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Choosing your Technical Instructor: Explorers & Educators
By: Allison White
As in every aspect of technical diving, choosing the right instructor should involve careful consideration and sound reasoning. Can this person teach me what I need to know? Do I agree with or can I learn from this person’s diving philosophy? What is this person’s teaching experience? How often does this person do the type of diving that I am hoping to learn? These are all very important questions that may take some time and research to satisfactorily answer. Technical students are often tempted to skip this time and research by basing their decision on one unrelated factor: How well known is this instructor?
Notoriety in any given realm of technical diving often stems from accomplishments in exploration. This is especially true of cave diving. Many divers wanting to take a cave or cavern class look for an instructor who is known in the cave diving community as an explorer. This explorer may be someone who dives sumps, surveys and maps virgin caves, sets new records for depth or time, discovers new cave biota, or researches the geology or hydrology of caves. The student is choosing this person to be their instructor based on these accomplishments, or often simply on other divers opinions of this person’s diving skills. However, these are the qualities that divers should consider when choosing a dive buddy, not an instructor.
When choosing an instructor, especially a technical instructor, divers should consider a person’s instructional skills, as well as their diving skills. While it is important that the instructor is an accomplished diver in the type of diving that they are teaching, have a strong passion for diving, and dive regularly, the student needs someone who can effectively teach them to safely achieve a knowledge and passion for technical diving of their own. This may or may not be an explorer.
Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario.
I am a technical diver looking for a cave instructor. I am considering the following three instructors. Instructor A is a famous biospeleologist who has been cave diving for 40 years and still travels internationally at least four times every year to conduct cave diving expeditions for research. Instructor B is not as well known in the cave diving community. Instructor B has been teaching cave diving for fifteen years and also teaches a wider variety of technical diving, including wreck and ice diving. In the past five years, this instructor has done 50 cave dives, 45 of which were for instruction. Instructor C is also not as well known and has only been teaching cave diving for five years. This instructor doesn’t teach as many other specialties as Instructor B, but has done over 300 cave dives in the five years which they’ve been teaching, only 100 of which were for instruction.
I could choose any of these instructors and get a certification card.
However, more than a card, I want to really learn about cave diving. I want to be as safe and informed as possible. I also want an instructor who can make me excited about cave diving. Instructor A is obviously very passionate about cave diving and has more experience in it than the other two instructors combined. However, I can’t find any information about his activities as an instructor. Other divers have only told me about his accomplishments as an explorer, and his website is focused on his scientific findings, though it does mention that he is a cave diving instructor and accepting students. I finally find a previous student of his and they tell me that while they learned a lot about biospeleology from him, he left most of the diving instruction to his graduate student, who was a divemaster. Despite being a famous scientist with an obvious passion for cave diving, Instructor A does not appear to have any passion for dive instruction.
Instructor B appears to have a great passion for dive instruction. His website is exclusively an exhibition of the various courses for which he offers instruction and is plastered with pictures of him diving with previous students. However, when I ask around the cave diving community, I don’t find anyone who has been cave diving with him for fun. I do find several previous students of his, all of whom assure me that he was a very thorough instructor and very few of whom ever went cave diving again after certification. Instructor B has the opposite problem from Instructor A: while he is very passionate about dive instruction, he has no apparent passion for cave diving itself.
Instructor C appears to be passionate about both cave diving and instruction. Many of the other cave divers I’ve spoken with have been diving with her and have nothing but high praise for her. I’ve also talked with several of her previous students, all of whom are still active cave divers and didn’t hesitate to share the many things that they learned from her. Her website is a balance between the instruction that she offers as well as her personal cave diving experiences, and has plenty of pictures of both. In the same amount of time, she has been cave diving six times more frequently than Instructor B, and two-thirds of her dives have been just for fun. After speaking with her on the phone, I discover that this instructor also shares many of my personal diving philosophies and has even more insights to offer. Even though she is not a famous explorer, Instructor C is clearly the best option among the three instructors for me to gain the knowledge and passion that I need to proceed.
Technical diving is often much more involved and dangerous than sport diving.
It is imperative that students gain the information, passion, and experience that they need to become the next generation of safe and active technical divers. To achieve this is the responsibility of both the student and instructor. In order to ensure that you get the most out of your passion for technical diving, you should always be willing to spend the time and effort required to find the right instructor to help you get to where you want to be.
By Allison White TDI Full Cave Diver AAUS Scientific Diver
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