New years resolutions
new-year-beach300x225So have we all made the usual new years resolutions? Quitting the booze and smokes, maybe aiming to exercise a little more? Various staff at Big Blue will be endeavouring to keep to their resolutions until at least the middle of January.. a record by Koh Tao standards. From our pool of instructors, mini Ant will be striving to make himself less of an object of ridicule by his peers. The only hope he has of achieving this is by making a vow of silence.. I can't wait to watch him miming his open water academics. Steveo will be trying to turn down his Yorkshire-ness so that his students can finally understand him, and Ernesto will be aiming to teach a group of students with a combined age of less than 400. As for our divemaster team, Steven will be refining his "missing link" look, and Phil has promised to twitch his leg slightly less, or at least figure out a way to harness the energy to power the office. Nick will try and stay with the same girl for at least a week, and so will Carly...
Ian and James at Big Blue Tech have a pact that James will make Ian a cup of tea first thing every morning, so that Ian can learn how to read tea leaves to plan his dives better.
The staff at Big Blue Freediving are aiming to hold their breath for the entire year, and office manager Jess has vowed to put her combat training into practice at those who want their passports back after the office has closed (at 7pm- now you know and have been warned).
Whether any of our staff stick to their resolutions or not, 2014 is looking good for Big Blue. We'll continue to have the most professional and fun instructors and divemasters on Koh Tao, we'll still take our customers to the best dive sites that they want to go to, and we will still be able to provide you with any kind of course you can think of.. As long as its not ice diving.
From all of us at Big Blue, we hope that 2014 is everything you want it to be. Happy new year!

The calm after the storm
So new years has been and gone, and hopefully everyone had a great time. it was kind of weird leaving big blue after midnight, as the road leading back to the main road in Sairee is usually heaving with revelers moving from bar to bar. But this year it was eerily quiet. I don't know why but Choppers bar and grill was closed, as was Diza bar, so it was desserted. Very strange.
All down the beach though the action was in full swing. Fireworks were going off anywhere and everywhere, and just about every bar had a big sign saying happy new year that was ceremonially set on fire at the strike of midnight. The whole Island had a good natured festive feel to it, and. As with anywhere else in the world the entire Island was pretty quiet on new years day, as everyone nursed their heads. So what's next? Sonkran, that's what!

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Big Blue Forces
big-blue-forces300x225In case you weren't aware, Big Blue went all military recently by opening Big Blue Forces. It's not a shop selling military memorabilia or a computer strategy war game franchise, but a new branch of Big Blue Diving that provides discounts to former or currently serving members of the British armed forces, and their dependents. If you're in the Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force, and you really need some R&R, can you think of many things better than spending time on a tropical Island learning how to scuba dive? Maybe you just left the forces and are considering your options for a career on civvy street. We can help you with that too. We can train you up to become a dive professional, be it a divemaster that takes customers on an underwater tour, or an instructor that teaches people how to dive. It's a different office to the one you'll be used to, but I'm sure you'll have no trouble acclimatsing! Matt waters looks after Big Blue Forces. He's ex-RAF, and testament to an ex-serviceman making a success of civvy street by becoming a dive professional. He recently decided to come to Koh Tao and do his divemaster training, followed by his PADI instructor course and the SSI crossover course. He's now one of our full time members of staff.
If you're a family member of a current or former serviceman or woman, you can also get a discount on fun diving or a diving course. All you have to do is show your dependents card. If you're coming over as a large group, you'll all get a discount, and the person organizing the trip will get an even larger discount.
If you want any more information, look on our website, go to our Big Blue Forces Facebook page, or send us an email. We are also being advertised on the Defence Discount Service website. At ease!

Quarter, half, or full?
Very very quick second article today, just a question. When you did your open water course, what were you taught about turning the air of your scuba tank on? PADI and SSI teach that you should turn the air all the way on and then back a quarter or half a turn. Technical diving teaches that your valves should either be fully open or fully closed. This is what I teach. What did you learn? What do you teach? Can you outline problems or benefits with any of these methods? Just post a comment on our Facebook page. Thought-provoking comments could win you a Big Blue keychain!

