Thursday, 3 November 2011

Becoming ­­­­a Dive Professional­

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’

Ross Anderson

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