Guest Blogger: Introducing Alexandra Dimitriou

Alexandra Dimitriou selfieAlexandra Dimitriou is a dive center owner in Agia Napa, Cyprus. She became a diver in 1992 and received her bachelor’s degree in Oceanography at Plymouth University in 2003. Her love of the ocean has always been her driving force, and this has led to the natural progression of becoming a diving instructor in 2005. She is currently a PADI staff instructor and owner at Scuba Monkey Ltd and will be writing a series of guest blogs for PADI Europe, Middle East and Africa.

So, how did she get where she is today? Where does she want to go tomorrow? We caught up with Alexandra Dimitriou for the low-down…..

How did I become who I am today?

I am a “BBC” – a British Born Cypriot, but I grew up in Cyprus. I was lucky enough to have a childhood full of sea, sun and schooling. I could swim before I could walk and scuba diving was always going to be my future. My father was a scuba instructor for the British Sub Aqua Club and he was crazy about diving (he still is). He had a tiny compressor in our garage, and he painstakingly filled the tanks for his friends, as well as himself, all week in preparation for the weekend. The noise from this little machine used to drive my mother crazy, it took hours to fill just a few tanks, and the not-so low hum of this air pumping miracle became the soundtrack to my childhood.

I was always a strong swimmer and I can’t remember ever being chased around with water wings or other buoyancy aids by my mother. My father taught my brother David and I how to snorkel early so we could follow his bubbles while him and his group were diving. We would follow their bubbles as long as we could and often our jaws would ache from stretching our mouths wide enough to accommodate the mouthpiece (no kids’ sizes back then). We would help him and his friends get ready, and those moments were what I lived for every summer.

Under the BSAC umbrella, we were unable to become divers until we were 15 years old. I couldn’t wait that long. I just couldn’t. My father was good friends with a local PADI Instructor and he took me to his Dive Center in the Golden Coast Hotel one summer.Costas was my hero after that day. He put me through the PADI Open Water Diver course after I spent the summer helping them with anything that they would allow me to: coffee, floor sweeping, wetsuit washing – anything! I was twelve years old when I became a scuba diver. It was a milestone that has dictated my life ever since.

Catching the “SCUBA-bug”

I “worked” at the dive center every summer after that. I was rewarded every year with a new course and my enthusiasm grew exponentially. I was living in the UK by this time, for education, but I would return home every six weeks. I went diving whenever I could, but I did not put a toe in the colder British waters until I went to university in Plymouth. I graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in oceanography in 2003. My favourite modules were the underwater surveying ones. My diving experience secured me a spot on a work experience trip to Mexico, where we were counting sea lion pups for 3 weeks while camping in the desert. I still remember how these beautiful creatures moved underwater. Sea lion pups would often play “chicken” with you – swimming with a scary speed on what looked like a collision course before turning at the last possible second. They were training how to hunt. They were having fun. I was terrified for the first week, but by the time I was finished didn’t want to go home. Ever.

From Scuba Enthusiast to Scuba Professional

Alexandra DimitriouI did not become a PADI Divemaster until 2005 as I went sailing for a year after I graduated. I remember thinking that I wanted to take the first step on the professional ladder in dive conditions that were far from perfect. Plymouth waters were cold, and dry suits made me feel like an astronaut, but I loved it. My father thought I was crazy, but I assured him that I wanted to have more experience in low-visibility waters to prepare me for less than ideal conditions when working in regions outside of the Mediterranean.

I worked as a Divemaster in Ayia Napa Cyprus over the summer of 2005 with Lucky Divers. I received no payment, instead working in exchange for training in the form of the end of season PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC). I was one of 25 candidates, a huge group by today’s standards. We worked hard, we learned and we practiced until we were ready for the PADI Instructor Exam (IE) in October 2005. We were having fun, more fun than I have ever had. The Course Director and 7 IDC staff members definitely put us through our paces, often drilling us so hard that I remember dreaming about positive reinforcements, mask clearing and worries about failing to hover in front of the examiner. My worries were unfounded, just as I was assured of, and I became a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor on Halloween, 2005. It was life changing.

The freedom of being an instructor

As an instructor I could now travel freely, funding myself while on the move without the need to go home and recharge the bank account. I worked in Cyprus, Thailand, Australia and Mexico; exploring each region in detail, unrestricted by time. I settled into every walk of life. I met people from every corner of the globe. It broke my heart to move on most times, but wanderlust is often strong within diving instructors and I was no exception. I must have done something right, however, as I have students who follow me to whereever I am when they want to take their next course.

Taking the Leap from Instructor to Dive Center Owner

I decided to become a dive center owner in 2011. I flew to Dusseldorf, Germany and went to Boot – the Disneyland for divers. I fell in love at Boot – with the L&W 450es compressor! I started choosing my dream equipment. I started visualizing my dream location. Everything was going well. We chose the hotel and had meetings for tour operator contracts set up for the spring of 2011.

