cave diving warning sign
By erik

How to Choose a Cave or Technical Diving Instructor

Cave and technical diving are quite different from recreational diving, and as such, so are the instructors that teach these highly advanced scuba diving courses.

There are several things you should always consider before you choose your instructor, and this guide will hopefully help you choose wisely.

  • Is your instructor an active diver?

    • This is probably a bit of an odd question. If he/she is an instructor, obviously they are active divers, I mean, they are diving all the time, right?  Well, not really. A lot of instructors pretty much only dive when/while they are in course.  You could say that they’ve lost the passion for it.  Maybe they are churning out one course after another, and the last thing in their mind is to go diving on their day off. SO be sure that you ask about their actual experience diving.  Are they involved in any exploration projects? Conservation efforts?  What kind of dives or which sites really get their engines going?  If they won’t answer or you get an answer that is too vague or ambiguous well, I suggest you turn away.
  •  How many courses do they do every year?

    • Ideally, you want an instructor that is actively teaching courses at the level you want to train in. With TDI, all instructors are required to actively teach at their highest level on a regular basis, otherwise, we lose that level.  Again, an instructor who is teaching [for example] 3 full cave courses per month might have a lot of experience teaching, however, there is no time in there for him/her to conducts dives of their own and actually go out and expand their skills, explore, and have fun.
  •  What is their failure rate?

    • Nobody wants to fail a course, and I assure you no instructor likes failing a student, but it does happen, and it should happen. Technical and cave diving are both highly demanding activities that require a lot -both physically and mentally-, and as such, not everybody is built for them.  An instructor that has a really high failure rate is most likely doing a few things wrong him/herself.  A very high failure rate either means that this instructor is not properly screening their students, or is not adequately teaching them, and expects them to be perfect with minimum effort on his/her part. On the other hand, a 100% passing rate means that the instructor is probably just handing out cards.  We are educators, not magicians or miracle workers.  And like I said before, not everybody is meant for this type of diving.
    • Me personally, I have a failure rate of around 5-10%.  However, keep in mind that even though someone might fail a course, it doesn’t mean I wash my hands of them.  No. I will try to do everything I can to make sure the student is able to get over whatever is keeping him/her from passing.  However, there is an issue with attitude.  If you don’t have the right attitude for cave or technical diving, even if you have the highest developed skills ever known in the diving world, you will not pass until you get your ego and/or attitude in check.
  •  How long have they been diving at this level?

    • Here you should ask how long they have been diving. Not how long they have been teaching.  Let me expand.
    • A lot of instructors become instructors with very little actual diving experience. I am talking maybe a year or 2 after certification and a mere 100 logged dives.  This is a trend (commonly known as “zero to hero”) that is unfortunately even invading the technical and cave diving world.   We’ve seen instructors who have been diving at a full cave level for less than 2 years, and somehow managed to become cave instructors at some level (be it cavern, intro or even full cave!).  Regardless of how many dives one can log in a 1 or 2 year period, it is my opinion that they still lack actual real-world experience.  They’ve never had what I like to refer to as an “Oh, Sh-t!” moment.  So how can they teach you if they themselves just passed the same course you are planning on taking such a short time ago?
    • I think that an individual should have no less than 5 years of experience and several hundreds (if not more) of dives at the level they are planning on teaching before even considering the possibility of becoming an instructor.  Otherwise, it just seems like they are trying to enlarge their ego, and are jumping from one certification to the next.  Again, this is my opinion, and yours could differ, but I do believe you deserve better than to get “trained” by someone who doesn’t have enough experience yet.
  • Is the price too cheap?

    • Technical and cave diving are expensive activities.  All the equipment you need to do the dives you will train for will come with a price tag in the thousands (if not tens of thousands).  While the majority of instructors love what we do for a living, we still have bills to pay, mortgages/rents, taxes, food, equipment repairs, etc., so a good course comes at a price.
    • When a course is really cheap (and for technical and cave diving, anything less than $200-$250/day is really cheap), you have to ask yourself where those savings are coming from? Are corners being cut? Are you getting maybe just some really short dives just to meet standards so that the day ends early and the instructor can be home early and kick back? Are they properly servicing the equipment they are using or the equipment you are renting?
    • A good instructor values their time, training and experience, and obviously, that is reflected in the price of a course.
  • Do you “click” with your instructor?

    • Interview your instructor. After all, when you first make contact, your instructor is also interviewing you.
    • Every instructor has a different style, some are really laid back, some are tougher, with a no-nonsense approach to things, and some have a bit of a combination of both styles.  Most instructors are able to switch styles depending on the needs and personality of the students.  Some students require a bit more laid back approach to things, while some others need a bit of tough love.  Regardless of teaching style, we all, at some point have to get tough to get a point across.  This does not mean that we are trying to be jerks, quite the opposite. We have to get tough because when you are on your own, planning and conducting your dives with your cave or tech diving buddies, the environment you will be diving in will be a lot less forgiving of mistakes.
scuba diving in playa del carmen
By erik

Being the only diver on a family vacation…

It happens very often. You plan a great vacation with your family to a tropical destination like Playa del Carmen, but you are the only scuba diver in the family.  This puts you in quite the predicament, doesn’t it?

