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