Guest Blogger: Jo Walters
The 2015 Elite Instructor My PADI Challenge winners share the secrets to their success in this monthly interview series. Read on to discover how PADI IDC Staff Instructor India Watkins discovered both immersive peace and unbounded excitement in the aquatic realm, inspiring her spend her “Gap Year” becoming a PADI Professional. Now, she is an ocean ambassador who spends her time introducing others to the joy of diving and is well on her way to becoming a PADI Master Instructor.
1. Describe your inspiration to become a diver.
I started diving in 2009, on a family holiday to the Caribbean. Snorkeling wasn’t enough, I wanted to dive! I was transfixed by everything I saw under the water. Coming from England, I’d never seen so much life. Here though, I saw corals that looked like human brains; yellow, green and purple sea fans; schools of triggerfish and juvenile green turtles. But most significantly, I felt a deep, immersive and invigorating sense of peace. My Discover Scuba® Diving experience lead me to the PADI Open Water Diver course, and before I knew it, I was a Rescue Diver and ready to “Go PRO”. I loved it!
2. Tell us about your decision to become a PADI Professional. What or who inspired you?
As an active marine conservationist with plans to study Marine Vertebrate Zoology at university, I decided to spend my ‘Gap Year’ studying to become a PADI Professional. I thought I would enjoy teaching and it would allow me to spend plenty of time under the water. I was also inspired by my two PADI Instructors, Tony McGowan and Greg Gapen, both of whom went above and beyond in their commitment to teaching excellence.
3. How do you think you’ve changed personally and professionally as you’ve moved up the ranks from Open Water Diver to Elite Instructor?
The ability to strike a fine balance between maintaining authority, being kind and keeping a sense of fun has been crucial to my personal and professional development. It’s been tricky to perfect and it’s an ongoing process – as all learning should be.
Good logistical skills are also crucial. As a dive instructor, I am entrusted with the lives of others every day. I must anticipate and manage risk while working with a myriad of personalities. The challenges are many, but I have discovered almost all can be mitigated by careful pre-dive briefing, good planning and vigorously adhering to PADI standards. Flexibility and judiciousness are key, along with the experience to recognize potential issues before they arise.
4. What do you consider your greatest achievement in your diving career?
I believe it’s yet to come; I have now amassed sufficient certifications and experience to become a PADI Master Instructor in April 2016.
5. What is your next goal related to scuba diving?
To become an experienced cold-water diver, before aiming for PADI Course Director in a few years’ time. I want to mentor other PADI Professionals.
6. Everyone has a certain style of teaching. When you’re teaching someone to dive, what do you put the most emphasis on?
Safety is paramount. Once safe practice has been established, the fun aspect of diving follows naturally.
7. Did you have to overcome any fears, challenges or obstacles to get where you are now with your diving career?
At first, I feared my young age might be an obstacle and consequently worked very hard to excel at what I did in order to counteract that perceived disadvantage. I am now confident that – despite my relatively young age – my professionalism engenders respect and am treated no differently.
8. Tell me what you enjoy most about teaching people to dive.
It’s rewarding to observe the excitement on students’ faces when they surface from their very first dive. Even a simple thing like seeing a crab for the first time underwater gets people really excited. I also like to help students overcome their fear of being underwater. And, I love to show them the beauty of marine environment so they learn to love it and help protect it in the future.
9. Describe some of the encounters you have had along the way that inspire you to keep teaching.
Some of my most memorable experiences have involved teaching those with special needs, especially introducing nervous, elderly and disabled students to diving. It requires a great deal of patience, empathy and perseverance – but as anyone with a passion for scuba instruction will tell you, the rewards are magnified tenfold. The joy in their faces when they succeed against the odds is unforgettable!
10. What does diving give you that nothing else does?
Diving gives me the opportunity to visit places that would otherwise be out of bounds. It’s my ticket to ongoing adventure and it feeds my soul.
11. How has diving changed your life?
I am now an ocean ambassador who uses diving to promote, educate and inspire others to love and care for marine environments. Diving has given me a way to make a difference.
12. Do you believe that you change others’ lives through diving?
Yes, and I am an example of exactly that! Perhaps it’s this aspect of my work that I find most exciting.
13. Describe in a few sentences how you would convince a non-diver about why they should learn to dive?
There’s so much to see under the water. You can swim with schools of hammerheads in the Galapagos…night dive with Manta Rays in Hawaii…experience the kelp forests of California…discover the shipwrecks of Truk Lagoon… and that doesn’t even scratch the surface! If you love adventure and travel, you’ll love diving!
14. Walk me though your most memorable dive experience.
The first time I dove “CJ’s Drop Off” near the north coast of Utila, Honduras. The coral wall drops vertically straight down to 100 meters. I remember swimming over the shallow reef… over the wall… and somersaulting my way to 30 meters. Falling slowly through the water is a euphoric feeling. As I looked down, I felt a breathless awe at my small place in the blue vastness that is our ocean. It’s my favorite dive site!
Learn from the pros and follow the Elite Instructor My PADI Challenge Winners monthly interview series.