How do I spend as much of the vacation time I have with my family, yet still manage to get a whole bunch of awesome dives in during that time?!

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to get you in the water, get you diving and still keep your family happy with you.

  • You can arrange for the non divers in your family to participate in the Discover Scuba program. This way, they can take the theory and pool session in the morning (maybe while you get 2 dives in), and then in the afternoon you can join them for another 2 amazing shallow dives.  This is a great way to introduce your family to the wonderful world of scuba diving, and they will get to experience first hand all of the great things that diving in Playa del Carmen can teach them!
  • If they are interested, they can do their Open Water Scuba Diver course, and you can join them during the open water dives of the course!  How great would it be to have a bunch of certified divers in your family? Imagine being able to plan every vacation you take together as a dive vacation!
  • They don’t have to do the entire course here though.   They can start their course back home at a dive centre in your home town, and then they can finish their courses as a referral course in Playa del Carmen.
  • If all of that fails, then there is always the option of bribery… A round of golf or a day at the spa while you get your dive on sometimes does the trick. After all, we get that not everybody is interested in diving, and no matter how many youtube videos, photos, or amazing diving stories we share with them, their minds are not going to change.

One of the great things of diving in Playa del Carmen is that when we do ocean dives, the reefs are quite close to the coast, so on our morning trips we are usually back by (or before) noon, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the day with the family.

Diving in Cozumel and in the Cenotes is a bit more time consuming, but we are usually also back by around 1:30-2:00 PM, so you are not away from them all day.

Being a small dive center with small groups does give you (and us) options that some of the bigger resort operations don’t have.   That is why we have morning and afternoon trips for local ocean diving, and we can customize the trips to suit your schedule (of course it all depends on our other guests as well).

 

It is important to remember that family vacations are exactly that. They are for spending quality time with the people you love the most.

 

 

By erik

10 Reasons Why You Should Become A Diver

We are often asked by our non-diving friends and relatives to explain to them why we scuba dive… what drives this passion that all divers have about the sport.

Well, instead of telling you the reasons why I dive, and why I have been diving for over 25 years, let me give you a list of reasons why YOU should learn to dive and become a certified scuba diver.

Why should I learn to dive?

  • The World is over 70% water. This means that there are more places in the world where diving is possible than those where it isn’t.  What does that mean to the average diver? Well, it means that no matter where you live, or where you travel for vacation, you will never be more than a few hours away from great diving – yes, even lakes and quarries offer fabulous diving… just make sure it is allowed.

earth is covered in water

  • You will make tons of diver friends.  Seriously! I would say that about 70% of my friends are divers.  Not just here in Playa del Carmen, but also in every other place where I have lived, diving has always helped me make some great friends.  Of course, not every diver you will meet will become an instant best friend, but ask any active and serious diver how many of his/her friends share their love for the sport, and you will be pleasantly surprised. This also means that you will always have someone you enjoy being with willing to go out for a dive over the weekend, or to take a diving vacation (don’t you just love the word “Vacation”?).

 

Scuba Diving friends

 

  • The whole family can take up diving together! Yes, that’s right! As long as everybody is over 10 years of age, in good health (Of course, as with any activity, your family doctor should be consulted first), everybody can swim (and you don’t have to be an Olympic level swimmer. Just be competent in the water and comfortable), you and every member of your family can take up the wonderful sport of scuba diving. Which will in turn make vacation planning so much easier!  Just go to a nice tropical destination and be sure you book your dives beforehand!Family Diving together

 

  • It is easier, cheaper and safer than what you may think.  The sport of scuba diving has evolved much over the past 30 years. While it used to be considered almost like an extreme sport, today, diving is one of the safest activities you can do as long as all the rules are followed and it is done properly.  Diving doesn’t care about age, gender or body shape. Underwater, we are all the same!  When you do a training course, you don’t have to buy every piece of equipment at once. Most dive centers will have rental equipment for you to use when you book dives with them, so don’t worry about having to spend thousands of dollars in gear just to get started.

Diving is Fun and Safe

 

  • When you are under water, you will see things that the majority of the people of the world never get to see in real life!  You will see the most beautiful colors you never thought existed, some of the most beautiful animals that you always dreamed about being face to face with, and you will see that sharks are not man-eaters. They are misrepresented, and they should be respected, admired and protected, not feared.  It doesn’t matter where you dive. Be it a tropical reef like those we have here in Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, a cold lake in the North or a cold water reef like in the Pacific North West (USA & Canada) or UK, you will find the most amazing things ever (not just fish and coral.. think historical wrecks as well).

Colorful tropical coral reef

  • Feel what astronauts feel when they are in outer space. When we dive, and we are properly weighed and neutrally buoyant, it is as if we are floating in space.  We feel as though we were in real zero gravity.  We can say that the weight of the world comes off of our shoulders!  Even better, when we do a drift dive, we feel like we are flying across a whole new planet filled with new and interesting creatures!

