A Message from a Course Director
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of my Course Directors that I frequently work with, Greg Galford of Florida Underwater Sports, Sarasota, Florida. Gregg is a mentor and a peer who has provided invaluable advice and support throughout my dive career. He literally knows something about everything (Seriously! I challenge you to find a topic he doesn't know something about. First one to do so get's a cookie) and everything about diving. Read on to hear about his background, the evolution of diving, overcoming fears and women and kids in diving.
K= Me, your loving host and blogger
G= Greg, Course Director and word smith
K: My first question for you is how old were you when you first got your dive certification?
G: I was twelve years old and my whole family went diving and we did it right off the beach. With an ex Navy diver. And this is what I think is one of the problems with the sport back then. It was MACHO. I saw some statistics and only about 4% of divers back then were women. Because the training was strenuous. And Instructors didn't have a guide to teach too, so they taught their own thing. There was no real instructor manual out there.
K: That’s kind of scary
G: Yeah. So you picked a book and you went off and taught the way that you thought it should be taught. So you have these ex Navy divers and people taught by ex Navy divers and you heard a lot of things like “if you can’t carry a scuba tank across this parking lot then you can't be a diver”. Some of the skills, I remember my instructor came up behind me, rips my mask off, pulls my regulator out of my mouth, and throws my mask over to the side and he watches my reaction. And if you panic and go to the surface, you fail.
G: And it didn't’ necessarily make a “better diver” and I think that’s the misconception with that. The fact is, we don’t all need to be trained like Navy divers or Army divers or whatever they were doing back then. So, slowly but surely, diving evolved. Through the 70’s and 80’s, certainly PADI in the 60’s, took a more structured approach to it, education which made a lot more sense right?
Let's learn what you need to learn to get you into the water to get you diving. And we increased the level of diver safety as an industry through the 80's and 90's really substantially. And you look at the number of accidents and the things that were happening and, the industry has really clamped down on it. Making sure people have C- Cards (certification cards). It used to be in the old days you didn't really need a C-card if you knew somebody and they could fill your tank. My dads experience was in 1950’ish Scuba diving off of a pier in Mexico. He saw some guys diving and he was working on a yacht, he asked them what they were doing and they said “Check it out man! Why don't you come with us?! they threw a pair of doubles on his back, old school double hose regulator, no BC (Buoyancy Control Device) And they took him down to 90 feet.
K: Oh my god!
G: So you understand there's been a long evolution, a long progression, and certainly we made education easier, safer and we started to create better divers in the industry, all the way through the 90’s. Then we were hit with the extreme sport issue, and we talked about this. The thought was, diving is sedate, safe, you know the number of women diving went up. The level of women in diving was surpassing 30% at that time. And you know, I’m proud to say here (Florida Underwater Sports) we actually have more women than men involved in diving and I think that’s a good sign for the industry as well. Then we hit a little bump. Which was the extreme sports, you know X-games came out. Diving didn’t seem “X” or extreme enough at the times. So we started to see the number of certifications flatten and drop. Now we are starting to see it on the rise again.
I think what I love about the industry now, is people come in to learn about the sport. More people come in to learn about the sport than anything else.
K: You mean they just walk in the door?
G: They walk in the door and they go “I want to take my Open Water Course. Then they go “I want to learn more. I want to take my Advanced Course. I want to explore more environments. We are going to “This trip”, I need my Nitrox, I want to be a better diver”. And truly this is a sport at the end of the day. The Williams sisters weren’t born tennis stars. There was a lot of practice involved getting to their level. If you practice it, if you work on your technique, you become a better diver. You move up in the sport. That's another thing I love about this sport. There is no end to the learning. What we know about diving is always evolving. So you have to stay up on what's going on and understand that what we believe today, tomorrow may be something that we say “yeah we're never going to do that”. Classic example, something like a deep stop, We all thought it was perfect at the time. Then computers start modeling it and they go yeah that doesn't make any sense. You're actually harming yourself.
K: Or like reverse profiles, which we can do now. (Note: previous thinking was that to dive safely your first dive should be the deepest with subsequent dives getting shallower. We now know that does not have to be done that way).
