Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

by Lauren Kieren:

“How do we get the younger generation involved in diving?”
– Accept, mentor, and guide them in the right direction.

Throughout this text we will outline examples of reverse age discrimination* and its effects on the dive community.

Lauren Kieren

More often than not I am the smallest, youngest, and only female at a dive site. Growing up with two big brothers who believe in equal opportunities to test and challenge me, I never thought twice about being the odd one out amongst a group of older males.

My perspective on this changed as I transitioned into technical diving and received a consistent response from divers on the majority of the tech dive trips I went on. These responses include divers moving my equipment away from the group on the boat while I was not present, questioning my experience, asking if I am old enough to dive or strong enough to carry my gear, stating they will have to keep an eye on me in the water, and probably rescue me later on, refusing to talk to me or acknowledge my presence – all of which occurred without knowing my experience or seeing me in the water.

I have been actively diving since I was 12 years old. I have over 3000 dives, hundreds of open circuit advanced trimix level dives; some of which include mapping deep trenches and surveying historically significant anchors, I can dive and teach on multiple rebreathers and have hundreds of logged CCR hours accumulated, most of which are in caves and wrecks. I have personally worked with over 500 students; I have been an Instructor Trainer Evaluator for the past two years. I have completed 2 recoveries, I am 25 years old, and I am asking the dive community to not judge a book by its cover.

It’s important to note, I never intended on sharing this information with the public as I feared it would dissuade people in my demographic from entering into technical diving. My intentions are always to motivate, inspire, and encourage more people into the dive community. I focus most of my time and resources on growing the industry as a whole and as a result, felt this is a necessary topic to bring to the table for consideration.

So what changed? While conducting an Instructor Trainer Workshop (ITW) in the summer of 2014, the youngest candidate in the class (24 year old male), pulled me aside to ask for advice on how to deal with the older generation of divers never giving him a chance. My response was simple, “get in the water and show them what you can do.”

This conversation lingered on with me after the ITW so I began asking young dive professionals if they have had similar experiences. The responses were alarming; this issue seems to be more prevalent than I would have ever imagined and the dive community will struggle to grow if this trend continues.

I hope outlining examples of reverse age discrimination and things to consider while dealing with younger divers and instructors will help the community grow as a whole, and work together to encourage young divers to excel in this sport.

Michael ThorntonMichael Thornton
SDI, TDI Instructor Trainer

What if I told you… I have been diving for over 16 years, technical diving for 14 years, diving rebreathers for 12 years, cave diving for 11 years, teaching scuba for 8 years and teaching CCR and cave for the past 4 years – yet I have been told by a open water student they will not take a course from someone half their age after meeting me at face value.

I am 26 years old, I have been diving over half of my life, and I am told on many occasions divers will not take a course from me due to my age. Why is that? Are those people missing out on potential good instruction? Are their biases correct? Can someone who is younger still be a good diver and instructor?

One of my previous students; Kent Jolly notes, “It took me over a year to find a rebreather model to meet my needs and an instructor with the experience I hoped to learn from in training… After signing up for the rebreather course with Randy Thornton, on the first day of class his son, Michael Thornton walks through the door to conduct my training… My immediate thoughts were ‘bait and switch,’ surely he’s too young to have the expertise and experience I paid for. It took less than an hour to let my guard down and have an open mind after realizing Michael has more knowledge and experience than what I originally expected from any dive professional.”

Many times, a younger instructor has more recently completed their professional development training. Many times, they are more up to date on what is current in this ever changing world. Teaching techniques, curriculum, and training in general has progressed with time. Technology has also caused the sport of diving to change dramatically over the last two decades. With this information, why is it inconceivable that a young instructor could be the right choice?

Have an open mind, just because a person is young in age; does not mean they are young in experience, especially if you take into consideration all of the knowledge and wisdom that went into developing what they were taught. I believe I learned to dive with good curriculum but I believe the next generation of divers will have even better tools to work with. They have the potential (at an even younger age) to be much better teachers than what we have today. Next time you have the opportunity to take a class from someone half your age, don’t pass it up without considering if this could be a good choice for you.

ExosuitPhil Short
SDI Instructor, TDI Instructor Trainer

When I first started teaching technical diving around 1999-2000 for Kevin Gurr’s company, ‘Phoenix Diver Training,’ I was young for the industry (31 years old). During this time, the technical diving community was in its adolescent stage so people sought out the pioneers and leaders in the industry, the people who were literally writing the text books for training.

