Billy Watson, Web Developer on Scuba Diving & Mountain Biking

My name is Billy Watson and I’m 28-year-old Web Developer from the Peak District. I’ve recently started a new role as a Senior Front End Developer at an agency called Absurd in Manchester, following a four-month trip through Asia. The size and feel of the company just felt right to me when I joined: it’s very friendly and there’s a good variety of work with some exciting projects. The fact that they’d grown from three to eight employees in a year also meant it was a good time to join and help to grow and shape the future of the company.

Outside of my job, my two favourite hobbies are mountain biking and scuba diving. I’ve always been really interested in aquatic wildlife – the ocean episodes were always my favourite when an Attenborough series was on – but I got the opportunity to scuba dive myself when I spent some time in Central America a few years ago. The first place I went scuba diving was with Scuba School Belize in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. It was a great place to learn – I had an awesome tutor called Yemin, and the water was clear and so warm that you don’t even need a wetsuit.

Most of my favourite spots to scuba dive have been around Borneo, Indonesia, and the Philippines (which are part of the coral triangle), but there are many others I’d like to visit: Raja Ampat, Cozumel, the Azores, and Palau. Apparently, you can dive with crocodiles in Cuba as well! I think the deepest I’ve been so far is about 30m at various sites around the Philippines. One of these was off an island called Malapascua, which is one of the only places in the world you can regularly dive with thresher sharks.

The most interesting thing I’ve seen while scuba diving is manta rays! We did one dive in Indonesia and there were about ten mantas feeding there. Some of them were a good five or six metres across according to our Divemaster, and one swam straight at me. I had goosebumps for the rest of the day – it was incredibly humbling (Mother Nature was kind to us!). We also saw a rare octopus courtship on a later dive that same day, where they do a kind of dance whilst flashing and changing colour. There were dolphins in the bay on the boat ride out too, which must’ve been a good omen!

Underwater photography is something I’d be open to doing more of. I’ve used a Go-Pro style camera a couple of times; to be honest, I like to be able to fully concentrate and observe what’s going on down there as it’s easy to miss things, especially in challenging conditions and strong currents. Photography is another thing to think about.

Looking at my other pastime, I first got into mountain biking while growing up in the Peaks. It’s a pretty slow pace of life there, especially for a young person, so you generally make your own fun. I have a few close mates who are still into it, and there are some mint trails around that neck of the woods too! I ride a custom Cube Stereo HPC which I got second-hand last summer. She’s a beast, with a carbon frame and 160mm front and rear. I’ve also got a Kona Hardtail that I use to get to work, something I’ve had for many a moon and I hope to for a good few more.

Regarding my favourite place to go mountain biking, there are a few loops I do in the Peaks that I can never get enough of. Blacka Moor can also get pretty gnarly! I like to travel to find new places to go mountain biking – it’s always good to try somewhere new. I’ve been to a few trail centres, but it’s always something I’d be up for doing more of if we can get a weekend in! I’d like to explore a bit more of Scotland especially.

When it comes to training for my pastimes, I think riding is more instinctive – you know the general limits of your skill level and are aware when you’re pushing the envelope. More technical training and knowledge are needed for diving, but once you’ve done a decent amount and become comfortable under the water, it also becomes very instinctive. There’s a big scope for something to go wrong in both activities which can make them dangerous, so they require high levels of concentration and it helps hugely if you’re in good shape.

In terms of my future goals with scuba diving, I’d love to see some more megafauna – the big stuff! Sharks, rays, whales, dolphins, and the dream would be to see a mola mola. That would be a lucky day though! With mountain biking, my goal would be to explore some new trails, whether that be in Wales, the Lakes or Scotland, or closer to home in the Peaks or Dales.

To be honest, these two pastimes couldn’t be further away from development in a lot of ways. I love my work, but it’s important to have hobbies and pastimes that take you away from what you do every day. Scuba diving and mountain biking are both stimulating for the brain and can help with concentration, which in turn helps when building a complex piece of functionality or trying to fix a tricky bug.

There always needs to be a balance between work and play. With riding, it’s just a case of getting out there – you can find infinite excuses not to go if you want – but I find it easy to balance this with other aspects of life. My advice is to just get out there and give it a go – you won’t regret it!

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