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...