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Exams!!!
open-water-examHere are a couple of questions for those of you coming to Big Blue to do your open water course: question 1- in "time to fly" mode, dive computers report how much time the diver must wait a) before making another dive, b) before flying on an airplane, c) before taking a hot shower, d) before traveling on a boat. Question 2- how do you behave to avoid injuries when diving? a) treat all underwater creatures respectfully, b) answers A and D are correct, c) stroke animals from behind only, d) avoid touching anything. If you answered b and then b, then congratulations, you will pass your exam with flying colours. If you answered c and then c, maybe take up speed walking as a hobby instead. 
A lot of people seem to worry about the open water exam, but they really don't need to. It's 50 questions multiple choice, and by the time you have to do it you will be fully prepared. Your instructor will talk to you about dive theory as part of the course, and you will cover everything that's in the exam. As long as you listen to the instructor and do your homework, you will have no problems whatsoever. 
We do get the odd person that fails, but that's usually because they have either drifted off consistently when they should have been listening, they have a learning difficulty (i'm dyslexic and i write the bloody blog!), or they've been secretly looking at Facebook under the table. 99.99999999% of all people pass with flying colours. If you were to fail, we would put you in the stocks and throw tomatoes at you.. I mean, let you sit the exam again after a little coaching. So you can move on to the next part of the course- diving in the ocean. Alternatively we could take you on the dives and then at the end of the course coach you through the exam. So relax and concentrate on the task at hand- learning how to dive. The theory compliments the practical anyway so most of what you'll learn in the classroom will apply to your dives. Plus you can look forward to the advanced course straight after your open water- 2 days, 5 dives, NO THEORY!

Staying connected
This being the modern age, people are no longer content with traveling to a remote tropical Island and severing all communications for the duration of their trip. there are simply too many tweaking videos to see on YouTube. Asia seems to be years ahead of Europe and America in terms of Internet speeds; Japan has the fastest Internet in the world. Thailand has pretty good Internet in Bangkok, but Koh Tao is a little more "rustic". We have Internet and wifi all over the Island, but the speeds are pretty variable as there are no undersea cables back to the mainland.
If you want decent Internet for your smartphone, you can get a local SIM card to access 3G pretty easily. All you need is an unlocked phone, then you can buy a AIS one-to-call SIM pretty cheap, and buy credit for surfing the web. 7-11 sells them and there are various phones shops where you can ask how to get connected to the Internet. You can also buy a DTAC SIM for 3G on their network, but I found that it just ate my credit.
For good old fashioned phone calls a Thai SIM will serve you well. If you need to call the UK dial 003 before the country code and you'll only be charged 3 baht per minute with one-to-call, but you'll need to check whether the offer still applies after March 2014. It probably works for the rest of europe too but again, worth checking- I just work here!

 

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Diving equipment- the mask
maskThe vast majority of human beings that come to Big Blue to learn how to dive will fall in love with diving. Fact. They know that they've learned a solid foundation of skills that will keep them safe whilst they enjoy being underwater. Those that progress to do the advanced course straight after their open water course will have been introduced to a number of techniques and procedures that will allow them to dive with even more confidence and thus become even better divers.
Now, if you did get the bug, you're going to want to buy your own equipment. Most of us can't afford to go out and buy it all in one go, so you'll get items as and when you can afford them. Where the hell do you even start? Your instructor should have already gone through the basic different types of equipment, and the Big Blue retail shop is a good place to see all the different types of fins and masks you can buy.
So let's start at the very beginning. You go underwater to see things right? So one of the most important initial considerations is to have a mask that is going to work for you. There's nothing more annoying than diving with a mask that leaks constantly when underwater. So you need to get your own mask- the sooner, the better. Masks come in all manner of different shapes, sizes and colours.
When buying your own mask there are just a few all important considerations. Does it fit your face? Is it comfortable? Does it give you the vision you want? How big an air space will it have? The seal needs to mould to your face, but not at the expense of it feeling uncomfortable. Conversely, it wouldn't be the best idea in the world if the mask is comfortable but doesn't fit properly. Over time, the seal will shape itself more and more to the contours of your face (this is now beginning to sound like a Loreal advert, but bear with me), and therefore reduce leakage- because you're worth it.... With vision, I'm not talking about 3D specs or anything, what I mean is does the mask enable you to only see what is in front of you, or are there small windows at the side that give you a little peripheral vision? Everyone is different, but you'll already have an idea of what you prefer. Finally, how much air there is inside the mask will determine how much of a mask squeeze you'll get when diving deeper, and how much air you'll need to blow in with your nose to compensate for this, or to clear the water out if you take it off underwater. High, medium, and low volume if you want the correct nomenclature.
Finally, if you know you've fallen in love with diving after your pool session or dive 1 of the open water course, buy your own mask immediately. It'll hugely improve your experience of diving straight away. If you never dive again you've got a great snorkeling mask , and can pretend your Jacque Cousteau when in the bath.
Your instructor can go through all of the above points to help you get the right mask. Yes we sell masks at Big Blue, but we're diving instructors, not hard-nosed sales people. But we do know how masks work and what will be best for you. If you want your own mask we're probably not going to sell you the most expensive one, we'll get you the one that's going to fit the best, be comfortable, and give you want you want based on the above considerations.
I suppose you want to know how to get the best BC now don't you.. Well i'm still full of Christmas food and I can't be bothered to tell you. Maybe in the new year.

