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.
PADI Vs SDI
By erik

SDI or PADI? Things to consider

What is the difference between SDI and PADI?

Entry level students often ask us the difference between SDI and PADI. Today, I would like to address that question and the reason we choose to do the vast majority of our recreational diving courses through Scuba Diving International.

I have heard the phrase ‘I want to get my padi’ or ‘I did my padi with X or Y dive shop,’ so many times that if I got a nickle each time I hear it, I’d be able to take my wife out for a fancy dinner at least once a week!

Today, I want to clear the air, and get rid of any misconceptions or misunderstandings about scuba diving agencies.

Keep in mind that Beyond Diving does offer training courses through both PADI and SDI at our Playa del Carmen dive center.  You are probably wondering how that can be, so let’s begin.

Let’s talk about the WRSTC  –

The WRSTC (World Recreational Scuba Training Council) are the nice folks who set the bar for all scuba diving training agencies.  They tell every agency (who in turn tells all of their professional members) what the minimum requirements are for each course taught. Therefore, most training standards are pretty much universal. The core curriculum of the courses is basically the same across the board.

Now you’re probably wondering…

‘Who to choose?’

‘Which is the safest?’

‘Can they be safe or good if I’ve never before heard of them?’

Let’s really drill this down. What really effects market share in our mass consumer world?

VISIBILITY

Perhaps you have a friend who has completed their PADI Open Water Diver training and another who completed theirs with SDI. Both loved it and are looking to dive again. They have invited you along on a dive trip to Playa del Carmen with them, yet you are not a certified diver.

You did your research. You checked Tripadvisor and Scubaboard, and narrowed it down to a few dive centers in Playa del Carmen.  You can’t wait to complete your open water course in Playa del Carmen, but you are totally confused…you ask yourself:

‘Can we all dive together if we were certified through different agencies, and who should I choose – PADI or SDI?’

I’d like to explain the reasons why at Beyond Diving we prefer to teach SDI courses.

 

The team at PADI do a really great job at promoting their brand. Those PADI posters you’ve seen, that dive show you attended, those magazine spreads you’ve read. These all stick in your head, and have turned the name “PADI” essentially into a generic for “scuba diving certification”.

SDI on the other hand, have a much smaller marketing budget. A budget that they gain from smaller dive agency fee’s, smaller certification cost fee’s and smaller staff budgets (I guess they don’t have a big fancy marketing team working from a new shiny office). Yet, they still do a fantastic job creating a buzz about the agency, keeping in touch with the instructors and dive centers affiliated to the agency, and most importantly, making themselves available to all members. Not to mention every person who works at TDI-SDI Headquarters is an active diver, dive instructor and/or instructor trainer for different levels of recreational and technical diving.

So just because you are aware of one more so than the other, is it fair to say that they offer a different service? A service that is less safe, that has less quality? Less educational value?

OF COURSE NOT!

We prefer to teach SDI because of these reasons:

Student Focused Learning:

SDI Instructors can modify their teaching methods to suit the students pace of learning but PADI run their courses in a strict set order. To give you an example, think of it as McDonald’s and your favorite local eatery. You go to any McD’s in the world, and you pretty much know what you’re going to get with very little room for modifications (if any), but if you go to your favourite restaurant, you can get your food made according to your needs and wants.

Order is good, isn’t it? Or why should this matter to me?

Imagine you are taking a PADI course, and you have problems with Skill A. Well, according to PADI standards, Skill B cannot be started until Skill A has been mastered.  If you continue to struggle with said skill, then the course starts to loose its fun factor, you stop enjoying it, your confidence goes down, and that sucks.

With SDI’s proven methods, your instructor can move on and come back to that particular struggle area at a later time, making you feel more comfortable, less stressed – ultimately more safe and in control in the water at any given time, which greatly increases the level of fun and enjoyment.

In Playa del Carmen, currents can sometimes reverse, pick up or die down, so it is important for us to be able to be flexible when conducting our training dives.

SDI started from technical diving:

SDI is the sister agency of TDI (Technical Diving International). This means that it was created following the strict protocols and procedures needed for conducting advanced technical dives. While we don’t expect you to become a technical diver right away, we will train you with the hopes that some day you will and a solid foundation.

Instant Certification E-Card:

With SDI, besides you getting a physical card in the mail, you will be able to download your electronic card free of charge. This means that although the card might take a few weeks to get to you, you will have the card in your phone ready to go. Also, in the event of you losing your card, you do not have to worry. You have it in your phone. You can dive anywhere in the world, even if the next dive center you choose is only offering PADI courses. PADI actually charges you over US$20 for an electronic version of your card.

The benefits of chosing PADI over SDI?

Well, that one is really up to you.

