Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Hanging With the Spotted Eagle Rays

I took Randy & Dayl Duncan out on the Sunrider dive boat to check out the spotted eagle rays at the Ice Cream coral formation. Randy is a U.S. Navy diver who is on the USS Safeguard which is currently docked on Saipan. They are getting ready to pull some of the big coralheads out of the shipping channel so that military vessels can come and go easier and hopefully bringing us more military ship visits in the next year. Dayl was his fiance until last Saturday, when they tied the knot on Saipan island-style. David Sablan brought Randy in to the station last Friday morning to join us on the talk show, knowing that I would love talking with another diver. I told him about our Christmas morning dive with the spotted eagle rays and showed him the video and some pictures. He said he really wanted to get Dayl out diving somewhere that she would have a great experience, and that looked like just the ticket. She has been certified and did a few dives, but never really had a great experience, we were looking to change that. The spotted eagle rays made their appearance and got fairly close as you can see from the video, maybe a little too close for Dayl's liking.Randy was quite excited to see this big piece of ammunitition from WWII still sitting down there on the bottom. We even saw a couple smaller bullets from a rifle just sitting down there amongst the coral. Dayl seemed quite relaxed and to really enjoy herself, and why wouldn't she, she was with Randy & I.I think they both enjoyed diving the Chin Sen Mauru the most though, that was the 2nd dive of our boat dive. The were enjoying looking through all the holes and at all the old pieces of equipment on the wreck. Of course all the fish that seem to be everywhere on the wreck help add to its charm as well.Not a bad way to spend a honeymoon, and hopefully these will be the first of many dives that they will do as a couple over the years. As always, I probably had more fun than they did, just because I'm really more than half fish, but they seemed to have a good time too. Two more happy victims of Axe Murderer Tours, who hopefully will still make a dive at Lau Lau to go see some turtles up close and personal. Congratulations on your recent wedding Randy & Dayl, and may you have many more happy dives together!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Lewie Discovers The Wonder of Turtles!

I took Lewie out for his first two Open Water dives Sunday afternoon. He had been certified with NAUI years ago, but hadn't done any diving since. Because I will be putting him all the way through Divemaster, I figured it would be a good idea to just have him go ahead and take the Open Water course over again to reacquainte him with all the skills and get him comfortable underwater again. I took him to Lau Lau for his first two Open Water dives because I think there's something absolutely magical about seeing turtles on dives. Lewie got to spend some quality time with a couple green sea turtles and just watch them eating the growth on the rocks. After being slightly nervous at the beginning of the dive, you could just watch him visibly relax and start to really enjoy himself underwater.
Yup, you really can get this close to the turtles and just observe them, they don't seem to mind at all as long as you don't try to touch them or make any fast or threatening moves. Even after thousands and thousands of dives, and spending thousands of hours with turtles, I still get excited every time I see one and get to spend some time with it.
Kelli has been using my first underwater camera as she hones her underwater photography skills, and I'd say she's doing an awesome job! Especially considering that the camera no longer has its flash diffuser, and that it doesn't always work the way it's supposed to. I can't wait to see the kind of shots she comes up with when she gets her new camera this week. And of course I'm very excited to be getting a new camera myself this week, so there should be some great pictures coming very soon.
I was looking under a few rocks on the way back in and I discovered this live Textile Cone mostly buried in the dirt. This is the 3rd most deadly cone shell in the world. It's very beautiful but very deadly, which is why I'm carefully holding it by the base end, and have the point end pointing away from me. I put him back after Kelli took a picture of it, and after she was giving me one of those looks asking what the heck I think I'm doing. We had a great weekend of diving, managing to get in 5 dives for the weekend, which puts me just shy of 300 for the year, not a bad year at all! I think Lewie is totally hooked on diving now, and I keep getting new students lined up every day. I may have to clone myself before too long.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Here is the video I was taking when the one spotted eagle ray decided to tickle my neck with his tail.

Christmas - Saipan Style!

