A short story of how I fell in love with Sipadan and filming.
Sipadan is special to many people in its own unique ways and for an array of reasons. She is special to me in that she made me who I am today. 24th April 2000 will always be remembered by me as the beginning of my love affair with this captivating island – A pinnacle of lonely rocks.
I recall the start of the day on my way to Sipadan. It was the day after the notorious year 2000 hostage taking saga, by the Abu Sayyaf guerillas. Instead of the usual songs and praises of her abound beauty, the bus was filled with dramatic stories of the horrible state of affairs on the island. Everyone was panicky of what is to come and in fear of the level of security on the island. That was how I spent my 1 hour bus ride to Semporna, nodding in and out of sleep, in between conversations and little talks of a dangerous island under siege. Very soon, I woke up to arrive at the jetty to Sipadan.
A mixture of excitement and fear lingered in my stomach while I breathed in the sea breeze on our long boat ride to Sipadan. I imagined a beach of overturned tables and mess while the coconut continues to sway in the wind. Before long, a tiny dot grew gradually in size and came into our view of what would be the long awaited Sipadan island. The moment of truth arrived as the engine mellowed and the boat slowed down towards the soft golden beach.
I came off the boat and landed my feet into the softest and coolest sand I have ever experienced. As I turn and looked around, the island was quiet and serene. There was no sign of any commotion from the night before. The tide was gentle and everything else was consumed by a lazy air of nostalgia and a hint of burnt coconut husks.
“My infactuation with Sipadan was instantaneous. It was a happy place filled with happy people and I was a young man bathing with absolute freedom and desires. I would sit on the beach and think of the irony how everyone was working so hard to be here while I just chose to be here out of simplicity.”
My first dive in Sipadan was at “Drop Off”. It was a 600m sheer drop at the front of the resort. I recall how I was a little nervous thinking of the depth but once I was submerged in the pool like waters swilling with schools of banner fish and green turtles, my worries disappeared. After some years of guiding and instructing, I joined a British filming company, Scubazoo. I knew Scubazoo from before, when I first started out with Borneo Divers. They are an enthusiastic team of marine lovers who documented widely on Sipadan and her surrounding islands. It was a job that I had though of getting into whilst I was still working as a divemaster/instructor. When I knew I am well enough to get back into diving, resort filming for Scubazoo was the first application I wanted to make.
I recall meeting up with Simon Enderby, Managing Director of Scubazoo, one afternoon. He was a very proactive character and my job was confirmed on the very fist interview. I was thrilled.
Going back to Sipadan the second time round was a little different but just as exciting. I was going back to a diving job but yet I am trying something totally new-underwater filming. I have no filming experience whatsoever to start off with but I was more than keen to pick it up. Once I picked it up, there was no turning back as filming proved to be yet another one of my passion in time to come.
My first “audition” was on Seaventures, an oil-rig-turned-dive- resort. I recall watching my first underwater footage, it was truly a “blue-film”, it was dim, shaky and the white balance entirely off. Everything I filmed was blue; the fish, the corals, the divers. Everything.
After a week of hardcore training, I was left on my own to start filming real guests. That first official day, I recall filming a group of 10 divers from around the Globe. Came back in the afternoon to rush the editing and was all ready to present it after dinner the same day. It was nerve wreaking! But nothing tasted more sweet when I actually managed to close 1 sale on my first day of filming! to this day, I kept my first every production date
There was really no turning back from then on. I filmed guests day in and out of them diving with schools of barracuda of a thousand strong, gentle giant turtles, elusive leopard sharks, colorful corals, tornading jacks… the list goes on. It was truly at this point of my life that I could see how amazingly beautiful Sipadan and her marine life is. Never could I rewind and look long enough at something interesting I saw at a dive. Having picked up filming and editing, it became second nature to look out for and look closely at these mesmorising moments and details, to capture them and present them from my perspective and my interpretation of what beauty is. It also grew on me how I should direct a scene and describe it in the most interesting way I could create. Since then and rightly pointed out by Simon, I have never been able to dive without a camera.
It has been 3 years since that faithful first blue film of mine. A lot has indeed transpired. I am still in filming and I am still filming happy people. There isn’t much fish though.
With my growing passion in filming, I return home to my mermaid and set up DeeBee Studio, a wedding and event filming company. My choice was translated from the satisfaction and pride I would get from the cheers and claps I would receive at the end of my daily video show. Now, instead of 10 guests, I get 1000 guests laughing and cheering at the reception hall whilst watching my video- I am 10 times prouder and 100 times more satisfied.
Filmed & Edit by : Andy Chia
Location : Sipadan Island, Borneo, East Malaysia.