Diving instructor is a model of fitness at 62

Diving instructor is a model of fitness at 62
Age has not diminished Steffen Ng’s passion for diving. At 62, he is loving every minute of his job as a diving instructor.

The sea is his playground, the beach is his home. Steffen Ng, 62, has truly found a place under the sun.

Steffen Ng turns up for our meeting in a casual T-shirt, Hawaiian shorts and sandals. Tanned and sporting a pony-tail, the six-footer is every inch an islander.

Ng operates Steffen Sea Sports, a dive centre in Pulau Weh, an active volcanic island off Banda Aceh on the northern tip of Sumatra.

Having lived and worked on an island, Ng is used to running around in a pair of shorts and sandals. Needless to say, Ng, a diving instructor with the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), loves the sun, sea and sand.

He gives scubadiving lessons to tourists, both local and foreign. His two sons - Sebastian in his early 30s and Sylvester, mid-20s - run his other dive centre in Coral Bay, Pulau Perhentian Kecil off the coast of Terengganu.

"I'm called Pak Tua in Pulau Weh and Orang Tua on Pulau Perhentian," he quipped, proud of his nicknames. At 62, Ng is a model of fitness and his active lifestyle could put a man half his age to shame.

Ng's fascination with the sea can be traced back to his childhood days. He recalls how he used to stand on a stool and look through a neighbour's window to catch an episode of Sea Hunt, a popular TV series.

The then 12-year-old was mesmerised by the underwater domain (even though on black and white TV). The series starred Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson, a freelance scubadiver who took on perilous assignments. He salvaged objects from the sea and embarked on rescue missions.

"Armed with only a knife, our hero was no match for villains. He easily fought off foes by pulling off their masks or mouthpieces," Ng recalled.

As a young boy, he would steal away from his adopted parents' house in Tranquerah, Malacca, crossed the road and jumped into the sea. He even bought a pair of goggles, hoping to be a diver someday.

"I wore swimming trunks under my pants when I wanted to go swimming without my parents' knowledge.

"Once, I stuffed my wet trunks in a tree hollow. A few days later, when I went to retrieve it, the termites had gotten to it first," Ng recalled with a chuckle.

He also shared how he devised a way to catch shellfish.

"I would put kapur (Bahasa Malaysia for lime) in the bamboo clams' hideout during low tide. The kapur would sizzle when it came into contact with sea water. The heat generated would flush the clams out," said Ng.

After Form Three, he came to Petaling Jaya to work in a factory which made vacuum flasks.

"My pay was RM30 a month; food and lodging were provided," he said. After six years, Ng decided to do something closer to his heart - he became a swimming instructor at PJ Swimming Pool.

"Swimming lessons were very cheap back then - RM20 for eight lessons," Ng said. He later trained to be a lifeguard.

When he was 26, Ng took diving lessons under diving instructor Michael Tong, a pioneer in sport diving in Malaysia. (Tong is currently president of NAUI Pacific Rim).

"I trained to be a diver in then Mimaland and also worked with Tong for a few years. I filled air for the scuba tanks; I became such an expert at it that I could tell what was wrong with the compressor just by listening," Ng shared.

Later, Ng took up a friend's challenge and went to Sydney, Australia, for a diving course. He eventually earned his diver's certificate.

By the age of 30, Ng became an expert of sorts. He claimed he could dive to a depth of 30m to hunt for fish. (The haenyo or famed Korean women divers of Jeju and Udo Islands can dive up to 20m to harvest abalone, sea urchin, octopus and seaweed).

"When I'm preoccupied with my catch, I forget to breathe," quipped Ng.

"My customers would tell me what fish they wanted to eat, and I would dive in with my speargun. I knew the hideouts of the fish," he said, adding that he was once paid RM100 a day to hunt for fish in Pulau Tioman. That was in the late 1970s.

He boasted: "I've been called sui kwai (water ghost in Cantonese) for being an expert in hunting fish. No one could beat me. I would only surface when I caught fish." He counted among his prized catch, garoupas which weighed 13kg.

"The first person to jump into the water would get the fish first. Like a hunter who knows where his prey is, I'm an underwater hunter who knows where to find the fishes. Fishes are curious creatures. When they see bubbles in the water, they would swim towards them, oblivious to danger lurking."

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