This was the sight that greeted me Christmas morning as I rounded the far corner on the Ice Cream coral formation just outside of Saipan's lagoon. We went on a Christmas morning boat dive with Brad & Kathy, Brad & Jeong-ah and Angelo. That may seem like a pretty strange way to celebrate Christmas morning to some people, but to all of us, it was a magical way to celebrate it! When you're far away from family and home as most of us were, it's great to be able to hang out with some good friends and share some amazing experiences and memories. We took the Sunrider boat out to Ice Cream for our first dive. And by the way, just in case you're wondering, no my new camera didn't get here that fast, these were taken by Kelli with my first underwater camera. She is doing an amazing job with it, and I'm sure her pictures will be even more spectacular with her new camera that is on the way. But back to the dive, as soon as I rounded the backside of the Ice Cream formation, I saw this wall of white moving toward me. The wall of spotted eagle rays was higher in the water than I was, so I was looking up at their white bellies. I was just completely dumbfounded by the sheer number of these graceful and huge creatures. I had never seen so many in one place before. I started counting and got up to 45 before they started circling back on themselves. I know there were far more than 45 in that initial bunch of them, but that gives you a good idea of just how many of them there were in the water. These are not just some small fish, their wing span from tip to tip will be anywhere from 3-6' across, and I'm guessing their weight to be anwhere from 100-200 pounds. I tried to get everyones attention so they could see the same spectacle I was experiencing. Kelli saw them fairly quickly and started snapping away with her camera. You couldn't take your eyes off them, they were just so majestic! We all picked a spot to just hang out on the coral formation and let them swim back and forth over the top of us. They put on an amazing show for quite a while.
And just in case you think we only got to see them at a distance, they came in pretty close to check us out as well. No zoom was used in any of these pictures, that's just how close they were getting to us. They were so close you could see the detail of their eyes and watch as their gill slits rippled as they opened and closed. But believe it or not, they even got a little closer.
I was watching this one come right up to Kelli, but she was focusing on some others that were on the other side of her. As she turned around there it was right next to her face, so she snapped a few pictures. At one point she offered me the camera to take a few shots with. I decided to try capturing some video. I was shooting about 8 of them that were coming closer and closer. I finally locked in on one that seemed to be coming in for a collision course with me. He came right up to my face before veering away at the very last second. But as he swam away directly in front of me, his big whip tail came right for me and brushed against my throat as he swam away. I know firsthand just how much damage they can do with their whip tails. When I was a young boy I had a stingray use his tail like a sword and slash the backside of my swimsuit wide open, and that was after driving the barb on his tail all the way through my hand. We won't talk about how that happened right now, but I do believe it's in my book, so you'll have to read that if you want to hear the rest of the story. So as I felt his tail brushing against the skin of my throat, I realized that if I spooked him at all, and he gave his tail a flick, he could easily slit my throat from ear to ear. I was hoping that everybody else realized it too and just sat still and watched them. I just kept the video rolling, what else can you do? I'm sure there were scenes of the Crocodile Hunter's final moments with that stingray going through Kelli's head. She was right next to me watching. I'm not really sure how I always wind up in those situations, but somehow I seem to attract them. Here is a picture of Brad, Kathy and I at the shipwreck. You might notice that none of us have regulators in our mouths. We have evolved and learned to just suck the oxygen out of the water and therefore only carry the tanks as a back up plan, (don't we all wish!). I think everybody had an awesome time and were quite happy that they decided to spend their Christmas morning that way. Here I am just hanging out on the shipwreck on Christmas morning! If you want to hang with me, you'd better bring your gear and get ready for some serious bottom time. It really was a spectacular way to spend Christmas morning, and we all have Kathy to thank for it. It was all her idea to give a boat dive to Brad for his Christmas gift and she wanted to do it on Christmas morning. She didn't have to invite me twice to convince me, and I didn't really have to work very hard to convince Kelli either. Since both of our kids have abandoned us for Christmas this year, we just wanted to have a totally different Christmas, and we succeeded. After our dive we invited Angelo and Edz to join us for a Christmas brunch at the Hyatt, a great way to completely over indulge and spoil yourself rotten. Angelo said that they were going to be the new Josh & Sarah since our kids had abandoned us. I don't know if Angelo realizes that might be problematic considering I don't think he really considers Edz as a sister. Oh well, I'll let him figure that out. He has said he has dibs on Sarah's room now though, so I think he might be serious.

After brunch, we decided to go see a movie and watched Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories. Certainly not a traditional Christmas by any stretch, but certainly a memorable one. I hope yours was as good!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Disappointed with Sealife Cameras!

There are those who have expressed their disappointment to me that I really haven't been blogging much ever since my camera was stolen. I admit, it did take all the joy and fun out of it for me, and I didn't really feel like just telling the diving stories without the pictures to go along with them. Up to this point, I have been saving up for my Instructor's course and all the specialty ratings that I need, so the money has all been earmarked. However it is Christmas bonus time, so I just got done ordering 2 new Canon SD 950 IS's for Kelli and I for Christmas. I got her the Canon housing, which is small and compact, and I ordered the Ikelite housing for me with the Ikelite AF35 strobe to go along with it. This is the same setup I had that was stolen, and it's an upgrade for Kelli.

I was going to order a couple Sealife DC-800's with an external strobe, one for each of us. Sealife was offering a special deal on two of them to PADI instructors, so I thought that would be a great way to go, and Sealife was trying to get their cameras in the hands of dive instructors who would be using them to teach their students. Unfortunately Sealife showed me that they really didn't care about selling cameras or taking care of customer service. It took me several weeks and about 6 e-mails before I got anyone to respond to me at all from Sealife. Then when I finally got someone to respond, she didn't go out of her way to be helpful at all and gave just the minimum information she could get away with. Sealife was also totally inflexible when it came to shipping options, and insisted it had to be shipped by Fed Ex. Fed Ex is usually a very expensive option to have something shipped to Saipan, so I asked them for a shipping quote before ordering the cameras. The lady couldn't bother to find out the information for me, and just gave me the Fed Ex website and told me to get a quote myself. I tried, but Fed Ex not only would not let me register, but would not give me a price quote. I wrote back to the lady at Sealife, but she never responded, I guess she didn't care that I couldn't get a price quote or that it would mean I wouldn't make the buy through them. I am just always blown away by examples of horrible customer service like this, and can't believe that a company can stay in business treating their potential customers that way. So no, I did not order Sealife cameras, nor will I ever order anything from them ever again after this experience. And I would warn anyone who is considering buying from Sealife that their customer service totally SUCKS!

I ordered my Canon cameras from Adorama at and have always had great luck with them and exceptional service. They make sure I always get my order in under a week, and that's saying something when it goes half way around the world. I highly endorse Canon cameras as I've had 5 of them now and absolutely love them. Buy Sealife only if you want massive hassles and to be ignored. Maybe they need a few lessons in customer service!

So with the new cameras on the way, I will start taking pictures on dives regularly and posting them here again, as well as pictures of all my new dive students. Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays, unless you're Sealife cameras, and then Bah Humbug to you!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ready For Students

After going through the IDC and the IE in Guam, I got the certifications I needed to be able to teach scuba diving, everything up through Divemaster. Then when I got back I signed up for Liability insurance, both for me and my equipment that I may use, that set me back another $690, and that was after spending well over $3,000 for the classes, books and PADI fees on Guam. It is not an inexpensive proposition to become a dive instructor, and it's not so easy a caveman can do it. But I think it was worth it, and I am thrilled to finally be able to certify divers and have them get a certification card at the end of it.