K: Ok that’s one evolution, the safety standards, anything else that has evolved since you were a kid?
G: Yes so the safety standards and the equipment have substantially evolved. As much as manufactures say that their equipment is revolutionary there are very few revolutionary pieces of equipment. What's really changed about the equipment is that it's more comfortable, it's engineered better, it lasts longer, there are fewer defects we are seeing now. You know when they talk about specs on regulators and how tight they have to be.. Used to be that you couldn't take two of the same parts and interchange them. Now you can. Everything’s interchangeable.
K: That is pretty cool
G: And that's where we've evolved from the 50’s and 60’s to the manufacturing processes of today. The cool thing is that a set of gear from 1977, when we first bought gear, you know a nice set of Scubapro gear, our gear was $1400. And that’s in 1977 money. And today you can buy a nice set of gear for $1400 and you think about that in terms of inflation adjusted dollars and guess what? That 1977 $1400 gear would probably be $4000 today. So the cost keeps coming down, it doesn't move up for insulation and the engineering is amazing!
K: So would your gear from 1977 last the same length of time as if you bought gear today?
G: No it wouldn’t. There are manufacturing decisions and design decisions That they made in the 70’s that you could tell that they were not going to hold up. But the gear today I am so impressed with, when we pull it apart and rebuild it, even in the worst conditions, you know we have people that work in research stations in Madagascar and never rinse their gear for 2 years. We clean it out and put new soft parts in it and is operating back at brand new specs.
K: Yeah my gear has lasted me for ten years now with no signs of stopping.
So when you were a kid,, what was the first thing to interest you in diving?
G: I just loved it! You know everything about diving fascinated me. And the skills fascinated me and believe it or not this is one of the things I believe we are missing from the current education system, diving is sometimes just too easy. But, being held to a standard with the Skills and expectations, it was a bit of an accomplishment to get your certification card. And then from there to have the confidence to be a good diver. Which left me interested in fish identification, a little bit.
And then I was really lucky because for us it was just a family vacation. And that was really cool because I would get pulled out of school, we would go diving someplace really nifty and that kept me really bonded with my parents.
K: That’s very awesome! That’s what Zoey wil be doing :)
So what made you want to teach?
G: I didn't start out with the intent to teach diving. I started out with the intention have something to do on the weekend cause I was working a corporate job. Diving appealed to me because as a kid I had such great memories and I had dove on and off for years and I wanted something that I could do to tune out. Going underwater I don't have my cell phone, I didn’t have email, I didn’t have anything. And you know, I find diving to be extremely peaceful. And when I first took my Rescue Diver course, you know I had to take my Rescue Diver course, And I took that and I saw somebody helping out in the pool and I thought to myself, you know it would be really cool to be able to help out on something like that. And then the next thing you know I'm a Divemaster. And then the next thing you know, I’m an Instructor.
K: That sounds kind of familiar.
G: I don't want to say that you fall into it but, there's a definite path where you feel like it's the right path. You're putting one foot forward and you keep moving down the steps of the path.
K: You’ve actually gone above and beyond Open Water Scuba Instructor to Course Director, and how many Course Directors are in Florida?
G: I would guess there’s about 30- 40 of us.
K: So it’s a pretty rare field?
G: It’s a rare field, it is.
K: What made you take that path? Shop owner and Course Director that is.
G: At it’s core its knowledge. I want to know everything that I can about diving. And one of the most important pieces is creating instructors that have that passion for diving that I do. And I knew that unless I was a Course Director I was just getting other people's trainees essentially. and I think that anywhere training is too easy, and that includes the Instructor Development Course, You are creating instructors that don't hold their students to a high standard. Students want something that means something.
K: Yeah, of course.
G: So, I really enjoy how to teach diving. It's just really fun! You know when you're talking to an instructor It's a very peer-to-peer relationship and you can say “here that's where I messed up and here's where I don't want you to mess up but, you might mess this up but, here's some really great tips”. And you see a kind of passion, And that's just awesome.
K: I think it's important to know that, new instructors are going to make mistakes and mess up and you need to be able to learn from it.
