Samui Wining & Dining
SINK, DON’T SWIM!

For something new, fun and different, leave your scuba gear at home and go for a walk instead
– along the seabed!


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Fun things to do? There are a hundred of them on Samui. You’ve got day trips and sports-fishing and scuba diving, bungee jumping, go carts and football golf, a shooting range, elephant treks and quad bikes – the list is endless. As well as the exalted pastime of ‘pool potato’, there are also degrees of ‘go off and do it’ that range from the frantic to the geriatric, with 50 shades of grey in-between.

        But, having stated that with confidence, when it comes down to it, there are only two types of trips or activities. There are those on the island. And there are those off the island. But as far as the latter’s concerned, you’re somewhat limited. Scuba diving and snorkelling. Fishing. Daytrips to Koh Tao. Cruises around Koh Pha-Ngan. A boat trip to one of the other islands. And that’s about it. You can sunbathe, swim, snorkel or dive, and with various combinations of these. Until just a few months ago, that is. And this is where Robert Wilkinson comes into the story.

        The genial and friendly Robert is an experienced scuba diver and PADI certified dive instructor. In the process of searching for a sunnier and gentler way to make a living, he and his good lady wife, Christine, ended up on

Cyprus in 1997, where he set about opening his own dive school. And, a year or so later, came to realise he had become but one of many. Competition was fierce, work was hard. There were just too many other dive schools and things were not slotting into the cosmic plan. Not, that is, until he came across the novel and exciting concept of ‘sea-walking’.

         “We actually took a short break away from the dive school,” Robert told me. “And I came across this thing – ‘sea-walking’. It looked fascinating so I went to try it out. And it was great fun. You didn’t need lengthy training or instruction, as you did with scuba diving – mums and kids could enjoy it with no problems. It didn’t need anything like the same sort of extensive equipment as scuba, with all the regulators and tanks and the high-pressure testing and safety checking. And it never went deeper than three or four metres. Plus, around about 30 minutes was the most anyone seemed to want. And, even better still, there was nobody doing this on Cyprus.”

          And so it was that, in a very short space of time, Robert moved his business activities sideways. He set up and opened a Sea Walking centre. It was immediately successful. He’d already noticed, as a scuba dive-instructor, that he often had a male customer who came in a family unit and then left his wife and kids ashore while he pursued his hobby. This was perfect. Now the whole family could play together and sea-walk for a while. Or papa could go off into the deeps with a nitro re-breather, while the rest of the family could bond by doing the ‘same thing’ but safely at a low altitude (as it were) and with the emphasis on zero-stress family fun.

          Robert’s business expanded and he soon had two busy Sea Walking centres. He also had friends over here – Robert and Christine just loved Samui. And so, when all the fates lined up at the same time, he accepted an offer to buy his existing businesses and leapfrogged over to our lovely island as fast as he could. As everyone knows, Koh Tao is the scuba Mecca in this area. And that’s where he set up initially. But then he noticed something interesting, and shifted the whole operation to Samui.

          “To begin with I was working from Samui,” he continued, “I would arrange all the bookings and organise the pick-ups from the resorts and liaise with my boat crews. But it wasn’t quite right for me somehow. It wasn’t hands-on enough. Then I realised that I was getting 90% of my bookings from Samui anyway. So I moved everything to here. And now we have an entirely different schedule. I go out with the boat everyday and supervise the activities and accompany my guests when they go sea-walking.”

          And, having been there and done it, I have to say that a betterorganised and more enjoyable trip is hard to find. You’ll be picked up from your resort at around 8:00 – 8:30 am and taken down to the unspoiled fisherman’s village of Thong Krut on the island’s southernmost coast. Robert is turning away customers each day because he insists that, even though it’s all so easy going, there are no more than eight to a boat, only four of whom can be underwater at any one time. So it’s nearly always a family group – or two or three couples – in each of the boats. And the plan is to head to one of the nearby southern islands, usually one of four possible beaches on Koh Matsum or Koh Tan. He’s good, I’ll say that. He’ll look at the sky and the cloud movements, have a few words with the captain, and then change course because he can tell that there will be bad visibility underwater at the nearest beach.

          The equipment you’ll use is . . . a helmet. That’s all. It’s extremely expensive, a waterproof fit, is connected to the boat by an air line and is square and heavy, like some kind of retro TV set. Well it seems heavy until you lower yourself over the side, and then the weight (which causes you to slowly descend) disappears. It’s just wonderful. The sensation is like you’re walking on the moon, in slow motion low gravity, effortless, but with a crystal-clear seascape of corals teeming with fleeting darts of colour. Snorkelling is great, but this, viewing everything through the big picture window and side screens of your helmet is even better! And you’ve constantly got Robert alongside you, supervising your safety and pointing out all the special sights that most people probably wouldn’t notice.

          There’s only really one thing to be aware of: the helmets just can’t fit small children. Robert wouldn’t dream of risking it. So there’s a marginally-flexible age-limit, six or seven years, but with an enforced height limit of a minimum of 120cms. And so, if you have a one year-old, as happened recently, please don’t complain that there’s nothing else to do. Read the opening paragraph and then go pick up some leaflets. We’re here for nothing, if not to help you!

          

 Rob De Wet


 


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