Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Over the years I have always found myself writing about diving. As much as that is a big part of me and my life It’s also nice to have some down time from time to time.
So what does a dive instructor do on his or her days off?
Being based in the quiet town of Port Douglas, far north Queensland allows friends and I to get out of town for the day. Whether it be for a morning of jet Ski-ing fun, a hike up Mossman gorge or acting as tour guide for visiting friends and family.
After being at sea and working in close proximity of colleagues and clients its nice to get out of town and away from the hustle and bustle of town life. Remembering exactly where we live geographically and how many spectacular sights and attractions we have here. Being spring means that days are warming up, skies are clear and the water is warming up slightly every day.
One of the days that stands out over the past few weekends was when three friends and I rented some Jet Skis from the marina. Dave from Port Douglas jet Ski hire did a great job escorting us from the marina over a glass out day where on the way over low lying reef we spotted reef fish and some rays scourging over the sand.
The plan was to head out to snapper island, a few nautical miles north of port. The flat seas and crystal clear water made it a pleasure to be out there and enjoying a morning away from land. Ironic seeing as I’m out on boats just about every day. With Conan and Brook in one ski and Josh and I on the other we managed to not only to race in a straight lines but also doing doughnuts and fast turns. Stopping at Snapper one of the first impressions, apart from the sight, was the sound. The location of the islands northern beaches means the fragments of coral are washed up on shore creating a snow white beach of finger sized pieces. The waves lapping on the shore gives the sound of wind chimes moving in the spring breeze.
After a bit of a snorkel around the low lying reefs we headed off to Low Isles, a few miles east of Snapper, on the way we spotted dolphins and obviously managed to entertain them for a few minutes before they either got bored or hungry.
Coming back after 2 hours of riding we headed back into shore and managed to pass the sailing catamarans heading out for the days charter. Lets just say that our work mates weren’t as happy to see us riding around in the sun while they were working. Josh and I were cruising home when we spotted a 2mt hammerhead shark near the surface which topped of the morning nicely.
Other days have entailed going up to Mossman Gorge for a hikes up the gorge and lunch. Of course no weekend outing is complete without a mask to go for a snorkel. The cool, clear pools at the bottom of rapids make perfect pools for snorkelling. Again, ironic I know seeing as I’m underwater five days a week… Are you spotting a trend here…
Just today I went up to cape Tribulation with some 4 friends. It’s nice to see people getting out of town albeit only 80km away scenery and climate are so diverse. All of us agreed that it makes for a great day out and a great excuse to get out of Port. Swimming in the blue hole, a walk on Thorntons beach and lunch at a great local bar/restaurant in Cow bay all made for a great Saturday after a week of diving on the reef.
There are many factors that make days off so enjoyable, one of which is that the weather here is spectacular just about all year round which makes decision making a breeze. And the fact that there are always friends willing to jump to any occasion. All of which are divers or work colleagues and in the same mindset of exploring things other than the local pub and the wrong end of a hangover.
Thinking back to all the outings we have taken here, be it to the waterfalls and tablelands or blue hole and spring creek we always take dive masks, plenty of drinking water and fresh fruit. Just being outdoors in nature and better still when the surrounding are part of the Daintree rain forest seems to re-charge the batteries and a real good way to switch off after a week of work. Much more exciting than going on a bender the night before and suffering from a hangover and fatigue the next day.
Thanks to all my mates that have either tagged along or let me tag along for days out and exploring, helping to experience new sights and sounds that we have right on our back doorstep.
A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.
Saturday, 12 November 2011
Another one from the magazine archives...
Over the past few months teaching Recreational and Technical courses in Port Douglas, Queensland I have had the privilege of meeting, diving with and teaching some very interesting and unique people. All of whom have attributed to making fun teaching practices. Certain of these students have managed to stand out among the many
This all started for me in Port Douglas when I was teaching a young man from the USA and it was during his first open water dive that I realised that this was going to be a good and fun few months of training.
Jeff arrived in Port Douglas as an industrial designer with a desire to explore the underwater realms and obtain a greater understanding of the techniques, equipment, training and configurations as a sort of 'study' if you will and perhaps at the end of the programme to investigate opportunities in new dive gear manufacture and design.
It’s always daunting for an Instructor to meet their students for the first time, as it is undoubtedly for them to meet us. Will they like me? Do they like South Africans? Can they swim? Will we have a wet suit to fit them or will they prove disruptive or inhibit learning. These are but a few of the thoughts that inevitably run through one’s mind. Perhaps just as daunting for the student diver is meeting someone for the first time that they essentially entrust their well being in for the course duration.