Constant changes
Well, xmas is well and truly behind us now and we're heading for new years at break-neck speed. As time marches on it's so easy to think of everything staying exactly as it has always been, especially on Koh Tao. Yet looking around the place it's clear to see that it is no different to anywhere else and progress cannot be stopped.
Everywhere you look there are new hotels being built to cater for increasing numbers of travelers. Lotus bar on Sairee beach has been pulled down, to probably be replaced by a spangly new beach bar. An actual proper hospital is currently being built, the small 7-11 behind Big Blue has closed but a much larger one has just opened on the main road between Sairee and Mae Hadd. Banyan's cinema has been converted into a gym... Boo!! And, a MMA gym has opened up. Whatever next, road markings on the main road?... Oh yeah we had that last month!
Let's see what 2014 brings for the Island- A drive in cinema would be hard to beat.

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It's Christmas!!!!
big-blue-santaSo, Christmas eve is finally upon us. It's that time of year when a really creepy fat man in a bright yet stylish red velvet jacket/trouser combo sneaks into your house via the chimney of all places, and reverse burgles you. The weirdest thing is that you will be expecting all this to happen and won't be annoyed when it does. In fact, far from it, you'd be annoyed if it didn't happen. So you have no excuse to feel violated and call the authorities. Here at Big Blue we are having a big ass buffet that will have a xmas/Scandinavian/Thai theme (don't ask). Regardless of the gastronomical mixture, you can guarantee that no morsel will be left uneaten. Of course xmas drinks will also be flowing, but unlike the xmas staff party a couple of days ago, there'll be no photocopying of arses or inappropriate dancing on the tables (well ok maybe just a little bit, but hopefully by then we'll have run out of toner). Big Blue staff and customers are all invited to the party, with the bar being separated into those who will be working on xmas day and those that won't. You'll be able to tell who is who by their zig-zag manner of walking and reciting of gibberish over and above the level normally expected.
It's a great time to relax with friends, colleagues and customers, and review the year's diving and non-diving shenanigans- and also to feel smug about not having to put 18 layers of clothes on or have the central heating on full knacker. No doubt there will be some sore heads in the morning, which will be easily alleviated by an afternoon on the beach with a nice egg-nog coctail or two. 
It's been a fantastic year at Big Blue, and wherever you are in the world, we would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas- even Cliff Richard. We hope you have a fantastic time with friends and family.

Christmas factoids
Here's 5 not so well known facts about Christmas, you know, because it's Christmas and you've got nothing else to do:

1- Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph's nose is red because of a parasitic infection in his respiratory system. Sleep tight children.
2- Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates during the Christmas period are actually low. spring has the highest rates. Can you say "seasonal affective disorder?".
3- Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo, or "mass of the rooster" on xmas eve. Some people even take roosters to mass with them, to symbolize the belief that the rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus. Brings a whole new meaning to chicken and egg..
4- Mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means "little dung twig", because the plant spreads through bird droppings... Who said that romance is dead?
5- Early illustrations of St. Nicholas depict him as being very stern and generally not very pleasant, as he was often shown holding a birch rod. He was a symbol of discipline and punishment rather than the rotund jolly man children of today think of... Still can't sleep kids?