One thing that has definitely changed is my thinking on the need for further instruction and courses beyond the Open Water course. Back when I got certified, the course was taught by a former Navy Seal, and lasted over 3 months long. You learned pretty much everything he could think to cram in your head and prepare you for whatever you might want to do diving. But that was back in the mid 70's, things have changed a bit since then. Now the purpose of the Open Water course is to get divers in the water as soon as possible, and to give them just enough information and skills to be able to safely dive in a fairly shallow, safe environment. That's great, but it's not enough for most people who plan on taking their diving seriously. If you only plan on diving once or twice a year on vacation, and you have a Divemaster or Instructor with you, then maybe an Open Water course is all you will ever need. However, if you plan on diving regularly, and going out without any diving professionals in the group, then you are going to want more training to make you a safer and more self reliant diver. The Advanced course is really just a matter of reading a few short chapters, doing the knowledge reviews and then doing 5 different dives. It gives you experience in different types of diving, like night diving, deep diving, navigation diving and your choice of a list of other specialties. Definitely something that most people are going to want to do. And quite honestly, if you live somewhere that you can dive every day like we do and you plan on doing it often, you really should consider taking the Rescue Diver course as well. It will give you the skills and knowledge to not only be able to take care of yourself more efficiently, but it will also equip you to be able to help others who may need your help as well. There is nothing worse than seeing someone in trouble, but not knowing what you can do to help them out, or being afraid to help them out because you just aren't sure of yourself. It is a very small investment in your life and your friends lives, money well spent in my opinion.

I'll be honest, Divemaster definitely isn't for everybody. But if you're one of those that likes to understand the theory behind everything, and be able to actually work in the industry if you feel like it, then the Divemaster course is a great experience.

I've already got about 10 people lined up for various courses and will be fairly busy for a while, but there is always room for more. I have also agreed to be a merit badge counselor for scuba for the Boy Scouts, and I'm sure that will generate a fair amount of business as well.

And for those who have always wondered about scuba and wanted to try it without having to take the whole course, I'm ready to accomodate you too. There is a Discover Scuba program that gets you in the water learning about the equipment the first day. We could even do a dive down to 40' to let you experience the wonder of scuba diving and see how you handle it. If you wonder what is so amazing underwater that I have spent 650 hours down there in the last 2 1/2 years, give me a call or send me a message and let me introduce you to my world!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Open Water Scuba Instructor

After 9 straight days of the Instructor Development Course, 2 days of the Instructor Exam, and another 2 days to become an Emergency First Responder Instructor and an O2, Oxygen Provider Instructor on Guam, I am now officially a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor.

I had spent the 2 months previous to the course reading all the books, and cramming studying, so I really felt like I was prepared for the course, even though I have to admit I was more than just a little nervous. The first thing they had us do in the IDC when we arrived was to take an exam that would be similar to the written exam we would have at the end. It was to let the Instructor know what our strengths and weaknesses were. I was a bit surprised when he told us it was a closed book test, since we had been told previously the tests would be open book. But as I started through it, I realized that I was ready for it, the answers were all right there. I missed 3 questions out of about 200, not too bad. You had to score 75% or better on each of the different exams to pass, so I had easily passed. Brad, who went over to take the course with me also passed the test, and Kat, a student who was taking the test as part of her Assistant Instructor course, and would be joining us later for the Open Water Instructor portion also passed, but the other 4 students who took it didn't do quite as well. Fortunately this test was just for evaluation, so it didn't count against them, it just showed what they needed work in.

The thing PADI is looking for in their Instructors is the ability to follow their guidelines and methods and incorporate everything they want. I caught on to that very quickly and tailored my presentations following their formula exactly. I have to admit, many of the endless class lectures did get to me after a while, since it was all information I had already read and gone over. I'm the type who prefers self study to sitting and listening to lectures. So there were some days I was ready to beat myself unconscious with my Instructor's Manual. It didn't help matters any that after about 3 days of the course I came down with a horrible head and chest cold, I felt terrible, and couldn't stop coughing and sneezing. I knew I was going to be in for trouble because I couldn't clear my right ear because of all the congestion in my sinuses. We only had one more open water dive session as part of the class though, and the instructor said we didn't have to go down past 15', so hopefully I should be ok even if I couldn't get my ear to clear. It wasn't fun, but I did manage to make it through that session. I was just praying that it would all clear up before the Instructor's Exams though, a bad head and chest cold was the last thing I needed for that.

Finally we got to the end of the 9 day IDC and we had a couple days off before the Instructor's Exams. Brad and I went to have lunch at the Food Court at the Outlet Mall, and I decided to try seeing if my ear would clear or not yet. Much to my surprise it actually cleared, so I told Brad we could head out and go do a dive for fun. He was all for it, so we went back to the dive shop, got tanks and headed for a beach in Agat that I knew we could dive. My right ear wasn't crazy about going diving, but it did eventually cooperate and we had a good dive. The next day we decided to do a shallower dive and went to the Piti bomb pits and Fisheye Marine Park. It was fun watching the tourists in the snuba helmets and seeing the people look at us from the observation deck underwater.

Wednesday morning it was time to show what we had learned though, the Instructor's Exams took place at the Marriot hotel. As was usually the case, Brad and I were the first ones to show up, not because Brad likes being so punctual, but mainly because he was riding with me. We chatted with Michael, the Examiner out of the PADI home office in California, who had arrived at 2 am that morning. The first part of the test was the written exam and Brad and I were both a bit shocked when we were told it was to be a closed book test, since someone else had told us previously it would be open book. It didn't bother me too much though as I really felt prepared for this test. There was a time limit for the tests, but it seemed to be far more than what was actually needed. I finished all 6 tests fairly quickly and turned them back in. Michael, the Examiner asked if I was sure I was ready to turn them in, that I had plenty of time to look them over. I said no, I was ready and just wanted them graded. He motioned me back up a couple minutes later and congratulated me on getting a perfect 100% on each of the tests. I have to admit, that really felt good!