So what are some challenges that you see, currently for divers? Obstacles they may need to overcome? Like finding a dive buddy or simply keeping diving.
G: Usually the biggest obstacle is getting out there and keeping diving. The biggest and most Current obstacle is time. Everybody is busy, and it's hard to set aside time to practice the sport. And that's what you need to do. Practice the sport. Where I see the biggest obstacle becoming a problem is somebody will not dive for six, seven, eight months and then they'll go to Jupiter with me, they will jump off the boat and the anxiety is up, they haven't been in the water in a while, and they are trying to remember everything they need to do, and they drop down and they burn through all their air in 20 minutes and have to come up. And so that’s how it manifests itself, that's how that lack of time manifests itself. The other obstacle is around here sometimes we’re challenged to find opportunities to go diving. That's the big thing we have to keep doing this at the store., make those opportunities. Whether it’s going to the other coast if we are blown out here or if there’s bad red tide or something's going on and we can't get in the water. Then next on the list, you know this real well, some people have young kids especially when they have two young kids, they tend to drop out of the sport. But it's really rewarding to have somebody come back to the sport and bring their 10, 11 or 12 year old to the sport and go diving as a family. I think that's one of the greatest things I've ever seen.
K: What would be a way that someone can overcome that? They want to dive but, they don't have a dive buddy in the same situation, you know with kids and time?
G: Talk to us! You know it's funny because we put it out there, anytime I put out a buddy request on Facebook, you'll get a bunch of people that will raise their hand or pop up to go diving. If you get into the community, that's the other thing I love about diving, it's a community, once you get into the community you would be surprised how much ther people are willing to help. Then the other thing is to try and schedule things with a purpose. Such as, reef cleanups, beach cleanups, jetty cleanups. That gives you a reason to say “Oh, on Saturday I'm going out that morning to do this dive or this cleanup”.
K: “ Honey you’re watching the kids!”
G: And interests vary. I have people that are interested in killing *lionfish. Okay great! Here is the lionfish challenge let's get you out there, let's get you diving. Help people team up to make lionfish teams. Great!
K: You brought up community which is a selling points for me personally. Simply because I was a stay-at-home mom for so long and I really just wanted to get out and about and now I've made lots of friends through diving.
G: People in the sport, you start talking to them and you find out more about their background and your like”that is so cool!! He did this and he did that!” and that is what is so cool. It definitely brings together different people from all over the Spectrum. I think that I've had more interesting conversations after diving, sitting around over a beer or dinner or something like that, with somebody, and you'll find all of these common but, distinct from diving interests.
K: So what advice would you give to a newly certified diver?
G: Practice. Go out and use your dive skills.
K: Something as simple as a beach dive?
G: Sure a beach dive. And try to find something that interests you. You know. There are so many aspects to diving that are different and different types of diving. Everybody that has done a lot of dives has one type of diving that is their favorite type of diving. You'll see they're diving time over a number of dives has changed and they will always find something new about it.
K: Always exploring.
What message would you have for somebody who is interested in diving but maybe something is holding them back? Money, fear, something like that.
G: Normally What holds people back is fear. And you need to try it and you need to remember that it takes a couple of hours for your brain to actually believe that you can do this. And you need to remember that everybody goes through that. Talk to your Instructors and to other divers, you'd be surprised to find out that some people took many hours to overcome their fear, some people took right to it.
The second reason that people fear diving is because they think the fish are going to attack them. That's not the case. You know you laugh but, you'd be surprised, there's a lot of misconceptions about what sea life does, especially sharks. And you know now that we're coming up on Shark Week, every Shark Week we go through, we have a couple people that cancel after they watch it. And it's sad because you know that as divers we love to see sharks in the water, that's one of our favorite things to see. If we see sharks we are very happy because most are threatened species right now. We like to see them out there and see them healthy. They don’t want to bite a diver. That’s the last thing in the world they want to do. They are very scared of us. They are curious but, they are scared. And you know they're lazy! That's the one thing people don't get. They are lazy eaters. They are looking for an easy lunch, not something they have to tangle with. That's not their favorite thing in the world.
