Its kinda a long story. I have never thought of myself as a teacher. I never even thought of pursuing a career in education of any sort. But, at 50 years old I became a dive instructor. So how and why did this happen? Mid life crisis? Complete lack of direction in life and seemed like a good idea at the time? Lifetime goal of retiring to live the good life on a warm tropical beach? Looking to recapture my youth by getting a glamorous job and be able to recount cool stories in the bar? Actually none of the above, although there may be slight elements of all of those things in there too if I am honest. For me personally, it was much more of an evolution and a search for a new opportunity.
I got started in outdoor sports at about the tender age of 10 when the friends I was hanging out with (and I) were starting to get into “trouble” in the local neighborhood and the police paid a visit to my best friends mother. After that encounter she decided that we all needed something to focus on outside of school to keep us “off the streets” and so she enrolled us all in a kayak class at our local pool once a week with a local club running out of an Outdoor Education Center in the town. That was a life changing moment for me and it has influenced almost everything that I have done in life ever since.
I loved the water anyway and swam regularly at our local Leisure Center, so I had no fear of being in a boat and turned upside down and having to swim out as the first exercise. My friends, not so much! After the course I got involved in the clubs weekly pool sessions and river trips every weekend. I became the editor of the monthly newsletter and was on the committee organizing all of our events and activities and so my friends mothers’ plan worked (for me at least – I didn’t see much more of that group of friends afterwards).
All of the time that I wasn’t working on schoolwork or kicking a ball around with friends at the local playing fields was spent heavily focused on the kayak club. Outside of that I would do odd jobs around the neighborhood and for family friends and was saving money to buy my own boat and equipment. I was introduced to competition at the “Novice” level in canoe slalom at a nearby event at Comrie in central Scotland. I loved it, and it would continue to be a passion of mine until my early 30’s. There were no real “levels” in the sport and so since I wanted to improve my skills the only real course to take was an instructor course which I completed at 14 years old and became the youngest ever to achieve that certification. Not really to teach, just to advance my skills. It allowed me to help more at the pool sessions and also on the rivers, and increased safety and awareness in the club.
The friends that I made on the canoe slalom “circuit” became lifelong friends, and although we are now scattered around the globe we are still have incredibly strong bonds.
When I arrived at University it took it to a whole new level and again I got involved in the club committee and funding, trips, events and even international tours to events all around Europe. My weeks were spent training in the gym on the local river estuary, in the pool and traveling to events almost every weekend. I quickly progressed through the competitive divisions and broke into the “Premier” division – the top 100 paddlers in the UK, and also joined the Scottish National Squad and started to compete in the sister events like Whitewater Racing, Sprints and even won medals in K4. It required me to travel all over the UK and Europe to attend competitions and installed a “travel bug” in my brain.
What does all this have to do with diving you ask? Well, it set my goals for achievements in sports at a very young age and was a huge influence on why I became a Scuba Instructor. In addition, it instilled a love of the outdoors, travel, and yes, to a degree teaching, but that was never the objective. It also developed strong interpersonal skills, organizational skills, problem solving skills and a myriad of other personal development goals that I didn’t even know that I had! It was a huge learning environment outside of academia and taught me so many life skills that would be invaluable in future years.
I also got involved in coaching at a national level with the kids who used to come and practice while we were doing our training sessions. That became part of the infancy of the UK Olympic Training Excellence programs which culminated in multiple Gold medals in the London Olympics with one of my friends at the helm as the program director after retiring from competition himself.
Some of the kids that I coached, just for fun, have gone on to be Olympians themselves and even medal winners, achieving more than I ever could. They are now all involved in teaching and coaching in their own right.
In my 20’s I had a friend from college who started his own business teaching paragliding. He asked if I could help him out with promoting the business and maybe finding him a few clients, which I did. My fear of heights meant that I had no intention of joining, but that plan went out of the window, and I started learning to fly! After progressing through Student Pilot and Pilot certifications, there seemed to be only one direction to go, so I progressed on to instructor level in that too, again purely to advance my skills as a pilot, not to be a teacher per se. However, it became the next great passion in my life and was probably the pivotal thing that made my mind up to quit the corporate world a few years later. Also, in my 20’s a bunch of friends from college, kayaking and paragliding groups were skiers also, so I became an avid skier too. It wasn’t until later that I would progress that sport too to the level of Ski Guide. Are we sensing a pattern here?
When I became disillusioned with the corporate world and the cutthroat nature of a career in those organizations, it was my love of the outdoors and passion for outdoor sports that drew me to what had always been my “playground” – the French Alps. There was kayaking in abundance, skiing everywhere, paragliding everywhere and some quaint little mountain towns to call home.
