How to skilfully demonstrate skills….

you love me

One question that regularly comes up on IDCs is to do with skills and how they should be done. As any good instructor knows, the key point to remember is the performance requirement, there is no standard ‘PADI way’ or signal for a given skill. It’s also very important to understand the difference between getting it wrong vs the way you like things done. As an example, you might prefer holding BCD straps to a ‘roman handshake’ during an out of gas drill but both are fine (in fact one may be better than the other and vice versa dependent on gear set up etc). There’s also no problem with a dive centre establishing a consistent way of performing skills through their DM and IDC programs but it’s also important to understand that doesn’t make their way, the right way either.

Because I work with candidates from multiple centres on the same IDC, my philosophy is that I don’t set out to attempt to mould candidates in my image. I’d much rather they got on with doing skills their way, with me occasionally pointing out some improvements or tweaks along the way.

One of the nice things about this way of working is that I get to learn different methods for skills too. Fortunately my ego is no longer as fragile as it was (seemingly directly proportionate to the greying of my hair) and I no longer panic when someone does a skill better than me. In fact I’m usually quite open about my intention to nick someone else’s method when I like it!

Having said all of this, I do have a preference for the general way skills are done (yes, my preference but also, obviously, the right way). Here’s my guide to all things skill related:

  1. Poncing About. Lots of instructors love poncing about. I do not. Poncing about involves loads of wind-milling arms, theatrical flourishes and invitations to everyone in the surrounding vicinity to ‘LOOK AT ME, ME, THE INSTRUCTOR, LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME NOW BECAUSE I AM ABOUT TO BRING THE SHIT WITH THIS SKILL’. I don’t mind a quick ‘look at me’ signal, I do it, it helps get me in the zone to do my demo but just get it over with and then do the skill. Just please, do the skill.
  2. Concentrate on the critical attributes: If you want to clear a mask, then basically you need to put some pressure on the top of the frame (any which way you like), look up and exhale through your nose. If you do that slowly and clearly, that’s pretty much a 5 as far as I’m concerned. Throwing in lots of stuff to show what you shouldn’t do doesn’t really add anything. Also don’t go through a slow and loving piece of theatre about everything that you are about to do and then fail to clear the mask in one go, or finish with one lens still with an inch of water in the bottom. Even Brando couldn’t save himself from a 4 with that.
  3. Be Quiet: Please, please don’t start every skill by doing that thing where you punch your palm with an open fist repeatedly. I realise that when people aren’t actually looking at you it’s a great way to get their attention, but when they are, it’s a bit like snapping your fingers in their face like a sassy drag queen from an 80s movie starring Andrew McCarthy.
  4. Dumping gas: Don’t start every skill by whirling your fingers at the top of the BC hose to show you have dumped all your gas. It’s not a performance requirement to do every skill whilst heavily negative. Whilst in real teaching scenarios kneeling on the bottom of the pool will help in some skills, it doesn’t require you to be negative during your demos.
  5. Lose the numbers: Some skills may benefit from a series of steps broken down by number as in step 1: Do this, step 2: Do this etc. But most don’t. Sometimes the sheer volume of hand signals being produced completely eclipses the skill and it all becomes a confused blur of sign language. Remember, just do it slowly and clearly.
  6. Be decisive. Often one of the big differences between a score of 4 or 5 is simply down to the confidence with which the hand signals are deployed. We’ve all been there, when your hand extends only to discover that it’s intent has been forgotten. Try to make sure your hand signals are confident and clear. Avoid the tentative hand slowly extending and producing a limp apology of a signal, it looks like an elderly vicar trying to break up an orgy. A good method is to practice your hand signals for skills in front of the mirror. I often video skills on the IDC too which allow you to see how you’re getting on so we can work on ways to improve.
  7. Don’t sweat it: When all’s said and done, you can do these skills. If you couldn’t you probably shouldn’t have got through your open water course! The best thing you can do is just slow down, relax and do the skill slowly. If you do that, you’re pretty much guaranteed at least a 4. If you then just throw in some clear signals that emphasise the critical steps, there’s your 5.

Of course, the next person you talk to will contradict everything I’ve just said but then that’s what makes it all so interesting. Obviously I’m right though. Obviously.

Hard working recreational diving instructors are the unsung heroes of the UK diving industry.

Bonus points for spotting the reference…

I remember when I was first thinking about becoming a diving instructor, which was pretty much as soon as I came up from the last dive of my advanced course, it seemed like one of the coolest professions it might be possible to have. At the time, tec diving was still a tiny niche area and the heroes of the scene were people like Mark Ellyatt who were doing immensely deep dives on open circuit. It was epic but hardly the kind of thing that was aspirational to your average recreational diver.