In the case of Jeff, he arrived determined and confident of achieving the maximum he could from the courses he had enrolled in, with the ultimate aim of achieving Dive Master Certification.
After spending a summer free diving and spear fishing at home in the US he was ready to experience the realm of SCUBA and extended bottom times in the weightless environment I 'call my office.'
It was Jeff’s readiness to learn and adapt during the weeks of study and learning skills that made his courses fun and with seeming ease for both student and instructor.
This is but one example and I find that the more people I teach the more I recognise the same look of determination in all students and an ambition to achieve the maximum during their course and to depart with newly acquired skills and knowledge on how to use these skills that they previously thought unattainable. Whether open water training dives, rescue scenarios or outward drifts these are often as new to me as to students but with the increasing reality of global awareness the willingness to use their knowledge and experience is achieved from our days together.
Living in the relaxed atmosphere of North Queensland allows me to spend more time with student divers to share knowledge, skills and my passion for the ocean thus feeling confident that there is a new diver in the world’s oceans with the same philosophies and safe dive practices that were instilled in me at a young age and which I still practice today.
Teaching for me is as much about learning from student divers as they hopefully learn from me during our time together.
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
Jacques Yves Cousteau
Jacques Yves Cousteau
When I approached Jeff to write about his side of the story he responded with the following text.
Jeff Deuchler writes:
In retrospect, I took an incredible gamble travelling 8,000 miles to learn about diving. That being said, Port Douglas was where I discovered diving in 2007. Not a single day had passed without thoughts of this place and the reef. Somehow inside, I knew there were answers to be found here in Australia.
Sure, I'd seen my father’s old Jet Fins, mesh “grab bag” and dive knife in the garage, but never considered diving as a real possibility. After all, in the Pacific Northwest Mountains water is frozen for four months of the year.
Having spent countless days being happy in the water and less satisfied on land, the realisation came to combine my two passions; the water and design. My industrial design career was filled by housewares and scented oil dispensers, I needed more and diving was just that. Once my goal became clear, nothing seemed outside the realm of consideration. It seemed my daydreams of Australia were about to become real.
Mark Miller and Tech Dive Academy were there to aid me in my quest for diving. After some back and forth emails, with copious amounts of research on my end, the decision was made to leave my life for a year and come to Port to study. The date of my arrival was a day I'll never forget, with my old “spearo” bag in tow I was introduced to Mark Miller and who I'd come to know as a mentor and friend; Ross Anderson.
I was to be the first student Ross had taken from nothing through Dive Master, what I now understand was a significant opportunity. Having the benefit of working together every day, I tried to absorb every bit of knowledge Ross had gained over his years of experience. My first day of open water training only served to reinforce my gut-feeling that this adventure was the right choice. On dive two, of my Open Water, Ross and I dived with Minke whales; a first for both Ross and obviously myself. The other divers on the boat enviously said; “quit diving now while you're on top.” Some weeks later, a picture by Chris Hamilton made the Port Douglas Gazette, featuring a Minke, Ross, and myself suspended weightless in the deep blue.
Considering such a start, I was driven unlike anything I'd ever done before. Every day was an adventure, new techniques, new philosophies and new experiences. After completion of my Dive Master course, I began working as a Dive Master on the very boat I trained on. The experience provided another level of understanding of the industry and what diving was. Every day, I found myself instilling the same practices and advice in my certified divers as were instilled in me during my training. I was able to see improvements from the first dive of the day to the last, many thanked me for it. I believe now true education offers memorable experiences for all involved, the student and the teacher. Had Ross not possessed his passion and devotion to absolute mastery of his craft, I wouldn't have become the diver I am today.
As my return to the States draws nearer, I see value in becoming an Instructor and believe my education was transformative to say the least.
Monday, 7 November 2011
During an extensive stay in Mexico’s Riviera Maya I was introduced to technical diving or cave diving and conducted hundreds of hours in the Cenotes, as the cave systems in Mexico are commonly referred to. It was the fascination of these unique and ancient underground systems that motivated the urge for future exploration and an insatiable willingness to learn, which resulted in me spending many hours gaining knowledge and training as a qualified cave diver and the subsequent hours exploring some of these systems on my own.