Next we started preparing for our classroom presentation and our confined water presentations, and then broke for lunch. I guess since I was the first one to turn in my written exams, I was tagged to go first for everything from that point forward. So while others got to watch how I did things and learn from it, I was happy to get it over with and just be able to concentrate on the next test. I sailed through the classroom presentation, the demonstration of water skills and the confined water teaching skills, and that was the end of day #1.

We met at Fisheye park for our Rescue demonstrations and our open water skills tests. I missed getting two perfect scores on the water skills tests by a hair, all because my Divemaster let the two divers she was supervising descend away from the rope. Oh well, I'll take a 5.0 and a 4.8 any day, with 5 being a perfect score. I also passed the Rescue demonstration on the first try and that was it, I was now officially a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. They had a little ceremony right at the parking lot of Fisheye Park, and gave us all new PADI Instructor hats, although I had already bought myself one several days earlier. Brad said that it would have jinxed him, I figured it was just showing that I had conficence that I would be passing.

Then the next couple days we had to take the First Aid Responder Instructor course and the Oxygen Provider Instructor course as well. You need to be able to teach those courses in order to put someone through Rescue Diver, so it was another necessary time and financial investment, but we got those two taken care of as well.

So now I am a certified, insured PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and am quite eager to get back in the water and start showing people why I love the underwater world so much, and equipping them to be able to explore it as well. If you've been thinking about getting certified, let me know, I'd be happy to teach you how to dive!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Me, Nervous?

I realize that to anyone who knows me very well, they would probably be shocked to learn that I'm a bit nervous about heading off to the PADI Instructor's course in Guam tomorrow. After all, I've been diving since 1970, I got certified through the YMCA in 1974, and I've logged in over 2,000 dives in the 12 1/2 years that I've been on Saipan. So most people would think I wouldn't even have to think twice about any of this, but the problem is, I'm a self admitted diving dinosaur. Soooooooooooooooooooo much has changed since I started diving. I've been learning all the new information and techniques and hopefully am up to speed on all of them. But I have always struggled with memorizing formulas and random figures, like the weight of one pound of water, or the various figures you need to remember to do the calculations to figure water displacement or pressure. I've been pounding them all into my head every single day for two months now, and yet I still break into a cold sweat when I think about taking the Instructor's Exam.

For most people who are just doing this as an enrichment sort of thing, I don't suppose they would be feeling as much pressure. But for me this is the beginning of a huge life change and career change. Everything is riding on this, and I really don't want to stumble right out of the gate. Part of the problem is probably that I'm extremely perfectionistic in some things, and yes, this would definitely be one of them. I've had many people ask if I'm excited to be heading over to Guam for the course, and the answer is no. I'll be excited when it's all over and I've got my PADI Instructor's card. Anyway, just over one day and I'll be heading over there. If you're the praying sort, I would certainly appreciate your prayers as I head over there that I don't freeze up and forget everything when it's time for the exam. I feel like I'm back in high school with a huge exam the next day, I didn't like that feeling back then, and I still don't! But then again, this too shall pass....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just Another Dive?

This is the latest group of victims of Axe Murderer Tours. I was contacted a couple weeks ago by e-mail asking if I would be willing to take some of the visiting White House dignitaries out diving while they were here. Of course the answer is always yes! Axe Murderer Tours is almost always available and always eager to please. I told them I would accomodate whatever would fit into their schedule, to just let me know when they were free. It was soon established that Tuesday morning, October 21st would work out best for them. I went to the meeting they attended at the Fiesta Resort the night before and met a couple of them and arranged to meet them at the dive shop at 8 am, as soon as I got done with the talk show. In the picture from left to right are: Sean Morton - Director of Coastal Policy for the Council on Environmental Quality, Tim Keeney - Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Department of Commerce/Oceans & Coast, Yours Truly - the old Axe Murderer himself, Allen Tom - Regional Director for Marine Protected Areas & Sanctuaries for the Pacific from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Jim Connaughton - Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Lyle Laverty - Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Interior/Fish & Wildlife. Yes, I was obviously way out of my league with these distinguished gentlemen, but they didn't act any different than anyone else I know. They were all down to earth, friendly and genuine, and truly seemed to enjoy the chance to go diving.

3 of them wanted to go scuba diving and the other 2 were going to snorkel. I had been watching the conditions on the reef line and thought it looked like a perfect opportunity to sneak in another Wing Beach dive, even though the season should have been over months ago. I told them not only was it my favorite dive, but it would also be the best place for the snorkelers to see some spectacular coral.

We had a plainclothes police escort along with us just to make sure there were no problems. I really appreciated having someone at Wing Beach to watch my truck as we were on the dive. When we went down to the beach to check the conditions, they were absolutely perfect, so the dive was on! I gave them a pre-dive briefing, telling them what we would be doing and what to expect, and then we walked out to the cut. The water felt awesome and refreshing after the walk out wearing the heavy equipment in the hot sun. It was a bright sunny day, so the coral was all lit up looking like a Christmas tree. Tim had a fin strap buckle break as he was putting on his fins, so I gave him mine and I used the ones with the broken buckle, just jamming it onto my foot. I led them all out to the crevasse, and we dropped down to check out two huge lionfish resting on the bottom. They all seemed very relaxed and like they were very experienced divers. The current was pushing us back as we worked our way along the wall, making for a very easy swim back. Jim Connaughton was taking pictures, and I hope he got a good sampling of our underwater beauty.