I worked one more season as an employee in Cyprus in the summer of 2011, ever watching for the ideal location for my own school. I found it. I rented it. I found a concept coordinator who made my dreams an affordable reality. I gathered quotes for equipment. I formulated my profit and loss spreadsheets. I bought my beloved compressor. I gave it a name and Scuba Monkey Ltd opened its doors in May 2013. It was a proud moment.

Where I am now

We overcame the obstacles that any start-up business encounters. The move from instructor to dive center owner has been a steep learning curve, but I love it. It challenges me every single day and I cannot see my love of diving ever becoming mundane. I am hugely involved in all sides of the business and do most of the diving myself. Yes, I could delegate the water work to my team, but where is the fun in that? If I don’t dive at least once a day I become miserable. I was addicted to scuba from the first inhalation and I will continue as long as I am able. If I ever hang up my fins for good I will shut my doors forever. I will never get tired of it. Diving is my life and always will be.

Plans for the Future: Where do I want to go tomorrow?

Scuba MonkeyMy dream for tomorrow is growth: Growth for myself as a diver by learning new disciplines like sidemount, and growth for my business by offering an ever expanding menu of possibilities. I’m am extremely excited about the new digital learning options that PADI have been developing and releasing recently. The PADI Open Water Touch is a beautiful thing. You will fall in love with learning all over again with the first fluid finger swipe across your tablet, and the planet will thank you for choosing this paper-free alternative.

My five year plan for Scuba Monkey is to keep offering quality, not quantity….and growing slowly until I reach the criteria I need to qualify for all-desirable PADI 5* Status. I know I will get there, and if your dream is like mine – to open your own center – then you will too!

Pro Diaries: Interview with PADI Course Director, Ulf Mayer (by Christian Hubo)

 Author: Christan Hubo – Feel4Nature

As a PADI Course Director Ulf has already reached the highest career level of a PADI Instructor. In this interview Christian Hubo finds out about the typical day of a diving professional.

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1. When did you start diving and why?

I started in the 90s. I was on holiday in Egypt and tired of hanging around on the beach and in the hotels. Suddenly someone asked “Would you like to do a try dive in the pool?“

So we did a very nice try dive, and I started my PADI Open Water Diver course the next day. For me it was the beginning of a new passion: from that day on every holiday was a dive trip. I started to dive in Germany and did a lot more training – up to the Divemaster course. As a PADI Divemaster I started to help out in a local dive shop and it was there that the idea of becoming an instructor was born.

2. Did you think about turning scuba diving into a career from the beginning?

No. But after my very first open water dive I was brainstorming with my girlfriend about how we could combine diving with our jobs. We were not even considering becoming instructors –we were just impressed by this incredible experience. In those days I worked as a strategic planner in an advertising agency and she was a trainer for communication skills. In fact we were thinking about things I offer today: a combination of team training on one hand and diving topics on the other.

3. Why did you decide to open your own diving school in Essen and how did you find the experience?

To be honest, I never set out to open a dive center in Essen. It just happened. All I wanted was to dive and to get away from my former job as a manager in the advertising industry. And suddenly from nowhere we had our own dive center, and guess what: it was a successful operation! We became a PADI Five Star facility in the shortest possible period of time and we had hundreds of students to teach to scuba dive.

If you were to ask if I would do it again… I don’t think so. Too much retail, too many competitors, not so much good diving. Essen is perfect for running IDCs. We have an airport nearby and course logistics are great. But In my opinion diving is a lifestyle – and to live that kind of lifestyle in a dive center somewhere in the middle of Germany is not an easy thing to do. I only know a very few people who can… my friend Frank from “Franks Dive Center“ in Mülheim is such a diving enthusiast.

4. Why did you decide to go to Thailand and open a Dive Center there?

Well… the original plan was to go to Tanzania and help build the “Beach Crab Resort“. The visa stamp was already in my passport and we’d already celebrated our farewell party with friends. But then I got a phone call from a friend of mine in Thailand saying that the former PADI AP Regional Manager, Rick Ray, was looking for staff for a brand new dive center in a high class resort on a wonderful Island of Phuket – Koh Racha Yai.

I already had strong links to Thailand; I’d worked there as an IDC Staff Instructor for a couple of months every year. So it took only a few emails – and three weeks after the first call I was on a plane to Bangkok.Looking back it was the right decision: years later I saw on a TV documentary that they still had no electricity in the resort in Tanzania – I do not think that this place would be the right place for me.

The dive center on Koh Racha Yai was the dream of every dive professional: top location, top dive sites, very good customer base from all over the world – everything your heart desires.

