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!