We got everyone back safe and sound without any incidents, and they all seemed to think it was just an awesome dive. When we got back to the dive shop, Jim presented me with a blue box with the Presidential seal on it. Inside was an official Presidential Seal pin, with the President's signature personally engraved on it. He told me it was from President Bush with his thanks. I was absolutely speechless. I've received some very cool momentos in the past, but this one would forever be the most impressive.
I don't care what your political affiliations are, you have to be absolutely humbled by something like that. Now I guess Axe Murderer Tours can claim to have had a connection with the President of the United States.
It just happened that the group from the White House was also going to Rotary for lunch that day, so I went to my office, threw on some dry clothes after the dive, and met them all at the Hyatt for Rotary. Sean Morton sat at my table with me and we talked quite a bit. He asked what my future plans were and I told him about getting my PADI Instructor's card and then moving to either south Florida or the Carribean early next year. He got this shocked look on his face and asked if I was serious. Then he told me that he might wind up in Florida next year as well. He told me to look him up as soon as I got down there and see what was available. Isn't it amazing how things work out sometimes? I don't know if anything like a job would ever come of it, but I do know that I've made a friend hopefully for life who I'll most likely be connecting with quite often for the next couple of years. All because I want to share my love of the ocean with everyone I can, and do it under the guise of a make believe dive company called Axe Murderer Tours. This is definitely a story for my book!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Update To The Plan

If you've been following my blogs at all over the last several months, you know that our lives are about to take a drastic change and head an all new direction. After over 26 years in radio, I've decided to hang up my microphone and pursue my passion. I'm going to Guam in about 3 weeks to attend the IDC to get my PADI Instructor's card, then I plan on becoming a full time, professional dive instructor. Where we'll wind up is still up in the air, I guess it all depends where we can find a spot that we can dive all year long and earn enough money to feed the two of us. There is the possibility that I'll have to be a full time Wal-Mart greeter, and a part time dive instructor to survive, but let's just say that's the back-up plan.

As I was finishing up my Dive Master course a couple weeks ago it suddenly dawned on me that if I put Kelli through the Rescue Diver and Dive Master courses, then we could bill ourselves as a team to resorts that we might like to work at. A Dive Instructor with his own built-in Dive Master would have to make each of more valuable. That way, they could house you both in the same housing, and cut down on their expenses, plus that would be one less position they would have to worry about filling. I talked it over with Kelli, and at first she said she didn't think there was any way she could do it. I assured her that I thought she could, we would just spend as much time going over the various skills and bookwork as she needed. I explained how I thought it would give us a real competitive edge for many positions though. So after much discussion, she agreed that if I was willing to teach her and put her through the courses, that she would be willing to do it. So that is the plan, as soon as I get back from the Instructor's course, we will begin putting Kelli through Rescue Diver and Dive Master, so that we're both ready to go once we move. And if you thought my 200 dives for the year was a milestone, Kelli has gotten 50 dives in for the year now. And if you know Kelli and know how hesitant she was to dive before this year, you will know what a monumental accomplishment that truly is. I'm really proud of her and know she is going to be an awesome Dive Master. That's her in the picture above posing with the friendly green sea turtle from this past weekend.

Monday, October 6, 2008

200 Dives For The Year!

My goal this year was to hit 200 dives for the year once again. Now I know that to most dive industry professionals, that's no big thing, many of them will hit 400, 500 or 600 dives a year. But I'm not a dive industry professional, well not yet anyway. I managed to get all those dives in by October 5th as just another weekend diver with a normal day job. Now you may not think that 200 dives in a year is a big deal, but when you realize how many dives that adds up to every weekend, it shows that you pretty much lived under water on the weekends. My new goal is to hit 250 for the year now, it will be the first time I've ever accomplished that, and I think the goal is fairly achievable. I had to get in 7 dives this last weekend, in order for #200 to be with my great friend Hozumi and her last dive on Saipan.

The picture above was of a green sea turtle we saw at Lau Lau Sunday morning. He was having breakfast and just didn't seem to care if we were there or not. He let us take all the pictures we wanted and posed graciously. After posing for that picture, I decided to borrow the camera from Kelli for a second and take a couple pictures of the turtle myself.
I always love gazing into a turtles eyes, they are just so soft and full of personality. This guy was very accommodating about having me that close to him, didn't seem to mind at all. So I snapped a few pictures and then let him get back to his breakfast. This was definitely one of the coolest turtle encounters I've had in a very long time though.Yup, these couple pictures convinced me that I really need to start saving up to replace my underwater camera though. I miss capturing these moments on the camera and then being able to share them. Kelli took a picture of Hozumi and I together on this my 200th dive of the year and her last dive on Saipan. It was a great dive, and Hozumi really seemed to enjoy herself and just soak everything in one last time. I will really miss taking her out diving occasionally and watching her face light up when she sees a turtle, or watching her recoil in horror as I hold a sea cucumber out to her. Thanks for sharing that dive with me Hozumi, you will be greatly missed!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dive Master

I've just finished putting another notch in my diving belt on the road to my future career change. The Dive Master class was interesting in many respects, and again I wound up learning quite a bit that I will take with me as I become an Instructor. One of the first lessons I learned was in one of the skills tests at the beginning of the course. Our instructor told us that this was an important test and we needed to take it very seriously. He kind of rushed through the instructions, and then gave us 5 minutes to come up with a plan as to how we would accomplish the task. One of the things that neither of us really understood was that the time deadline was only for coming up with our plan, we both thought we were under a strict time deadline underwater as well. Because we didn't understand that the underwater task was not timed, we put a lot of extra pressure on ourselves and it made it that much more difficult. Obviously we did pass the test, but I was pretty convinced underwater that we had failed it, because I knew we didn't make the time deadline I thought we were under. I learned a couple things through that little exercise, to make sure to ask all the questions I need to get proper clarification especially for something that important, and also that when I'm an instructor, I need to be crystal clear in my instructions and make sure that my students understand their task clearly and all rules pertaining to it. Much of their success will depend on my ability to communicate clearly and to give them the best chance of success.