Let’s go over the similarities once again…

Both are governed by the WRSTC – so PADI & SDI have quality of training and safety – check!

Both offer the same format – videos, theory, knowledge reviews, confined water training, open water training, exam – check!

Both have been around for over 20 years – professional and have longevity – Oops I missed that, well, here you have it!

DID YOU KNOW?

You can even move between certification agencies, do your Open Water with SDI and then switch to PADI for your Advanced course, all the way up to professional Instructor level. Keep in mind that through SDI, to earn the level of “Advanced Diver” you must have 25 dives and 4 specialty ratings (only 1 of them can be a specialty that doesn’t require dives – such as Equipment Specialist). With this, you can actually call yourself an “Advanced Diver”, whereas with PADI, the Advanced Open Water Diver rating is achieved after completing 5 dives (deep and navigation are compulsory) in the course. In SDI, we call that “Advanced Adventure Diver”.

SDI Scuba Diving Courses

Conclusion:

Which is better PADI or SDI?

Well, honestly when it boils down to it, it’s your decision. There’s no difference in training quality, world wide recognition or experience level.

We always recommend  that you make your choice based on the instructor rather than the agency. Pick the dive center you feel most comfortable with, the one who you have connected most with. The one that is the most informative, the one that doesn’t ‘bash’ the competition based on a negative, mostly uninformed, fictional view of  other certification agencies.

To reiterate, at Beyond Diving we can teach both PADI and SDI courses, we just prefer SDI based mainly on the flexibility allowed and in the agency’s roots in technical diving.

 

Similarities

Internationally Recognized – Dive anywhere in the world

Interchangeable – you can get certified as an Open Water Scuba Diver with SDI, then Advanced Open Water Diver with PADI. Or even better, stay and progress with SDI.

Safety – Science, Skills and Techniques are essentially the same

Insurance – if your insurance covers scuba diving, you’re covered!

Theory (AKA book learning)–

SDI: E-Learning or Manual.

PADI: E-Learning or Manual.

 

Differences

Water Flexibility and Skills –

SDI: Yes. The instructor can adapt the course to fit the pace of learning, ensuring a student focused training program. Students are taught to always maintain neutral buoyancy and horizontal trim. The courses are taught with the use of dive computers.

PADI: None. Skills performed in rigid sequence with no wiggle room for changing water conditions or student learning pace.  Neutral buoyancy and trim are generally not introduced into the course until it is well on its way. If you do change, you break standards. If you teach more than what is required in the course, you break standards.  Courses are still taught using dive tables only, adding unneeded complexity and [in my opinion] antiquated materials in the age of dive computers.

Certification Cards –

SDI:  Sent to your home (physical card), and free electronic card to keep in your mobile devices.

PADI: Sent to your home, 90 day temporary card issued, extra charge for electronic card.

e-Learning –

SDI: Yes. And if you get stuck along the way, they have a nifty “Chat with an Instructor” button which will connect you to one of the instructors at HQ to answer your questions. The transcript of the chat is then emailed to us so that we may follow up with you.

PADI: Yes. However, if you get stuck, you might have to wait hours before you get a reply from your instructor to answer the questions you may have.

 

 

Ultimately, the decision  of taking a PADI or an SDI course is yours.  If you train with Beyond Diving, you will get a course that is second-to-none. Regardless of the agency.  It is very commonly said that the instructor, rather than the agency make the difference, however, we truly believe that the right instructor coupled with the most advanced and best method of teaching can and do make a gigantic difference in your training and future enjoyment as a certified scuba diver.

Learn to Dive Today
By erik

The importance of proper scuba diving training

When you plan a tropical vacation and you decide to come to Playa del Carmen, you have many options for your choice of dive centers that offer training and scuba diving certification courses through a variety of training agencies (PADI, IANTD, TDI-SDI, SSI).  Some offer fantastic training, some unfortunately do not.  We are not going to name names, and we are not here to say who is good or who is bad (but we are great though!).   It is important that when you choose to train with which ever dive center, you ask about the instructor who will be conducting your training.  How long has he/she been an instructor? How many dives has he/she done?  Are they all tropical dives, or has he/she been diving in other locations?  Why is this all important?  Well, perhaps you are from Canada.  Maybe you are interested in at some point diving locally. Well, conditions will be quite different there. While you will certainly need some different equipment to dive there (thicker wetsuit or even a drysuit for example), if your instructor knows what conditions are like for cold water diving he/she can talk to you about it instead of saying “oh that’s way too cold for me! I would never dive there!”

Also, it is important that your instructor focuses not just on running through the skills required for the course. That’s easy.  Every day we come across instructors who overweigh their students, kneel them on the bottom, do the skills for the dive and then a short tour of the reef never teaching the student how to actually dive.  The most important part of scuba diving is buoyancy control and trim.

