It was a lovely summer day in New York when a customer asked about local dives. “Sure,” said the shop course director, “We go to the quarry every other weekend for classes.” And I stood there thinking, “That’s not an answer to the question he asked.” What cuz was asking about was fun-dives. Just… diving. For diving’s sake.
Granted, wreck diving off the NY/NJ coast is not everyone’s idea of fun. It’s hot on the surface and cold at the bottom, seas can be rough, you have to wake up obscenely early and don’t get home until way too late, visibility is usually crap… it’s challenging. It used to be my idea of fun, but it isn’t for everyone. And that’s OK. Cave diving is my idea of fun. It’s not for everyone either. And that’s OK. The vast majority of divers are into shallow reef, single tank, back on the boat with 500psi, and home in time for sundowners. And that’s OK. It’s fun diving. “Fun diving” in that last sentence is not hyphenated; I mean “to go diving is fun.” That’s why we all started doing it in the first place, isn’t it? I want to differentiate that from “fun-diving” as a category of diving apart from “working diving” or “training diving.” It’s this point that the course director from my past was missing. Diving is fun. For him diving was a job. He seemed to enjoy going on shop-sponsored trips well enough, but even then he was very much at work. Which is good, after a manner. As a trip-leaders dive pros do have a great deal of responsibility and professionalism is important. However, I don’t know that I ever, once, heard him talking about going fun-diving. The only way you were ever going to get him in the water was by paying him to do so. This is super-weird to me. Some of the training agencies actually have written into their standards that one must do a certain number of non-training dives to stay current as an instructor. One such agency’s standard at random: 12. 12 dives. In a year. Once a month. Or one good week of diving. Doesn’t seem like a big ask. But I have heard of opposition to such an idea. I can’t imagine that old course director being able to muster such a log. Which is pretty obviously detrimental as an professional. Teachers, especially dive instructors, are frequently recognised or even revered as the absolute masters of a craft, but that isn’t exactly fair. Especially if that teacher never does the thing they’re teaching… if they only ever teach it. George Bernard Shaw said, “Those who can’t do, teach,” but that isn’t fair either. To teach a thing and to do a thing are different things. Different activities with different skill-sets. Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen are not names generally known outside the theatre world, but inside that world they are deified (or demonised) as some of the greatest instructors of all time. Everyone on planet Earth knows about Meryl Streep or Al Pacino, but those two didn’t come from a vacuum, someone taught them how to tap into their talents. You ever see an interview with Marlon Brando? Widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in history; but was utterly unable to relate to another human being in even the simplest way… to the point of maliciously teasing anyone and everyone he ever spoke to. One can hardly imagine such a person being an effective instructor at anything. I know some outstanding divers that are not the most effective instructors. Perhaps it’s been so long since they’ve been a student that they don’t remember what it’s like and find it hard to empathise with the people in their class. Perhaps everything all just makes so much sense to them that they find it hard to communicate with people for whom it doesn’t come as naturally. Perhaps the things they teach aren’t really the best practices for everyone. Perhaps they’re just dicks. In any case, while they move like poetry in the water, their students might leave class not having learned much. Conversely I know some absolutely terrific instructors that are sometimes challenged as divers. Perhaps they don’t get to push their own limits as frequently as they’d like to. Perhaps they get so used to being in charge and apart from the team they’re teaching that their own team-work gets lax. Perhaps they get so comfortable with their training sites that they forget that more advanced sites require a little more respect. In any case, while their students leave classes ultra-prepared to a very precise level, the instructor might get their ass handed to them as a diver from time to time. Obviously, lamentably, there are those folks that aren’t terribly good at either. I don’t want to dwell on these. But what puts me in a much better mood is that there are plenty of folks that are marvellous at both. These last folks, the ones who are both excellent divers and excellent instructors share a a common trait. Continued and varied passion for the sport of diving. When you care about the activity itself, about the environments where we dive, about the community we’re all a part of, and about the simple freedom, tranquility, and sense of awe that we all fell in love with about being underwater in the first place… those passions translate. When you’re excited about a thing you try to be good at it and you can nurture and guide excitement in others about it. When this passion is focused into deliberate practice: a person can get very good at it. When focused into structured presentation: a person can get very good at teaching. Two sides of the same coin.
While one or the other side of our hypothetical coin can be much shinier, without both sides you don’t have a coin. You’ve got… I dunno… a small, round metal picture of a long-dead slaveowner? And that isn’t much use to anyone. excellent diver ≠ excellent instructor
excellent instructor ≠ excellent diver To master either you need to be damn good at the other. But it seems sort of obvious to say that to master both you need to excel at both. A few months ago I wrote about how it took me 9 years to get my first 100 cave dives. I was working as a full-time dive instructor for much of that time… but not cave diving.
I was a good recreational instructor; I was doing that a lot. I was a good blue-water deco diver; I was doing that a lot. I loved cave diving; I didn’t get to do it a lot. So I was only as good at it as someone who didn’t get to do it a lot could be. I’ve done over 100 cave dives in the past two months. I’m a pretty good cave diver, better than I was because I do get to do it a lot.
But the vast majority of those have been teaching dives. Nelly and I have been very busy with only a 1/2 day off here and a 1/2 day off there. (Today is such a day with one guest leaving this morning and others checking in this afternoon.) I haven’t had a full day to go fun-diving in months. Through the summer, instead, we have a whole week off here and a week off there.
I want to get my CCR way back into the cave. I want to swat the cobwebs off my scooters.
I want to go out to the ocean and do some deep, wall dives on trimix. I want to push my personal limits as a diver. I want to make sure that my abilities to do things well-beyond what I’m teaching others to do stays sharp and fresh. And fun. Hell… I want to go out to the ocean with a single AL80 on my back, putter around watching secretary bennies, and be back on the boat with 500psi. I want to just be a diver.
I intend to fun-dive a LOT. If the those patches in the calendar fill up with guests I’m not going to be heartbroken about it. I love working and I love showing people the things and places I get to show them. But I don’t ever want to be one of those people like that course director. I don’t want to struggle to come up with 12 non-training dives. I don’t ever want diving to become “just a job.” I dropped out of the rat race to do a thing I love to do and to share that love with a community of like-minded misfits. I never wanted to be the Brando of diving, worshipped as the greatest of all time. Nor do I want to be Stanislavski, redefining the world and shaping acolytes of Method Diving. I want to be good at my job, which is to make sure the people who come to XOC-Ha enjoy their time here. I want stay both a capable diver and an efficient instructor, to refine both of those different, but codependent skill-sets. But, most of all, I want to go diving. Because it’s fun.