Bray Wyatt a/k/a “The Fiend” is a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) favorite and he coined the phrase “Yowie Wowie.” He explained it as follows: “You ever have something so amazing happen to you that you couldn’t control what came out of your mouth next? Yowie Wowie!” I can’t think of a better way to describe how I felt after my last open water test yesterday and I found out that I was an official PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. A real live OWSI! Yowie Wowie for sure.
The PADI Instructor Examination lasts 2 days and it is a nerve racking 48 hours for sure. On Saturday, we met the examiner in a hotel conference room in Santa Clara. The day starts with a pretty formal run through of all of the requirements and how and when we will have a chance to make up any portions that we might fail. There are a few gatekeepers in place that you just can’t re-do. If you mess up on the standards exams or make a really bad mistake in the water then you get to come back another day. After the introduction, we had 5 timed exams covering physics, physiology, the environment, dive equipment and decompression tables. These involve a lot of calculations and some pretty quick decisions that you have to make. Some of the questions are intentionally confusing and they are testing whether you really have instructor level understanding of equipment, how depth and pressure affects your body, air consumption and common dive injuries.
We all passed these exams and then were given a 50 question exam on PADI standards. You simply have to nail this one. If you don’t get a passing score then you have to come back and do all of the exams over at another examination. Fortunately, this one is open book. This makes sense though – if you don’t know how to find the basics like maximum student/instructor ratios and what the key elements are to certify a new diver you are putting lives at risk. I was happy to get a great score on this one too and then it was off to our classroom presentations.
We were given about an hour to eat lunch and prepare a lesson assignment that we received that morning. We have to hit about 10 different components during the presentation to get a passing score. You begin by make a non-diving connection and getting interaction with the class, then you present the materials showing that you have mastery of all of the various electronic teaching aids that PADI provides. You also need to emphasize the environment, suggest equipment to buy, get the class interested in specific continuing education, use a PADI online tool, demonstrate using a non-diving training aid and then summarize, reinforce and close. It’s not that hard if you follow the formula that we were taught and I really like public speaking so this part is fun for me. I got a 4.8 out of 5 and was pumped by the score.
We then headed over to Diver Dan’s about 10 minutes away for the confined water presentations. The pool at Diver Dan’s is small and hot as heck and I was already pretty nervous so it was uncomfortable. I just stuck to my deep breathing and got through the skill circuit in good shape. The examiner had us do the following underwater skills – mask removal and replace, fin pivot buoyancy, regulator recovery and clear, remove and replace scuba kit and CESA (controlled emergency swimming ascent). She had us do these one at a time and we were being watched by the other six students in the exam. It went great and I got a score of 23 out of 25 and was really happy with that. Not sure where I got dinged and I frankly didn’t care. I only needed an 18 to move forward and I was there! After these demonstrations, we each had to teach a skill in the pool with two pretend students. The instructor also assigns problems to the students to screw up some component on purpose to see if you can correct it before they get too far ahead of themselves and risk getting injured.
My skill was to teach a controlled five point descent without touching the bottom. I fortunately caught both of my students’ mistakes (one of them tried to go underwater without their regulator in their mouth!) and was able to correct it early and have them re-do the skill. I got a 4.8 out of 5 on this one and was feeling pretty wonderful as I drove back down to Monterey that afternoon. I grabbed a quick dinner, prepped my gear for the next day a then went over my slates for my open water test the next morning at 7AM. For the open water, I got to do alternate air sharing (stationary) and teaching a knot skill underwater. Those are both pretty easy and I banged them out smoothly with scores of 5 out of 5 on both! I’m so glad it went well because I was freezing in the cold water and tensing all of my muscles to keep myself from shaking. As soon as we were all done, the examiner let out a little “Woo Hoo” yell through her regulator to let us all know that we passed those two skills. Ever seen a bunch of nervous divers let loose under water? It was awesome. We all high-fived and did little dances to celebrate. What a great release.
We just had one more skill to demonstrate – rescuing an unconscious diver in the water. This involves turning the victim over, establishing buoyancy, giving rescue breaths, removing all equipment (victim and rescuer) and towing them to shore. We had practiced this so many times during the course that these were damned near perfect. Or at least they felt that way. Smooth, slow and demonstration quality. We all felt so accomplished with this skill and it was a blast to show off a little. We did our debriefings with the instructor back on shore and then received our completion certificates. After we got cleaned up, we headed back to the dive shop for pizza and some nice chill time with the examiner.
This was a hard process. We put in over 100 hours of course time in addition to all of the online studying and travel. It was humiliating at times. We submitted ourselves to constant critique. We were evaluated physically and mentally every day in tough conditions. There were many times when I doubted whether I could pull this off. Our course director Bruce Weitzenhoffer and his colleague Dane Durand pushed, prodded and molded us into dive pros – not an easy task. Bruce pushed us hard but we were ready when the time came. He was also there for every minute of our 2 day exam. He didn’t need to that but it was so sweet and helpful to see him on the pool deck and shore cheering us on. He really cares about us and that was the best part of this whole experience. I feel like I have a true mentor and friend in Bruce. He took me to a new place. I feel so much better in the water and have such a deeper understanding of my equipment and how diving affects my body. I feel like a dive professional now and am proud to be in the their ranks. I think I’ll be a kind and patient instructor and can’t wait to get out there with my first student. Anybody want to learn how to dive? First class on me. Seriously.