When a diver is overweighed, he/she must fight the drag created by the extra weight which is going to make him/her excessively negatively buoyant. When a diver is underweighed he/she has to struggle to not float up to the surface.  Neither one of these scenarios is good.  Being overweighed ads an additional danger to the reef ecosystem. Since you are excessively heavy and sinking too much, then when you kick, you can damage the reef, injure the organisms that live in the reef (and in the seemingly lifeless sand) as well as yourself.

Proper diving weightThe little that is taught about neutral buoyancy is taught in the form of two skills that really don’t teach much about it.  We are not going to go into depth about them, but it is important that you learn how to hover properly and horizontally (see image above) and not vertically.  When we dive, we want to be always be in proper horizontal trim.

We never kneel our students nor do we overweigh them.  We try to always do all of the skills while maintaining proper trim and neutral buoyancy. After all, if/when you have to do any of those skills in real life, it won’t be when you’re kneeling on the bottom.  Corners should never be cut where scuba diving in concerned.

I don’t expect my open water diver students to be perfect like I do with my cave diving students.  After all, my open water diver students are beginners who are just learning the basics, but we don’t want to bring in bad habits from the start.  That is why at Beyond Diving we focus on proper diver education.  We want our student divers to be real scuba divers. To be safe divers.  Because when you learn how to do something right from the start, you enjoy it more. And when you learn how to dive properly from the start, your dives last longer, your dives are much more fun, they are safer (because you are doing things properly) and you will want to continue to dive because it is fun. After all, we want to you love diving as much as we do.

So if you are interested  in properly learning how to dive, or if you are already a certified diver, but you maybe want to correct some bad habits, and become a better diver during your next visit to Playa del Carmen, get in touch with us!

Beyond Diving is a 5 start Instructor Trainin center
By erik

Beyond Diving is now a TDI-SDI 5-Star Instructor Training Facility!

Beyond Diving is a 5 start Instructor Trainin centerThat’s right folks! You read it right!  Beyond Diving is now a TDI (Technical Diving International)  5-star instructor training facility.  That doesn’t mean that we will no longer offer some of the best training available through SDI and PADI for recreational diving, it means that now we can offer professional level training for TDI and SDI.  TDI offers one of the best and most demanding cave diving programs in the world. We have 3 cave diving instructors as part of our staff (one of them an instructor trainer).  So if you are looking for the best cave diver education in Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya, contact Beyond Diving and we will discuss with you all the possibilities!

 

See you soon under water!

Terrible practices for whale shark trips
By erik

No Whale Sharks Trips This Year

Crowded Whale Sharks

Ever year, the Mexican government grants more and more permits to whale shark trip operators. Over the years the number of boats out in the water has grown to over 300! That is 300 boats in the water with 10 passengers each. This means that on any given day, there could be at least 3000 people (not counting the guides) chasing after whale sharks. Every year we hear about boat captains who carelessly chase them around to give their customers “a good experience” and there have been several instances of sharks being injured because of the propellers of their engines running over the whale sharks.

Riding a whale shark

 

To us, this is unacceptable. We understand that our guests may want to do these trips, and we are sorry. This decision did not come lightly. We just cannot be a part of this. For this reason, we have decided that this year we will not be offering our guests these whale shark snorkeling trips.

We believe in Eco-Tourism.  But it seems like this idea has run amok.  It seems to be more of a catchphrase these days than anything else.  With hundreds of boats, and thousands of people out every day, it seems like the concept of eco-tourism  as a low impact activity has been lost and replaced by a monetary frenzy.Terrible practices for whale shark trips

 

wounded whale shark

We sincerely hope that you will understand why we are doing this and that you will continue to support Beyond Diving, and that you will keep us as your go-to dive center in Playa del Carmen just as you have in the past 3 years since we first opened our doors.

If these trips were driven by research/conservation efforts rather than profit, another story this would be. But for this year at least, we will step away from them (at great financial loss to us).
Thank you for understanding.
Safe dives!

Erik & Sandra – Owners, Beyond Diving.

By erik

Why we oppose Shark Feeding

Bull Shark Feeding in Playa del Carmen

 

scuba diving with bullsharks

It is no secret that at Beyond Diving we are opposed to the practice of baiting or feeding sharks during our bull shark dives. Many people have asked the reason for this, so I thought I would write a blog entry about it.

1- Safety: When we descend into the depths to conduct a shark dive, we are pretty vulnerable. If you start chumming and/or feeding the sharks in any way, you create a “feeding frenzy” which can come with catastrophic results. Fortunately, there haven’t been any recorded incidents in this area, but there have been many close calls. Some operators go as far as to dress up their guides with chainmail tops. So you tell me, if shark feeding is as safe as they claim it to be, how come they get dressed like medieval warriors?

