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What it's like to be a technical diving instructor

June 25, 2014, 10:57 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 2176

By kareezafelarca

Technical diving is the apex of scuba diving. It includes decompression diving and penetration into 'overhead environments' such as inside shipwrecks or cave exploration.  In all cases, the diver does not have direct access to the surface if there is an emergency. They have to prepare for and deal with whatever problems that would arise. There is also the use of more exotic breathing gasses; including mixtures of pure oxygen and helium, which present life-threatening dangers to the diver if used incorrectly. Such dives require far more extensive equipment, detailed planning and complex procedures than normal 'recreational' diving.  

Technical diving has been a strong passion for Andy Davis, a technical diver originally from the UK. He spent much of his childhood living abroad including West Africa and the USA. He has studied History and joined the Royal Air Force as an officer after finishing his schooling.  

He enjoys teaching and public speaking. It was something that he has been involved with since he was young. At college, he ran a martial arts club and taught Jiu-Jitsu. He wrote and provided many varied professional training courses during his military career also.

Andy has always suffered from 'wanderlust'. He has a passion for bare-foot/backpack travel, new cultures and exploration. He remembers having dreams of being underwater when he was very young. The sort of dream where he was swimming around on the bottom of a river and would suddenly realize "Hey, I can breath here!".
He guesses it was a premonition that scuba diving was something he would enjoy.  He has always been a water-baby, swimming his first mile when he was 11 years old, and playing in the big waves or snorkeling on coral reef when he lived in Africa as a young boy.  

His first introduction to scuba diving came when he was studying in college. When visiting an aquarium with some friends, and meeting the guy responsible for feeding the sharks, they were told that if they qualified as scuba divers, then they could return and dive in the shark tank.

“That appealed to me so much that I enrolled on a scuba class the very next week. I never got the chance to actually return to that aquarium; but I never stopped diving...and I've seen many sharks in their natural environment by now”, he said.

Andy has been qualified through several scuba-training agencies to teach diving at different levels. As a technical diving instructor, Andy develop divers towards a highly refined way of diving, using very complex equipment to survive in dangerous circumstances. He now specializes in teaching technical wreck diving -- the use of advanced decompression techniques to reach shipwrecks far below typical diver depths, coupled with extensive skills for safely entering the cramped, pitch-black spaces deep inside sunken wrecks.

Andy believes that teaching at this level requires extensive personal experience, and the ability to communicate the lessons learned from that experience to his students. He knows that there is also a need to provide psychological development as the risks and challenges of diving at this level require the development of a particular kind of mindset. The specialized nature of this type of diving tends to dictate a more intimate student-mentor relationship than more mainstream recreational scuba courses do.

“As an instructor, you start off teaching basic introductory qualification courses; such as the 'Open Water' course.  You can then progress into more specialized areas; like wreck diving or underwater photography. The scuba agencies provide the course syllabus and directions on how to conduct it. Each course consists of various elements of theory/classroom work, skill development in a swimming pool and actual training dives.Teaching scuba is about helping people overcome challenges, gain confidence and develop new skills. You have to do that whilst retaining student safety through the application of meticulous standards and risk management. Inter-personal skills, leadership and empathy are important”, he said.

Andy’s interest in history complements his diving. He conducts explorations for undiscovered sunken ships and aircraft, which lead to historical research for identification. He enjoys the challenge of discovering the story behind the wrecks he finds underwater. He also enjoys educating himself on other complementary subjects, such as the development of theories for safer diving decompression (although the maths and physiology can be very heavy!) and diving hyperbaric medicine. He simply loves the challenge and adventure that diving offers. He believes that there aren't many endeavors in life where one can legitimately be involved in pioneering exploration; and technical diving is one of those.

Andy loves the challenge and adventure this career path offers. He explains, "There aren't many endeavors in life where you can legitimately be involved in pioneering exploration - technical diving is one of those. Mankind knows more about the surface of the moon than it does about the bottom of the oceans. Technical diving is also developing rapidly in technology; new techniques, equipment and procedures are evolving at a rapid pace. It can be exhilarating to be involved in a community that is pushing the cutting-edge in its field."

He further adds, "The cost and commitment required is immense.  Technical diving equipment and training is far from cheap - so equipping myself and furthering my own training accounts for a disproportionate amount of my finances.  On a (relatively meager) dive instructor's income, this has meant sacrificing luxuries that most people feel they couldn't live without.

"Given the specialized nature of the diving I teach, each course brings the challenge of identifying an individual diver's strengths, weaknesses and learning preferences.I have to approach each course and each diver as a unique challenge and use my experience to sculpt the most efficient and effective solution for each diver's individual needs. In that respect, it differs greatly from more basic scuba instruction, which tends to be quite 'off-the-shelf' in approach. Some technical diving students struggle with the sheer volume or complexity of new skills to be learned - a physical development challenge.  Others require more focus on establishing an appropriate mindset; improving their attention-to-detail, increasing confidence, eliminating gung-ho tendencies.  It takes a lot of patience, observational skills, problem-solving ability and insight into the finished product that I am trying to create with the training."

Andy has volumes of unforgettable and priceless experiences as a diver. If that weren't the case, he doubts whether he would have sustained the motivation to persist in a career that demands so many personal sacrifices. He can remember vividly his first glimpses of a lost shipwreck that no one had set eyes upon since it had sank beneath the waves; or the breathtaking encounters with spectacular marine life, such as sharks, manta rays or dolphins. Those experiences have become addictive to Andy and he would find it very hard to return to a "normal" career now, even if he is sometimes envious of the financial income he feels it would offer him.

Sharing some final thoughts, Andy explains, "Diving is not something that one should rush into because the commitment needed is huge. Take each step slowly, be patient and be sure to honestly assess your motivation along the way. Many dive instructors leave the diving industry within a few years of starting; often due to financial or lifestyle pressures. Those who succeed in the long-term usually do so by finding a particular niche interest that fuels their motivation. In my case, it was shipwreck exploration and technical diving.  For others, it might be underwater still photography, documentary filmmaking or an interest in studying marine ecosystems. The common denominator amongst all long-term diving instructors is an unbridled love of the oceans and what lies beneath them. That passion sustains them whenever times get hard...and they undoubtedly will at times. Specifically in regards to technical diving, it's important to learn from the best.  I was lucky in that respect and have enjoyed mentoring from some of the leading divers in the global technical diving community. Research and commit to gaining world-class instruction and be prepared to travel extensively to receive it. Always keep your ego under control, retain an open-mind and never forget that there is always more to learn”.

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