“Welcome to your new office!”
I will never forget those words spoken to me by the PADI examiner on passing my PADI Instructor Exam (IE). As we glanced towards the ocean, it was one of those perfect days that make you feel very privileged to live in this great Australian land. Bright blue Sydney skies, sparkling clear waters lapping upon the picturesque Shelly Beach, family BBQ’s and crowds simply enjoying the last of the summer sunshine.
Since my IE, quite simply, my life has changed irreversibly and I have certainly traded my traditional office and professional background as a Chartered Accountant into a life that is almost unrecognizable from before. Several years later and after certifying hundreds of divers and logging hundreds more dives, I would like to share some of my views on becoming an instructor.
I wouldn’t change my life for anything and would recommend to any experienced diver contemplating life as a diving professional to take the plunge. The key word I stress here, however, is EXPERIENCED. And what I mean by experienced, is having had experience in a range of locations, water temperatures and conditions. Simply put, it is all about gaining hours in the water and every experience, good or bad, becomes a building block for knowledge and experience to be applied to future situations.
I was a certified diver for almost a decade prior to taking the step into life as a diving professional. In that time, I had both fabulous diving experiences and, quite honestly some dreadful experiences too. Whilst I remember many of the fabulous experiences, it is the dreadful ones that I remember more. Strong currents, panic attacks, vis so bad I could not see my hands, getting lost, suffering paranoia during narcosis, buddies running out of air, gear malfunctions, aborted dives, getting caught up in fishing wire, Trigger fish attacks, the list goes on! These experiences have not only shaped the way I dive today, the way I read conditions, how I relate to nervous divers and anticipate problems, but, perhaps most importantly, have given me a library of stories that I can share in my teaching. For me, this experience is priceless.
Training agencies such as PADI and SSI set guidelines for the level of experience required to become an instructor. In both PADI and SSI’s case, this is a minimum of 100 logged dives. Let me stress however, that this is the minimum requirement and I would emphasize the fact that the more experienced you are prior to becoming an instructor, the better. I have seen Divemaster and Instructor candidates log their pool dives in an attempt to meet the minimum number of dives required. If you are struggling to meet the minimum requirement, ask yourself “do I have enough experience to be a credible instructor to the best of my ability?”
Zero to Hero training for instructors seems to be all the rage these days and, yes, it is possible that a newly certified Openwater Diver could be an instructor in six months time. I have had exposure to a number of such instructors in my time and, many of who, despite their lack of experience, have gone on to become credible and enthusiastic instructors. Similarly, I have had exposure to highly experienced instructors who, quite honestly are “over it” and do not offer the quality experience I would expect of someone so highly qualified and experienced. Generally speaking however, whilst there are exceptions to every rule, I believe the zero to hero divers, do not have the depth of knowledge I believe is essential to be a credible trainer and, in come cases, do not have exemplary dive skills. If you do not look good in the water, do not have great buoyancy, dive over weighted and chug through air as quickly as your students do, then really, no matter how well you can demonstrate mask clearing, are you a credible instructor? After all, these are the very skills you should be passing on to your students.
Unfortunately, when asked, almost any new divers will believe that their instructor was credible, experienced and good at their job. The trust and rapport built with your instructor over an Openwater course and, the fact that students have no benchmark to compare their instructor to, makes a proper assessment difficult. Remember, diving is a serious sport and one in which instructors are responsible for peoples lives. With this in mind, undoubtedly, many would prefer to have an instructor who has had a sound depth and breadth of experience.
To find out more about becoming a dive professional, contact your local Training Agency and ask how to start your exciting new journey to a different and fulfilling career. Before you do this however, the one piece of advice I have for you is go diving, then go diving more and more and more, any time you can, anyplace you are and with anyone you are with! After all, experience is priceless.