The first thing I discovered about the Divemaster course was that there was an awful lot of reading and bookwork involved. This course took you much deeper into the physics and physiology of diving and the theory behind it. I had to memorize a bunch of different formulas for figuring different problems. I had to memorize a bunch of figures for such things as the specific gravity of both salt water and fresh water, the displacement and weight of 1 cubic foot of water in both salt water and fresh water. I had to learn how much pressure is exerted by 1 atmosphere of water, yup, both salt and fresh, and the figures are different for all of them. I had to learn how to calculate pressure, volume, air consumption, partial pressures, surface equivalency and more. I had to learn how diving affects our physiology, the effect of the gasses that make up the air we breathe under pressure. I had to learn to calculate decompression times for multiple dives and be able to answer a bunch of questions about how the human body responds to the pressure in an aquatic environment.

There were times that I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Was I too old to try cramming all these figures and formulas into my head? Could I really remember all of this, and pass it on a test? Memorization was always my weakness in school. I could discuss theory and have a good grasp of what is going on, but when you just want me to start reciting random facts, it's a real challenge for me. My instructor wasn't about to let me throw in the towel though, and said that I was going to get it no matter what it took. I eventually did, and it all actually made sense to me. But I'll readily admit, I spent countless hours pouring through all the books, sometimes over and over until it finally clicked. I have to admit, I was a bit shocked that I actually passed the written exams, this is college level stuff, and there's an awful lot of different subjects all crammed into one course. That would probably be a big reason that the PADI courses are qualified and accredited to receive college credit.

Part of the Divemaster course is to act as an assistant and Dive Master while the instructor is actually teaching some real Open Water dive students. I really enjoyed that part, it's why I want to become an instructor and change career paths at this point in my life. I want to share my passion with as many other people as I can, and being a Dive Instructor or a professional Dive Guide is the best way to accomplish that. I learned from all my reading that the role of an assistant or Divemaster in a class situation is to handle the logistics. You are to make the instructor's job easier, and take care of all the things like equipment, making sure the students bring their log books, coordinating training times, demonstrating skills when asked to by the instructor, and helping the students to master the various skills if they need some extra work on something. While diving, the Divemasters job is to either lead the dive, or to pick a vantage point where he can keep a good eye on all the students and react quickly in case of any trouble or emergency. The Divemaster's job is not to teach the students, that is up to the instructor. And while there may be a temptation to add your two cents worth, you need to carefully weigh whether it will help or only confuse the situation. A good Divemaster will blend into the background until called into service by the instructor and then will be right there to help with anything required of him or her. You should also anticipate any needs or problems that may arise. Bring extra log pages, in case the students forget their log book, bring dive tables or an Electronic Recreational Dive Planner, so the students can use them in case they forgot their own. Bring extra masks and fins and regulators, just in case.

A good Divemaster can make the instructor's job so much easier, but a Divemaster who either doesn't know his job or do his job very well, can be very frustrating to the instructor as well. It's important to thoroughly understand your role, and then think through all possible scenarios to make you as effective as possible.

I also learned that the PADI system really does work and makes sense when used properly. It ensures the greatest chance of success for the student, and takes the pressure off the instructor. The instructor doesn't have to worry about coming up with a plan, wondering what to teach on what dive or how to show the skills. PADI has laid that all out for them, all they have to do is follow the information on the dive slates and make sure it is learned satisfactorily. I had the opportunity to watch how my instructor would go to great pains to do everything by the book, making sure there were no shortcuts taken or information left out. But I also had the opportunity to watch other instructors with their students, and see the shortcuts they took sometimes, and how their students would pay the price when they weren't as thorough as they should be. I learned many things in this couse that helped prepare me for what lies ahead in the Instructor's Course in Guam. I learned many things that I will incorporate into my teaching style, and I also observed a few things from other instructors that I will carefully avoid.

Yes, it is possible to convert old diving dinosaurs and to bring them up to speed with modern methods and training, but in order to get them to be willing to take that first step, you need to be very careful in your approach. They can be easily chased away, and are very tough to get back if you take the wrong approach in the first place. Make it fun, make it fulfilling, make it a point of honor, and let them know they will be able to share their passion much more effectively if they learn a few new tricks. This old diving dinosaur has passed the PADI Rescue Diver course, the Emergency First Aid Responder couse, and the PADI Divemaster course all in the last few months. And in exactly one month, I'll be taking off for Guam to do the PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor course. If I can do it, you can do it, it's all a matter of setting your mind to it and taking it seriously. There may be better instructor's out there than me when I'm finished, but I seriously doubt there will be many who are more passionate or dedicated to passing along their love of diving to as many others as possible. I already have my first 2 students just waiting for me to return from Guam to begin their course. If diving is something you've always wanted to try, or if you've always thought about getting certified, I would love to have the opportunity to be your instructor. I'll still be on Saipan from mid-November through probably April or possibly May of next year. Let me know and let's get you certified to explore some of the coolest places on the planet!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rescue Diver

I got an e-mail from PADI last week congratulating me on becoming a PADI Rescue Diver. I remember sitting having a discussion with some friends who helped found Marianas Dive last year, and they were trying to convince me why I should take the PADI Rescue Diver course. Their arguments went something like this:
- You can always learn something new to help you out in one of those situations
- New knowledge is always a good thing
- It would put you one step closer to Dive Master status
- We'd feel better knowing you had the training to haul any of us out of the water if we ever got into trouble
- We'd love the challenge of trying to teach an old diving dinosaur like you a few new tricks.

My arguments against it went something like this:
- I've been diving for 35 years, you've been diving how long?
- I've already rescued more people than I can keep track of, how many have you rescued?
- I've been diving longer than you've been alive!
- So you're trained to rescue people but you never have had to, and I'm not trained for it by you, but I've already rescued far too many, how does that make sense?
- You want me to pay how much to teach me something I've already done countless times?

