In this edition of “Up Close and Personnel” we touch base with Pim Van Schendel, Dive Operations Manager at Murex Dive Resorts. For those of you who know Pim as Murex’s towering Dutch, hard –core diving, 193 cm giant you might be surprised to read about his softer side which includes a love of colourful corals, teaching open water courses, turtles, playing with his son Noah and saving students from straying moray eels and let’s not forget to mention a history of cheese making! Our interviewer catches up with Pim after lunch in Murex Manado – Read on to find out more:
I – Interviewer / P – Pim
I: Hi Pim, How are you?
P: Busy! I have new guests checking in today who I would like to greet and the dive boats will be due back soon too!
I: I promise to make this quick then – you must be a busy man!
P: Ah it’s okay, the new guests are Dutch and I am just looking forward to meeting them and our guests on the boat have been many times before so it’s also nice to be around when they get back from diving.
I: Pim is an interesting name – where is it from?
P: My parents gave it to me (laughing) –No, really, it’s a typical Dutch name
I: Which part of Holland are you from?
P: South Holland, a town called Weert – it’s almost in Belgium, almost in Germany.
I: And how is the diving there? (not really expecting an answer……)
P: Well, close to home it’s cold, dark and green but of course real nitrogen addicts still dive there. Nearby we have Zeeland though which is really nice diving with a cuttlefish season, sea horses, nudibranch and we have one species of coral in Holland! I used to go every few weeks at one stage.
I: So, when and how did you first become involved in diving?
P: It was in 2003 when I took my open water course in Honduras in Utila – it was a really bad experience and after that I didn’t want to dive again! It was a bad course, with bad equipment – an alternate air source that gave me more water than air when I breathed and a bad instructor. At the time Utila was cheapest place in world to learn to dive and I was backpacking with a friend who suggested we take the course – it was $100 US for full course! I should have known better but at that time I didn’t know anything about diving, in hind sight though it was this negative experience that motivated me to become a better instructor myself and to give my students a better experience than what I had. The next time I dived again was one year later in Malaysia – I had a local guide who had almost no English but underwater he was amazing and he really looked after me – that gave me my confidence back again and showed me how much fun diving can be.
I: What were you doing before you went to Utila did you have a set career path prior to entering the diving industry?
P: No! My life was all about travelling – that was what I really wanted to do so I would work as hard as possible and save as much money as I could until I had enough to go off somewhere again. I had all types of jobs to fund my trips, I worked on a customer service desk, I was production manager in a cheese processing factory, I drove forklift trucks and at one time I even worked in the warehouse of a shoe importer!
I: And so when and why did you make the leap to move to Indonesia?
P: In 2005 I first came to Indonesia for a dive holiday in Bunaken and to do my Advanced Open Water, Rescue and DM courses over a 3 month trip.
I: Wow – so you were really bitten by the diving bug! What happened after that?
P: I went back to Holland and started diving more seriously there. I started volunteering at a dive club, helping with courses, diving at least once a week in a double 7mm wetsuit and hood – the water was around 3 degrees but I was desperate to go diving!!! I decided that I wanted to take my IDC (Instructor Development Course) in Holland but then an opportunity came up to do my IDC in Bunaken and to stay on afterwards to get some experience so that’s what I did – I stayed on for 3 months after my IDC and by then I had made contacts at the Minihasa Lagoon in Manado and they offered me a job. I went home for 5 months to cancel my rent, pack my bags, quit my job at the cheese factory and generally sort things out then I flew back to Manado in January 2008. I worked for 6 years at Minihasa Lagoon after that! At first as an instructor then later moving in to a more managerial role. Then I came to Murex in 2013 as Dive Operations Manager which is what I am doing now.
I: What is Dive Operations Manager – what do you do day to day?
P: I oversee all dive activities, guest relations and training and I also oversee reservations and social media for Murex – both the Bangka and Manado operations. The role has grown and now I am also the contact person for all European agents and I visit trade and dive shows where I represent the company. I’m also becoming more involved in marketing which is adding a new dimension to the job.
I: After so many years in Manado do you now call it home?
P: Yes, of course, I am married now and my wife and I have a home here with our son Noah who is 5 years old and we just became parents again less than 2 months ago – I now have a beautiful new born baby girl too, her name Leia Rose!
