By Joe Froelich
Practically every diver has thought of becoming a diving instructor at one time or another. The dream of working in an environment that features crystal clear waters, sun-drenched beaches and coral reefs teeming with life would interest just about anybody who has ever put on a mask, snorkel and fins. With more dive shops and resorts opening their doors seemingly every day and current dive businesses needing strong personnel, plenty of opportunities are available to live the dream of a diving career. These businesses are looking for men and women who can step in and be productive immediately. As the industry becomes more sophisticated and the number of qualified people increases, acquiring an instructor rating and getting first hand experience are the necessary first steps to making the dream a reality.
Choosing an instructor school is an important decision. Three basic questions should be answered. First: Will the diver receive full value for the price? Second: Will he/she receive the training necessary to not only pass the Instructor Exam (IE) but also to be adequately prepared for teaching? Third: Will he/she be able to find a job after receiving certification?
Based on this criteria, one of the best options has to be Divers Unlimited, in Hollywood, Florida. This PADI Career Development Center is the oldest continuously operated instructor school in the United States. Its longevity can be attributed to the leadership provided by owner Dave Inman, whose motto is 'Pride, Professionalism and Promotion of the Sport.'
Inman is quick to point out the many benefits of Divers Unlimited. DU is not an 'instructor factory' only interested in getting divers through the Instructor Development Course and then sending them on their way. One of the main reasons it has remained in business for the past 24 years is the passion the staff instructors share for teaching. 'We are not interested in only certifying divers as instructors, we are interested in training people for jobs in the diving industry,' Inman told me. 'We think of our students more as extended family versus merely being customers.
'From the beginning of training through the Instructor Evaluation, our staff instructors are present,' he continued. This attitude has earned Divers Unlimited numerous awards and titles for excellence; including being named by PADI the #1 training school in the USA on three different occasions.
Divers Unlimited's new training satellite in Pembroke Pines, Florida, scheduled to open this month, will be designed to train today's instructors for tomorrow's divers. The state of the art full service facility with an heavy emphasis on diver training, features an indoor heated pool, changing rooms and two classrooms. A main focus of the new facility is convenience. Everything an instructor candidate needs, from housing to the Diversion (the DU dive boat), is within 15 minutes of the school.
The new location also affords DU the opportunity to offer a much more detailed mixed gas instruction program. Currently, it offers instruction for Enriched Air, but classes are planned in the near future for Tri-Mix and Heli-Ox.
There is no doubt the divers of the 21st century are going to be more high tech. Society relies more and more on the multi-media capabilities of computers. Divers Unlimited is doing everything it possibly can to accommodate technology. One of the main features in the new location is a new Digital Projector. This high tech tool is extremely valuable for diver training allowing Divers Unlimited to use computer generated images and videos to customize its training presentations. Course directors will be able to take instructor candidates through the latest CD-ROM training aids as well. Any instructor wanting to work in a modern facility will have to learn how to make presentations using the multi-media components currently in use at DU, either in addition to or in place of traditional training tools.
Also added to the new facility are several personal computers for the students. These will be tremendous aids for several reasons. An instructor candidate will be able to take practice exams in preparation for the academic portions of the IE. The new computers will also prove very beneficial for beginning divers entering the Start Today program. Anyone wishing to take the Open Water Class can start immediately by simply booting up a computer, working his or her way through the Open Water manual and video at his/her own pace. The exams can be put into the computer and the answer sheets printed out with an explanation for questions answered incorrectly. These sheets are ready to be signed by the student and placed in his/her folder.
To keep current with the ever-changing aspects of the diving industry, the Instructor Gold Program continually develops new ways to meet the needs of today's resorts and dive centers. The post-graduate program is divided into several phases. Taken together, these programs will give new instructors a valuable head start because of the practical working knowledge they receive.
The first phase of the program is the Master Scuba Diver Trainer Course. Participants master their choice of 5 of the 13 specialties offered at the instructor level. These are dependent on the interest of the student. The most common include Wreck, U/W Naturalist, Night, Deep and U/W Navigation.
According to Inman, the most efficient way for candidates to learn is with practical work experience. Candidates receive this in abundance during the Resort Specialist course, the second phase of the program. The staff places the candidates in hands-on situations at every opportunity possible. Participants actually practice teaching classes under the guidance of a course director. Candidates sit in on one class, then teach two complete classes from beginning to end. This includes using all educational support materials, conducting pre and post dive briefings, conducting dives and all administrative aspects of instruction.
Job placement is one of DU's strongest assets. There are graduates of the school currently working in shops and resorts all over the world as managers, owners and instructors. They are constantly calling on their alma mater to fill open positions. At any given time, DU has a listing of between 250 and 400 job openings worldwide.
Since 1994, Divers Unlimited has been responsible for the diving operations at Biscayne National Park. Diving charters in the area are restricted to only one concessionaire. This limits the number of divers who experience the park's lush reefs through a commercial operator to less than 13,000 annually . These reefs are part of the same tract found off Key Largo but have not been exposed to anywhere near the same diving pressure. The end result is excellent diving on some of the most pristine reefs in Florida.
Coral growth in the park is spectacular. Several of the shallower reefs such as Pacific Reef and Shark Reef are covered with colonies of Staghorn, Elkhorn and Finger Corals that provide a home to an extremely diverse and plentiful fish population. These sites are shallow and ideal for divers of all training and experience levels.
The most publicized site in the park is The Wall. This is the only true wall dive off Florida. The Wall starts at about 70 feet dropping more than 40 feet to the sandy bottom at 110. Conditions rival anywhere in the Caribbean, with average visibility at 100 feet. The tremendous relief also attracts more sealife than just about any other reef in the state. A diver can expect to encounter sea turtles, Green Morays, Barracuda, monstrous groupers and, occasionally, reef or Bull Sharks. Huge Southern Stingrays and Cobia are often seen hiding in the sand. The Wall is often conducted as a drift dive because of currents.
To speak to a Divers Unlimited career counselor or to receive an information packet, call (888) 232-7234 (CDC-PADI) in the U.S. or Canada. If in Florida, call (954) 981-0156 or fax (954) 963-5255. You can write to Divers Unlimited, 6023 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, FL 33024. To book a trip to Biscayne National Park, either contact the shop or call (305) 230-1100.