What it means to be a dive professional

Waiting for some Blue Sharks
Photo By: Jess Ford
Taken in: The Azores

What is a dive professional? a Dive professional is someone certified anywhere between divemaster, open water instructor and further up. Then you get freediving professionals who are either instructors or safety divers for freediving competitions.

Photo taken on Pico Island, Azores
Taken by : Chris Vyvyan-Robinson

So, you are a diver or you know someone in the field who works as a dive professional and all that you see on social media is selfies on boats, that bikini or boardshorts kind of lifestyle, blue, flat waters and a killer tan! There’s no need to wear shoes to work or flip-flops will take the cake for appropriate work attire, they will be kicked aside somewhere during the day anyway!

Working as a dive professional is a passion, it’s a lifestyle. You enter this industry as a dive master or an instructor. As an instructor, you are passionate about introducing people to the underwater world; you want to teach them about diving terms, maybe help them get over the fear of water and you are the first person to teach them about the ocean and diving responsibly. The list for instructors goes on and on, I think that they are amazing and they work super hard!

Doing some coursework back in South Africa.
I have no clue who this photo belongs to!

As a divemaster, you know dive briefings off by heart and you know almost every fish species in your location by size and colour. You can guide that dive site with your eyes shut and you can almost suss out the diver’s level of experience just by shaking his or her hand and by knowing how to listen to them in this industry you really need some proper people skills. You can fix anything, you can hear an air leak from a mile away and before you get to it you already know where it’s coming from!

a Flat and Calm Sunday in False Bay.
Photo by: Stephen Swanson

Taking people for snorkel lessons are just as rewarding, it’s the first step to getting someone in the water, to me personally it’s important and should be taken seriously, people take care of what they love and if you can teach people to love the ocean they can also take care of it. Guiding snorkel tours is just as great! Mostly you take people on tours who are not too familiar with ocean life so hearing them squeal and laugh through their snorkel or eagerly spitting their snorkel out to ask a question is like food for the soul!

Late afternoon snorkel tours on Pico, Azores.
Photo by: Daniel Schneeberger
Doing a snorkel tour on Princess Alice bank in the Azores.
Photo by: Chris Vyvyan-Robinson
Friends from Princess Alice, the Sicklefin devil ray, better known as the Mobula rays.
Photo by: Chris Vyvyan-Robinson

For some, it’s new islands and locations by the season and for others, they are more than happy to just show and teach people about their home waters. It’s sunrise and sunsets at sea, it’s a supportive community as everybody works more or less the same hours and by the end of a season, you are as tight as a family. When it gets too hot you can quickly run down to the beach for a swim or just jump off the boat, it depends on your location. You try and keep life simple and more or less every day is different.

Pico Island sending us off to Princess Alice bank with a beautiful sunrise!
Photo by: Chris Vyvyan-Robinson
a Spotted Gully shark in the kelp forest in my home waters off False Bay South Africa.
Photo by: Martijn Schouten
Twirling around my kelpy home in False Bay, South Africa.
Photo By: Martijn Schouten

After diving the same spot for days in a row you could be rewarded with some surprise visitors like Manta Rays, Mobula Rays, Turtles and on the odd occasion a shark passing by. If you guide shark dives or any other dives with a particular animal in the location after a successful day you are pretty much the best human to dive this planet, things run smoothly, the day flies by and you end the day with beers and friends sharing stories with happy and tired hearts.

Beers on Pico Island with Chrissie
The Gang!
Saying good morning to a sleepy Loggerhead turtle in the Azores
Photo by: Martijn Schouten

It looks and sounds like the endless summer eh? Well, it surely is but just like any job it has, it’s moments and tough times. Behind the flip-flop tan, sun-bleached hair or salty, knotty curls there are some pretty big misconceptions about the work that we do.

It’s not all coconuts!

During peak season it is 12/14/maybe even 16-hour days and that is not the “odd day” a week; it can be days in a row. There was this one day and I will never forget it, we went to work at 6am and only got home at 22:30/23:00pm, I am not even exaggerating right now. The next day, we had to be at work at 6am again. When peak season slams you go “balls to the walls” and you work your little heart out. If you want to cry you can cry on the inside like a winner or just sweat. It’s hot in that gear room.

a Quick Bite!

After a great dive and a great day at sea, the clients head back to their hotels to shower and edit some photos as they are on a well deserved holiday. Luckily we get to go home too because being on a boat and underwater is all we do.

I almost swallowed the sky here, no bugs were harmed in the process of this yawn.

Nope..that was a bad joke. Somebody still needs to clean the cooler boxes, wash the rental gear, check the gear back in or make sure that you find that lost yellow number 17 fin because a new client is checking in the next day and God forbid if you can’t find that fin you need to change the whole gear rental inventory! (That yellow fin is a personal trauma and I did find it eventually). 

Guiding a snorkel tour in the Eagle Ray cave.
Photo by: Daniel Schneeberger
Taken in The Azores

Then you still need to make sure that enough tanks are filled for the rest of the day and the next day of diving. That compressor runs all day and all season long! It’s your lullaby at night and your alarm in the morning. The next day you get up and you do it all again!
The back of a dive centre is not a place for sissies.

Uncle Boss in the middle of logistics.
Two full boats!
Different dive spots!
Nobody panic!!

Some dive professionals work in the front office too so after a trip out it could be your shift on the desk to take phone calls, arrange the catering for the next day, arrange the trips for the next day and attend to some pretty crazy wants and needs from clients. That desk shift/job is no joke. We need to appreciate that person on the other line of the phone in the dive industry. Dive professional or not it is hard work!