I clearly remember a group of students arriving one Monday morning for a technical nitrox class and after introducing myself, the students asked, “where is Kevin Gurr? We came to Phoenix to train with Kevin, what can you teach us? You’re so young!”

Kevin quickly came down from his office and told the group, “I trained him – I believe he is ready to represent me, the company, and the dive industry. Phil will conduct your class and you can pay at the end if you feel you receive good instruction.”

Every student paid after a dive planning lecture and I have never looked back.

Taking a class is not about proving what you already know and passing a test. It is about finding out what you don’t know and where there is room to grow and improve with the guidance of an instructor, regardless of their age.

Becky Kagan SchottBecky Kagan Schott
Underwater DP, Cameraman, Photographer, SDI, TDI Instructor
Liquid Productions, Inc.

After losing my Dad at the age of 13, I made a personal choice to live my life to the fullest and follow my dreams without letting anything get in the way. My passion for scuba diving developed during this period and I was determined to make it more than a hobby but an essential part of my life. I took every scuba diving course imaginable and found myself working with an Instructor by the name of Herb Sugden.

Herb forever changed my life by taking me under his wing and becoming my mentor from the age of 15 as a cavern diver, to the age of 18 as a full cave diver, and later on into my dive professional development training. Throughout these stages, Herb allowed me to gain experience and learn by discovery under his watchful eye. He was never easy on me, I always appreciated this and he was very patient, understanding, and encouraging. Herb introduced me to technical diving which is a world I am still obsessed with to this day.

These are the positive attributes of a mentor and role model in the dive industry; someone who can inspire and drive an individual to be the best in their ability and encourage them to continue on, consider other facets in diving, and move forward. With an influx of young divers coming into the dive scene, I feel the importance of mentorship and good role modeling is an important topic for discussion.

I have never felt discriminated as a female in the dive industry, if anything I think it helped me stand out in a primarily male dominated sport, however I have felt discriminated at times due to my age. I greatly admire and respect the divers that have come before me; it is never my intention to take away from their accomplishments. That being said, several years ago I found it difficult to enter a film festival as a speaker. I noticed the lineup of presenters were accepted year after year and some of them did not even film what they were showcasing as their work. There is no doubt these presenters were very accomplished but I found myself asking why the industry is not looking for a young new perspective. I struggled for months trying to communicate with the organizers of this event and when I finally had the chance to speak to someone, I snapped and said; “I won an Emmy this year, what is it going to take to allow me to present at this film festival?”

I was able to present that year and I was very proud of myself. Unfortunately I received an unwelcome response from the other presenters; only one person on the speaker lineup talked with me that evening. I lost a lot of respect for my peers that day and I made a promise to myself that in the future, I would try to help motivate and mentor someone when the opportunity presents itself. I strive to be approachable and support others in the industry, no matter how old or young they are.

In December 2014, I won 4 more Emmy Awards for filming a cave diving special and I am in my early 30’s. I would not be in this position and have these opportunities to film in amazing places around the world without mentorship and support. I encourage everyone to mentor someone in the future.

As mentioned in the beginning, the dive community will struggle to grow if this trend continues on. Year after year at dive industry trade shows, meetings are held to discuss how to enhance the dive industry and bring in a younger generation of divers to step in and make diving “cool” again. Colorful flow charts and infographics are created in hopes of finding the magic cure as we are in a dying industry starving for a fresh, young, new perspective.

Reverse age discrimination is only one area in a larger pool of issues that need to be addressed in order to grow this industry as a whole. The truth is, the younger generation is here, driven to make diving mainstream, and need to be accepted to assist in moving forward. We are experimenting with new technologies, incorporating modern teaching methods into our courses, and exploring never before seen places and bringing footage of it all back to be shared with the world. So listen up, you might just learn something.

*Reverse age discrimination – A term used to describe discrimination against a younger generation, including ignoring their presence or ideas because they are too young or act in a certain way due to their age.

10 replies
  1. Dr. Thomas Powell
    Dr. Thomas Powell says:

    It is really great to hear the voices of other young people in this industry. It is almost sad to hear commentary within our industry about how there is no new generation of dive professionals. I look around and see that the new crop of young scuba pros is a group to be proud of and one that will keep our industry strong for many years to come, despite the negative commentary that so many try to voice. Having worked or gotten wet with some of the writers in this article, I know the future will be a fun one.

