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Home on the island

Sailosi Batiratu
Monday, February 25, 2013

HE is originally from Minnesota in the Northern US and was born in a small town called Warren. At the age of four his family moved to Moorhead, Minnesota which is a twin city and borders to the East of Fargo, North Dakota (which may be familiar to some from the movie Fargo).

Jon M Piepkorn spent his entire childhood in Moorhead from kindergarten through to graduating from high school in 1983.

The man who is now the operations manager for Subsurface Fiji Adventure Diving and Watersports at Musket Cove Resort in the Mamanuca Group joined the US Navy when he was 17. Jon worked as an aviation electronics technician working on F/A-18A Fighter Jets. While in the Navy he was stationed in Orlando, Florida; Lemoore, California and Jacksonville, Florida. He mostly served with Strike Fighter Squadron 131 and was at times deployed on the aircraft carrier, Coral Sea.

After the navy Jon moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota studying at Brown College for an Associates of Science Degree in electronic engineering. He moved once again to Tampa, Florida continuing studies at Tampa Technical College where he obtained his Bachelors of Science Degree in electronic engineering.

He then spent several years working for various corporations in the US. This also involved travelling to Copenhagen in Denmark and to Kyoto in Japan.

It was then that Jon decided to take a break and travel the world.

Although Jon had been to Fiji several times prior to his break, he ended up spending about 16 weeks in Fiji during his travels and it was on this visit that he decided to his PADI professional rating of divemaster.

Miri Disoga was his instructor as she was at that time working at Matamanoa Island Resort for Viti Watersports.

Jon said: "I really fell in love with Fiji during this period, and although I didn't know it at the time, I would find myself living back in Fiji within the next two years. Fiji had made an impression on me - the beautiful land, the very friendly, accommodating and helpful people, and the diving all had me hooked!"

Jon returned to the US but after spending only one year with a company, he quit the job and decided to become a PADI open water scuba instructor.

He sold his home, cars, motorcycles and all his worldly possessions in Memphis and found EASE (Eastern Academy of Scuba Education) in Vero Beach, Florida. He enrolled in and attended the PADI instructor development course and passed the instructor exam. It was time to find a way back to Fiji.

After searching the internet and several other sources of information and not finding any jobs for a scuba instructor in Fiji, Jon was offered an internship with Nautilus Scuba in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

He worked with Nautilus for a few months gaining some invaluable teaching skills, and experience. At one point he taught SCUBA for over 62 days straight with no days off.

During his time in Vanuatu, Fiji was always on his mind. Finishing off his time in Vanuatu, he headed back to the US to visit friends and family and to concentrate on finding a diving job in Fiji.

Explaining how he got a job Jon explained via email: "I was in Hollywood one night getting ready to go to The Magic Castle (www.magiccastle.com) where I am a Magician Member and was briefly scanning the job opportunities on the PADI Web Site when I saw a listing for a job in Taveuni.

"I immediately called Carl Fox - owner/director of Taveuni Dive (www.taveunidive.com) located in Taveuni Estates - Soqulu, Taveuni and expressed my interest in the position. After a 30-minute discussion, and a few e-mails I was offered a six-month temporary work permit. In November of 2008 I packed my bags and dive gear and headed back to Fiji."

At Taveuni Dive he worked as a manager/scuba instructor.

As the end of his six-month work permit neared, Carl and Muriel Fox asked me if I would like to stay for another three years and he immediately agreed.

So for three and a half years he learned the ins and outs of owning, operating, and managing a dive shop, working with excellent guests from around the world, and learning even more about Fijian culture.

He helped the business grow from two small boats, to a large dive organisation with five dive boats servicing the majority of the resorts on Taveuni.

Jon says he made a lot of friends, both local and from abroad, so when he decided to move to a new location there was a huge going-away party.

He says one of the things he misses the most about Taveuni is the children.

"The kids that used to come down to the Marina in Soqulu and help me and my staff, load and off load our dive boats and help me with lots of other work related things. They always wanted to help."

Jon says he found his present job of operations manager and SCUBA instructor with Subsurface Fiji Adventure Diving and Watersports through a network of friends he had made in Fiji.

After a few discussions with owner/director Karen Koens, he was offered the position and learned he would be based at their dive shop located on Malolo Lailai Island at Musket Cove Resort.

"I was excited for the change, and to be much closer to the mainland was a big draw for me. Taveuni was awesome, but its remote location made it difficult at times to get to the mainland (Viti Levu) to explore other parts of Fiji.

"So, moving to Subsurface I entered into my second three-year work permit, and put applying for Fijian Citizenship into my 'things to accomplish in the very near future list'.

"I found settling in to my new home on Musket Cove quite easy. I immediately liked the more social aspect of the environment.

"After 10 months here at Musket Cove and with Subsurface, I'm beginning to feel that this place is more of a home.

"The staff at both Musket Cove and Plantation Island Resorts have been welcoming and helpful. I enjoy my time with the local staff and friends just as much as I enjoy diving, teaching and working here. It's been a pleasure watching the staff I have working for me become more of a team.

"I enjoy teaching not only student divers, but my staff too. I have helped some of them to further their diving skills, but it's also a huge reward for me to see them learn, use and emulate things I've taught them about business, customer service and diving.

"I also find that working at a 'larger' resort has its rewards in that we get many tourists that originally didn't come to Fiji to dive, stop into the dive shop to do a 'Discover Scuba Diving' course, and often times turn that experience into a full on scuba certification. We've taught people to dive here that are from 10 years old, on up to a 72 year old mom!"

Of his plans he says: "As I look to the future, I know that I will be staying in Fiji until I am too old to dive, or work.

"I love this place, and the only downside or negative aspect of being here is being so far away from family and friends back in the US. I do manage to get home once a year to see them, and it's always a great pleasure to have my friends and family come and visit me here in my new home — Fiji.

"Most enjoyable for me is when they visit and watching them fall in love with the people and the land much as I have done since the first time I visited Fiji back in 1997. They quickly come to understand why I moved here, why I love it, and why I will more than likely remain here for the foreseeable future.

"My immediate plans in Fiji are to continue to work in the field that I have come to love — scuba diving — and to apply later this year for my Fijian citizenship. au domani Fiji!"