Crowley's Blog - What is a Dive Guide? - Chapter I - How I Got to be a Guide
by, June 10th, 2012 at 04:26 PM (1046 Views)
It's been seven years now. Seven years since I left the cold, grey, miserable world of corporate bull-poop and embarked on the most amazing journey of my life; something that other people only ever get to see on TV, or - as it happens - read about on Scubaboard.
I've been on SB since 2006 and I remember making some earlier posts as a a green and keen MSDT thinking I knew everything that there was to know about dive instruction, and then subsequently becoming a seriously arrogant twerp when I turned IDCS 9 months later. I remember making a post telling Dr. Bill that he would have to do a check dive before he could dive with the centre I worked for - regardless of his experience - and nowadays, well, I have a much more rounded - and slightly more cynical - perspective on recreational diving.
As a bit of an aside to the main objective of this blog - but from a guide's point of view, If I'd been out of the water for a while, visiting somewhere new, in different gear, then regardless of however many dives I've actually done, I would first make an easy dive to check everything out and make sure I was correctly weighted before I attempt, for example, a wreck like the Thistlegorm here in the Red Sea.
For inexperienced divers, or divers who have been out of the water for a long time, I whole-heartedly recommend check dives and scuba reviews and suchlike and of course during my daily working life I insist on them for many divers, because - as a safe and conscientious diver - in similar circumstances, I would do exactly the same thing. I would rock up at a dive centre and say "hey, I'm Crowley,I'm OW/AOW/Rescue/MSD/DM/MSD/DC/MD/TecRec/GUI/OD/2-star/1-star certified (delete as appropriate), with approximately n dives, and I've dived in abc circumstances but not xyz. I'd like to get back into the swing of things before I visit the deep-wall, howling current, shark-infested nightmare dive site that all my buddies are blabbing about in the bar." As a dive guide, this is exactly the sort of person I would want to dive with.
On the other side of the coin, if, after all my experience as a working dive professional - and, indeed, as a trainer of dive professionals - If a newly certified DM was telling me that I have to demonstrate mask removal skills underwater before I can dive with him, I'm going to ask him to do it first, grade it IDC style, then pull his mask off, shut off his air supply and see how he handles the situation. Failure to comply with expectations may result in cash-retention. Likewise, I am no longer going to ask Dr. Bill to make a check dive!
Going even further off-topic, my devoted passion until I became a dive professional was my motorcycle and actually I am quite an accomplished amateur sports-biker. I never participated in a race, but rode regular track days, where I would be found at the back end (but not right at the back) of the fast group - and on one occasion I was "upgraded" so I didn't intimidate the more inexperienced attendees. I wasn't doing anything silly, but possibly the sight of my self-modified and maintained 1996 Suzuki GSX-R 750 WT running rings around their expensive, blinged up, wannabe superbikes made their egos feel a little limp.
Okay - so before you start thinking my gasoline-fuelled ego is running away with me and wonder what this has to do with diving, I would like to make the point that I had requested on the day I got upgraded to start in the intermediate group, which is where I felt I belonged, knowing that after several years' experience, I was a bit better than bad, but not really that great. The track day organisers saw something in my ability that they felt needed to be recognised for the benefit of all parties involved. More fun for me, fewer nerves for inexperienced riders, less worry for the organisers.
Back in the day I could ride curves at 100mph with my knee sasifactorily dragging along the ground but I haven't ridden a bike properly for 7 years and therefore next time I do, I'm going to take it easy for a while before I even think about breaking the speed limit. (sorry, I did that... a LOT...! ) I had a rental Honda CBR900-RR Fireblade in Thailand for a month but I had to give it back due to crapping myself every time I tried to ride it faster than a tuk-tuk.