Learn to dive. Become an astronaut

 

  • You will become Aquaman! Well, not really, but you will get to breather under water! Even though we don’t get to talk to ocean creatures with telepathic superpowers, we get breathe underwater! Imagine! How cool is that?! So basically, if you become a scuba diver, you essentially become almost like a superhero!

Scuba Diving turns you into Aquaman

  • You will become an Ocean Ambassador.  What does this mean? Well, you will be a part of an elite group of people across the world who do everything in their power to make sure that all waterways – be it the ocean, lakes, rivers, swamps, etc. are protected and that the creatures that inhabit these areas are protected as well.  We need clean waterways, and we need healthy coral reefs if we want to protect our species as well! Not to mention we want to keep having beautiful places where we can dive.

 

  • You never stop learning.  Even after you become a certified diver, there are still dozens of courses which you can take that will keep expanding your knowledge and skills.  Courses like nitrox, advanced open water, rescue diver, deep diver, even – with sufficient experience- cave diving!

  • Once you become a diver, the world is really your playground!

There are some caveats. Don’t be fooled by the super cheap courses offered at many dive shops.  Get your training with a reputable instructor, at a reputable dive center, and don’t be afraid to ask your instructor about his/her experience as a diver and as an instructor.

 

Enjoy diving, and see you under the water!

playa del carmen dive center
By erik

How to Choose the Right Dive Center in Playa del Carmen

When you do a google search for “scuba diving in Playa del Carmen”, dive centers in Playa del Carmen” or “dive shops” or any other scuba diving related querie, you get hundreds, if not thousands of hits.  Obviously, you are not going to contact every single website that you come across, because, well, you have better things to do!  However, it is very important that when you are planning your vacation to Playa del Carmen, the Riviera Maya as well as any other destination where you plan on doing some (or a lot) of diving, you do some research.

What do I mean by research? Very simple.  There are some questions you should always ask any potential dive operator.

  • Do you have a physical dive shop?
  • Are you/your guide/instructor a Mexican citizen, and if not, are you legally allowed to work in Mexico?
  • How many years have you been in business?
  • What are your group sizes, diver:instructor ratio?
  • What is the experience of the instructors/divemasters that work for you?

You are probably scratching your head at some of these questions.  There are good reasons why you should know the answer to these questions.

  • If the operator does not have an actual shop, and is just some person selling trips/courses from his/her computer, then what guarantees do you have that your reservation will be honored, deposits will be safe, and that you will have a safe place where your equipment can be stored if you will be diving for several days? An established dive center will give you all those and more.

 

  • If the operator is not a Mexican citizen and is not allowed to work legally in Mexico opens you up to all kinds of trouble.  Imagine you are heading off to the Cenotes with this great person who has a beautiful website, talks a big game about his/her thousands of dives, charges very little in comparison to others,  and then you get pulled over.  Well, it turns out your guide has no permits to be transporting you, has no permits to be working in Mexico, and now, the vehicle you’re in as well as everything in it (including your personal equipment) will be subject to seizure by the authorities.  Also, there is the issue with liability and insurance.

 

  • We all started our business at one point.  So a new shop does not necessarily mean that the shop will not be just as good, or even better than one that has been around for decades.  However, a shop that has been around for a few years probably has a better track record than a new shop.

 

  • Some dive shops are all about maximizing profits and minimizing expenses, and this is not always better for you, the customer. This holds true both in Playa del Carmen as well as the rest of the world. It is not uncommon to see an Open Water Diver class with 8 or more students and just one instructor.   Or a combined group with several open water diver students, a couple of advanced open water diver and perhaps a rescue student and one instructor (and maybe a dive master assisting).   This is unacceptable even in the best of conditions.  An instructor should never have more than 4 students at once, and they should all be doing the same level of training.  The same goes for leading dives.  Groups should not be larger than 4 divers per instructor or dive master, and they should all be of similar experience and training levels.  Mixing groups is just not acceptable.

 

  • Again, we all started as instructors or dive masters at one point. With little experience, and fortunately, someone cut us a break.  Some of us were certified divers for a long time, and even worked as dive masters for many years before we decided to become instructors, however, the world has changed a lot in the past 10-15 years. We live in a world of “instant gratification”, and unfortunately this has also transferred onto the diving industry.  One of the bigger agencies allows many of their larger affiliated centers to conduct what have been commonly become known as “zero-to-hero” programs.  In these programs, they basically take you from being a non-diver (or one with little experience) all the way to open water scuba instructor level in a year or less.  You probably ask yourselves what the problem is with this… well, the main problem is the lack of experience.  You see, most recreational scuba diving training agencies require that to become an instructor, one has to have a minimum of 100 logged dives.  100 logged dives may seem like a lot, but in reality, it isn’t. Especially for someone who is an instructor.  When you choose an instructor, you want to make sure that your instructor has lots of experience in as many different environments as possible (be it tropical reefs, cold lakes and quarries, caves, wrecks, cold water reefs, etc).

These are just some of the things you should be asking before booking dives or scuba diving courses not just in Playa del Carmen, but all over the world.   This information will not guarantee that your vacation will be flawless, but I can promise you that if you know all of this beforehand, you will save yourself a whole lot of headaches and heartache.