Needless to say, they weren't successful in their attempts to convince me I needed Rescue Diver training. I just couldn't make any sense of it in my head. Part of it was stubborn pride, back when I got certified it was a 3 month course and they taught you all of that stuff back then. Of course that was back in the mid-70's, and admittedly diving and diving equipment has changed just a little bit since then. Even though I didn't agree to take the class from any of them back then, it did get me thinking about it. I like to think about things for a long time usually before making a decision though. If they had pushed too hard, or taken the wrong approach, they would have closed the door permanently and I never would have considered taking the Rescue Diver course, no matter what.

Then there was a situation that really had me rather ticked off at a few of the dive weenies at the time. It was the incident where I evicted a couple hermit crabs from Tritan Trumpet shells and took the shells for my collection. Back when I got certified, in the mid 70's, things were vastly different. Not many people thought in terms of conservation, scuba spearfishing was not only allowed, but was encouraged, and even taught in most of the courses back then. And shell collecting was one of the benefits of scuba diving. So I really didn't think anything of it at all, I didn't kill the crabs, and the shells went into my collection. One of the other divers on the island who also had a blog, decided to take the pictures off of my blog of the Tritan Trumpet shells and publicly castigate me for my "crimes against nature". She made sure everyone knew who she was talking about by putting a link to my blog, thus ensuring the public humiliation was complete. Her dive instructor made some comments about it on her blog, also referring to me as an uneducated and insensitive diver. At the time I felt like if this is how the new breed of divers operates, I want nothing to do with them. To me they were obnoxious, rude, they stole my pictures without getting my permission so they had no honor, and to me they were very counter productive. If the whole point was just to publicly embarass me, I guess they were successful, but if it was to educate me about conservation, their methods couldn't have been worse.

Mike Tripp, who also has a Saipan diving blog, also saw my post, and was also upset about it, but for a couple different reasons. He was afraid that because of my prominent position in the community with my radio presence, and because everyone knew I was a diver, that it would send a bad message to other divers and those who might consider getting certified down the road. He told his wife about his frustration, and she counseled him to sleep on it, and then call me up the next day and talk it over personally with me. That was an approach that I could relate to, and actually responded to very favorably. If you want to educate someone on something, you don't start off by publicly humiliating them and criticizing them. During our talk, I admitted to Mike that I was a diving dinosaur, who got certified in the mid 70's, back when most divers were also spearfishermen, and also shell collectors. I heard all his concerns, and had to admit, he had some very valid points. But because of the reaction by some of the other divers, it made me totally reject any possibility of taking other PADI courses at that time.

Another friend of mine had continued talking to me about diving and my role in diving on the island, and had quietly encouraged me to at least think about taking the Rescue course. He was making progress on me, but like I said, I make those kind of decisions slowly. Finally he made me an offer I couldn't refuse and I agreed to go ahead and take the Rescue Diver course. Once I decide to go ahead with something like that, I take it very seriously and throw myself into it 110%. As I was reading through the books, I had to admit I was learning a lot, there were a lot of things that either weren't covered in my initial course, or that I'd long since forgot. Plus, so much has changed in diving, that it was good to know what was behind some of the various changes. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn and discover, it was contagious for me.

Yes, even an old diving dinosaur like me can learn if you approach it the right way. If you just want to criticize and humiliate, you won't accomplish anything, but if you approach things the right way, you might be amazed at the results. I was reading an article in "The Best of the Underwater Journal" for my Instructor's course entitled "Is Diver Education Deteriorating?", and I had to laugh when I read this paragraph. "Having been in and around the diving industry for quite some time, I've heard complaints about the deteriorating skills of the new diver and new instructors echoed from a variety of industry sources for more than 20 years. There is no objective evidence to support these complaints, but much evidence that refutes them. I would like to take a few minutes of your time to stir your thoughts and present a viewpoint. You might find this useful next time you are in a conversation with a diving "dinosaur" who feels everything is broken. Many of these macho (and macha) types look down upon other divers as poorly trained and somehow not really fit enough to dive. They generally view the modern recreational scuba participants as "boutique" divers. Who knows, armed with this information you may successfully convert a diving dinosaur into a "nuevo" diving dinosaur."

I am proof positive that it is indeed possible to convert a diving dinosaur, and having read through most of the books required for the Instructor's course, I have to say, that I not only understand why PADI does things the way they do now, but I wholeheartedly agree and endorse it!

One of the main things I learned through the class was that if you have me in the water as a panicked diver you're trying to rescue, if you can't just shove something at me and have me save myself, you don't want to get anywhere near me, it won't have a pretty ending. But as someone who has been diving for 35 years, and didn't think there was any need of further diving courses or education, let me assure you, there is always something new to learn and you'll wind up a much better diver for it. And after mid-November, I'd be happy to teach you those courses and certify you as well!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A New Start

There are a few people out there who knew from a very early age what they wanted to be when they grew up, they pursued that dream and turned it into a reality. Then there were others of us who knew what we really enjoyed, but we were pushed in different directions and we pushed our dreams to the back burner and found something else we could do to make money, and we stayed there for years, and years and years. I've been in radio for over 26 years now, and it's not that I haven't enjoyed it, I've had some amazing experiences in radio. I've emceed concerts for Eddie Rabbit, Moe Bandy, Loretta Lynn, Garth Brooks, Lorrie Morgan, Collin Raye and a bunch more that I don't even remember anymore. I've gotten to travel to Nashville and interview the biggest names in country music from 1986-1992, Randy Travis, The Oak Ridge Boys, Reba McEntire, Juice Newton, Marie Osmond, The Sweethearts of the Rodeo, Clint Black and the list goes on and on. I had a lot of fun in country music, but the time came to put that behind me and move on to the next phase of my radio life.