If you’re struggling with fear and you want to know a few exercises before your Open Water class, like if you’re worried about having to clear water from your mask. There are exercises you can do to help you get ready for the class. And we will walk you through those. We do those all the time to help get people ready.
K: You know my passion project Is getting more women involved in Diving. More pink fins in the water if you will. How do you think we can evolve this sport to be more gender inclusive?
G: This is a hard question Because I think that this sport has evolved to be more gender inclusive. The days of yore, if you will, when you walked into a shop and sitting around over by the counter are four guys and they're all having a cup of coffee and they look at you and go “what do you want”? we've all had that experience. Whether it's in the store or it's going to a particular dive shop. We needed to change the industry to get rid of some of the older attitudes. Like “kids can’t dive”. Well why can’t kids dive? “Just because kids can’t dive”. And I hate to say it, but we also had a lot of sexist, male instructors in the sport. And that generation has been retiring, leaving the sport and what we find now is that the number of women in the instructor rank is starting to Surge. And I think that that Is really exciting. Because women in the instructor ranks create women divers. And also we are getting more requests specifically for women instructors. More “I want a woman to teach me”.
K: It's pretty balanced here as far as male to female ratio of instructors. I think there might actually be more female instructors now.
G: More Female instructors and more female divers as well. That is a great trend. And I think that dive shops that don't embrace that are inevitably going to fail. And I think that the exciting thing about it is making opportunities for families. Certainly as we've seen gender-role shifting for a lot of years now, we see fathers more involved in parenting. Unlike when we were growing up, it's changing to be more positive. And I think that is also another reason that we have more people coming into it as a more inclusive sport.
K: And I think that we even offer some family trips here at the store don’t we?
G: We offer family trips and We also offer private training for at the same price as normal training. Because they're going to have three or four people that are going to want to get trained. And what’s neat is, and you’ve been on the other side of this, they all know exactly the same thing and they all hold each other to the same standard. And as a diving unit I've seen some families that is just so cool to see them having fun, being safe and just exploring.
K: Yes, it is very cool. And I can’t wait!
Greg do you have anything you would like to add as far as, a message to divers, a message to women divers, kids?
G: One is that as a new diver you need to find an instructor and a dive shop that you can work with that suits your personality. And I'll be the first to admit that we may not suit everyone's personality. Because they are looking and they have different goals in mind. If you go in and you're working with your dive shop or instructor and it doesn't meet your expectations or what you want to do, go find another dive shop. Because that will actually make you want to go diving after you’ve done the course. You need to come out of all of your courses confident and relatively competent for your level of diving. People come out and they're not feeling confident in their skills and so there's a hesitancy to dive and that to me is a travesty. Because we invest a lot of effort and time as instructors to make sure that they come out feeling competent, and when you hear that they didn’t go diving after the course, I get very sad about that.
Then the other thing is that, You as a new diver, may not feel like you can get certified but, one of the things that we’re working on. for a whole bunch of reasons, whether the reason be psychological; fear of the water fear of marine life, or it can be medical, and It can be as simple as you just don't think you can do it. We, as instructors have adaptive teaching techniques. And adaptive teaching is one of the best new concepts in diving. And I say new because we leave the rigor of the standards where you say “oh you’ve got to do it this way”, and we focus on the student. And that's the big thing that the instructors have to focus on, how the student can finish the goal, or the skill. So what we're seeing is a whole new concept, and this is where really the instructors that you love are using adaptive teaching methods everyday. But what we're seeing is diving being opened up to a whole group of people that previously weren't able to dive.
K: People with disabilities?
G: Disabilities, I've taken divers out with MS and that's a classic group of people that weren't allowed to dive before but can actually go out and dive now. And People with back issues in particular. Because guess what, underwater your weight less and it's really cool to be able to move in three dimensions without all the strains on your body. So don't let a disability stop you. We can figure out how to make it work. That's the cool thing about what we do and that's the fun of it. That's the fun of our community. That’s important to us.
Thank you Greg for your insights!!! It is such a pleasure being able to work side by side with amazing people who love the ocean and diving and genuinely want to see the best for divers!