Ask the Right Questions
By Steve Lewis
Choosing an instructor? Well, there are scores of blog entries and posts on various scuba forums giving advice.
Much of it is good; some of it is excellent. It can certainly help put you on the road to making a good choice, the right choice.
Of course, it would be great if more advice were aimed at the folks who are thinking about taking up scuba diving for the first time and are looking for basic scuba instruction. Because, if we back a loser in the ”choosing an instructor” sweepstakes at that point, the whole learning to dive experience can be awful. The beginning is when we need help setting expectations and gathering advice on how to get value for our money and effort…or what constitutes value for money and effort. However, average punters off the street tend not to read blog entries about diving and don’t visit scuba forums much. I certainly didn’t, did you?
Online advice is more focused on the community members who already have the knack of breathing underwater, certified divers looking to expand their horizons. In short, it seems primarily aimed at people searching for a technical diving instructor.
There’s not much to add to the stuff that’s already out there. Besides the usual “find an instructor that does the type of diving you aspire to” and “who sports a good track record and has experience”, there’s not much to add. Except maybe a suggestion that personal chemistry is important; actually, personal chemistry – liking the instructor, feeling comfortable with him or her, and seeing eye-to-eye with how your instruction will progress with them – is really a primary concern. It’s difficult to learn from someone you dislike regardless of how many world records, advanced certifications, and mind-blowing dive photos they have on social media, because you think their attitude sucks.
But there is an important something in the instructor/student mentor/mentored equation to be aware of, and anyone in the market for a tech instructor should consider.
The missing element – the variable that makes solving the equation possible – is you: Are YOU the right person to sign up for advanced training? Are your motives sound; are your goals sensible; is your attitude good; are you open to change?
If you are on the hunt for help opening up your diving horizons, and before you start asking questions of potential instructors to get you there, let’s first look more closely at a few you might ask yourself.
Firstly, why on earth do you want to spend the money and time and effort on technical diving? What possible reason do you have to subject yourself to higher risk, a serious time commitment, and a significant drain on your retirement fund?
If the thought flying around in your head right now is, “I wanna be cool and dive really deep,” reconsider your options.
If you’re thinking instead, “Well, there’s this wreck/cave/coral reef/wall dive that I wanna see and it happens to be deeper than standard depths,” you are potentially onto something valuable.
Reversing the equation for a moment, and concentrating on the questions that the better instructors ask prospective students, the best answer to the what’s-your-motive question is to want stuff that’s experiential. “I wanna experience… blah, blah, blah,” “I’d love to feel the sensation…blah, blah,” “I have a sense that it would be mind-blowing to see…blah.” These are winning motives for a student.
If your main motive for tech diving is to hang another certificate on the wall at home or to get a thousand likes on your social media profile, so be it. But be aware, you may be missing an important point, an important safety point.
Attitude…good and bad
Let’s start with something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. You may already know that is a “cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their abilities to perform a task much greater than it actually is.” In other words, when we don’t know how high the standards are, we tend to think we can meet them; even that we can excel. However, the reality can be a stark and loud wake-up call.
You probably already know, good buoyancy isn’t a fin pivot or cross-legged hover. And you may also understand that mastering the simple, basic, and totally necessary in-water skills takes time and practice – and patience.
To get the most out of any relationship with your tech instructor, be prepared to learn. Be prepared to be humbled. Learn to laugh if you look like a drowned muppet in the water. You’ll learn faster.
Mental road blocks to learning include:
- Anti-Authority (Don’t tell me, I know better)
- Impulsivity (I thought I could learn cave diving in a weekend!)
- Invulnerability (All this accident analysis and comfort zone stuff is fine for most people, but none of that stuff will happen to me)
- Macho (I can bench press twice my body weight, I can do anything)
- Resignation (What’s the use all this discussion about getting skills perfect? That isn’t gonna help anything)
- Rank Stupidity (None of this makes any sense, I just wanna tell my friends that I dive using lots of gear and breathing cool gases)
No instructor wants to let any ember of enthusiasm fade and die by throwing cold water on it. However, sometimes being over enthusiastic gets in the way of seeing the best pathway to your goals.
Everyone learns at a different pace. Most of us start out with a pretty restricted comfort zone. I am as guilty as anyone of wanting to get students to the “good stuff” before giving them a chance to build experience, but no good technical dive instructor is going to fault you for having the courage to stand up for your limits, knowing your comfort zone and wanting to work within it. So it’s up to you to have the courage to learn at your pace. Using your enthusiasm creatively within your comfort-zone is admirable.
And finally, safety is – and should always be – paramount. Having fun should be close behind, cultivating the right attitude, and learning and growing, should bring up the rear.
If you’re mindful of that, hey, you might be a solid candidate for a tech diving class! Now, go find an instructor!
Steve Lewis is a technical instructor, cave IT, and coach. His latest book Death in Number Two Shaft is available on Amazon or, for signed copies, from the author at email@example.com
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