Welcome to Arizona Diver Magazine!
How To Choose a Scuba Instructor
By John Flanders, Instructor
I've been diving for over 20 years and while I've thought about that question (how to choose an instructor?), I don't think I've really come up with an answer. I think the answer to that question is a derivative from the answer of "what makes a great diver" or "how do you know a good diver from a bad diver". Obviously, a great instructor turns out great divers! Then the selection process begins.
Stepping out of Scuba for a minute, I thought I would draw a comparison to golfing. While I enjoy golfing, I am certainly not a great golfer. Why? I know how to play. I have most of the knowledge to make it from tee number one to hole number eighteen. I've taken lessons from a professional. This is the list I came up with:
1. Passion: My passion lies in other places. Most of my spare time is spent Scuba Diving or teaching Scuba. Between my family and other occupation, that leaves very little time for anything else. Thus, golf becomes a distraction or social event more than something I am passionate about doing. I know, like most people, passionate golfers. They are crazily obsessed And, when they meet another passionate golfer, it’s like they have known each other forever. I often wonder if that is how outsiders (to Scuba) perceive Scuba Divers hanging out at our shop. Without passion, you can never really be great at whatever you’re doing.
2. Dedication: Would I go golfing in terrible conditions? Would I blow off a business meeting to go golfing? Do I dedicate myself to going out weekly (or more often) to hone my skills? Do I dedicate funds to upgrade my equipment and education? Do I dedicate much of my free time to read (books, magazines, and Internet) about theories, concepts and new trends in golfing? No. Without dedication to something I am passionate about, I can never attain a level of true mastery. I can never be a great golfer.
3. Training: Above I discussed dedicating myself to honing skills. This is a huge part to becoming a great diver. Not only practicing skills, but immersing yourself in the theory behind the skills as well. It’s one thing to know how to take a mask off and put it back on; however it is completely different when you put mask removal into a real world scenario. e.g., a mask coming off in the ocean is usually preceded by a kick in the face (or a leak). Getting back to golf, great and passionate golfers head out to the driving range religiously. During lunch, before or after work, on the weekends. Most golfers spend more time on the driving range than actually on the golf course. Do Scuba Divers spend more time running skills and drills than actually Scuba Diving? Would Tiger Woods be a great golfer if he didn’t continue training on a driving range? Why does Tiger Woods (arguably one of the greatest golfers ever) have a coach? Should we as divers find our mentor, our coach, to help smooth out our rough edges, just like Tiger? Yes.
4. Experience: I was having a late dinner after class last night talking with another instructor. We were talking about the proverbial “advanced diver” who hasn’t dove in ten years. Would that same person be considered an advanced golfer if he hasn’t golfed in ten years? If a golfer never played more than 1 or 2 places, would he be considered an advanced golfer? To truly bring your level of expertise up, you need to experience a vast number of environments and do it frequently. Breadth of experience on a frequent basis is the sign of a great diver.
Back to Scuba!
Above are four (of many) key elements that lead to becoming a great diver. So, how do we translate this into identifying a good instructor versus a bad instructor?
First off, you are hiring someone to train you to become a Scuba diver. Thus, doing a little due diligence or interviewing is a good idea. If you are not comfortable with a person during the “interview” process, then you probably won’t be comfortable with them in a learning environment. One of the ways that I get comfortable with new divers is to do a Discover Scuba with them. Low investment for the customer (around $20) and a good way to get to know each other before investing time and money in a full blow class.
Part of the interview process is to get to know if the Instructor is a great diver. Use the four attributes listed above and whatever list you generate to determine that. Ask questions, like where have you dove? Where was the last place you went fun diving? How often does your instructor take courses (to learn new skills)? Just because he’s an instructor doesn’t mean he should stop learning. Have him/her talk about his/her mentors/role models. Talk about what makes him passionate about Scuba. Talk about equipment. How much does he own? How often does he upgrade his equipment? Would you trust a computer technician if he came to fix your computer and you found out he was still using Windows 95? You’re taking an open water class, what does he see as valuable components to that class? What does he expect his students to take out of that class? When he answers you, does he just talk about skill mechanics or does he bring it into the real world? You can guess what the right answer is here. Can you talk to one of his other students (friends who dive are great sources for finding great instructors)? What are his thoughts on advanced education? Most importantly, follow up with the question why. If he gives you a sales pitch and doesn’t have value sets behind the statement, then he really doesn’t have any thoughts on advanced education … just the party line.
Another thing you have to think about is how you plan on diving. Do you want to get into Photography, Wrecks, Caves, Cold Water Diving in San Diego, or maybe even a naturalist/environmental bend? Does this instructor have the skill sets to train you in the style of diving you want to pursue?
What I am really describing is someone who is a role model, a mentor, a trainer, and a good dive buddy. An instructor who can help you attain the level of diving you desire. An instructor who ‘lives the dive life’. An instructor who solidly advocates ongoing involvement and interest in your dive career (whatever that looks like).
When you find that instructor, stick to him like glue. Refer your friends and family.
On a separate note: I am a huge advocate for continuing education. It exposes divers to new skills, environments, and other divers. But most importantly, it keeps them learning, in the water and passionate about the sport. However, your instruction is only as good as (1) the effort you put into the education, (2) the instructor who is passionate about digging deep into the curriculum for that specialty.
Lastly, the shop in which you train is almost as important as the instructor. I said almost. I find the atmosphere of the shop emulates its instructor base and people who dive with them. Personally, I like a shop with character. When you walk in, you feel more like family than a customer. A shop that smells like a dive shop (figuratively). A shop where you can walk in and know any question is going to get answered by any of the staff. A shop where it’s more of experience than a shopping trip. Scuba is a recreation, a break from reality, a place where you go to escape. A shop doesn’t look like WalMart. It’s got flavor. Of course, you want a shop that suits your personality. If you are someone who is extroverted, you want a shop with some flair. Although, be careful you don’t sacrifice substance for socializing. If you are someone who is more reserved or introverted, you probably want a quieter shop with less flash but plenty of substance.
The good news is there are lots of shops in town and each is very good in its own way. This many shops also provide a lot of diversity and a true menu from which to select.
My two cents: Hope this helps.