Nelly tells a story from Roatan where, on her daily boat, there was one of THOSE divers.
“DIVE CADDY!” they’d continually call all week.
For reasons that could vary from, “I’d like my hot towel and my daiquiri now,” to “I dropped my weight pocket to the bottom again,” to “I am currently drowning and far too incompetent for self-rescue.”
To risk stereotyping: this was a person who truly loved diving. No one who goes to Roatan does so without truly loving diving. Probably tries to sort out how to tell people that they are a scuba diver at dinner parties. Reads the print periodicals religiously. Has all their own gear, which the sales-clerk at the shop they like explained was all the very best kit. Makes sure they always follow the procedures that they were taught during their OW or AOW or whatever. Plans most travel and vacation time around where the reefs are. A diver; they were a diver.
This as opposed to what I think of as “A Cert;” someone who was just certified to dive at one point, but has barely dived since and almost never thinks about diving.
I’ve never been called a dive caddy. But I’ve damn sure been treated like one.
Why bring it up now? There is very little that gets me spinning my metaphorical wheels in the personal aggravation mud in my head than when I get treated like one now.
For whatever mental image you may have of me (reportedly I’ve got something of a reputation of being all fucking preachy and self-important), I don’t think I’m a horribly egotistical person. I think of myself as a semi-intelligent ape, on a planet with another 8.5 billion semi-intelligent apes who are doing their best to make sure everything is covered in their feces.
But my ego does, indeed, get bruised on those “Dive Caddy!” occasions.
The reason I think of it is that now, at the tail-end of the busiest season of the year, I’ve been watching and hearing that sort of behaviour in parking lots for the last few months. Seeing some of the best divers in the world, people who have dedicated their lives to becoming the absolute best they can at this… being treated as The Help.
Not exclusively, but the majority of this treatment tends to come from Cavern Tour divers. And I’m sorry… but it’s fucking infuriating.
I and all the other folks who live and work here as divers know more about diving than someone visiting for a Cavern Tour does. Full. Fucking. Stop. I’m pretty sure that is reasonably beyond dispute.
But here’s the thing:
I double-majored in Literature and Religion. Useless subjects.
Got fired from my first few gigs out of college because they were in publishing and I realised I hated the publishing world pretty quickly and would just stop doing my job.
Wound up in temp work where I made my way to data networking.
I was pretty good at it… but I was still me… so I got in trouble a lot.
Finally got disillusioned with the entire corporate world. So I left.
Now I live in Mexico and teach people how to scuba dive. Which is a silly way to earn a living. But there we are.
That’s the short version of a not-particularly-impressive resume. The resume of a slacker and ne’er-do-well.
Most people who travel for diving tend to be pretty well-off. People who have lucked into or created a pretty good amount of success for themselves. From, of course, a pretty diverse scope of fields, but by and large folks tend to be white-collar professionals who are later in their careers; late enough, at least, to have good vacation time and disposable income to dive. People with, often, very impressive life resumes. People who are used to a bit of deference because of it.
I once listened to someone in an adjacent parking spot arguing with their cave instructor (one of the most well-regarded on the planet) about how they - the instructor - was wrong about their performance on that last dive and coming up with a litany of excuses about how the dive went perfectly well. When it clearly hadn’t. But this was one of those people who you just knew that boardrooms shook when they spoke… and they were getting increasingly frustrated that neither the cave nor the instructor was impressed by that.
(I can give you a peek behind the curtain in saying: It’s hard for me to think of any of my peers around here, anyway, being very impressed by your corporate success. Most of the ones I know left all that behind because they hated it, too. So… not the strongest laurels to rest on.)
That, I am certain, was a bit of an outlier. I have been very lucky, myself, that the overwhelming majority of my students - and I am guessing this is not unique to my own experience - come to class really excited to learn what’s in our heads as instructors. They’re thirsty, attentive, and enthusiastic about even criticisms. It’s a joy to teach these folks.
“DIVE CADDY!” is the very fucking opposite of that.
You know what I hear, when I myself am or when I watch one of my colleagues being treated that way?
This is the translation of that phrase or the behaviour affiliated with it.
“I neither respect you nor appreciate the work you are doing for me. I expect it, of course. In point of fact, I expected a lot more and am disappointed with only this. Without any knowledge whatsoever of any of the behind the scenes work that you do both in preparation for and sweeping up at the end of any given day or even any given dive.
