Lessons Choosing the WRONG Instructor

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Lurking

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I just learned a good lesson and thought to share with others so they may avoid any pitfalls. The short version: given a choice, I went with a less expensive dive shop -- one who catered more to recreational divers -- for an advanced course and ended up paying much more than I expected. Read on if you’d like the full story…

I’ve heard it before: choose your instructor wisely. In other words, ask questions, vet them, compare -- and for more advanced courses, find out how often they dive in your specialty, what equipment and configurations they use, etc.

Well, I did all that.

I’ve gone through this process for my previous certifications, and I’ve recently been fascinated about cave diving. Now that I have a chance to vacation for a month in the Caribbean, I decided to do a Caves course! I found out that I had to first learn Sidemount (or twin BM, but I decided on SM) and that my course would look like: SM -> Intro to Caverns -> Intro to Caves for a total of 6-8 days. I was extremely excited.

I “shopped around” and narrowed my choices down to 2: A) one who seemed to love and specialize in cave diving and (but was extremely expensive) and B) the other who was willing to do the cave course, still knowledgeable yet catered more toward rec vacation divers (but half the cost for the entire 3-part course).

I chose B.

I figured I could spend the cost savings on additional cave dives and really perfect my skills (i.e. get 2 weeks of cave diving with Shop B for the same price as 1 week with Shop A). Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the learning I was hoping for. I was paired with one of the shop owner's available instructors. On Day 1, we did the SM basics in a pool, and he was super helpful in adjusting my new bp/w. We didn’t do any drills other than “take laps around the pool, practice frog-kicking, switch regulators, try sideways, get used to the tanks.” Underwhelmed, but I guess it’s just the first day. Stress Level: 2/10

Day 2, they scheduled me to join an OW boat excursion and dive in SM a couple times before we would start the cavern training (I’d be joining 1 other diver who had already planned a fundive). Fine with me. Suddenly I was on a tour boat with 40 people who were going to a nearby island to enjoy the all-inclusive snorkeling, music, food, and drinks (not what I expected but ok). I would have had amazing fun, but I was in business-mode, focused. No real pre-dive prep -- just set up your rig, jump in the water, and clip them on like I showed you that one time in a pool a couple days ago. Nothing like learning by doing! Stress Level: 6/10

Dive 1: Our plan was to follow a reef wall down to 30m. Not that I minded at all, I was curious why we’d bother going that deep if we were going to practice drills? Well, I guess he had to also cater to the other diver, since after all, he paid for a fundive. Well, the other diver went through his air like a rhino on speed. 16 mins and 0 drills later, we turned back up from 22.3m, and at about the 30min mark (after the other diver surfaced), we started practicing buoyancy and trim a little (sliding the tanks down the harness); I kept tilting to the right and struggling to stay level. I’m glad I watched all those YouTube videos beforehand because I learned more from those than this so far. But hey, I saw fish. Total dive time: 37 mins. Stress Level: 2/10 (Annoyance Level much higher)

Dive 2: Now I knew what to expect. Another fun dive, and more of the same. We used the same two tanks from the previous dive and jumped in, though still struggling to put the bungee around my right tank valve – I was using two “right tanks,” and we had practiced with 1 left/1 right in the pool. According to my computer and dive profile, we went down to 11.6m max, and I spent most of the first 43 minutes several meters behind the instructor (I’m using this word lightly), who was taking pictures and videos with his GoPro, presumably new promo material for the shop’s website. During the interval I had asked if we were going to do any practicing for what I needed to prepare for caves, and he confirmed. Minutes 43-53 were for drills (alright!). We simulated OOA scenarios, and he asked me to kick backwards + flutter kick + swim upside down. By that point my tanks had become quite buoyant, and I struggled heavily staying anywhere near flat. I was being pushed forward so much, legs straight up in the air, that I ended up just using this momentum to swing back around to come back to horizontal instead of fighting against it. I was getting sucked up during my safety stop, Willy Wonka grandpa style (the original), that no amount of burping (purging) would bring me back down. Learning: add weight next time when starting off with tanks that are only half full. This should’ve been obvious (though I didn’t realize they were the same tanks -- my fault for trusting, not checking beforehand). I feel that the extra buoyancy difference is significant with the extra tank, so I’ll remember to account for that next time. But hey, I saw more fish. Total dive time: 56 mins. Stress Level: 8/10 (Annoyance through the roof)