I was in heaven. Poor, but happy! I scraped a living doing what I loved – and teaching a little bit at the same time. I enjoyed that life for about 4 years until my girlfriend at the time decided that we should go travel around the world. It didn’t seem like a bad idea, so we headed back to the UK and both worked 3 jobs for 6 months to put some cash together to support ourselves for 6 months and maybe a year, and headed off on round the world tickets kicking off in the USA. We visited family in the DC area and then took the Greyhound across country heading for Tahoe. We stopped off in a little town in Colorado called Silverthorne close to Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mountain, A-Basin and a 30 minute drive to Vail and Beaver Creek. We took the local bus to Breckenridge and within 48 hours both found jobs working for the season. We found an apartment in Frisco and added to our cash reserves while skiing and riding, not too bad a deal. Before we left, we got together with a group of our new friends and took a 4 day raft trip in South Western Colorado on the beautiful Dolores river… and another sport beckoned, but more on that later.
We borrowed a company van for a few weeks and toured the National Parks as far as Western Utah and North to Glacier NP and lots in between. Returning to Frisco, we found a car relocation gig to take a car to San Francisco, then started on our round the World trip for real with a few extra $$$’s in our pockets.
We started off in French Polynesia in Tahiti, got stranded in Bora Bora for 3 weeks (for another story), traveled through the Cook Islands and on to Fiji. There we headed for a small backpacker Island – Leleuvia, near Motoriki off of the East coast of the main island and original capital of Ovalau. It was a tiny coral caye that you could walk around in 5-10 minutes depending on your pace. There was some grass huts, a communal eating/socializing area and not much else – EXCEPT a tiny dive shop run by two Germans and an American who had, for their own reasons, opted out of Western life. Soooo, together with another couple that we had gotten to know, we decided to take our Open Water Scuba courses. I was hooked instantly. The girls didn’t finish the course, the boys did. The girls left to head to New Zealand and the boys stayed for another 3 weeks diving every day! Huge currents for amazing drift dives, black and white tip reef sharks everywhere, amazing visibility (although we had no idea of that at the time), pristine reefs teeming with life, massive rays and huge bommies, it was amazing.
After six months with a little work in New Zealand, and a year in Australia with a few more months work and some diving on the Great Barrier Reef, we headed to South East Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, diving along the way. We headed for India and Nepal and then back to the UK via Copenhagen. From there, Colorado beckoned me back, and whilst running ski stores, snowmobile and raft companies I became a certified Colorado raft guide, adding that to my list of sports where I had taken them to the highest level that I could. After a couple of years there I started my own business doing ski (and summer) vacation planning and ran that for about 15 years. However, being so far from the ocean I could only get occasional dive trips in, and only just managed to do my Advanced certification on a trip back to the GBR. I ended up working too much and not doing the things that I loved, so became a little disillusioned again. It was time to repeat my decision to leave the corporate world and this time leave my Colorado world. I loved the place, but I needed new direction and a new climate. Shoveling snow was getting old! Over a beer, I hatched a plan to run the business from “the road” and gradually transition out of that into a new opportunity – but what? Seemed to me like I needed to take my diving “to the next level”, and since I had fun in the skies, on the slopes and on the rivers it was high time for me to have some fun in the ocean! Decision made, it was down to how to achieve it. I did some research and found that the #1 place in the world to do your instructor training was a little island off of the Honduran coast called Utila. So, I got rid of all of my ski gear (and everything else), bought some shorts and T-shirts and headed for Cancun, because the flight was cheap, and in order to dive down the coasts of Mexico and Belize and brush up my dive skills on the way to Utila. I can remember introducing myself at my Instructor Development Course (IDC) stating that I did not intend to teach, but simply to improve my dive skills to the highest level that I could (how wrong I was!).
When I finished the course, I posted on Facebook and got a comment back from my niece saying she was proud that I was a teacher, just like her grandfather. It really took me aback. I had never thought of myself as a teacher. I was an engineer, a manager, a businessman and I just loved to do adventure sports in my spare time. Sure, I helped folks out here and there, but that was just for fun. I didn’t do the course with the intention of teaching either. My father was a math teacher and headmaster, and she made a connection that I never did. I had been a teacher all of my life, and I had never realized it. Our classrooms may have been very different, but I guess I followed in my fathers footsteps in my own way nonetheless. It took a while for that to sink in, but it had quite a profound effect on me. I changed my plans which were originally to carry on and travel Central and South America diving along the way and working a little whilst waiting for a new business opportunity to present itself. I still traveled Central America, but with the intention of finding a place to stop and call home for a few years and teach diving now. I looked all over and came back to the Bay Islands and Roatan and have been teaching ever since. The pay sucks and you can’t make a living, but the rewards come from your students and seeing their eyes on their first trip to the wall! On seeing people progress with Advanced courses, expand their knowledge, safety and skills with Specialty courses, joining the professional ranks as Dive-masters and just having a great time fun diving. It may have taken me 50 years to find out that I was a teacher, but I have come to terms with it and I am loving introducing folks to the amazing underwater world, and helping divers on their journey to improve their skills and knowledge.
I’m from Dundee, Scotland and have been diving for over 22 years. If there’s anything else you need to know, just ask!