The extensive labyrinth of these cave systems meant that many portions of these systems have been explored and surveyed by some of the greatest cave explorers of our time, most of which was can only be conducted using side mount equipment and in this community I came to embrace and became skilled in the use of side mount equipment, having heard all the hype and technical arguments supporting its use given the environment. This was possibly one of the best, yet challenging decisions I have made in diving; (1) as it changed my view as to the ease of accessibility and comfort in the water and, (2) the fact that I could now enter previously inaccessible areas of the caves safely whether as part of a team or solo.
National Geographic Explorers of the Year, Steve Bogaerts and Robbie Schmittner, as well as many primary explorers have all spent countless hours in these narrow passages charting and connecting these expansive passageways, often having to completely remove their gear to fit and continue their exploration. Many adapted their gear and equipment configuration accordingly. A good friend, dive buddy and IANTD Cave Instructor and owner of a technical training center, Patrick Widman, once told me; “make no more than one change to your equipment per day” keeping to his advice many subsequent dives were spent “fine tuning” my gear and confidence.
A brief look back in history tells us that Side Mount was first developed and used in the 1970’s by sump divers in
, their use of this configuration made it easier to transport gear between submerged sections of a cave system, making exploration less testing and dangerous. For the past forty-years Side Mount has been used in the exploration of submerged cave systems that are considered as too small or restrictive for the traditional and more commonly dived back mount configuration England
I have been fortunate to have joined many teams and to have had the opportunity to dive with and meet various explorers and pioneers in person, which added to the learning curve. There is no substitute for good instruction and have found myself learning in five dives what I would have overseen on perhaps fifty solo excursions.
Against this background I am happy to see that many equipment manufacturers have now introduced a range Side Mount equipment as standard for recreational diving, which puts paid to changes and adaptations to standard equipment but also because side mount equipment in my experience is a comfortable and eloquent solution to the issue of cumbersome equipment. Many active divers and instructors today have heard of what some would describe as the ‘newest dive craze in the industry” commonly referred to as Side Mount scuba diving. It’s what nitrox was fifteen years ago.
Until recently Side Mount gear was not commonly available or for that matter mass produced, with many systems being developed utilizing existing scuba systems but having to be highly modified, which on occasion can lead to these being unreliable and perhaps considered by some as dangerous. Those experiments and modifications to the tried and tested techniques were often accompanied with many ‘in the field changes’. Thankfully with ongoing need and demand for development and innovation Side Mount equipment has been developed and is being produced by reputable equipment manufacturers and marketed appropriately by professionals and relative training agencies.
Side mounted equipment has emerged as a very practical and versatile configuration of Scuba diving, used at all levels, from recreation and technical diving while having the ability to dive with one or multiple tanks mounted on the sides of the body, which of course has various advantages.
Some benefits of Side Mounted equipment include ease of transportation, easier donning and doffing cylinders and the ability to monitor air supply and valves more closely. All of these, and many more help in making Side Mount more desirable for use in recreational training agencies and instructors worldwide.
With the introduction of such equipment from mainstream manufacturers, it will not take long before Side Mount Scuba diving is hitting shores near you and once tried, divers should find that this equipment configuration is ergonomically well designed and thought out, all of which adds to the diving experience .
Are you ready for a new lease on diving in what could possibly be the most versatile, comfortable and reliable configuration in the seas.
One from the Archives from SDA Magazine...
Over the past years Tech Dive Academy, based in Port Douglas, North Queensland, and Mossman High School have offered PADI scuba lessons to students that have shown interest, passion, enthusiasm and have excelled throughout the year.
This year was no different with
, offering the instruction and tuition to twelve students along with Greg Cox, a mediator at the school. Previous years have entailed the PADI entry level course called Scuba Diver, with one day diving on the Great Barrier outer reefs. This year it was the decision of Tech Dive and Tech Dive Academy staff that we would conduct the PADI Open Water course, a four day program that certifies divers to dive worldwide to a maximum depth of 18 meters. Mossman High School
As in all courses, this was broken up First with a Medical examination conducted my Dr. Mark. Into theory: conducted by Bruce Wynn, a TDA dive instructor and Greg. A pool day broken: up into 5 sessions, teaching the required skills for the course and finally 2 separate days aboard an outer barrier reef charter boat based in Port Douglas. These were all conducted by Bruce and I, Ross Anderson.
After having taught for over 9 years I thought this was the perfect group of divers that I could introduce some extra curriculum into the course. The second most important rule in SCUBA to ‘Always look cool’ was introduced and when time came to pack away I instructed to the kids that the best way to stow, care for and travel with the equipment was to make a “taco” which all mastered in the first 5 minutes. Of course you can imagine that every time I mentioned TACO the kids were on their gear in a heartbeat trying to roll the best TACO and all had their gear organized and tidied after every session.
