The Ups and Downs of Teaching Your Parents to Dive
by guest blogger Jo Armitage
“Never work with children or animals”. That’s the old expression reminding TV and film stars of the perils of working with unpredictable creatures. A few months ago I was wondering why I had not heard of a comparable saying for PADI Instructors: “Never teach your parents how to scuba dive”.
My parents decided to come and visit me and The GoPro Family when I was living and working in the Philippines. It was the first time that they had traveled to see me in my place of work, and was spurred on no doubt by the presence of my son Marc who was two years old. As they were spending a few weeks at this beautiful paradise, they decided that they would try scuba diving. An admirable decision for a couple in their seventies and a decision that I know they would not have reached had I not been an Instructor. Despite believing from the start that I would regret my course of action, I said that I would love to teach them.
I knew I shouldn’t be the one to do it. I can remember my mum teaching me to drive a car when I was a teenager. I would mirror, signal, manoeuvre, get shouted out for being too close to the curb, shout back that I was not, get shouted at more for not paying attention of the road, and so on. I am sure that I am not the only person who had this kind of experience. Yet despite these memories I agreed – no, I persuaded them – that I would teach them to dive.
When I told other divers what I was planning to do, many of them replied that they would love to teach their parents to dive. I, on the other hand, wondered what I was getting myself into.
My partner Angel was, of course, completely supportive of my decision. “You know you shouldn’t be doing this? You should get someone else to teach them.” he said to me.
“I know” I replied “but I have to try it.” A bit like when someone tells you not to touch the electric fence, but you just need to make sure.
My plan was to treat my parents like “normal students” and pretend that I had never met them before. I hoped this tactic would give me more patience and allow me to explain everything thoroughly and answer their questions without the exasperated “Mum! Weren’t you listening?” that might otherwise happen.
The first day went surprisingly well. I decided that they would participate in a Discover Scuba Diving experience to find out if they – and I – liked it first. In confined water, our biggest problem was my dad’s moustache which, no matter which mask he tried, caused it to fill within a minute or so. So he had plenty of opportunity to practice his partial mask flood and vowed to shave it when he got back. My mum tried to perform the skills at the same time as me, but my hand signals Stop! and You-watch-me were like lightening and she got the message. It seemed she was actually paying attention!
They enjoyed their first open water dive too. Our Divemaster Trainee Pusoy was certainly kept busy trying to hold on to them both to stop them floating off in all directions. But after a few ups and downs on their own they started to get the hang of it.
My parents decided they wanted to take things further and gain a certification in scuba diving. To show to themselves that they weren’t past it, I guess.
“No problem!” I told them “You can do the PADI Scuba Diver course!” and arranged some theory sessions and their next dives. I think that I was beginning to feel that teaching your parents to dive was not so difficult after all. This was my mistake.
I can only speak from personal experience but I feel that teaching your parents to dive has two challenges. Firstly they are your parents and most parents have the habit of infuriating and irritating you without actually doing anything.
An example being a five minute conversation they had on the boat about why dad’s mask was in mum’s box – “Oh no, it’s your box” – “No its not, it’s just my wetsuit” – “Well why is your wetsuit in my box” – “You just put it in there” – “Are you sure it’s your box?” – “Well who’s mask is this?”…..and so on.
“For God’s sake!” I shouted “The masks are the same!” After my outburst I had to explain to the diver next to us that these were my parents, and that I don’t speak to all my students like that. Of course, he couldn’t see the problem and said that my folks were doing a great job. But that’s it – if they’re not your parents they don’t have the same effect on you.
The other challenge is age. I often forget how old my parents are because they lead such an active lifestyle, and it seems only a couple of years since they were celebrating their sixtieth birthdays. But my dad is 73 and mum 70, and I have never taught anyone to dive at that age. Their brains work fine (well, as well as can be expected), and my mum thrives on quizzes so the classroom work was a breeze. In the water however, the lack of speed is what I noticed to be the biggest hurdle.
Doing the individual skills in confined water was trouble-free for them (and so for me too) and I was quite proud of them. But actually diving involves combining many different skills at once. Motor skills, co-ordination, cognitive strategy (remembering that to go down, you must exhale, etc). I know plenty of divers in their seventies who are terrific divers but they learnt all these skills when they were younger and have hundreds of dives making the act of diving so much more “routine”. And younger people who learn to dive seem to be able to process the information easier or at least retrieve the information and act on it more quickly.
So patience is what an instructor needs when they are teaching mature divers, and it is what an instructor needs in bucket-loads when they are teaching their parents.
But I have to say that overall it was an enjoyable experience for all three of us. My parents went on to become certified PADI Scuba Divers and have achieved something that they weren’t sure if they would be able to do, whilst I haven’t had the opportunity to bond with my parents like that since I was a kid. I don’t think there are many professions out there that give you the chance to have an experience like that, so I am very happy to be a scuba Instructor.
I am also happy that I will never have to do that again.
Jo Armitage is a PADI Master Instructor based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Follow Jo’s future adventures at thegoprofamily.com