Many divers seem to think that they should be in the diving equivalent of the "fast group" but the only reason they can claim this is because of the speed at which them swim - which can be measured in knots, rather than fin kicks per minute - or the rate at which they sink, due to over-weighting and failure to properly connect the inflator hose (hello, Buddy Check!) Now I'm like the track day organisers moving people between groups - that diver is good enough to go here, this diver can be independent there... er and yeah - that diver is going to the back of the metaphorical slow group. Or they can take a taxi back to the hotel, whichever they prefer.
Back in 2006 I was a freshly-baked-but-cooling-slowly instructor, and in 2008 I was certified as a PADI Master Instructor, although I only got the certification because the dive centre I was working for wanted all their full-time staff to be MI's, even though it turned out I had to pay the certification fee myself! Thanks! I won't apologise to the dive agency cynics and I probably would have applied for it anyway because I'm actually quite proud to have achieved the MI rating - and I worked really hard to earn it.
In Thailand I spent most of my time training dive professionals. I pretty much ran the show for two years when it came to the DM classes and have participated in the training of around 300DMs, about half of whom I later taught during their IDC. I ran Rescue courses twice a month and I did a bunch of basic courses somewhere in there as well. As an instructor, I'm quietly satisfied with my success and the reputation it has earned me.
BUT: the thing about being an instructor is - well - actually, if you are purely an instructor, you never really get to go diving except on your days off. Yes, you'll be underwater wearing SCUBA, but you won't really be "diving", just teaching others to do what you love to do but can't do any more because you're teaching all the time. That in itself is very rewarding, and there are many reasons why my friends and I choose to live this life, but for me, I was a diver first and everything else second. It's why I often argue on both sides of the fence when posting on SB - I work in the industry, yes, but I am also a customer of the industry, and I don't want to be short-changed either!
And so for all my Master Instructor-edness, since March 2009 I have basically been a "dive guide". That's not even a Divemaster, that's just the guy that knows where to point out interesting things, like the guy with the microphone on the tourist bus: "and here we have the magnificent monument of St. Smegma's Folly. Built in 1878 by J.W. Hanker, blahblahblahblahsnooze..." and interested older ladies are lapping it all up but the rest of the tourists can't understand the language the tour guide is speaking and are nervously starting to wonder if there is a lavatory on board and possibly if this is not the number 9 to Piccadilly Circus.
This is comparable to a dive guide pointing out nudibranchs. Some divers get very excited by the bighorn nembrotha and others are like: "why are you showing me that... slug? I came here for the BIG fish!" Many people also need to visit the lavatory whilst diving.. For the record - never. I have never lost control of my bladder in a wet/semi-dry/dry suit. I am not lying. I consider diving in shorts to be less restrictive.
I am a guide partly because I work for a German dive centre but did not speak any German when I arrived. I was already quite experienced and had a licence to work so it just made logistical sense because underwater, it doesn't matter what language you speak - and I loved it. This is what I always wanted to do. I asked my manager to give me a try and I guess I did okay because - here I am. I was so excited to finally be a proper dive guide in Sharm that I guess it rubbed off on the customers, so my manager kept me in a position where I served the company best, entertaining the customers. I was happy to accept!
On paper it seems like a demotion, from Master Instructor back down to Divemaster, but I love it and I've learned more about diving from being a guide than I ever learned as an instructor. Unlike many instructors, I actually get to go diving for a living - as in really diving, not kneeling in the sand watching people removing and replacing their masks and occasionally popping to the surface in a massive froth of bubbles. But what is a dive guide? What do I actually do beyond leading the dive and finding the cool things?
I would very much like to explain some of the subtle intricacies and covert operational activities that are involved in being a simple tour guide, in the hope that others might learn from my experience; and perhaps choose their guides and instructors more carefully next time. This therefore means that I will have single-handedly increased the overall safety of the entire recreational diving world. Go Me! On the other hand, if somebody giggles once or twice reading this whole thing, that will be enough.
I started writing this and couldn't actually stop, so because I've run out of room I will continue in a second chapter; there may be a third, sorry. I'm really enjoying the feedback I'm receiving, so if you're interested in reading more, part II will follow soon.