I can now write firsthand about this experience, both as an Instructor and as a student. One, because I was once in a similar situation having learned to dive at an early age and found myself giving praise to the students and my original instructor alike. And two, because I myself learnt a lot from the students and the organizing efforts involved in such a group.
The kids were great and enthusiastic in every aspect of the course and being in their shoes once upon a time I was more lenient when I discovered that the “homework” segments were not completed on time, which gave Bruce and Greg a few more grey hairs, both however gave freely of their free time ensuring that everything went smoothly. I am happy to say that all of the Knowledge segments were successfully achieved for the completion of the course.
The first day consisted of Mark, the owner of TDA, driving to
to collect the kids so that we could get started on revision and the Confined Water session. Organizing such a group seemed a daunting task but under the stern guidance and the “always look cool” philosophy the kids excelled in all five sessions with relative ease I did however see a few new hand signals being invented. At the end of the day we were all pleased with the progress of the kids. I have always believed, which was once true of myself that kids are fast learners, have good waterman-ship skills and are, for lack of a better word, fearless. Mossman School
The days that proceeded consisted of Bruce going to the school to conduct tuition and revise quizzes issued for the course. Greg was himself a student of the course did well facilitating Bruce on the knowledge segments.
The “fun days” of ocean diving went just as any instructor can dream of with all students meeting at the marina, Pt Douglas where they were clearly on their best behavior, under the supervision and guidance of Mr. Cox, or ‘Coxy’ as many refer to him.
Bruce and I were well aware of the challenges that lay ahead, knowing that there are many contributing factors that influence diver’s behavior underwater. Logistically we separated the group into two with students “buddying” with one another. I will remember the moment forever when after just six minutes dive time we had successfully managed all thirteen students comfortably underwater and giving the “OK” sign. Every instructors dream and I can’t give enough praise to Bruce and the students for their enthusiasm and co-operation during the course.
The skills that followed were executed with seeming ease and the subsequent dive was a pleasure to guide. My only plea was not to party too much the on Saturday night as Sunday was the next meet.
Day two, and again we were greeted at the marina with a dozen happy smiles and I couldn’t help smile to myself knowing that this was possibly one of the most challenging yet one of the most rewarding courses I have ever conducted. Before diving, the TACOS were unwrapped and the group was split again and I did the briefings while Bruce completed relevant knowledge segments of the course. By now he’d had learnt how to manage the boys of the group with his stern presence and I ended up with the girls. Team “A” officially.
This was the final day of the course with only two dives remaining. There are many skills learned during the course and the final day brought us the most challenging of the lot, due to the sheer number and size of the group we really needed the utmost attention and co-operation from everyone. They stepped up well to the tasks and both dives and the skills went well and without a hitch with all students becoming fully certified.
Thank you to all who participated in this course all of you made this an unforgettable experience and helped me realize why I have chosen this career in the first place. Seeing the satisfied faces was a good reminder of this to me and I would and hope that my open Water instructor felt the same satisfaction all those years ago.
I’d like to thank the staff at Tech Dive Academy for their support and guidance and all parents and students alike for supporting roles they played in helping to make the dreams of many come true, Dr Mark and Wife Karrie for their Medical expertise in facilitating the medicals, Greg Cox and the other facilitators of Mossman High School for their help and guidance. And finally, the kids for everything they put into and took from the course.
Ross S Anderson
Thursday, 3 November 2011
I recall when I was eight years old watching my dad training for his Open Water course. To me, at that age, it was un-fathomable to comprehend the idea of breathing underwater. I didn’t care how; I just knew that I wanted to do it! On the way home my dad asked if I would like to learn how to dive when I was old enough and I’m sure that at that moment my eyes lit up and my expression was self-evident.
December 1993, I was twelve-years old, when I could start my underwater course and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was not too long before my fondness turned to love and shortly thereafter followed by a passion. Having my dad as an Advanced Open water diver was the greatest feeling and made me the ‘coolest kid’ around.
I was completing the open water segment of my course in Sodwana Bay, in the Indian Ocean, South Africa where I became enthralled with the sun soaked dive boat skippers and dive masters who seemed to run the little dive community in such a relaxed environment. I returned to Sodwana and other premier dive locations during the subsequent years and fell in love with the atmosphere and the simplicity involved.