 

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Christmas video
iain300x225Wayne from Big blue video has been running around like a tramp in a chip factory over the last few days, as it's that time of the year where all the staff give their own Christmas message to the camera for inclusion in the Christmas video- to be played at the staff party on the 22nd. The xmas video is a great opportunity to look back over the year, remember any staff that have moved on to different pastures, and replay some of the bloopers from the open water videos.. of which there will be many. Instructor Luke's usual message is to be repeatedly filmed looking at the camera with utter contempt in his eyes, whilst saying nowt, over and over again. It's one of those "you had to be there" moments, but it is highly amusing. Though I've heard that he's shunned even that this year, as he's feeling even more jaded and miserable than normal, probably because Neil is not here for him to beat up at his mma session.
With the videographers we've got at the moment, we're expecting great things from this year's video, even though they don't have a huge vault of footage to play with as we took over control of our videos fairly recently. But i'm sure we'll still see some pretty ridiculous stuff from instructors, divemasters, and customers alike. What we're all really looking forward to however, is Rich's speech.. There's no way in the world it could possibly top last years! The Big Blue xmas staff party will be on the 22nd and it's a big night. So if you want to watch the best of 2013 video, get yourself there- early preferably as I've no idea what time it will be played!

Day glow xmas
As predicted, Koh Tao has gotten distinctively busier since the full moon party on koh Panghan the day before yesterday. Hoards of weary party goers have been gradually making their way here to chill out a little and do some diving... That is, once they can remember who they are. They've not been helped by some of the ferries being cancelled because it's a little choppy out in the Gulf of Thailand currently, but that's not really affecting us here in terms of the dive sites that we are visiting. No doubt in the coming days there will be more day glow clothing on display, which you can either view as really Christmassy, or utterly un-Christmassy, depending on your level of color blindness. Either way, this Xmas is looking like being a rather busy one. The more the merrier I say.

 

 
 

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Photogenic farang
Phil-fishladLooks like the boss will need to add a new category to the staff awards at the Christmas staff party this year- namely weirdest photo ever taken of a Big Blue employee. But that would probably be a pointless exercise as the award would hands down go to divemaster Phil "Fishlad" Smith. Lets be honest, any photo of him would look odd, but this one is truly magnificent for capturing the essence of a man on viagra, with no neck, suddenly realising that he's playing football instead of his preferred game of netball.
The match responsible for Phil's weird moves was a friendly between a ferrel bunch of Big Blue divemasters, instructors and divemaster trainees (DMTs), versus some of our Burmese staff. It's fair to say that the Burmese destroyed them in their first match. But after a couple of minutes of soul searching, they set to work diligently discussing tactics in the Big Blue bar, and got rid of any dead wood- that's right, they sent Neil back to the UK. Since then their performance has steadily improved to the point where they're not just holding their own without utter humiliation, they're actually winning!
They have to face two teams, the Burmese staff from Big Blue one and Big Blue two. The BB1 boys are pretty nifty on their feet, but the BB2 team are the A-listers. When faced with BB2 for the first time, they may as well have played a team comprising all the best players to have ever lived, Pele, George Best, er, Eddy the eagle Edwards? I don't follow football- you may have gathered that, but I do know that the wannabe champions have improved massively in a short amount of time to be able to beat BB2. I guess they had to when they knew that Big Blue videography and SSI instructor candidate Andy (a professional photographer) were documenting their every move. So where next for team Farang? I guess they could try and get a proper league going and aim to be Koh Tao Champions, but in the meantime they really should start weaning Phil off the viagra and see if he still looks THAT ridiculous..

Chrimbo on Koh Tao
How are you going to be spending your Christmas this year? Pickling your liver in the lead up to having a big family gathering on Christmas eve or Christmas day? On Koh Tao there are two types of Christmas, the one the travellers, backpackers and holiday makers will be having- probably to get away from the usual festivities, and the one the locals will be having. We will be working as normal, as people for some reason decide that they want to go diving on Christmas day- weirdos! But the lucky ones that aren't scheduled to be working will be having drinks with whoever else is not working, and some kind of Christmas dinner, be it on Christmas eve, Christmas day or boxing day. The one thing that will probably be the same between locals and holiday makers is that there will be time spent on Sairee beach sunning themselves- have a go at that anywhere in the US, Canada or Europe at the moment...
Bizarrely, the people that have come here want a nice tropical beach xmas, and the ones that live here probably miss the idea of snow and log fires and all that malarky. One thing's for sure, it'll be a very chilled out xmas no matter what you do, as there won't be any food to cook or washing up to do!


