course with us last year”.
As the Scuba Nation staff said of CJ: "He is a great little diver, always smiling and we're really happy to welcome him as the youngest member of the Scuba Nation diving family here in Cambodia"