Overall, I felt like I was learning how to dive for the very first time. In fact, it was a horrible feeling, I felt dumb, like I lost all my training from the past decade+, bad at this, completely inexperienced and starting from scratch. Such a newbie. :oops:

I think back and wonder what my experience would have been like had I chosen the other instructor. It’s worth noting, both have great reviews and are very good shops, it’s just that they really cater to two different markets. And while this instructor was very nice, I just didn’t learn too much. I guess it’s not too late. I voiced my displeasure and said I didn’t gain what I expected. I don't think he's a "wrong instructor" - but I feel he was a wrong instructor for me. I’m now scheduling the Caverns & Caves with the other shop and may need to start from scratch again, including SM, making it much costlier than I had anticipated.

I hope my experience can help anyone who may be in a similar situation of choosing between dive shops. Remember, what’s cheap is expensive. But hey, I saw fish :D
 

Manatee Diver

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I don't think he's a "wrong instructor" - but I feel he was a wrong instructor for me.
I would say that he was the wrong instructor. The proper place to learn sidemount would be to go to some place like Carwash, where on day 1 you could've done all that you did in two days.
 

Marie13

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He had you sidemounting from a boat for your first OW after the pool?

I have to ask, did the instructor get your tanks trim during the pool session or were they butt up? I’m assuming you were diving aluminums.

That sucks. The boat dives sound incredibly stressful to me.

You definitely got what you paid for!

Zero to hero is a bad idea. You should have started SM, got some dives in, then do cavern/intro to cave. I had about 18 months (broken up into two periods about two years ago) before I did cavern/intro to cave a year ago. I’ve exclusively dived SM the past year.
 
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I have to ask, did the instructor get your tanks trim during the pool session or were they butt up? I’m assuming you were diving aluminums.
He got them trim in the pool. Once in OW, he adjusted the sliding D-ring at the start and from then on it was all basically up to me.

You should have started SM, got some dives in, then do cavern/intro to cave.
I will do some additional SM diving before my Caverns course. At that point, rather than going straight to Intro to Caves, I think I’ll get more cavern dives in.

proper place to learn sidemount would be to go to some place like Carwash
If only I’d be back in MX for cave training! I’m in DR which also has good cenote diving but less choice for this type of instruction.
 

Jim Lapenta

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I normally spend 4-5 hours in the pool alone just getting a new sidemount diver dialed in and adjusted while doing skills and drills. Then it's two days of open water dives mostly spent at less than 30 ft because we can get 5-6 hours of bottom time in at those depths without worry about NDL's or running out of air. During this time you are working on building muscle memory switching regs and clipping/unclipping cylinders multiple times. A sidemount course is not the place to start to learn to frog kick. You should be proficient at that before coming in. Then we'd just refine it and get you used to doing with the cylinders possibly restricting it depending on which ones you are using.
Sidemount gas management is also a bit different and I hope they went through all the options, the math, and why we do what we do.
I'd expect to see someone take a good sidemount class and then get a couple-few dozen dives in before moving on to any overhead training with it. What you also found out was that there are instructors who are certified to teach the class by their agency but have no clue how to teach it. They took a one afternoon workshop on one rig and, voila!, sidemount instructor! Those of us who can teach it, spent upwards of hundreds of dives in different rigs and dive the configuration as much as possible. Some pretty much exclusively.
That's why we charge what we do and why the class takes the time it takes.
 
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@Jim Lapenta If only more instructors were like you. Thanks for the comment, there’s a lot there that I hope others looking into a Sidemount course can ask about while shopping around.

In the end, I just told the guys they can keep the money for the course I had already paid in full and I’ve written them off. I’m now scheduling (re-doing) my SM course with another dive shop ahead of the Caverns course. I hope it’ll be my last Sidemount course :rofl3:
 
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