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Monsoon over-ness
koh-taoWell I don't want to tempt fate but it looks like we're coming out of monsoon for 2013, not that we really had one this year anyway. Monsoon season is ordinarily characterised by raging winds and constant torrential downpours for the month of November and part of December. But we haven't really had one like that in about four years. This year was very tame. We had about 2 weeks of on and off rain, and the winds were evident enough on the East coast enough to limit the dive sites we could visit to the West coast off Sairee beach. But things seem to have died down a lot over the last week, and we are branching out again to twins and Chumphon pinnacle. The visibility hasn't been amazing, as you'd expect in monsoon, but Chumphon yesterday morning was apparently really nice, good visibility and no current.
The downside to diving in monsoon is that you can't see very far and the water is a bit colder than normal, around 28-29 degrees celsius- still nice and warm for anyone that doesn't live here (acclimatised wusses that they are). The upside to diving in monsoon is that if you can dive in those conditions, you can dive anywhere- it'll make you a much more focussed and attentive diver, especially in terms of being a good buddy. Plus, if you really get caught short underwater, you won't be seen with your trousers down.. literally.. ewww.
In the next few weeks we should see conditions get back to how they are for the rest of the year- 31 degree crystal blue water, with visibility between 15 and 30 metres, and we'll have forgotten all about monsoon... until next November!  

Nemo circle good or bad?
nemoI would be exagerating if I were to say that a debate is currently raging about a circle of stones on one of Koh Tao's dive sites. But the question has been asked as to why it is there. To summarise, dive site Twins, to the West of the Island of Nang yuan is a fantastic place to see all manner of marine life. Just off the main pinnacle to the South is what we call the "nemo circle". There used to be a big patch of anenome on the seabed at this location, and some divers decided to make a circle out of rocks to protect them, and therefore the anenome fish that live in them. The trouble is, if you go there now, there is only one small patch of anenome, with two anenome fish residing in it. So the question is, have the stones had the opposite effect than they originally intended?
Informal diver etiquette states that instructors and divemasters leading customers should not go inside the circle, yet at any point on any other dive site, they are able to get up close to anenome on the rocks. So why is this particular place different? Customers should have been told repeatedly not to touch marine life, and the divemaster or instructor should gauge how good their buoyancy and control in the water is, before showing them any marine life up close.
The nemo circle has some new residents- shrimp, which will not be visible unless you manage to get in close. Let us know what you think should be done about it, before it ends up in the Daily Mail..

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Big Blue retail shop!
big-blue-retailIt's been a tense countdown, but the wait is over- Drift by Big Blue is now open for business! We've been wanting to open a proper retail shop dedicated to selling everything and anything related to diving for a long time, but we bided our time until we found the right location, and that we did. The shop is situated in Sairee village, just behind the dive school on the road leading back to the main road, where the 7-11 is. You can't miss it, it looks way more swanky than any of the other shops nearby. We sell any kind of dive gear you can think of, fins, dive computers, BCs, regulators, dry bags, torches, knives, DSMBs, dive bags, the list is endless. We can also sell you the latest gopro and Isaw underwater cameras- way cheaper than western prices.
But the thing that really sets the shop apart from the competition is our exclusive range of clothing, called drift by Big Blue. Very stylish, understated and just plain smart, it is to diving what North Face is to outdoor clothing. The range consists of boardshorts, hoodies, polo shirts, bikinis, and of course you can also buy our t-shirt range that you may have seen an instructor or divemaster wearing. We will be adding to the range all the time and the style will change as with any other fashionable clothes shop.
So if you're coming to Koh Tao, be sure to keep your shopping skills sharp and pop in for a nosey. We are open from 10am to 10pm every day. Anything you take away with you won't break the bank compared with shopping at home, and you can rest assured that you will be wearing something that not only looks damn fine, no-one else will be wearing it either- you poser...