“I am a better human being because I can afford to be here in this luxurious place having a luxurious vacation. You, on the other hand, are merely working here. In this third-world area, at that.”
And you want to know who I blame for that?
(I mean… other than myself… for having such a detailed dialog in my head which is completely informed by my own anxieties and neuroses.)
(And other than the lack of empathy or mutual respect that everyone always says is missing from modern society… but seems to have been thought of as some upsetting, contemporary problem since about the year 2000. BC.)
The recreational dive industry. That’s who I blame.
For continuing to spread the propaganda that diving is enough to be its own reward… to the point that 20 year old kids move to places like southeast asia or the middle of the pacific or Mexico to earn indentured servitude wages so low they can never even afford to fly home. Or sometimes eat.
For creating an environment where professionalism isn’t valued or taught beyond “Make more money for the shop and the agency.”
For reinforcing the idea that 10 dives equals “experienced” and than you can be hurled off then dragged back onboard a boat by anything with arms and that’s all diving is.
For constantly saying “Good job, Buddy!” for achieving the bare minimum of survival and allowing people to think, therefore, they’re amazing divers.
For setting up a financial structure where it is AWFULLY difficult to make a career of it with race to the bottom pricing and standards.
For the training conveyor belt that keeps dropping c-cards into people’s laps without any really comprehensively trained skills. To the point that when people “max out” at the recreational level they are allowed to think that they’re king-shit of the universe… but just as often as not, when they make the transition to “tech” they discover that they barely know a damn thing.
And for cynically thriving on one of the crummiest realities of this world: that if you’re rich people’s natural inclination is to bend over backwards for you.
There’s an odd moment I remember from NYC. Was out to dinner one night somewhere in the theatre district. It was quiet, late and the shows were running so the restaurants were empty. This older couple walked in exuding wealth. The kind of shabby old-money that doesn’t advertise itself, but imposes itself loudly enough that everyone falls in line behind it.
“Good evening, Paul,” said the older gentleman as he handed his hat and overcoat to the concierge.
“Good evening. It’s Michael, Mr. Whatevertheshit.”
“Yes, of course, Paul. Our usual table, please”
I hate that old man to this fucking day. The informality mixed with the oozing, lordly pomposity. Yick!
There’s a certain necessity to creating an informal atmosphere to diving. It’s a hobby. A “sport.” A goofy pastime. And we have cool and fun stories that are exciting to share and to hear. There is a conviviality among divers (professional and amateur alike) that isn’t shared in a field like… say… mortuary arts/sciences or hydraulic energy production.
And, when the field is filled with dropouts and misfits like me… how formal do you really expect?
We’re lucky - from either the professional or the client side - that we get to enjoy that sort of engagement. I thank the stars every day that this is my life.
But there are limits, man.
I shudder to think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the years upon frustrating years I’ve spent getting to know that shit I know. We bought an entire house as dive gear, for crissake. Which, it must be added, that long-earned understanding is STILL a wildly incomplete picture of what diving is.
So, yeah, I get real touchy when people treat me or my colleagues like The Help. Especially, when the help that we’re desperately trying to provide and desperately trying to look like we’re having fun while we’re doing it is help keeping you alive and safe.
I am not suggesting that the word of some 20 year old DM in the Red Sea is absolutely infallible.
I am certainly not suggesting that MY words are infallible. I’m an idiot.
But I’m an idiot who knows an awful lot about diving. So when I suggest that you move your weights, or change a piece of gear, or move your body in a certain way, or that you practice this that or the other thing… I’m not doing it because I like the sound of my own voice.
(In point of fact, I hate the sound of my own voice. Which is probably why I like writing more than I like actual interpersonal contact.)
To that end: maybe listen a little? Maybe try to encourage, when and where you can think of it or the opportunity presents itself, an environment of listening and respect for the professionals who have been tasked with the safety of sometimes a dozen people at a time.
Nudge that insta-buddy on the boat who is fussing with their gear into really listening to the dive briefing. Suggest talking to the DM openly about things like an incident or near-miss. Treat even that 20 year old with a little bit of seniority and respect that, maybe, they can grow into it. If you ever hear anyone call the DM “Dive Caddy” get the entirety of the resort together to wrap complimentary soaps into hand-towels and beat them with these makeshift cudgels in the dead of night. I’m not your dad; I can’t tell you exactly what to do. Get creative with your efforts to positively benefit the community.
Yeah, we’re freaks and rejects. But we generally know what we’re talking about.