But, on the 26th December 2004 the Tsunami destroyed everything: the hotel, the dive center – even the dive site in front. But life goes on. I had to restart, and opened a new dive center on the island of Phuket. And there I got the great opportunity to work with some very good Course Directors and learned a lot about teaching other instructors and the dive business. Finally I went to Kota Kinabalu and became a Course Director myself.

5. How was your time in Thailand as a dive center owner? 

You get a different view on a country and its people once you live and work there. The typical friendly and positive attitude the Thais have towards tourists changes a lot once you are an expat and you sometimes have to deal with a level of bureaucracy. On the other hand I met beautiful people there and had a chance to experience real friendship – even after the Tsunami when everything was a mess. We had to fight for our living and had a lot of relief projects to work with as well. We rebuilt dive spots as well as helping fishermen to rebuild their villages and lives.

Looking back I was really lucky to work in a wonderful country, with a lot of wonderful people in an almost perfect surrounding for diving. In the end it was a lifetime experience I will always remember!

6. Over the years youve stayed loyal to PADI as your organization. What do you like about PADI and what do you think could be different?

In every IDC I tell my candidates that PADI stands for “Professional Association…“ not for “Perfect Association…“. Nobody is perfect. But I think PADI is quite close!

In fact for a student diver the certification agency doesn`t play a role at all. For the student, the instructor, their attitude and their teaching skills is what matters the most. But for a professional things are different. A professional needs an organisation with top support and with an outstanding educational system.

PADI is still the leading organisation in the dive industry – and in all those years I couldn`t see anything better for me.

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7. As a PADI Course Director youve trained many instructors in recent years. Do you believe that you really can still make money in an instructors job?

I believe that you can make money with everything you really love to do.

But as a dive instructor you need more than good training and a professional attitude: You have to be ready to go to where the customers are! If you try to make your living as a PADI Instructor somewhere inland far away from attractive dive sites and a good infrastructure for divers you will face a lot of problems.

And of course you need to stay up to date. If you don’t know anything about the trends and news in the industry you will not be seen as a real professional.

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8. Many divers dream to travel the world as an instructor with the cliché “work where others are on vacation” – do you think that is realistic and achievable? 

Absolutely! But you have to be aware that the focus is on “work“ not on “holiday“. If you keep that in mind then there are many options for a PADI Instructor to work in the most beautiful places on earth.

9. What are the requirements for a diver who wants to become an instructor?

The most important thing is a passion for diving and for teaching. If you do not love to share your knowledge you won´t be a good instructor. I think a good instructor should inspire their students as well. And of course they need a solid knowledge and skills on a high level and should understand and respect the PADI Standards.

I know there is a lot of discussion about the prerequisites for becoming a PADI Instructor. 100 dives is not what we call “very experienced“. But people should not forget that these are minimum standards. And I do not think that it is the number of dives that counts.

My average candidate has about 200 dives. Most of them have a profession and working experiences and they want a twist in their lives or at least in their diving. I try to help them to achieve this!

I always tell them that following a successful IE the work starts: the new instructors have to learn how teaching and professional diving really works. I always recommend team teaching. That gives them a chance to get into the job and learn from more experienced instructors.

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10. You’ve probably stayed in contact with your IDC candidates how many would you guess work permanently in the diving industry, or even work as instructors abroad?

There’s actually many of my former candidate working as instructor, dive center manager, dive center owner or tour guides all over the globe. They are in Mexico, Thailand, Egypt, Maldives, Bali, Curacao, Gozo, Mallorca, Crete – they teach on the AIDA and run dive centers in Spain and in Germany.

I would estimate that about 30–40% of all my candidates do earn their living as a dive professional. For the rest, being a PADI Pro is a nice hobby.

11. Do you have any tips on financing – are there any possibilities of grants?

Yes. But it depends on the specific situation of the candidate. There are so many options – from money from the EU to local support funds – I can help to find a solution for almost everybody. In Germany, “dive instructor” is officially seen as a profession and so candidates can use a lot of support programs to help finance their IDC. But as I said before: it depends on the specific situation as to which program to choose and how much money someone can get.

12. Are you also still diving recreationally, or is instructing enough for you?

I still love diving. And I try to dive frequently. Right now I am very enthusiastic about several aspects of technical diving – I love to learn and experience new things and cross the borders.

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13. Do you have a favourite destination for scuba diving and what was your best experience underwater?

I don’t have a single favourite! I just came back from Spain where I did some very nice dives in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sipadan or the Similan Islands are awesome.

But sometimes, a dive in the Ruhr river close to the place where I live can also be amazing. You can find artefacts from world war two or remains from criminal activities like weapons, empty cases and so on there. Really exciting.

When I am not on an IDC or doing other courses I enjoy every dive. Even if there is nothing special to encounter – I still love it.


Ulf teaches his IDC (Instructor Development Course) in Essen; he is a successful PADI dive instructor having gained experience with his own diving schools in Germany and Thailand.

