Insider Tip: Writing a PADI Distinctive Specialty

By Tara Bradley Connell

scuba diving the great lakes

Photo: Thomas Rhoad

In order to share their love for diving the Great Lakes, PADI Dive Instructors Kim Parker and her husband, Tom Rhoad, began training people out of their home. When they realized they needed more space, they opened up Aquatic Adventures of Michigan. For 17 years running, the husband-and-wife team has been catering to fellow divers in the Great Lakes area.

Wanting to give special attention to Michigan’s unique diving conditions, Parker noticed a need for some PADI Distinctive Specialties specific to the Great Lakes. And since nothing like that previously existed, she decided to write her own.

“We sometimes feel that the ‘Middle Coast’ gets forgotten when diving is discussed, and we want the diving community to recognize that there are wonderful diving opportunities in the Great Lakes,” Parker says. “If you enjoy diving shipwrecks, especially intact old wooden wrecks, there is no better place than the Great Lakes. The wrecks are preserved and protected as an important archeological resource by the surrounding communities.”

Requirements for each specialty include confined water training, finning techniques, reel work, rescue skills, and four dives on various shipwrecks specific to each lake. The mission: to empower divers by focusing on the wreck’s structure, local conditions and history.

“Each student is required to survey the wrecks, know the history of a wreck and cause of its sinking,” Parker says. “This is done by visiting local museums with dive buddies and the instructor to gather research information.”

diving the great lakes in michingan. Photo: Courtesy of Kim Parker

Photo: Thomas Rhoad

Research was also a key factor for Parker and her team when planning the structure of these specialties.

“A lot of research went into each of these specialties, and I can’t take all the credit for it,” Parker says. “Two of Aquatic Adventures of MI Instructors, Gary Flum and Thomas Rhoad, helped with the materials that created the specialties, too.”

Together, the group created a series of seven PADI Distinctive Specialties:

Lake Michigan Wreck Diver

Lake Huron Wreck Diver

Lake Superior Wreck Diver

Lake Erie Wreck Diver

Lake Ontario Wreck Diver

Great Lakes Invasive Species

Great Lakes Master Diver

In order to gain momentum among the dive community, Parker came up with the Great Lakes Master Dive program, making her the first person to be approved for a PADI Distinctive Master Scuba Diver certification.

“The concept behind the Great Lakes Master Diver was to provide diving goals to divers and expand their diving experience towards the Great Lakes,” Parker says. “These certifications give us the opportunity to educate and explore all five of the lakes and to understand what threatens them.”

From concept and research to training and certification, Parker notes that one of her biggest obstacles when writing these specialties was finding objectives to differentiate the unique aspects of each lake.

“Keep in mind what your students and your goals are,” Parker advises. “Figure out how can you challenge students to meet those goals while improving their dive skills. You want to be proud to have your instructor name on their certification card.”

But no matter what specialty Parker and her team are working on, the common goal is to promote diving in the Great Lakes.

diving the great lakes Photo: Courtesy of Kim Parker

Photo: Thomas Rhoad

“To keep people in the water, you have to challenge them,” Parker says. “What better way than to create a dive specialty that is challenging, fun and unique?”

Seven PADI Distinctive Specialties later and Parker has turned a passion for local diving into a PADI Great Lakes Master Diver Program that her dive community can be proud of.

If you’re interested in writing your own PADI Distinctive Specialty course, contact your Regional Training Consultant for more information.

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