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...


Jeff said...

I understand totally. I see myself with my own dive shop and/or restaurant some day -- probably in the Philippines where Cynthia wants to be. I'll be curious to read about the transition.

Frank 'The Tank' said...

It's great to hear that you have the guts to leave everything behind and pursue your passion! It is a real inspiration to a young diver stuck in the corporate world. Maybe one day I'll have the courage to step up and do the same.

Either way, Bree and I over at A Couple Dives would love to welcome you to south Florida! Who knows, maybe one day we'll have the privilege of taking a class with the famous Harry Blalock. In the mean time, we'll definitely miss the great photos from Saipan.

Good luck with everything.

Bryan said...

Dude...love the new blog, in fact Hozumi and I are talking about starting a new one together ourselves, but in my opinion you have GOT to change the look from your old one in order to truly make a clean break...just my two cents

KelliOnSaipan said...

The new adventure begins! Love you - kel

Brad said...

Glad to see you're going to get moving again on the blog! A lot of us have been going through withdrawal. This first posting makes a lot of sense to me because it is the same kind of thinking that led Jeong-ah and I to Saipan. She really came to understand how much I wanted to make a career/lifestyle change...from living in a city with millions of people, teaching kids everyday...to diving, making dive videos and someday doing just what you said, teaching others so they can enjoy diving too!

I'm looking forward to the ICD in Guam and I'm extremely honored to get to go through it with you. It's been great doing the Rescue Diver and now the Divemaster course with someone so experienced.

Ian said...

Hi Harry - I had 3 things I wanted to say - 1. Thank you for your commentary/critque of what's been going on back home on Saipan (both on your blog and on the radio). It's really a sobering take on what's going on.

2. I find it encouraging that people like you still exist in the world, being involved in one trade and then ceasing that to pursue what you're passionate about even after so many years. Godspeed!

3. If you haven't corrected it already, I believe you spelled "paid" wrong on your blog sub-title. :)

- Ian

Ian said...

I'm an idiot and realized what "PADI" stood for and that you didn't mean "paid"! Well, I hope the latter is true too :)

scubatripp said...

Looking forward to your stories and new perspective as an instructor. Not looking forward to the fact that you and Kelli will be leaving Saipan.
I'll be shooting to get back there and in the water with you guys before you head off for the IDC / IE!


Bruce A. Bateman said...

I'm sure you will have a wonderful rest of your life, Harry. As someone who has made a few of those 180 degree turns, I can say you will be entertained by switching careers completely.

You've also picked an outstanding area to practice your art in.

Good luck to you.

Don't forget I owe you a dive on the Emerald before you go, during which you do not have to steer with your ass.