Saipan has definitely given me a chance to become a different person in radio altogether. I started doing local political commentary, and a morning talk show. It has been anything but boring, and I think after I leave I'll have left my mark, it may be a skid mark, but it will be a mark all the same. I have loved living on Saipan, the whole tropical experience, living in such a mixing pot of cultures and people from all over the world. I have made many good friends on Saipan, and have watched many of them leave over the years. I have had a former Governor blame me for his losing re-election bid, which I wear as a badge of honor. I am probably the most hated person by nearly every politician on island, something else which I take pride in. I wanted to make a difference here, to let people know they didn't have to keep voting for the same old relatives, they could vote intelligently, providing there happened to be anyone intelligent actually running. I'm not really sure how much of a difference I did make that way, but the one difference I believe I did make was to show people that they can speak up against their leaders, and demand honesty, integrity and change. Since I have been doing the commentary for the past 8 years, more and more people have begun to speak up and to demand accountability from their leaders. If that's the only thing that I managed to accomplish during my time here, it was something and I am good with that. But it is nearly time to retire my microphone and head a new direction in life. Many people I have talked to about it simply can't understand why I would walk away, and give it all up just to be a dive instructor. Those people don't really know me, and don't understand my love of the ocean and my passion for it.

The diving on Saipan is nothing short of spectacular and I've managed to get in over 2,500 dives in the 12 1/2 years that I've lived here. I doubt there are many people who have spent as many hours as I have exploring and looking through all the various tunnels and swimthroughs all around Saipan. Once I discovered underwater digital photography it took my diving to an all new level excitement-wise. I was able to bring my dives back and let other people enjoy them as well through pictures and video. Anyone who knows anything about me at all realizes that my real interest and passion in life lies underwater. I just can't get enough of it, and love sharing it with as many people as I can. That is the main thing that finally led me to a realization, that is how I want to spend the rest of my life. Not entertaining, educating and pissing people off on the air every day, but teaching them to dive and showing them the wonders of what lies beneath the surface of the water.

I got certified to dive back in the mid-70's through the YMCA. Back then, there was one certification course, and they taught you a lot and made sure you knew what you were doing. But there weren't all these other level of dive certifications. So for years and years I refused to get any of the further certifications, believing that I really didn't need them, I had been diving far longer than most of the people teaching the courses, so I made it a point of honor to only be an Open Water certified diver. I referred to myself occasionally as the diving dinosaur, which a few of my diving friends liked the sound of and started referring to me that way as well.

Several years ago, someone stole my wallet, which contained my old YMCA scuba certification card. That was the only thing I was really bummed about losing in the wallet. That picture of me in 1976 was priceless, long sideburns, straight hair combed over to the side, a classic mid-70's look. Whenever I would show it to anyone in a dive shop, they would always do a double take, and then say no, that wasn't me. Then I'd tell them to look at the date on it. That would be followed by something like, wow, you've been diving that long? Yes, I have. I knew I would eventually need another scuba certification card, but I also knew that the YMCA didn't keep records from that long ago. So I talked to the owner of one of the dive shops and asked him if I could just take a skills test to qualify for a PADI Open Water certification card. He just laughed at me, and said that if I wasn't qualified to dive with all the diving I do, then nobody is. I would usually get my tanks filled there 4-5 times every week. He surprised me though, when I got my card, it was for Advanced Open Water, again, he said if I'm not Advanced, then nobody is. I thanked him and proudly took possession of my new C-Card.

Recently, one of my dive buddies, who happens to be a PADI Instructor talked me into getting my Rescue and Dive Master certifications. Don't ask me how he managed to do that, I'm not even sure I know. He was a bit worried about taking on a student like me though, who has been diving longer than he has been alive. He figured I'd be a know-it-all, and wouldn't want to learn anything new. But when I decide to do something like that, I jump in with both feet and soak it all in like a sponge. That's not to say that I won't have a bunch of questions and may want some things explained to me, but in the end I will accept the new ways and adapt. I was quite surprised as I started reading through the various books at just how much I was learning, and how beneficial it was. This old dog was actually learning new tricks, and enjoying it!

As I was in the middle of the Dive Master class, I realized that I was only one certification away from becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. Here something that I had always fought against and refused to ever consider was now within reach. All of the sudden a light came on, and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I don't know exactly where, and what the specific job will look like, but I know I'm going to be a dive instructor and I will be taking people diving for the rest of my life.

Kelli has been wanting to move back somewhere closer to our son Josh and his wife Regis, because they keep threatening us with grandchildren. I figured if I moved back to Florida, about the only job I would get would be as a Wal-Mart greeter, and I just didn't see myself as being old enough for that yet. But now I realized that I could be a dive instructor and either live in southern Florida or the Carribean, do what I love and be fairly close to Josh & Regis. Sarah is moving to Alaska, there is no way I'm moving anywhere to be close to that frozen place.

The situation on Saipan lately has made the decision to leave that much easier, constant power outages, theft and crime on the rise, exorbitant electricity rates and fuel prices, the cost of food and other goods continuing to climb, many of our other friends all leaving the island, and the usual moronic and corrupt politicians. Yes, now that I had a plan, it was time to finally leave Saipan, as hard as that was going to be.

I have paid a deposit to be in the Instructor Development Course on Guam October 31 - November 13, and then I'll be a certified PADI Instructor. The plan is to come back to Saipan and work at the station for several more months saving up money, selling everything off (except dive gear of course), and then make the big move early next year. So yes, I might be crazy, but at least I'll be doing what I really love and sharing it with as many people as I can, and I'll be happy as a clam! That's where this new journey begins and the events that led up to it. So if you've always wanted to learn to dive, but were just waiting for that "special" Instructor to come along, here I am! Just let me know and let's get you certified, or if you want to further your certifications, I'll be able to certify you through Dive Master after mid-November.

I'll keep you up to date on the job hunting prospects, what it's like going through the Instructor's course and all the other adventures involved in it. And of course I'll still be telling a few dive stories while I'm still on Saipan. Let the adventures begin...