Bugging Jess on the front desk in Pico.
Selfie was taken by me on Jess’ phone

You do not always smell like coconut, sunblock, shea butter or pineapples. You live in a wetsuit and most mornings you get into a wet wetsuit and some of us pee in them. Listen, you get a diver who pees in their wetsuit and then you get a diver who never admits to peeing in their wetsuit. If you gotta go you gotta goooo!

Pinching a wee? Or striking a pose?
Photo by Nina Daniels

Patience, let’s talk about patience. You have to be so patient with people and fixing foggy masks, dealing with bad buoyancy, kitting people up, continuously repeating or explaining things and dealing with people who are anxious in the water by reassuring them that you will keep them safe and that you will make sure that nothing bad will happen to them as long as they listen to you.

Some clients just will not listen, if you are sitting in a briefing before a shark dive or a far trip offshore or even a local dive – listen to the divemaster! It’s as simple as that! Stop grabbing the animals after you have been told repetitively not to, stop chasing them with your camera because you make it worse for the rest of the divers and if you are being irresponsible in the water or on the boat, a small problem can become a big problem really fast! Especially when you are a few nautical miles offshore.

Then we get to nature. Somedays the ocean can get so rough, and you just have to slap that smile on your face and go. You have to play pretend so hard and really keep a good atmosphere on the boat. Those clients worked hard to feed their expensive hobby on a well deserved holiday so they need to stay pleased.

This photo was taken by my grampa of us on the Sardine run in Port Saint Johns, Transkei
a Storm on Pico Island, Azores

When the animals do not want to work along with us the whole game changes, you need to keep composure and bend backwards for those clients, especially after 5+ hours of chumming, in rough weather conditions with no sharks; a boat can get really small, really fast. When people get seasick you need to show that you care and at times you will have to make a call to go back to land or to keep chumming as there are other clients to consider on the boat too.

Ernest has the patience of a saint and can teach people a thing or five about chumming back in False Bay

Nature is the base of this job, it is to be respected and to be understood. You get people who can not wrap their heads around the fact that wild animals do not come at the call of their name and we work at their mercy, try and explain that to a raging client who has not seen any sharks for the duration of their stay. Yes, this happens and it is not a fun spot to be in as the divemaster because you are pretty much responsible for everything in the client’s eyes.

Oh, the joy when the Blue sharks arrive!
Photo by Martijn Schouten

You need to adapt to sometimes constantly changing schedules, you need to stay patient and professional, you have to physically and mentally build stamina, at the end of the season you do not want to talk to anybody. This industry doesn’t know holidays or weekends so on the upside, it doesn’t make Mondays so blue!

My kind of blue Monday!
Photo by: Daniel Schneeberger
The Eagle Ray cave off Faial island, Azores
Photo by Chris Vyvyan Robinson

When you work far away from home all you want at the end of a really rough day is your mom and her food or that long-distance best friend who actually gets you and who you can rant at and just drink wine on her couch with. Let’s not forget about the dudes and the chicks who have to do those long distance relationships for months at a time, but gosh – those airport reunions make it so worth it!

The best friend and sister who gets it even though we are worlds apart and polar opposites.
Love you Dayna Jayde!
Dear besties who belong to dive pro’s, you all matter so much!

When you decide to become a dive professional not only do you pay a lot of money for proper equipment and course materials, it also means that you are taking responsibility for people’s safety underwater and when in the case of being an instructor you are not only responsible for their safety but also to teach them the safe and proper skills to pursue the sport.

Ernest was the best mentor when I just got my Open Water certification and he still is!
My Brother and I are both Divemasters! I think that is the coolest!

With these courses, you go through extensive underwater safety training, yearly touch-ups on first aid courses and visits to the doctors to check if you are still physically fit to work in this field. Not to mention you actually pay a yearly fee to keep your professional status so that you can actively work in the field.

Poor Preston the dummy.

We do this because when we surfaced from our first open water dive all of that saltwater that came into our nostrils through our leaking, foggy mask went straight into our veins. We saw what the ocean holds and we wanted to keep and protect it from that day on. We got so sucked into the knowledge of what physically happens to our bodies upon the first few meters of descending to that sandy bottom that we just wanted to keep learning about it. We wanted to be as smooth, cool and experienced as our instructors and we also wanted to pass this knowledge on to others.

My Salty Family
Icy cage diving mornings in False Bay

We are water people, us Scuba divers, Snorkelers, Freedivers and ocean tour guides. Protecting the ocean and teaching people about it is what we are good at and it makes us feel amazing through all the backache, earache and sinus squeeze. We sacrifice and invest a lot into a career that takes a lot of heart, soul and physical energy.

I’m so happy that I got to marry a fellow Salty Soul!

It is for sure not a normal lifestyle and it is not for everybody. We chose it because we have a love for the ocean and its animals which stretches beyond measure, we want to be an influence to others and take the fear of the water away from some people. I love this crazy industry and the people in it who became family to me.

My Shark Explorers family
Admiring a Humpback whale off the West Coast in South Africa.
Photo by Martijn Schouten

We move around a lot or if we do have a steady home we are rarely there. Outside on the water is where we want to be and if that is on a boat being a whale watching guide, a skipper or a dive guide we are more than happy to go to the sea! We are barefoot, salty and sunburnt wildings and we are more than proud to be this way and to live this life!

Princess Alice and her Mobulas
Photo by Chris Vyvyan-Robinson

Thank you so much to Chris Vyvyan-Robinson, Daniel Schneeberger and My Marty for all the underwater photos, and to Jess Ford and Nina Daniels for always whipping your phones out to take some awesome selfies! (I have added the hyperlinks to their Instagram accounts in their names, go and give them a follow! )