Christian also completed his IDC to become an instructor and further training to IDC Staff Instructor with Ulf Mayer and since then has regularly stayed in touch and completed one or two projects together, too.

You can find out more about Ulf Mayer via his website.

PADI Instructor Ahmed Gabr achieves new Guinness World Depth Record

photo 4 (3)Everything started with me four years ago when I wanted to satisfy my curiosity of how deep the human body can go, from this question I started to approach the answers, I was researching in books and on the internet but still never had the absolute answer so I figured out the best way to find the answer is to try in myself, from here everything started.

At the beginning it was so difficult because the cost of this project needs lot of money regarding to logistics and different people experiences in so many fields to expand my comfort zone on the way down and also my way back up again, of course I met lots of people was interested but some of them didn’t believe in what I’m doing so they were just trying to use the situation got their own benefits and agendas.

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I finally found the right people in Dahab town in the South of Sinai and they all were working heart and soul with me to fulfil the project, they believed in me, they used all their previous experiences to get the depth mission done and they were always asking me why I’m doing that? My answer was if you want to wait for someone to open the door for you then you have to keep waiting for the rest if your life and the door will be always closed.

In the last year we finalized our plan and we selected the gasses the matches these depth to avoid the main pathologies in out dive which was oxygen toxicity, decompression sickness, high pressure nervous syndrome and isobaric counter diffusion and we started to test the selected gasses in shallower depth. We modified some if the gasses and at the end we decided on the record gases, it was never a one man decision, it was always a team decision.

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I felt happy and comfortable and my comfort zone started to be bigger and bigger specially when we got sponsors for the event.

My descent took me 14min,and I grabbed a verified tag by Guinness world record adjudicator and other expert witnesses, we had about twelve witnesses from different organizations and technical diving and commercial diving experts and also the Guinness world record adjudicator to verify the dive. My ascent lasted for 13 hours and 50 minutes for decompression, I had a baby oceanic white tip shark as company for 6 hours, I think he wanted to say congratulation.

After I surfaced I got checked by the medical team that confirmed that I’m absolutely fine and I just had a bit of dehydration, they followed up with me for 72hours after the dive and everything was perfect. My experiment is done but I will never stop.

Certificate

 

Congratulations to Ahmed Gabr and his fantastic team on achieving a new Guinness World Scuba Diving Depth Record of 332.35 meters

My Week: Weather and Nudibranchs

Laura Harron, our Guest Blogger based in New Zealand, gives us the next update on her week working as  dive guide:

Monday

Today I am crewing on the boat as a dive guide. The weather has finally settled and we are treated to flat seas and sunshine for the next few days. I normally try my best to avoid talking about the weather like a granny, however when your work is entirely affected by the weather it tends to work its way into most conversations. Trying to convince people to move and get into dive equipment when they feel sea sick and want to die is a mission. Today the sea is so flat I want to kiss it after the wind we have had early in the season. Diving is so easy in these conditions.

After the morning intro and boat briefing we have a good chat with everyone on the way out about their previous diving and what they would like out of the day. We are only 10 minutes out of the harbor before someone squeals ‘Dolphins!’ Everything comes to halt and we open the hatch to allow our divers to rush out to the bow and make noises at the bottlenose dolphins surfing the wake of the boat. Instantly we have a boat full of happy customers, the rest of the day is going to be easy.

Tuesday

Day off. I see from Dive! Tutukaka’s facebook page that one of the instructors on our boats saw a manta ray at the islands, what a treat! I’m stuck doing paperwork instead of seeing a manta. Ugh.

Wednesday

Weather is still magic, and I have another day crewing on the boat. The temperature of the water is now a balmy 21 degrees, so I have finally had to give in to the abuse of my fellow instructors about being soft and having to get out of my drysuit.

We are diving at a site called ‘Trevor’s Rocks’, a house favourite due to its array of depth, and three pinnacles with resident morays and large scorpion fish. Diving here is normally sheltered and relaxed as there is very rarely current, and the sheer volume of marine life distracts any novice nerves. As we are cruising around one of the pinnacles I spot an unusual colour. On further inspection I see it is a nudibranch that I have never seen before, I call over one of the other crew members to point out my new find. I hear his ‘oohhhs’ through his reg and I know he hasn’t seen it before either. When I surface with my divers I grab a boat camera and return to take a picture. After a facebook post and several enquiries back at the dive shop we find out it is a cadlinella ornatissima last seen at the islands in 2001. It originated from Southeastern Australia so it’s pretty cool to see it here.

Thursday

I start an eLearning Open Water Diver course. After our quick review we head into town to knock out our confined session in the pool. Both girls are very comfortable in the water so we have a fluid session and complete our skills in time to have a few underwater rolly polly competitions before we leave.

