Women divers take the plunge

Aziz Idris

While the diving industry is often perceived as being male-dominated, with latest statistics showing that approximately 65 per cent of all certified divers are men, a handful of local women divers are smashing the glass ceiling in Brunei’s growing diving industry by becoming certified with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ (PADI)’s Instructors Development Course (IDC).

Four candidates participated in written exams as well as confined and open water evaluations conducted by PADI Course Director Arnold Yap, based in Pattaya, Thailand, who directed the programme over two weeks alongside local dive operator Poni Divers.

Of the four participants, three were Bruneian women – Zafirah binti Morshidi, Amal ‘Afina binti Abdul Malik and Marilyn Lau, while Bimbo Princillo was from the Philippines.

Their motivation was partly sparked by the PADI Women’s Dive Day, an international diving event organised to encourage more women to start diving and promote, celebrate and strengthen the community of female divers in this industry.

In March this year, Poni Divers, who also advocates for equal opportunities, celebrated International Women’s Day by hosting their first ever Women’s Dive Day purely for women.

ABOVE & BELOW: Participants during open water and pool evaluations. PHOTOS: PONI DIVERS

Divers training at Pelong Rocks

The women divers consisting of the public and staff from the company took the plunge at Dolphin Wreck and Abana Reef, two popular dive sites in Brunei.

The PADI IDC is a step every PADI instructor has to go through, during which candidates are taught how to conduct and teach PADI programmes to burgeoning divers.

The training course, pool evaluations and the written exams took place at Peak Performance while for the Open Water presentations, candidates travelled by speedboat to Pelong Rock Island.

Amal ‘Afina, who completed her internship with Poni Divers last year, was offered a job at the company soon after she graduated from Politeknik Brunei in June 2019.

Amal ‘Afina said she was honoured to have been given the opportunity to do the IDC. “Their non-stop belief in me and the endless support from everyone including my family and friends who have been supporting me from day one, was such motivation for me and I’m really proud of what I achieved.”

Meanwhile, Zafirah who holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Oceanography said the majority of Bruneian females are reluctant to go for diving courses because instructors are usually males.

Zafirah now actively teaches diving in Brunei, and most of her students are from the British Forces Brunei.

She hopes that with the certification, she can convince more Bruneian females to take up diving. “My motivation is for my prospective students, I really want to teach them, certify them and have them explore diving.”

PADI Course Director Arnold Yap is on his fifth visit to Brunei to conduct the IDC and was assisted by IDC staff instructors, Dive Supervisor at Poni Divers Mustaquim Samaan and freelance scuba instructor Kimmy On who is Brunei’s first female PADI instructor.

Kimmy On who started diving in 1998 became the first female Bruneian PADI instructor in 2006 and had the opportunity to get up to date with PADI development, standards and interact with the Course Director as part of her continued education.

Poni Divers hosted the first PADI IDC back in 2014 and has been hosting the course annually by putting many local candidates, both male and female, through the programme with the hope of growing the local diving industry with locals.

Twenty-four instructor candidates have successfully gone through and qualified from the programme, many of whom have gone on to other successful careers with many lifelong skills learnt during their participation.

Business Development Director Anna Aziz stated, “Diving is often perceived to be a male-dominated industry, what people may not realise is that diving is a sport full of female legends who have paved the way for today’s divers of both genders.”

The local dive operator strives to recruit more women in the workplace to create a more female friendly work environment.

“We also aim to empower the women at Poni Divers and garner as much of their potential as possible, to inspire women who not only care about the ocean, but who are actively promoting it making it a better place,” she said.

“With our new female instructors, we hope to encourage more females to take up the sport of diving and to go on to have a positive impact on the young diving community here in Brunei.”

Poni Divers is committed to fostering a dive community that encourages and empowers females of all ages to safely and confidently explore the underwater world.

It is clear that progress is being made towards achieving a gender-balanced dive community, with Brunei making waves in this area.