New Heaven Dive’s 20th Anniversary
2015 is a big year for New Heaven Dive School, as it marks the 20th year of providing great diving and wonderful memories here on Koh Tao. And to mark the occasion we would like to see many of our old family members, friends, staff, and customers come back and help us celebrate. So we are announcing it early, in hopes that people will have time to plan their trips. We will hold several parties and events throughout the year, which you can see on the schedule at the bottom of this article. But first, let’s have a look back at some of the most memorable events and people that have enriched our lives and ingrained themselves in our hearts to make New Heaven into what it is today.
New Heaven Dive was originally started in June 1995 by Kampanat NaSongkhla, or P’Kong, when he started diving from the beach in Chalok Bay with just 2 sets of dive equipment, 4 tanks, and a small longtail boat. With these humble beginnings, P’Kong looked to introduce visitors to the beauty of Koh Tao’s underwater world, and treated every customer as a dear friend, which they inevitably all became.
P’Kong was not only an amazing dive instructor, he was an incredibly driven and passionate person who deeply touched the lives of everybody he encountered. He was passionate also about the island of Koh Tao, and ensuring that this paradise of the Gulf would remain that way for years to come. To some he was known as the ‘Koh Tao GreenPeace,” and there are many stories about him saving sea turtles from fisherman, chasing illegal fisherman from Shark Island, installing some of the first mooring lines, and other very progressive stances on being responsible for the marine resources around the place he loved.
In October of 1995, Devrim brought another 2 sets of equipment to double the size of the operation, and together they rented some land in Chalok and began construction of the first New Heaven Dive School. Later that year they also purchased what was at the time one of the largest dive boats on Koh Tao, King Kong 1. In a twist of fate and intoxication, the dive school was burned down just two months later by its first Dive Master Trainee during a party for Dev passing his instructor course. Only a minor set-back, the dive school was rebuilt and stayed for 2 years in Chalok Ban Kao before moving to Rocky Bay (now known has Haad Tien).
In Rocky Bay, P’Kong and Dev began building a beautiful dive center on the beach, which served as the center point for family and friends to relax and enjoy the island paradise with few cares or worries. So many amazing people were a part of this era at New Heaven, who all gravitated around the unique, amazing, and magnetic personality of P’Kong. But, as unfortunately happens all too often, the candle which burns the brightest goes out the fastest. In 1998 P’Kong passed away, before seeing the final construction of the dive center.
Despite this devastating setback, Dev, Kaen, and the rest of P’Kong’s family decided to carry on with his dream, and ensure that his life and influence on this island would not be forgotten. In his honor, the dive site north of Ao Leuk was renamed to “King Kong Rock”, and a bronze plaque dedicated to P’Kong was placed down at his favorite place on the island, Shark Island. Some say that P’Kong is still looking after Koh Tao, or that Koh Tao is still looking after him. During the dive to deploy the bronze plaque, a turtle looking very similar to the one rescued by P’Kong from fisherman led divers to a cave, where the plaque still stands today. On the one year anniversary of his death, a pod of dolphins visited Shark island during a small ceremony being held from the boat.
The dive school, incomplete at the time of P’Kong’s passing was finished by Dev and the DMTs at the dive school. Were it stayed for two years before being moved to Sai Daeng Beach. Here the center grew the reputation as being the most relaxed, friendly, and easy going dive center on the island. With instructors filling the tanks and driving the long-tail boats, and even customers helping with many of the daily tasks involved in diving. Slowly the business grew, attracting mostly friends of friends, adding more equipment and in 2002 a new boat, King Kong 2. It was during this time that Tom and Soe first began working at New Heaven, and still today remain an integral part of the business and New Heaven family.
In 2004, the dive school moved back to Chalok Ban Kao, in its current location, which was built by Dev and his good friend Karlos. Today New Heaven still continues to draw more and more divers each year, but the style, atmosphere, and heart of the dive school still remains the same.
Marine conservation was at the heart of the dive school when P’Kong began, it remained their when Dev and Kaen took over, and since 2007 it officially became the center focus of the dive center with the start of the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program (NHRCP). The NHRCP was started by Dev and Chad, and now has 3 Co-directors and 3 permanent staff members. The program has grown from just two students in 2007, to over 130 students and about a hundred people in group trips coming each year by 2014. The program has gone from three days of activities, to offering 3 month internships covering all aspects of coral reef education, research, protection, and restoration.
From the roots in this program, P’Kaen, Dev, and Chad headed the Save Koh Tao Marine Branch from 2008-2014 to encourage other dive centers to take responsibility for the island’s reefs and get involved in conservation projects. Through all of the year’s of the Save Koh Tao activities on the island, New Heaven always remained as one of the leaders.
Today we still offer some of the highest quality instruction and best dive experiences on the island. Our relaxed atmosphere, small groups, friendly service, and family style management make us a continued favorite for customers and friends who keep coming back year after year.
Koh Tao truly is one of the most amazing places in the world to visit or live. The local environment and atmosphere is the first thing that one falls in love with here, but it is the people who truly cement this place in our hearts. We have been blessed to constantly have such an amazing collection of great people coming through here, people who we never forget. . . .
20TH ANNIVERSARY SCHEDULE (2015)
- Dec.31st 2014: New Year’s party
- Mid April: Songkran Festival on Koh Tao, special party at Koppee by the Sea
- Mid-September: Special party for P’Kaen’s birthday
- Great diving and fun times all year long