Fast forward 15 odd years and the landscape has changed. Tec diving has become much more accessible and popular but it’s aspirations have changed as well. No longer are the deep divers held up as heroes (albeit slightly bonkers ones), witness the outpouring of unpleasant schadenfreude after the death of ‘Doc Deep’ a couple of years ago. Nowadays tec diving has become fixated upon technique with the result that our current heroes are held in high regard because of their ability to hover without twitching an arse muscle instead of their achievements and accomplishments. I’ve already ranted about this more than enough times already

The upshot of this is that becoming a recreational instructor is not always seen as the top of the tree. It also occasionally seems there is a degree of snobbery aimed at recreational scuba instructors mainly centred round things like kit configurations, perceived lack of personal skill or lack of skill demonstrated by their students.

I believe this is because, as an industry, we have pitched tec diving as if it is a superior activity to pro-level recreational courses when in actual fact they’re just different. I don’t really care how many amazing deep dives you’ve done on CCR, it won’t make you a good diving instructor.

As an example, whatever someone might want you to think, teaching DSDs is not an easy task that anyone can do. Meeting minimum standards might be straightforward, but actually making a DSD enjoyable and safe takes an immense amount of skill and work, very little of which has to do with looking good in the water. In fact, if you spend time worrying about how you look, instead of looking at your students, you’re probably at risk of being distracted if a problem does arise. When you think that for many people a DSD is their first diving experience and the make or break over whether that person will continue diving, then it quickly becomes clear that instructor ego and a fixation on skill perfection is a toxic combination unlikely to do the DSD candidate or the industry any favours.

In fact, I’d go as far as saying that a lot of instructor trainers and tec instructors (me included) would probably soil themselves in terror at the prospect of taking 5 people through an open water course now. That’s because we’ve been spoiled by only dealing with customers who have their own kit and already know what they’re doing (most of the time..). This means we get to sit in our ivory towers bollocking on about horizontal trim when we don’t actually have to get a group of open water students through 2 dives in rented drysuits in cold water and then drive a van full of kit all the way back to the centre, unload it and sort paperwork before we finally get to drive home, often all for the love of it.

Last week I was at NDAC doing a tec instructor program. On the Sunday I watched an instructor with a big group of Advanced students running through his briefings. He had 3 dives to do (always a challenge with the van runs at NDAC) but he was funny and engaging and his students were clearly having a good time. On top of all this, he’d somehow found the time to be wearing a Pokemon costume over his drysuit for Halloween which his students also loved and at the end of the day I saw them all laughing and joking over paperwork.

I wasn’t in the water with them but all thing being equal, to me, that’s the true sign of good instructor and also a reminder of just how challenging and rewarding it can be.

Tec diving is a brilliant next step for a diver wanting to continue their education but it’s not always the best thing to rush straight into either. I see lots of divers who might otherwise have chosen to progress down the DM and Instructor path now choose the tec path instead. This is all well and good but I can categorically state that divers who have attained at least DM level almost always have a greater level of skill and comfort in the water than those who haven’t. It’s also true to say that whilst DMs and Instructors will regularly continue onto tec diving, which I think is great because it gives them a diving activity that’s just for their enjoyment, it’s rare for tec divers to come back and do DM or instructor, which is often a great shame.

Becoming a recreational diving instructor is an incredible achievement and being a good diving instructor takes a rare combination of skills of which in water prowess is only a part. Don’t let anyone let you forget that!

What to Bring to Your Instructor Exam

kitchen_sink

Thanks to Maryse Dare for the inspiration on this blog post. It’s one of those things that gets discussed a lot on an IDC so I thought it would be useful to put it all together in one place. So here is a definitive list of everything you should and shouldn’t bring on an IE.

First of all, you are regularly told throughout your IDC not to fear the IE, to relax and enjoy it, that everyone is on your side etc etc but very few things with the word exam in their title are relaxing and enjoyable (the words general, common, entrance and also rectal spring to mind) and it’s unlikely you will be leaping out of bed fist pumping the air with joy on the morning of your IE. However, there are things you can do that will lessen the stress of the whole experience.

Most important is to be prepared and ensure that you have every thing you need.