  2. Rob Bradish
    Rob Bradish says:

    Well, while I am certainly older (54) I have to say that almost all of my technical training has been from you young whipper snappers. Frankly, my wife doesn’t allow me to do the crazy sh!t than make you youngin’s so good!!

  3. Richard Taylor
    Richard Taylor says:

    iI’m what you’d call “the older generation”. However, to read these stories saddens me! Experience, knowledge & ability has little to with age! A willingness to learn, a recognition of personal limits and the wisdom to ask for guidance makes the difference! I’ve seen old industry stalwarts I would never want to teach a loved one….and I’ve seen young enthusiastic instructors & divers who teach me new things….as well as remind me of the reasons we love this sport. We the older generation have the obligation to hold the hand of the young diver & instructors & assist then to step forward….and to welcome them & support them when they step further then we do! We can be inspired by these younger leaders….just as the older divers may have inspired them! They are the future….and from this article its in good hands!

  4. Astrid Verstappen
    Astrid Verstappen says:

    Funny, I started instructing at age 29 (so not that young), but I always had respect for good instructors, despite their age and gender. Nevertheless, I did feel on occasion that some men felt uncomfortable being taught by a woman, just as some women feel uncomfortable being taught by a man. Like all kinds of discrimination, you can let this get to you, or you can use it as stimulation to be better, more understanding, more skilled, more knowledgeable than the older / male / … divers that look down on you. In my experience, as long as you kick ass under water, all other problems will disappear ;-).

  5. Clint Seeley
    Clint Seeley says:

    Great Article Lauren! I fell in love with scuba in college. A few years later I was an instructor and running a dive shop. In an industry surrounded by much older “egocentric” individuals I can’t tell you how many times I was told “I’ve forgotten more about SCUBA than you’ll ever know!”…lol

    Keep up the good work

  6. Lee Thompson
    Lee Thompson says:

    Some things never change. In 1986 I became a Diving instructor, at the ripe old age of 18, I was still in High school and having a hell of a time with my first job. My instructor examiner told me after I had passed my instructor evaluation, that I was the youngest Instructor in my state. I was teaching for one of the busiest dive centers around, and most of my students were professionals, a lot of doctors, lawyers and engineers. One evening as I was prepping my class room for another great night of dive lectures and pool dives, The dive shop owner came into my class room and advised me, that some of my students were a little uncomfortable, taking scuba class’ from such a young instructor. She then told me that if I was going to continue to teach for her I had to grow facial hair to make myself look older. Well it worked, and I still continue to teach to this day.

  7. DSO, MCP
    DSO, MCP says:

    There’s way too many inadequate instructors passing on marginal skills and faulty knowledge in the scuba industry. It’s sad that many assume it’s an age thing – because it really isn’t. I’ve met young instructors, and been taught by some myself, that were absolutely ace! Whether the instructor is female, young, old, overweight, smoking or a number of other things just doesn’t matter. The way I see it, you’re taking a course and should want to be taught by who can teach you the best, not the one best fitting your idea of what a teacher should LOOK like.

  8. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    I am 55 so I guess that makes me in the older ground. I have been diving since 1997. I have found it’s the older divers who are careless banging into the reefs, have all the equipment but barely understand how they work. The young divers are almost always better divers, even if they only have an old brute regulator low end computer and old beat up BCD. Keep positive some of us older group appreciate you. Cheers Stephen

  9. Ron Johns
    Ron Johns says:

    I’ve been teaching scuba since 1973 (I’m 70.). All my technical training came from an Instructor half my age or less. I only marveled at his knowledge and skills. The age discrimination thing didn’t even cross my mind. So, this article really surprised me. It’s too bad this attitude exists and I hope the industry works toward eliminating it.

  10. Troy
    Troy says:

    I’m 46 years old but have always marveled on how many people in the technical dive community shoot down/bash/belittle new divers or divers that are in their minds age deficient. Yes age does play a part but its not the critical element. We all know that with age comes experience, there’s no way around that. To those naysayers: Some people mature mentally younger and are actually responsible. Some people are naturals at certain activities.
    What I’m saying is not to fret, us old guys\girls will be wearing Depends one day while NOT being in a drysuit. You youngins’ will have the last laugh.


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