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Scuba diving without a tank

“It is a survival instinct in a situation where resources are meager. Poverty induces creativity.



This is a story of Filipino ingenuity, only in the Philippines.

Damortis, Pangasinan. A dozen kids were screaming and jumping. It was a boat race. Before the race, they collected one peso from every participant. There were 12 participants. So, the winner got P12. The “boats” were made from discarded beach sandals with barbecue sticks for masts and plastic sheets for sails. The key to creativity is poverty. These kids had to make their own toys out of nothing because they were poor.

Over beer in an expat bar along Burgos Street in Makati, I met Ricky, an American scuba diver, who told me about this weird boatman, Enteng, in Calapan, Mindoro. He hired his 15-foot 16-horsepower pump boat to go diving.
Ricky: A diver is never allowed to dive alone. So, you have to dive with me.
Enteng: Sure, no problem.

Ricky: Do you know how to scuba dive?
Enteng: Of course. I’m an expert.

Ricky: (Suspecting that he was lying) Do you have a scuba gear?
Enteng: No problem.

Ricky: Show me your gear.

Enteng showed him his wooden goggles. Ricky examined them and was amazed they were technically ingenious — carved meticulously to fit snugly the contour of his face so there is no leak.

Enteng had a homemade spear gun made from straightened barbed wire with an intricate trigger system using sticks and strips of bike tire interior tube. Ricky tried the speargun on a tree trunk. It was so powerful; he could not pry the spear loose. Finally, Enteng had a one-foot-long fin made out of thin marine plywood shaped like a giant Ping-Pong racket. It fitted tightly on his foot like a giant beach sandal. The other foot had no fin.
Ricky: This is no good. Very hard to use, very slow.

Enteng: Wanna bet P50? Let’s have a race in the water.

Ricky: Your single wooden fin against my pair of rubber fins? Sure. But show me first your breathing apparatus.

Enteng: I don’t use a scuba tank.

Ricky: But you have to go up for air every three minutes.

Enteng: No tank. Just watch me underwater.

Ricky: Impossible. This I got to see.

Enteng: Fifty bucks more I can stay in the water for 20 minutes, no tank?
Ricky: Sure.

Flash-forward to the bar. As Ricky explains to me, he orders two shots of tequila and dumps the tumblers inside our half-empty beer steins.

Ricky: Listen hard, Bernie. Underwater, Enteng pulled the plywood fin upward, bending his knee towards his belly, then pushed it down, “stepping” on the water with the full force of the fin. (He stood up to demonstrate the motion.) It was like he was climbing the stairs made of water. So, we had an underwater race. He beat me by a great distance. Amazing. I lost 50 bucks.

Me: He deserved to win the bet.

Ricky: Yes. Now, let me explain his breathing apparatus. Enteng told me to go ahead and dive and he would follow. I waited underwater for him to dive. When he got into the water, I was surprised. He had wooden googles, a wooden fin, a wooden speargun, no scuba tank, no nothing. After about two minutes, I waited for him to run out of air and to go up to the surface to breathe. Instead, he dove down deeper.
Me: Aha. Surprise.

Ricky: He went for the anchor of the boat. I did not notice earlier, but our anchor was an LPG tank. He unscrewed the nozzle, put it in his mouth, gulped some air, closed it, gave me a thumbs up, smiled, and started swimming around again for another two to three minutes.

Me: So, the LPG tank was full of oxygen. That was his scuba tank. Wow.

Ricky: I lost 100 bucks that day. He caught two large sea bass with his barbed-wire spear. He grilled them at the beach and I bought a long neck of Tanduay rum. What a day?
Me: It’s called lapu-lapu, expensive fish.

Ricky: After that, I had so much respect for Filipino fishermen.

Why is the Pinoy ingenious in improvising? First, anthropologically, because of his free spirit from his nomadic ancestry, his Austronesian genesis. Second, it is a survival instinct in a situation where resources are meager. Poverty induces creativity. If you have no snorkel, fins, and scuba tank, you have no choice but to improvise.

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