  1. Paperwork: Your Course Director should give you a giant wodge of paper to take to the IE. Whilst it’s important to ensure that this is all filled out correctly, what is absolutely, vitally important is that you bring a copy of an in date medical form signed by a doctor. If you don’t have one of them, you will not pass Go.
  1. The correct attitude: There are minimum passing scores for an IE. This doesn’t mean that this is the benchmark standard for a diving instructor. What it really allows is some leeway for otherwise completely competent people to have a ‘moment’ during exam conditions. I haven’t seen many centres advertising for mediocre instructors so strive to be as good as you can and then go, you’ll find the whole experience much more rewarding.
  1. The right exposure protection: IEs are a little like adult film sets, there can be a lot of waiting around for your turn to perform (apparently). That waiting around can also take place under the water so it’s crucial that you are wearing enough gear to stay warm. Don’t decide to wear your thinnest undersuit so you can be ‘flexible’ or ditch the gloves to aid in knot tying if it means that 30mins into the dive you’re borderline hypothermic and your hands have become inoperable numb claws. It’s also important for the pool too. First off remember a wetsuit, I nearly forgot mine on my IE which meant I could have ended up doing it in my pants, something no PADI examiner should have to witness. Swimming pools aren’t always that warm either so consider a full suit (they’re better for horizontal hovering too).
  1. Your basic kit: Take all your usual kit including spares, now is not the time to stress about mask straps, buckles, o rings etc. The IE is also not the time to test your new drysuit or BCD. Making an arse first ascent to the surface entangled in a liftbag is not considered to best way to run the skill.
  1. Specialised Kit: You’ll need to ensure that you have all the other toys too. You will definitely need to have the following: Ropes (decent thick pieces of rope, not your shoe lace), liftbag, SMB and compass.
  1. A streamlined approach: You need to be streamlined in two ways on an IE. First of all your kit should be tidy and simple. Whenever I see an instructor candidate walking towards me in a giant flapping monstrosity of a BCD already partially incapacitated by neon yellow curly lanyards and retractors a small piece of my soul drifts away, lost forever in some corner of Wraysbury. You don’t need all the slates, just the slates you need. Also remember one of the great advantages of diving in a drysuit is that they have pockets. Put all your stuff in there, including your snorkel if you like, and be streamlined. Secondly you should have a streamlined approach to your presentations. In a real world scenario of course you might choose to spend more time elaborating on various key points but remember on an IE that it is unlikely that the examiners or other candidates have any doubts about how to clear a mask so keep your briefings and debriefings short and sweet.
  1. Tanks and weights: You won’t be supplied with any kit for the IE. ANY KIT.
  1. Your Game Face: This is an American expression. The English translation would be to conduct yourself with quiet, dignified stoicism. Running about flapping breathlessly with your drysuit round your ankles is not a good look during the IE.
  1. A calculator and an eRDP for the exam: You are not allowed to use your phone as it can be potentially used to cheat. You can use a calculator on a tablet and also download the eRDP app from PADI to use on your tablet as well though.

What not to bring to the IE:

  • A giant crate full of junk to use as non diving related training aid. We live in a digital age. Use your smart phone or tablet to access t’intenet and creatively illustrate your point.
  • Ankle weights: Take them off, you don’t need them.
  • Split fins: If you booked a swimming lesson and your instructor turned up wearing armbands, would it inspire confidence?
  • A hangover.

So there we have it, make sure you do all the above and you’ll be fine. In fact, you will definitely pass!*

*Please note, you will not definitely pass.

 

Candidate Spotlight!

Vanessa Baxter

This is the start of a regular spotlight on some of our successful candidates. Kicking us off is Vanessa Baxter who completed the IDC with Big Squid Dive centre in March 2015. After doing a bit of instructing in the UK, warmer climes came calling and now she’s working full time overseas as a Dive Officer at Frontier Tanzania located on Mafia Island.

Vanessa Baxter

In her words:

“Frontier Tanzania is a marine conservation outpost that works with the Tanzanian Marine Park, mainly the marine conservation reserve on Mafia Island to help protect and preserve the coral reefs and seas from over fishing and destruction from human activity.

My job responsibilities is to foresee all diving operations, including the boat maintenance, engine, safety and training, financial budgets and administration.

Alex couldn’t have prepared me any better for the IE and life within the dive industry! He has the ability to deliver massive amounts of information clearly and professionally, whilst maintaining an extremely laid back, fun and non stressful persona. His teaching techniques were also very modern and relevant to the PADI IDC. I can’t thank him enough for his patience and dedication during and after the IE!”

VB IE

Vaness Baxter passing her IE in March 2015!