Being a dive master in these little dive communities, catching the morning boat, coming back with salt dried skin – living by the sea every day, that was definitely the freedom I wanted to experience in my life.
It was when I turned sixteen that I realised that I wanted to become a dive instructor and live off the fruits of the sea. Now almost eighteen years after my introduction to diving I am an active instructor and cave diver and find passion restored with every dive, whether it be the mystic caves, deep walls or doing introductory dives on the local reefs.
Becoming a dive professional for those blessed with the passion of the ocean is a rewarding and fulfilling career. During the past years I have encountered many excellent instructors whom all seem to possess at least one valuable quality, which they willingly donate to their peers, students and mentors alike. It is the culmination of these traits and people to which I praise my career.
So, what does the diving community expect from a Dive Professional; in my opinion, this requires dive professionals to be presentable and well spoken, professional, courteous, flexible, knowledgeable and an ambassador in the water. In fact, what guests are looking for is a professional to guide them through a few hours of a day to introduce or re-introduce them to their dreams, remembering that many clients are office bound for many weeks a year and with this thought in mind, clients pay professionals or the dive facility for a glimpse into our dreams as dive professionals and perhaps a brief insight into, perhaps the ‘lighter lifestyle’.
Working as a full time dive professional is tiresome - mentally and physically strenuous on the body as well as disastrous on diving equipment, with little financial reward and benefits. The compromise however is a realm of unexplainable beauty, a freedom from the outside world. In the words of Jacques-Yves Cousteau - “where we need only sink beneath the surface and we are free.” Valuable life-lessons are learned; self-reliance, preservation, global awareness, inner sanctuary and communication with others. Underwater, the diver is allowed a glimpse at the stress-free majesty of life beneath the surface.
Being a dive professional assumes certain obligations on the part of the professional and to a degree the dive shop owners in respect of the clients they service and the instructor organisation they represent.
Professionals should strive to be presentable and generally be in good physical shape – sportsman like if you will.
Calm, cool but serious attitude and when combined with a confident and authoritive posture will instil confidence in the clients.
Well spoken and sufficiently proficient in several languages (if working in foreign areas) as well as proficiency in the primary language directly related to the clientele.
It is to be expected that the professional acquires knowledge of the relevant marine environment, cultural and historical background to better serve and interact with clients to make their experience more holistic, interesting and enjoyable. It also aids the client if suitably topical information is known about the client’s home country as this invariably aids conversation with clients or perspective clients.
Relevant and up to date information and knowledge of new equipment, skills, courses and any other dive related activities aids with the comfort of the client with you the professional.
Be flexible and prepared for any eventuality. Be ready and attentive to sudden changes whether before, during or after the dive activities. Keep a level head and be open to suggestions and possible changes in activities – be on your toes at all times!
Skills should be exceptional and an area without compromise, remembering that student and certified divers look to the dive professionals’ abilities as a guide. Therefore, it is your duty as a professional to be a good role model and prime example, not interfering with delicate eco-systems or marine creatures and staying clear of, accidentally brushing against, resting on formations or disturbing the marine environment. Be a person that knows and respects every living creature and do not accept or tolerate ignorance from fellow divers. Global awareness is a key foundation, not only underwater but also for general day-to-day activities.
Your attitude in the water should depict a relaxed environment with requisite authority in order to gain respect from divers, clients and peers.
What every Dive Professional should strive for is excellence in his/her field, to excel in every dive, to do their personal best in every activity. To absorb all the knowledge in building a valuable career and reputation in the dive industry. Sometimes life’s lessons can come in very discrete instances.
Never stop absorbing good ideas and habits.
All of these aspects will help accomplish a good foundation, in the process gaining confidence and respect towards you as a good professional.
From my own personal experience over the years, standards have declined slightly, which may be due to increasing numbers of new dive professionals entering the industry and who have just enough guidance to get them through the training. At least, so they can jet of to the Pacific or Caribbean to ‘live the life………….’ Yes, the lifestyle of the dive professional is glamorous and trendy. To many, it is unfortunately a trap into an easy and unproductive way of life. New and experienced professionals should strive each and every day to improve their knowledge to make them better ambassadors for our industry.
I have many people to praise regarding the progress I have achieved over the years and while many may or may not realise it, every diver I have ever had contact with has had a positive influence on me and my life. I give special thanks to my friends, colleagues and family.
Lets train and be trained to be adequate ambassadors in the industry.
‘Water flows in everyone and the ocean offers her qualities to many, sadly only a unique few cherish and appreciate the reward’