Friday

Beautiful morning, clear skies. We get our equipment together and head onto the boat. I brief the girls on what the day will involve and answer any questions the have about the dives ahead. A few miles out of the harbor, trouble strikes. One of my students pales and ask for a sick bag, thankfully we have mountains of bags for these occasions. At the islands I begin my ‘If you get in the water you will feel better approach’ and reluctantly Alex moves to the back of the boat. After a 5 minute swim the colour returns to her face and we can proceed with the training.

It’s a difficult day for Alex, we get through what we need to do with several anti-nausea swim breaks in between. On our way home we spot a large pod of common dolphins, this is enough to curb anyone’s nausea. They display several leaps close to the boat for photo opportunities, and I laugh at how effective cetacean encounters can be for sea sickness.

I buy Alex a bacon sandwich when we get back to shore for a de-brief.

Saturday

Photo by Laurent Benard

Today Alex has some diver friendly sea sickness medication that the doctor has prescribed for her so we should get through the day and training with ease.We do two beautiful dives, and have encounters with free swimming morays and enormous snapper. With the bloom of krill the snapper are congregating in the masses, it really is such a treat to see these large predators in such big numbers. One of the reasons why the encrusting life is so magnificent at the islands is because the snapper keep the urchin populations under control. On the mainland, the urchin populations explode and strip a lot of the reef of its encrusting life. It’s a good example of how important marine reserves are in keeping the balance of all marine life.

Sunday

Day off.  Sun’s out. There I go talking about the weather again.


Laura Harron, 29, originally hails from Ireland and has previously worked in Malta and Tonga before moving to New Zealand. She is now based Poor Knight Islands with Dive! Tutukaka. 

Pro Diaries: Diving in the Antarctic – A view from the Ice

We took the opportunity to ask our guest blogger Kelvin Murray about his experiences leading and training divers in the Antarctic:

How would you describe your role in the British Antarctic Survey [BAS]?

My primary role was to manage all diving operations in support the British Antarctic Survey’s marine science programme.  This involved planning, leading and supervising dives, training the dive team and base personnel, procuring and maintaining equipment including the on-site recompression chamber, updating and developing manuals and operating procedures, plus mopping the floor!  My other role was to support base operations and the work of other staff – it was all very much a team effort.

What are the diving conditions really like in the Antarctic?

We are very used to seeing footage of divers under Antarctic ice with stunning visibility in crystal-clear water – and this can be the case, especially during the winter months when planktonic life has died off and there is very little organic material in the water column.  However, the opposite can be said during the summer months of massive productivity in the marine ecosystem when visibility can be a few feet!  We had very little current to contend with and certainly avoided windy conditions, especially when there was ice around.  The water temperature ranges between about 2oC/35oF to minus 2oC/28oF, however despite being only a few degrees difference you can really feel the change between plus zero and sub-zero.  In saying that, when the air temperature is -25oC jumping into sub-zero seawater is like getting into a warm bath – for a while anyway!  When we climbed back out onto the ice after such a dive our drysuits would freeze solid…

How would you organise and lead a dive under these conditions, and what sort of things to you have to take into consideration?

Despite operating 8,000 miles from the UK, we carried out our diving operations under British Diving at Work Regulations, which gave us an acceptable standard to adhere to.  This meant we had a process of risk management, standard operating procedures and equipment requirements that all helped to actually make things easier when planning dives.  BAS has its own systems and procedures based on decades of diving experience ‘down south’ however each Diving Officer will bring their own experience to the role.  As a PADI Instructor I am very familiar with having well-established standards and procedures to follow when leading divers, and I brought this to the dive locker.  We had divers of all level of qualification and experience working at the base throughout the seasons, and assessment, encouragement and management of the team was a daily routine. more

Pro Diaries: My Week – the Dive Guide’s Diary

Laura Harron, PADI Instructor and dive guide (photo by Erik Larsson)

Laura Harron, our Guest Blogger based in New Zealand, gives us an account of her week working as  dive guide:

Monday

A PADI Open Water Diver course begins! I meet my three students in the morning and we begin to explore what we all want out of the week. The three of them want to go diving and see some incredible marine life, I want to take them diving and hopefully produce some new avid, safe divers who will pass on their experiences and convert to the tribe of marine conservationists.

Tuesday

We meet at the shop in the morning and the guys try on final bits of gear we will need for the pool. We then hop in our dive shuttle and drive to Whangarei, our nearest town with a training pool.

Wednesday

Time to go out to The Knights! My ’nearly’ PADI Open Water Divers bounce into the dive shop ready for some open ocean diving. I brief them on their skills, and what the day will involve before we step onto our dive boat for morning introductions to the rest of the crew, and our boat safety briefing. On the way out our eyes are peeled for whales and dolphins, we often see both on the 12 NM journey to and from the reserve.  At the islands my students perform all the requirements for open water dives one and two, in the process we are graced with the presence of enormous stingrays, large schooling snapper and trevally gorging on krill, and scorpion fish as large as dogs. Back in Tutukaka I show them how to wash their gear, then we log our dives and discuss what we saw. They are hooked already.

