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Phuket Diving: Dive Bunny takes plunge

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PHUKET: A lion fish is out in the open just over the sands of Kata Beach, but before a photo can be taken there is a sudden commotion.

Dive instructor ‘Scuba Nick’, eyes wide-open, rips off his mask and reaches for his student’s regulator. Ex-British military, Nick is a big guy, with big hands going for the second stage of the small Thai Dive Master trainee, Kritsada “Tanny” Sutjacharee, also known as “Scuba Bunny”. With dexterity and confidence, Tanny quickly takes control of the situation. She establishes physical contact, holds Nick’s eye, checks his pressure gauge for air and gets him breathing – Nick begins to calm down, and one of the several intense drills for the day is over.

Seeing Tanny move in the water, it is hard to imagine that as of June 5 this year, she still didn’t know how to swim. It is often jokingly remarked that knowing how to swim is not essential for a diver to gain their open water certification. Though wonderfully true, it has been known to help, and being a reliable swimmer is an essential element to becoming a Dive Master.

Yet, growing up in Isarn, Tanny never had a real chance to learn, she explains at the surface.

“Mom and Dad told me one day ‘swim like dog’. Then I went to the pool with my Mom and Dad and twin sister.

They threw me into the pool, and same, same as a doggy,” she said unabashedly.

For Ms Tanny, diving has come before swimming. Nick, her instructor, explains, “I put aside [the swimming] and focused on the diving first to give her confidence in the water.”

However, learning to swim is not the biggest challenge that Tanny, like many other Thais trying to break into the dive industry, face. The real hurdle is the language barrier. Many other nationals, such as the Japanese and Koreans, don’t face the same challenges that Thais do when entering professional levels of the industry, as PADI certification texts are available in their native tongue. But such texts don’t exist in Thai, forcing divers like Tanny to learn the essentials and the minute details of diving in a second or third language.

Before we made our way through the sunbathing crowds on Kata Beach, Tanny ran through a memorized script for her dive briefing. “Hello, my name is Tanny, but you can call me Dive Bunny,” she said with a big grin. Though struggling with certain terminology, such as “surf zone” she was able to give a comprehensive briefing, cover all the essentials: safety procedures, dive plan, time limits, air limits and so on.

Though many improvements will be needed before Tanny is able to follow through with her dream of becoming a dive instructor and opening her own business “Scuba Bunny”, she exudes the confidence and passion quintessential to being a Dive Master.

Despite the daunting tasks Tanny has already faced, she has steadily moved through all her certifications up to her Dive Master course and has already made over 130 dives in the last five months, guiding 48 of them. As she guides our tour on Kata, her confidence and experience underwater are visible.

There are just the three of us on the dive, which makes spotting the tour leader (Tanny) as simple as your first underwater breathe.

However, Tanny’s hood, complete with bright pink novelty bunny ears, makes her easily identifiable in pretty much any dive situation.

As we hover over the sand next to the matrix of Kata reef, I frame up another shot of “Scuba Bunny”, her ears a strong contrast to the blue around her, as she points out a small scorpion fish nestled into the reef.

What might come off as ‘gimmicky’ is so sincerely loved, with the same contagious passion as she has for any “cartoon style” fish, such as Peacock Mantis shrimps and Porcupine fish, that Tanny’s rabbit ears are an instant asset to the dive.

“When I was a child, my Mom and Dad told us a story about looking at the moon, [where] you could see [the shadow] of a bunny sometimes. And they told me that when you go to sleep the bunny from the moon comes to see you,” Tanny explains.

“That’s when I [first started to] love bunnies, when I was a child,” she said.

Not giving up her love of rabbits, Tanny has clearly moved on to marine life.

Back at the surface Tanny, Nick and I are all grins. It is just as clear here, floating at the surface, as it was underwater that Tanny has a passion for diving that will carry her forward beyond the many obstacles she has had to overcome, so she can have a chance to explore all the mysteries and oddities of the underwater world.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli

 

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