A few weeks ago I was sat on a wall in glorious sunshine at Gildenburgh, being debriefed by Richard Somerset a PADI Instructor Examiner at the end of my PADI Instructor Exam.
The IE was the end of what has been a twenty month journey from MSD to Instructor, oddly I didn’t even set out to be an instructor, and this is how it happened. During 2010 I had been chatting to my friend and dive buddy Ken Gibbs about sitting in on some divemaster theory lectures as an intellectual exercise as neither of us really fancied the commitment to a divemaster internship as it was in those days, one Saturday in September 2010 we sat down with Alex Varnals, PADI Course Director, at Diving Leisure to discuss our plan along with a mug of the legendary wallet loosening Diving Leisure tea.
Alex listened and then told us that there was another way called “option two”, none of those pesky 6am starts or late Friday nights in the pool, just workshops with pretend students, this suited us fine as we had no real intention of working in the industry. My divemaster took fifteen months and was completed in December 2011, the 23rd as it happens, “Option two” sort of never happened, after a few weeks of lectures and pool sessions I had become embed in the dive team and was enjoying it. If I was to give any advice to any trainee dive masters, it would be get involved and work with real students you will learn a lot, which will prepare you for the assistant instructor (AI) course, which brings me onto my AI course.
At club night in December 2011 I was coming to the end of the DM and had realised that being an Assistant Instructor (AI) would make me more useful, this is as an AI you can assess skills in the pool under the supervision of an Instructor which greatly speeds up sessions with big groups, certainly more interesting that watching over students while thinking I’m hungry and should have had a bigger meal at the bottom of the dive pit, Chatting to Alex over a beer I discussed my outline plan to buy some new reg’s in the first half of the year and do my AI later in the year, it didn’t work out that way AI pre study began on the last weekend of January and fellow DM’s Peter, Tony & Hesh were already booked on, it would be a shame to not join them, after a couple of more beers I was signed onto the AI and also signed onto the full Instructor development course (IDC), it turns out that beer is just as good at loosening your wallet as diving leisure tea is.
The AI consists of classroom, pool and open water sessions, I didn’t realise how rusty some of my skills demonstrations had got, our first pools session will not go down as one of my finest moments, kit removal with air still in your BCD does not make for a score of five, pool session by pool session we polished our skills.
Then came open water. Blue Lagoon in February is cold, about five degrees of cold, as part of the AI you start evaluating skills and correcting problems, using fellow candidates as problem students, for example your students is doing as mask removal they may well drop it, our problem was that we could do the assigned problem as well as our own problems, this is not good. I have to admit this was a low moment and did think to myself “What am I doing this”, going from being an experienced DM at the top of your game to a AI candidate at the bottom of the learning curve is hard, happily after fifty three minutes in the water we had managed to get our act together and we all passed, yippee I was an Assistant instructor, next step Egypt for a holiday and then onwards to the second part of the IDC the “OWSI”.
The OSWI prepares you for two things one is the Instructor exam weekend (IE) and also real world teaching, the OWSI like the AI consists of pool, classroom and lectures, believe me we did lots of them all, an IDC is a big commitment and you will begin to believe that you are living at the dive centre. In my case the IDC also coincided with the biggest project the company I work for has ever taken on, a hard combination to balance, my head hit the pillow a night with a hard thud on more than a few occasions, going to a fellow dive team’s fortify birthday after a Friday pool session followed by a full day at Capernwray and then partying until five thirty in the morning takes some doing.
Which brings me to the Instructor exam (IE), up to this point in your diving career all of your exams have been conducted by your local dive centre, the IE is different, you are examined by examiners from PADI, and yes our Course Director, Alex Varnals, was there (glad he was, by the way, but you are on your own now, apart from Peter and Gemma, who were there too). The first day of the IE consists of theory and standards examinations, teaching presentations , a pool session where you demonstrate five skills and teach one, with problem students again , the second day consists of a rescue assessment (exercise seven from the rescue course) followed by teaching two skills in open water.
Day one was good; I passed the theory, got a good score on the teaching presentation and had a fantastic pool session getting fives for all the skills and the teaching section (five being the top mark). Second day we were at Gildenburgh for 8am for the briefing, first up was the rescue assessment, passed it. Next up was open water teaching, in my case the hover from Open water dive four and efficient fin kicks from the PPB course, the PPB skill went well and I got a five, spotted the problems and corrected them, when it came to the hover my student had been told to skull , I was too busy watching his fin tips in case they touched the platform and as a result didn’t notice his sculling at first I dropped a couple points for that, still got a 4.6 well above the pass mark, which brings me back to the start, sat on the wall being debriefed by Richard Somerset. The feeling when the examiner shakes your hand and congratulates you on passing your IE is amazing; you will smile for days afterwards.
Would I do it again, YES? It’s hard at times; it’s a roller coaster of emotions. Alex will work you hard and give you some difficult assignments; this is a good thing, when you are given a teaching from the aware coral reef conservation specialty as a teaching presentation at the IE, no problem when you have done a similar one from the same specialty three days before.
If you are thinking of doing your PADI IDC and looking around PADI Course Directors to do it with, Alex really puts the effort in, if you put the commitment in it will be matched by Alex.
What’s next, I have already signed up for five specialties, Sidemount diver and specialty instructor, if you are wondering if how “it’s just like this in diving” fits in I will let Alex tell you on your AI course, I still haven’t bought my new reg’s