Thursday

Last day of the course, I tell the guys I want to see superior skills and good buddy etiquette.  It’s also their second day on the dive boats so I inform them of their duty to laugh at the skipper’s jokes, even if they sound familiar.  Out at the islands they are superb.  After their dive we congratulate them and take some photos of that new diving glint in their eyes.  The weather is stunning, so we go for a tour of the arches and visit Riko Riko Cave, the world’s largest sea cave by volume. It has awesome acoustics so we encourage our divers to sing, yoddle or shout out. The echo lasts for over ten seconds. On the way home we are lucky enough to spot a school of false killer whales. They spy hop next to the boat enjoying the oohs and ahhs of all the passengers. One begins to tail slap which is often a sign of territorial behavior, and soon after a pod of perhaps 30 – 40 bottle nose dolphins engulf the boat and begin to surf on the wake of our bow. We are one of the few operations that have a permit to swim with dolphins, however we are not allowed to swim with whales, so alas we watch from the boat! Good day at the office.

Blue Mao Mao (Photo by Laurent Benard)

Friday

Day off. The morning is dedicated to mundane chores and the afternoon is dedicated to a 4 hour coastal walk with stunning views and isolated bays. We have a picnic on the empty beaches and I take photos of my friend doing handstands in the sand.

 

Saturday

A normal day crewing on the dive boats. We meet and greet our customers in the morning and kit them up with everything they need. On the way out we have a chat with everyone on board, and divide them into groups based on experience. We recap the concept of buoyancy control in 2 piece 7mm suits, signal use and discuss how we will dive together. I have a few nudibranch fans in the group. Easy! The nudis are everywhere at the moment. During the surface interval we make hot drinks for our divers, go through ID books and send them upstairs for the skippers animated stories of the history of the islands. In the afternoon we guide our second dive and them it’s time to head home. We stop to watch a sunfish cruise past the boat, a pretty rare sight so it’s a treat for all of us.

Sunday

Day off. Into town in the morning for the weekly supply of groceries, and then off to a BBQ on the beach in the evening where we enjoy a few steak and rums under the stars.  There are only three bars and restaurants in Tutukaka, but it’s not a problem for most of us instructors.  Life on the coast is more about outdoor eating on the beach or on the deck. We camp, trek, surf (if you can) and fun dive on our days off. Coastal life is pretty sweet.


Laura Harron, 29, originally hails from Ireland and has previously worked in Malta and Tonga before moving to New Zealand. She is now based Poor Knight Islands with Dive! Tutukaka. 

Pro Diaries: The Most Southerly Dive Guide in the World…?

Introducing the next of our Pro Diaries Guest Bloggers, we have Kelvin Murray,  a professional diver, explorer, naturalist and expedition leader.Kelvin Murray

Kelvin is currently en route to the Antarctic, where he will be managing all diving operations in support the British Antarctic Survey’s marine science programme. Kelvin will be providing regular updates regarding his experiences in this unique environment.

As the founder and owner of Silvertip Expedition and Diving Management, Kelvin provides specialist services and consultancy to the expedition, tourism and media industries.

A PADI IDC Staff Instructor with 20 Specialty Instructor ratings plus commercial and technical diving qualifications, he also has extensive first aid, medic and hyperbaric chamber qualifications at responder and instructor level.  Kelvin over-wintered in Antarctica as Field Diving Officer for the British Antarctic Survey in 2007.  Managing the only scientific diving programme that consistently dives throughout the Antarctic winter allowed Kelvin to participate in several hundred dives in this challenging environment.

Expedition diving enables Kelvin to dive and guide all over the world, on every continent and in every ocean.  His clients include European and American expedition companies as well as National Geographic photographers, the BBC Natural History Unit and French television companies.

Working in collaboration with Dr. Sylvia Earle’s SEAlliance Foundation, he contributes video footage and stills images to the Ocean layer of Google Earth.  Prior to working for BAS, Kelvin was involved in marine wildlife conservation.  He is an ardent advocate for sharks and has dived with several species of these much-misunderstood animals.

Pro Diaries: Dive Guiding For Tec Divers

By Vikki Batten

Whether you are a tec diver or not you will almost certainly have tec divers booking onto your dives at some point.  So what can you do to make the most of the techie market? Or maybe you just need to know how to deal with a very occasional tec diver? Here are some ideas of what tec divers want and need from a recreational diving operation and dive guide.

