Wednesday, June 29, 2016

NAUI, Sources, Editor's Letter: Teaching Scuba Diving Today (My Feedback)

Dear Peter,

Great editorial, Teaching Scuba Diving Today, in the Second Quarter 2016 issue of Sources. It seems that there are a lot of commonalities that NAUI and I continue to share. Please feel free to post a response in the magazine as well as edit it as appropriate if needed. I don't require a response.

Ah... The "good old days." Well, for me, my good old day was ten years ago June 25, 2006. I started as a PADI diver and quickly moved to SSI after experiencing my share of putting another dollar in. Today, I joke, "Who is this 'Patty' everyone keeps talking about," but most don't get it. SSI worked pretty well for me, even becoming an Advanced Open Water Instructor in 2008. I didn't teach a lot in the beginning, but I learned a lot. My interest migrated into technical diving with Advanced Nitrox, Decompression Procedures, Trimix, and Cave Diving with trips all over the USA, Mexico, Australia, Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, and Truk Lagoon. I really think those days were better in some ways. Each specialty was at least a couple of hours long, there was educational material that was decent, SSI promoted owning one's equipment (I'm sure a hold over from NASDS), and they dove -- 24 dives for an Advanced rating and 50 dives for Master Diver. It is a little frustrating seeing Advanced Divers with as little as 9 dives, but there is a lot to say for successful marketing. Nonetheless, in 2013, after 2 years working full-time in an SSI store, I quit and sought after teaching on my own. With $2,500 in my pocket, I looked for a PADI Course Director to take my money and it never happened. Something is definitely wrong with a business if they won't take your money. Since I had been teaching since for five years and had over a couple hundred certifications under my belt, it would have been easy money. Lucky for me, no call back found me seeking an alternative so I can teach independently. I found NAUI, and got a call back from Jim Larsen the very next day! Thank you, Jim!

My TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures Instructor is Doug Lynch. My TDI Trimix Instructor is Joel Silverstein. My NSS-CDS Full Cave Instructor is Michael O'Leary. My NAUI Course Director is Jim Larsen. My TDI Instructor Trainer is Craig Willemsen. The only was I could remember who my PADI Instructor was is by looking at the card! I heard this a long time ago. It probably was Joel that told me that if I couldn't remember my instructor's names that either I didn't learn anything or my impression of them was very low. I'd have to agree. I've met a lot of instructors along the way, too. Most it seems can't remember their students, so perhaps it runs both ways. It seems that most of them have had varied experiences, but open water scuba divers (those that are still diving, anyway) are hard-pressed to remember who taught them their basic skills -- the basic skills that keep new divers from hurting themselves or dying in the process.

It seems that with the ease of online education, the instructors would spend more time getting to know their students in the pool and in the open water. Alas, this is not the case. "Dip-em-and-ship-'em" certification course is a great description of the problem. Personally, all my students can choose from any of the educational materials (hardcopy book, DVD, online education, or all of it) but I then review everything with them -- every chapter. I've found that if a student can find a way to get out of learning or squeaking by, they'll do it. Surprisingly, I just had my first student that took and completed scuba diver, nitrox diver, drysuit diver, deep diver, and did 10 dives over 4 days (two dives being on a local dive boat, dive #5 and #6)! I was extremely proud of her. I don't like multiple choice test as it fosters guessing, so all my tests are turned into "fill-in-the-blank." I describe it to the student as, "Who wants to dive with a buddy that missed 20% of the questions?" I've had no disgruntled students, not to mention, parents' anxiety about their children are almost eliminated because I want understanding and comprehension before pool and ocean.

Additionally, you mentioned teaching for the "lowest common denominator." I use this same phrase. I just won't do it. I describe a group class of 8 as 2 that need all the instructor's attention, 2 that are incredibly skilled and don't get the instructor's attention, and 4 that are acceptable. I don't believe that a student will master their skills in the pool, but they will be adequate. Mastery takes time, practice, patience, trial and error. The industry would fall apart if we reverted to 6 month courses. I describe the 2 that are incredibly skilled as actually needing more attention because they will be the divers that sign up for additional training -- my goal...!!! The 4 that are adequate get by, but why would I take 50% of the class and cut their training short because of 2 struggling students. In reality, 75% of a group of 8 get less than complete or above average training and that is totally unacceptable. I am a private and independent scuba diving instructor. I don't own a dive shop and never will. I teach one or two students at a time, only have one or two in the pool at a time, and only dive with one or two at a time. After 10 years of banking, I can see that the way to build a successful dive shop is with successful divers, not by selling products. In my opinion, selling equipment should be secondary. My revenue has doubled every years being on my own and it comes from building a community, not from what walks in the front door or by profit margins.

I realize that selling equipment keeps the lights on and there is nothing wrong with that, but all anyone has to do is look at online reviews from dive shops and look at mine, and there is no comparison. I just never knew that building a community was the answer to the dive industry's woes, but then I hear old-timers talking about the good old days when it took months to get certified, divers learned slowly, more was expected from them, and they dove a lot. Wait...  that's a community...!!! LOL.

All joking aside, diving has been a catalyst in my life changing my direction, attitude, life goals, and relationships. It isn't a sport to me, it's a lifestyle, it's a commitment. I would trust every single one of my students to scuba dive with the people I love.


Juan Carlos Aguilar, NAUI Instructor #55887

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