2- Changes in behavioural patterns: Sharks are migratory creatures. They come from thousands of miles away year after year. When we feed them, we create a a change in their feeding and behavioural pattern. How so? Well, let’s assume the same shark comes back to our area every year for 5 years, if after the 2nd year, they figured out that “hey, I can get free food in this area”, they will come to said area (in our case, “shark point”) for a free meal. Then, they will start to relate humans with food. “Conditioning has been demonstrated in a captive situation in the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris (Clark 1959, Wright & Jackson 1964), nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum (Aronson et al. 1967) and the bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas (Wright & Jackson 1964). ”

3- Fishing: We are already seeing these behavioural pattern changes in bull shark populations around Playa del Carmen. They used to congregate in an area known as Shark Point. Since big numbers of sharks were known to be in the area, many fishermen (including the now infamous Humberto Anduze) will go to this area and kill sharks (we don’t fully understand his reasons, but whatever they are, they are wrong)

You may or may not know that sharks are what’s known as an apex predator/keystone species. They control the populations of other species in the natural ecosystems. When we take out one such species, the whole balance is thrown out of whack! Sharks desperately need our help. We (and the Earth) need the sharks to survive a whole lot more than we realize. Countries such as China, which consider shark fin soup to be a delicacy need to be made to understand that they are wrong. Countries such as Mexico, which still allow for the indiscriminate catching and killing of sharks need to be made to understand they are wrong! It is time the international community gets off its collective rear end, gets its head out of the sand and pressure these countries to ban all fishing, and commercialization of shark derived products!

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No es ningún secreto que en Beyond Diving nos oponemos a la práctica de alimentar tiburones durante las inmersiones de tiburón toro. Muchas personas han preguntado la razón de esto, así que decidi escribír una entrada de blog sobre el tema.

1 – Seguridad: Cuando se desciende a las profundidades para realizar un buceo de tiburones, somos bastante vulnerables. Si comenzamos a usar carnadas o alimentar a los tiburones en cualquier forma para atraerlos, se crea un “frenesí” que puede venir con resultados catastróficos. Afortunadamente, no ha habido incidentes registrados en esta área, pero ha habido muchos sustos. Algunos operadores van tan lejos como vestir a sus guías con cota de malla. Así que dime, si la alimentación de tiburón es tan seguro como dicen que es, ¿cómo es que se visten como guerreros medievales?

2 – Cambios en los patrones de comportamiento: Los tiburones son criaturas migratorias. Vienen de miles de kilómetros de distancia año tras año. Cuando les damos de comer, creamos cambios en sus patrones de alimentación y comportamiento. ¿Cómo es eso? Bueno, vamos a suponer que el mismo tiburón regresa a nuestra zona cada año durante 5 años, si después del 2 º año, se dieron cuenta que “hey, puedo conseguir comida gratis en esta área”, ellos vendrán a dicha área (en nuestro caso, “shark point”) para una comida gratis. Luego, comenzará a relacionarse los seres humanos con la comida. “Acondicionamiento ha sido demostrada en una situación de cautiverio en el tiburón limón, brevirostris Negaprion (Clark 1959, Wright y Jackson 1964), tiburón nodriza, Ginglymostoma cirratum (Aronson et al. 1967) y el tiburón toro, Carcharhinus leucas (Wright & Jackson 1964 ). ”

3 – Pesca: Ya estamos viendo estos cambios en el patrón de comportamiento de las poblaciones de tiburones toro alrededor de Playa del Carmen. Ellos solían congregarse en una zona conocida como Punta Tiburón. Puesto que los números grandes de tiburones se sabe que están en la zona, muchos pescadores (incluyendo el ahora infame Anduze Humberto) se dirigen a esta zona y matar tiburones (no acabamos de entender sus razones, pero lo que sean, están equivocados) .

Usted puede o no puede saber que los tiburones son lo que se conoce como un depredador ápice /especies fundamentales . Ellos controlan las poblaciones de otras especies en los ecosistemas naturales. Cuando se pierde una de estas especies, el balance general es arrojado fuera de control!

Los tiburones necesitan desesperadamente nuestra ayuda. Nosotros (y la Tierra) necesita los tiburones a sobrevivir mucho más de lo que pensamos. Necesitamos que países como China, que consideran la sopa de aleta de tiburón una delicadeza entiendan que están equivocados. Es necesario hacer entender a países como México, que aún permiten la captura y matanza indiscriminada de tiburones que están equivocados! Ya es hora de que la comunidad internacional se levante de su trasero colectivo, saque su cabeza fuera de la arena y de presión a estos países a prohibir toda la pesca y comercialización productos derivados de tiburones.