The first rule is also the most important – if you don’t know anything about it, don’t pretend you do and don’t touch the kit unless you are invited to do so. There is nothing worse than someone fiddling with the wrong bit of your very expensive tec  kit or CCR! If you’re not an expert, ask the divers what they want from you. If they are tec divers on a recreational dive boat they may just want to be left to get on with their dive. Ask what their experience is, both recreational and technical but especially with the particular equipment they are using. After all, they may be just starting down a new avenue of diving and appreciate a guided dive to that they can concentrate on getting experience on new equipment. Tec Diving in Malta What might tec divers want? Pre-dive – Tec divers will want information on the dive site(s) so that they can plan their dive. They will probably need Eanx or Trimix gas fills – ask them what they need the day before to give yourselves plenty of time; if you plan to support rebreathers you will need to stock consumables such as scrubber absorbent. Tec divers often need extra time and a clean place to assemble and check their equipment plus additional space for to store and set up their equipment. On the journey – Tec divers often want an “alarm call” before you reach the site so that they can start kitting up and doing their pre-dive checks. This may mean the safety and dive briefing is better done early in the journey or even before – you won’t be very popular if you give a detailed briefing while they are sitting in kit getting hotter and hotter…. During the dive – As I mentioned earlier, techies may not want anything from you during the dive or they may enjoy some guiding (if the dive is within your experience and certification). They may also ask you to be a support diver – this would normally mean that they do the dive and you assist during the decompression phase of the dive. There are lots of different roles for a support diver so this should be well planned in advance but the main rule is that a support diver can’t do his job if he has an accident so dive conservatively and well within your limits.

Rebreather Diving in Malta
Rebreather Diving in Malta

Post-Dive – Fresh water is the first thing I need, both for me (to drink) and to rinse my equipment. If there will be a repetitive dive tec divers may need some of the things that recreational divers do (gas fills etc) but often their specialized equipment means they can do another dive without needing anything else. With all these extra considerations you may be wondering why you would want to work with tec divers but, although the logistics may be a little more demanding, they usually need less assistance in other areas. If you enjoy working with tec divers you may want to pursue tec diving qualifications to increase your experience and allow you to take a larger part in tec diver guiding and specialist trips. Check out the PADI TecRec blog for all the latest on PADI TecRec courses and contact details for your regional technical diving consultants.


Vikki Batten works for PADI as Director of Rebreather Technologies and, as part of the Technical Diving Division, is involved in developing and supporting PADI TecRec courses. Vikki has been teaching technical diving for 15 years and is a passionate cave diver.

Pro Diaries: Bait Balls and Hermaphrodites

By Laura Harron

When you wake up to birdsong rather than howling 40 knot winds, you know it’s going to be a good day on the water. Everyone is charged with the promise of our late summer as we greet our sleepy, but largely enthusiastic divers at the door.

It’s 8.00am and we are gearing up our customers with the equipment they need for the diving day. Amongst the introductions I hear things like “What’s your name mate?”, “You work for the Italian special forces?!”, “Ah, you are a primary school teacher? Well done!” Diving always attracts an eclectic bunch of people, it’s one of the things I love about working in the industry.  People from all sorts of corners of the world, and all sorts of industries have come together, and all got out of their beds before 7.00am (some earlier) for the prospect of seeing something extraordinary.

I instruct and guide at the Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand.  On this particular morning I meet my two divers and I can tell they are buzzing off the idea of encountering lots of different marine life. Lloyd is a doctor researching the origins of ancient bacteria in the oceans, and Maya is a vet. These guys love wildlife and I can’t wait to get them beneath the surface to share with them some of the best sub-tropical diving in the world.Nudibranch

The Poor Knights offers an incredible amount of biodiversity for two main reasons.  Firstly the islands are a naturally temperate environment with kelp beds and large encrusting sponges, however over the years the East Auckland Current (also known as the East Australian current, but the Kiwi’s don’t want the Aussie’s taking credit for this one) has brought down warm tropical currents that carry larvae of tropical fish species. Some of these species are able to remain at the islands, surviving the winter temperatures (tough little dudes), and become resident on the temperate reefs.  As a result of this, the islands offer an incredible array of marine life, everything from seals in the winter to the occasional manta ray in the summer.  Secondly, The Poor Knights have also been a fully protected marine reserve since 1998, this protection has allowed this sub-tropical mini eco-system to flourish into the world class diving destination that it is today.

We hop onto the boat for the morning introductions to the crew and the safety briefing, we like to reassure people that we have a full range of safety gear on board that range from EPIRBS to plunger coffee.  Most people at this time of morning would rather grab a coffee when abandoning ship rather than a lifejacket, so it’s important they know where these things are. As we approach the islands we are surrounded with large schools of feeding trevally. Hundreds of these fish can be seen feasting on juvenile shrimp on the surface. These schools then attract the sea birds, and we watch as the gannets and shags dive head first into the ocean hoping to spear a fish.  Maya and Llyod look excited; I found out this morning they are hoping to see pelagics and nudibranchs. I’m pretty confident we are going to see both.

As soon as we have dropped anchor we gear up, do our buddy checks and giant stride our excited selves into the clear blue water.

