The family that dives together, thrives together – or at least, that seems to be the case for Bob and Cristabel Tan, whose shared love of diving has taken them all over the globe in their quest for the perfect dive spot. The father-daughter duo give us the scoop on their underwater adventures.
Bob Tan wears many hats – stock broker, musician, tour guide, businessman. But his favourite by far is that of dive instructor, a passion that stems from a deep and abiding love of the ocean and all the magic hidden beneath its depths. “My house in Malacca is by the water,” he explains. “I grew up playing by and in the sea.”
It was this love of the water that motivated him to try and impart that same passion to his children. “I wanted to share the joy of diving with my family,” explains Bob. “I wanted them to see this new and different world, with all of its wonders and beauty. Also, nobody can telephone you underwater…at least, not yet.”
So far, it seems to have worked. Daughter Cristabel Tan, 29, is both a lecturer and an accomplished diver, and regularly accompanies her father on dive trips even now. “I think my dad had always wanted to dive, and it was a family activity even before I was old enough to take part,” she says. “My parents and my older brother had already gotten their licences, and I was going on all these dive holidays… but wasn't actually diving!”
Those family trips were more than enough to get her excited about her own undersea escapades. “I remember the first time we had gone snorkeling in Pulau Redang, when we were even younger, and I just fell in love with the underwater world,” she says. “I got my dive licence when I was 12, which used to be the minimum age to be able to take the dive course. By then, my father had already taken me on a few guided experience dives and I couldn't wait to get my licence!”
With the proper training under her belt – or wetsuit, as it were – Cristabel was free to enjoy all the spoils of the sea with her family. And enjoy they did – the Tans have travelled all over the world in search of the perfect dive, sampling a long list that reads like a diver’s dream: In Malaysia alone, their destinations have included Redang, Perhentian, Kapas, Tenggol, Tioman, Sipadan, Mabul, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park and Layang-Layang, and beyond that, they’ve ventured to the choicest dive spots in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and more (“Too many trips to recall,” says Bob).
Picking the best spot, however, proves an impossible task for either of them, although Cristabel rates Sipadan, Bali and Oslob among her favourites. “Every place is unique, and every dive is a thrill all its own,” explains Bob. “And everywhere you go, sealife is amazing. You see everything from the big stuff, like whale sharks, mola molas and mantas, down to the unique small things like nudibranches and other tiny critters.”
Cristabel agrees. “The variety is incredible, and you are constantly reminded of the glory of nature,” she says. “And so many of them are so cute…until you remember that they could probably kill you!”
That element of danger, according to Bob, is what gets the adrenaline going. Being an instructor himself, he has spent much of his time emphasising the importance of proper training and following the correct safety protocols and procedures. This, says Cristabel, is exactly what makes diving with him such a joy. “My dad is a dive master, and just awesome in general, so I always feel really safe and comfortable when I dive with him,” she says.
For Bob, Cristabel and the rest of their family, what diving really boils down to is being able to spend time together, doing what they love. “As we grow older and the children become adults, there are not many things that they want to do with us,” says Bob. “I am blessed that we have this common interest that makes us want to go on trips together.”