Christmas anyone?
If you're currently residing somewhere in Europe or America, then I imagine you are being incessantly bombarded everywhere you go with ideas for things to buy for Christmas. Every public place will be playing Christmas music, and shop fronts will be decked out with tinsel, Christmas trees and all the other festive decor. Let's also not forget Cliff Richard singing mistletoe and wine whilst you wander around the supermarket- I feel your pain. But what about Koh Tao? Well, you might see the odd Christmas tree and a bit of tinsel. At Big Blue we have put the trees up, and in the coming week there will be a load of tinsel going up in the bar. Other than that you're going to struggle to realise it's that time of the year. People treat every day as a weekend here so you won't notice people drinking anymore than normal, and obviously there's no snow, no cold wind, no rain. Just Sun, white beaches and lovely warm ocean. You may however see the odd diver wearing a santa hat during their dive.
There are going to be various events in the run up to Christmas, Banyans has a big Christmas lunch (received very mixed reviews last year), Big Blue will have a staff party on the 22nd and a big xmas meal on the 24th, and there'll be loads of other places where you can have a festive dinner and get into the swing of it all.
If you're a big fan of xmas, you can enjoy it as much as anywhere else. If you're really not a big fan, you can come over here and easily avoid it. We sadly can't guarantee that you won't hear any Cliff Richard though!

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Xmas dive pro's
SSI-instructor-trainingAnother intrepid bunch of divemasters are taking the plunge this month to become SSI instructors with our very own instructor trainer Simon Garrity. I only used the word instructor twice in that sentence, maybe I should have called Simon the instructor's instructor, as he's an instructor that instructs instructors.. Anyway, he's taught a lot of instructors their instructing skills... Andy, Ryan, Katherine and Mike began their instructor training course yesterday by being presented with tonnes of homework to prepare them for the next two weeks. The course is intense but also great fun, and combines theory presentations with practical sessions in the pool and the ocean, to prepare the candidates for tutoring students effectively. When I say intense I don't mean it's the most difficult thing in the world ever, I mean it's pretty relentless; every day they will have to give a presentation on some aspect of diving, and they will be assessed on how they teach the skills that need to be learned in order to become an open water diver.
Essentially, the current bunch of human candidates will be eating, sleeping, breathing and sleepwalking diving for the next two weeks, so as to prepare them for the Instructor Exams (IE), which involves some bigwig from SSI coming over to assess whether they cut the mustard enough to teach.. even though mustard is a paste and will not cut evenly.
Once they all pass with flying colours- and they will, they will embark on an internship with Big Blue, whereby they'll shadow an instructor to learn how courses should be taught properly. Once they have proven themselves able to teach to our high standards, they will be free to go off and earn wonger wherever they find themselves on planet Earth.
Wherever that may be, their job will not involve boardrooms, flow charts, shirt and ties, or watercoolers in any way, shape, or form. Unless that watercooler is on a dive boat somewhere nice and tropical. If you'd like more information on SSI dive professional training, have a look on the bigbluepro website and contact Simon.

 

Fighting fit
luke-white-mma-starKoh Tao seems to have gone a little bit fitness mad over the last couple of months, two new gyms have sprung up that provide weight training, boxing, pilates, and mixed martial arts training. Some of the Big Blue staff have realised that their mental image of themself as bronzed and toned adonis's is actually utterly false, and they look more like an albino shrek looking at themself in a hall of mirrors- Luke has a fat back, which no amount of jogging on the spot will remove.
But last night a group of Big Blue instructors (and one videographer) attended their first ever Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) class, halfway between Mae Hadd and Sairee on the main road. It's the fastest growing sport in the world and the dude that's teaching it knows his stuff. In the coming days no doubt there will be talk of competing professionally in the UFC, in between not being able to lift their arms or walk normally, and talk in the bar will be of guards, side mount transitions and ground and pound (and you thought never ending dive talk was boring). But lets see how many of them are still doing it in a year's time.. Either way, it's no bad thing getting them off the evening beers. Their gain is the bar's loss. Maybe one day they will be able to take their rash vests off on the boat without scaring all our customers away!    

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