Several Kingfish (large, stealthy bullet shaped predators) start to dart around the reef. We remain in one place for the first ten minutes, no need to move the kingfish come to us. We watch in sheer amazement as a wall of koheru (little bait fish) begin to bait ball to deter the kingfish. As the kingfish proceed to shoot in amongst the school, the bait ball splits in two and begins to spin in different directions.  We are nearly vibrating with excitement, they can tell from my reaction that this is a real treat.  Ok, what else did they want to see? Nudibranchs! Luckily for Maya and Llyod The Poor Knights Islands offers some of the largest nudibranchs I have ever seen in my life. I’m sometimes convinced people inject steroids into the reef to produce these bruisers. Not only are they enormous here but it is one of the few places in the world where I have seen nudibranchs mate – frequently. Being hermaphrodites, the nudibranchs here can be seen often exchanging DNA with their sex organs with any other nudi of the same species. After this exchange they lay extraordinary lines of eggs known as rosettes. They cover the reef and are beautiful to photograph, this sort of action makes a macro photographer dribble.  Sure enough, within minutes I am giving them the ‘mating’ sign, and they are devouring the scene before them.  What flamboyant little/big creatures.

Eagle RayThe rest of the dive is a series of giant scorpion fish sightings, moray eels, visions of stingrays gliding past us and again, more kingfish. Unfortunately like all dives it has to come to an end. We reluctantly prepare for our safety stop . On the boat we are buzzing, and enthusiastically discuss what we saw as the skipper who is remaining dry for the day makes no attempt to hide his envy. Next time mate!

We drop down into the water once again to immerse ourselves in beauty. One this particular dive I have asked them not only to locate and identify different species of invertebrates and vertebrates, but also observe the behavior of the animals. I have never encountered such a diverse range of encrusting life, it blows me away even after hundreds of dives here. I have briefed them on the territorial behavior of the demoiselles and black angel fish, both these species are nesting eggs on the reef at the moment and display an endearing amount of paternal protectiveness when they attempt to chase our bodies (which are a good 78 times larger then them) away from their nest.  Within 20 minutes their slates are full, so we swim around until we reach our air reserves and again prepare for an ascent. Time for lunch.

During lunch the skipper takes us for a tour and embarks on tales of history and adventure on the Poor Knights Islands. They have a violent history (it involves bacon) and as they have been protected top side too for years, they are just as fascinating above as well as beneath the surface.

We are diving this afternoon at Blue Mao Mao Arch, a site once declared by Jacques Cousteau to be in his top ten dive sites in the world. Pretty special place.  The site is an arch which runs from once plateau to another, inside the arch large walls of schooling blue mao mao and demoiselles can take your breath away. The silhouettes  at either exit are stunning and as with most arches at these islands the encrusting life covers absolutely everything.  Good buoyancy control is essential.  As always they are superb and we emerge from our third dive with smiling faces.

On the way home the crew relax and discuss the things we saw on our dives, everyone agrees today has been a winner. Not all days are easy, we sometimes are faced with having to organize dives in difficult conditions, last month we were faced with weeks of 2 – 3 m swells and 30 knots winds. Guaranteed though, even on the hardest of days, we will be sitting around discussing something amazing that we saw on the way back to the Tutukaka marina. This is why diving is so powerful, people who have dived for years in one particular place will still often surface with wonder one their faces ready to gloat at what they saw. Something new, something rare, something extraordinary.


Laura Harron, 29, originally hails from Ireland and has previously worked in Malta and Tonga before moving to New Zealand. She is now based Poor Knight Islands with Dive! Tutukaka. 

Pro Diaries: Dive the Dream!

Chris and Gorgonian

You have the best job in the world!”

Every dive guide has, at some point, heard this statement from an envious diver who is faced with an impending return to the drudgery of day-to-day life.  As PADI Professionals we know that these guys don’t see everything – all the early starts, the endless cylinder filling, the challenging moments that arise on dives – but deep down, we also know they are right.

We get to scuba dive as part of our work and that is pretty amazing.

There are dive guides across the world: we work on liveaboard boats in tropical locations, we dive wrecks in deep water, we look after nervous divers in icy quarries. There are PADI Divemasters in every continent in the world who are diving in conditions of every kind and working with people from across the planet. We are all linked by one common bond however; our love of scuba diving and the lifestyle it has given us.

The PADI Pro Diaries are for you, aiming to bring together the stories and knowledge of this enormously diverse group of professionals. You will find practical information and advice from other dive guides, descriptions of day to day life from peers around the world and stories of our collective experience.

Anyone can submit their stories for the Pro Diaries as one of our Guest Bloggers, and you can talk about anything that relates to life as a dive guide. Simply send your articles to marketing.emea@padi.com – we will always be pleased to hear from you!

So whether you are a seasoned Divemaster, a new member, or aspiring to take the next step in your PADI Professional journey – enjoy!