Growing up in Sodwana Bay it was inevitable Sanele Mbuyasi would be exposed to the diving world, but it was a surprise when he embraced it with such enthusiasm, writes DEBBIE REYNOLDS
It’s a Saturday morning and Sanele Mbuyasi is on the beach with his students preparing them for their qualifying dives. On another day the 23-year-old could be hard at work in his role as assistant beach manager.
Either way, he’ll be in the thick of things for Coral Divers, the dive operation which helped him become one of the first black PADI dive instructors in the country.
“Considering I couldn’t even swim, that is quite something,” says Sanele in his trademark bass voice. “Growing up in an area which is all about diving it was natural that I started working at a dive centre during my school holidays.
“I typically started as a gear assistant, but when I heard the divers talking about what they had seen under the water, I was getting a little bit jealous.”
He decided he wanted to do a dive course, even though he couldn’t even swim. “I was still scared of the sea, so I got in a pool and my friends helped me to learn to swim until I was ready to take the challenge of doing my Open Water course.”
That was in 2014 and Sanele remembers being very scared. “My first dive in the sea was on 4 Buoy at 2 Mile Reef, the visibility wasn’t the best and I didn’t do very well. I kept popping up all the time.
“From there I battled … it took me three instructors and more than four qualifying dives before I completed my course.”
No wonder then that his parents were insistent that he complete his mechanical engineering course.
“I was battling with that as well because I didn’t have the finances, and then a friend from Coral Divers said they had seen my passion and invited me to do an internship and diver master’s course with them.
“From there they surprised me with an instructor’s course and in December last year I became one of the first young black guys to become a PADI instructor. This year I was promoted to assistant beach manager and staff trainer.”
Teaching someone else to dive and thereby understanding the importance of marine conservation is Sanele’s greatest passion.
“If I can change someone’s life by getting them to understand and love the ocean then I am doing a good job,” he says. “After today I would have trained 51 divers and it so cool seeing them coming back to dive again. I wish I could get every one of my students to keep diving.”
Having also been appointed to run the community outreach course, Sanele is working hard to get youngsters in the community to respect the ocean and to preserve if for generations to come.
He talks excitedly about one of his best diving experiences which happened on Wayne’s World, a 14m dive site on 2 Mile Reef.
“We were lucky to dive with a humpback whale and her calf,” he says. “It was the most insane thing, at first I nearly had a heart attack because of how big the mom was. Then watching the baby swim inquisitively towards us was just so cute.”
Another favourite moment was having a whale shark join him on a dive in August last year.
“But I am so lucky to be able to dive so much and each dive is special in its own way.”
His future plans include doing a sailing course so that he can work on yachts and in resorts overseas.
“I’ve heard the stories, but now I would love to see for myself places like the Bahamas, Mauritius, the Maldives and Zanzibar. “I’m getting such a good all-round experience here, but I would love to travel so that I can learn as much as possible.”
His ultimate goal is to come home and “start something of my own here”. Hopes of becoming a mechanic like his dad have now turned into a dream of having a dive operation.
“My mind has been transformed by the ocean and working in it is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”