I: Wow – congratulations Pim – that’s awesome. So when you’re not busy with family, I know that you still dive regularly but do you still teach diving?
P: Yes, every now and then – I still love teaching. I prefer teaching the Open Water Course to any other of the other courses. It is by far the most rewarding as you see people develop so much during their time with you.
I: What is your funniest or most memorable teaching moment?
P: That’s easy, it was actually on the first open water course I ever taught in Manado. I was with the student on a muck dive kneeling down for her to do her skills. We were facing each other and all of a sudden I saw that there was a moray eel sticking out of the front of her BCD! It was only her 2nd time in the water so I tried to distract her by asking her to demonstrate mask clearing and whilst she was doing that I used my pointer stick to get the eel out. It eventually swam away but not before trying to come back and try again!
I: That’s hilarious – she was lucky that you managed to chase it away! And what would be your all-time greatest diving moment if you had to name one?
P: It’s not a diving moment actually but a snorkelling experience with a sperm whale on the way to Bunaken from our Manado base – that was pretty cool! Just recently we had a similar experience, no snorkelling though but you can see the video on our YouTube channel.
I: Wow, you must have seen a lot – is there anything left that you still want to see?
P: Well, I’m not desperate to see one but after 3,500 dives I still haven’t seen a manta ray!!! (Laughing – a lot). I think that’s something I should see in Indonesia.
I: If you were restricted to diving only one site for the rest of your life which one would you choose and why?
P: (Pim answers without even the slightest of hesitation) Tanjung Kelapa – It’s a site on the Manado coast line which has a mini wall full of soft corals. I’ve probably done almost a 1,000 dives there already and I really like it. There are always so many fish and the dives are always different. Mark Erdman and Gerry Allen counted 310 species of fish there in one single tank dive which actually makes it the 3rd fishiest site in the world.
I: With such a long experience in North Sulawesi you must have seen many changes in the diving industry – what do you think has been the biggest step forwards?
P: What Murex are doing now with the Passport to Paradise program is really forward thinking – in one dive holiday you can visit 3 distinctive dive destinations and it’s not just the 3 destinations it’s the fact that you can transfer by boat and dive on the way to each resort. A transfer day suddenly becomes a diving day. It really makes a complete North Sulawesi Diving package.
I: I guess that’s one of the highlights of working at Murex though – you get a lot of dive sites to choose from?
P: For sure, I mean diving in Bangka I love, it’s really great. If I did not choose Tanjung Kelapa as my favourite site I would choose Batu Pendeta which is a deep wall starting at 20 meters and leading up to a pinnacle that stretches up to the surface. The wall that you follow – every inch, every millimetre is covered in soft corals and when you dive it at the right time – nothing is better than that. In Lembeh I really like Nudifalls where you go down to 25 – 30 meters and the bottom is covered in soft corals where there are flasher wrasse and pygmy cuttlefish. I’m not really a muck diver, I like it (muck) but my personal preference is coral.
I: So are you a big fish man or a small critters fan?
P: Well, right now I love to see the big fish as for the last 8 years I’ve been focused mainly on small critters. I’m not a big or small stuff person though I am a diver – I love to see everything – I still love just looking at a turtle on a wall, an octopus coming out of the sand – just watching things happen.
P: What is the best thing about working at Murex?
I: The variety of being able to dive in three places, I can dive whenever I want to and I have a lot of choice. It’s not just the diving though, I have a great team to work with; a lot of motivated people wanting to give their best service to the guests. Many of the staff really work with their hearts – especially many of our guides who are just as passionate about diving and marine life as I am.
I: So when you are not diving or working what do you like to do?
P: I love spending time with my family, playing with my son Noah and looking after our new baby. I also like reading, movies and music. I enjoy jogging too – I try and go twice a week for a 7km run which takes me around 40 minutes now – I try and keep on the level ground though and avoid any big hills!
I: Will you teach Noah to dive when he is old enough?
P: He is snorkelling already at 5 years old in front of our house on the reef. If he wants to learn I will teach him but I don’t want to force him. He is in the water everyday though so I think it will be a natural step.
Watch this space – it sounds as though Noah could be the next Murex Dive Guide in training!! Thank you Pim for giving up your time and sharing your stories with us!