By Tom Trebisky
I once thought that it had to be this way. It was this way during my certification classes, and on the first dives I went on with that same shop. But then, when on a trip to Hawaii, I was on a boat trip with an outfit that didn't have "dive shop attitude" and I realized that it didn't have to be part of the experience, and it was a lot nicer when it wasn't.
So what is "dive shop attitude" (otherwise known as diving with the dive police, or the PADI gestapo)? One guidebook that I enjoy describes dive shop attitude as the guy sitting behind the counter on a stool, playing with some piece of gear and waiting for you to realize how cool he is. I used to mention to my dive buddy that I always felt when going into the shop that they were very busy doing something very important and it was a terrible inconvenience to have to answer my questions. I would describe dive shop attitude as the person having to impress you with how many dives they have done, how many places they have dived, and how much more they know than you do .... over and over and over again. Every question is only answered after you pay the price of acknowledging their greatness. (The subtle compliment of the fact that you are asking the question in the first place is somehow lost on people with "dive shop attitude".)
Or imagine yourself underwater and being approached by someone wanting to know "where is your buddy" and when you point to him "right over there", he apparently wants you so close to him that you are bumping heads. OK, I admit that I come from a different culture. I come from the rock climbing culture where nobody ever tells you what to do or how to do it, and I am used to taking responsibility for myself while I do things that are at least as dangerous as scuba diving. I also admit that the instructor that I had for AOW classes was better suited to being a salvage diver than to dealing with the general public spending their discretionary income on a recreational sport. In other words he had all the people skills of the high school gym coach from hell (yes my AOW classes were like flashbacks to those old days, along with a bit of college frat house hazing tossed in for good measure). My tip to you: find out a bit about your instructor before taking classes. Find out who the better instructors are and make sure you get them. We called our certification dives "the scuba chain-gang" -- don't let it happen to you!
But then, to offset the balances, there was Dan. He was there to give my buddy and I several tanks that he asked us to "haul back to the shop for him". And amazingly enough those tanks were full!! So we were able to do a couple of beach dives the day after getting certified. And Dan was there on a later trip when we asked about going out to the wreck and set things up so the whole group was going the next day. I remember his words "We be wreck diving", and indeed we were. And Julie who taught my advanced open water class aimed to make sure that we all were having fun. They enjoyed what they were doing, bent the rules just a bit, and it was impossible not to have a good time when they were involved. Thanks Dan and Julie!
Part of the problem is that diving is being marketed as something that anybody with a "minimal fitness level" and a "bit of self-determination" can be involved in. This is a serious "dumbing down" of the sport in order to pitch it to a much broader market than would be possible as a sport for the strong, atheletic and adventurous. And once the general public has signed up for classes, we need the dive police to make sure all these poor souls that we have lied to don't kill themselves. The dive industry is not alone, the skiing industry (oops, excuse me ... snow sports industry) is busy playing the same game. I have worked as a ski instructor and have seen people there for lessons that don't have the fitness to walk down the block expecting to somehow enjoy spending the whole day learning how to ski. OK, OK, I am wandering off topic .... or am I?
Do I have an axe to grind? No, not at all. I just come from a different culture, and I am finding it difficult to come to terms with the dive culture. Happily, I have also found some dive outfits that are in tune with the culture that I have lived in ever since I grew up and became an adult. So where are these enlightened dive shops without attitude? Bubbles below on the island of Kauai was my first really great diving experience with an outfit without dive shop attitude. And where did I get certified? Maybe I shouldn't tell, but it was a 5-star PADI shop here in Tucson. Now under different ownership and the guy that certified me is no longer around. In general they are pretty good these days, although the PADI police and dive shop attitude do pay a visit now and then.