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!


Mike said...

You were a great DM candidate and you'll make an awesome instructor, I'm sure!

My only regret is that you're going to be an instructor, and I won't be able to use your DM services. You sure you don't want to stay a DM for a year or so? I hear the IDC/IE is HORRIBLE!!! :)

Seriously, I'm sure your students will learn a lot from you (even if you waste a great deal of their time showing them stupid nudibranchs).

I look forward to reading about it here.

scubatripp said...

Congrats Harry!

No discussion about the swim exercises and the physical stuff! How did that go!

Also, I hear some PADI instructors are not up to speed on how to dry off a dust cap after a dive. I hope you've discovered what not to do!

Who are you doing your IDC with?


Harry Blalock said...

Thanks for the congratulations Mike. There were certain things that were deleted from my original post at the request of someone we both know and love. I found out after the fact that there were a few extras thrown in just for the benefit of me. I don't blame him, I'd have probably done the same thing to me. The point is I did pass it all, and didn't break in the process. And yes, I learned a few things that I'll be incorporating into my teaching as a result.

I have watched him instruct all students to blast air into their dust cap in honor of Mr. Tripp after every dive. I thought he was paying tribute to you or something.

And I'm supposed to be doing the IDC with Brad Derksen, providing he gets done with his DM in time, and then gets all his pre-work and reading done for the IDC.

It's definitely been a fun and interesting journey so far. However I'm really looking forward to your return and getting in the water with you!

Dennis said...

Hey congratulations Harry!

If you need help with your students let me know. I would love to tag along just for the personal tune-up. Having been not very active in teaching, it would be nice to see some fresh, new learning in action. I can still tow a dive flag pretty well!

Also I'm curious about this "dust cap" thing. I abandoned the crappy way I was taught and came up with my own system...I could be wrong!


Mike said...

I think Mr. Trip meant who would be your Course Director for your IDC.

Larry K. in Guam, I think.

And yes, I taught all my students how to use leftover tank air to properly dry a dust cap. It was the least I could do!