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by Victoria Brown
Header Photo by Leo Grower, Ocean Leisure
The sound of escaping air whooshing through purge valves tears through me. I consider the impending hours I will be standing in front of the compressor, filling the cylinders as my group of divers is using their air supply as ammunition stocks for their new air guns. Sorry, I mean regulators.
I am dressed in my wetsuit, with my diving instructor hat on, loudly addressing the rowdy crowd of teenage boys, attempting to gain silence and get their attention. Futile, as you can imagine. In a bid to appear in control, I try again in a firmer voice, this time individually name checking each member of the group, none of whom are paying attention to me over the buzz of activity. I walk around the buddy pairs conducting final checks, repeating the pre-dive safety mnemonic to the group (that seems to slip their minds from week to week), ensuring the strict sequences are executed, sorting tangled hoses, and tightening the cam bands of BCDs worn by the next generation of divers.
The crowd of excited boys yells gas pressures to the instructor on surface support duty, and they waddle carefully in their fins toward the edge of the pool to get ready to make their giant stride entrances. This is Kid’s Club, and it is more than fun. Once I’m happy, I step into the water and all eyes are on me. I mutter the weekly joke about how cold it is in the 28°C/82°F pool and go on to instruct the divers to enter the water one by one.
In the next moment we are sinking into the magnificent azure of a hidden world in search of adventure, treasure, and marine life that we discussed just an hour ago during the dive briefing. In reality, the azure comes from the colored tiles that are creating the turquoise hue, outlined by darker navy blue bordering the lanes along the 25 m/82 ft length of the pool. The only marine life are the clumps of hair, rouge plasters and lost sparkly earrings missing their pair, glinting in the bright glow of the strip lights in the roof.
Ages 13-18, and amongst their school peers, the kids are concerned with looking cool and in control during their brave pursuit of the underwater world. The group is competitive and this helps them to up their game and achieve mastery in their skills. Any slight feelings of apprehension are put aside as they try to out hover each other in sweet trim and give the OK sign every few moments to their buddy.
Colour Me Child Diver
My first experience diving with children was when I began diving. As the youngest, keenest, and last member of the Brown family divers to experience diving, my family members were my trusted companions. In hindsight, I learnt the importance of looking after other divers from them. Of course, as a new diver I erred on the wild side with little regard for or understanding of safe diving practices. I would laugh until my regulator fell out and use my air up trying to gain some sort of semblance of neutral buoyancy as I darted around discovering new species of fish and corals. I was never left alone to my own devices. They kept me safe and away from danger, they always had my back (and my SPG in view), and they never constrained my exploration through underwater play.
As I edged out of my teens and into my 20s, I was teaching recreational courses every week. My first diving job was at a dive centre in London that ran a whole variety of kid friendly diving experiences, from “bubblemaker” parties to junior open water courses, via the PADI Seal Team. I immediately began instructing the kid’s courses, and I adored it. As a young female instructor working in a busy London dive center, I was relieved to have an audience that never questioned the level of experience I had in comparison to my age.
Teaching groups of kids brought a whole world of imagination and joy to diving that reminded me of my early days learning to dive. I felt a great sense of achievement every time I had the opportunity to lead a diver underwater for the first time and reveal the secrets of the deep. This feeling was heightened by the great enthusiasm of youth.
Hogwarts On Helium?
Nowadays, I run a scuba club at a south London boys’ school. It is magical. The school is mega, it feels like Hogwarts, and is set in stunning grounds. The facilities are excellent too, a large heated pool, hot showers and free cups of tea in the staffroom.
Each child has a unique personality, and it is this powerful individualism of each of my students that defines our communication in lessons. There are the loudest characters who want to catch me out and interrogate me about non-diving related issues in front of their buddies. Then there are the divers who ask a thousand questions, the quiet ones who listen, and the ones that do not! From the less sporty ones who persist in mastery of the skills we conduct in training to the ones who appear to already be born to dive, they all come together to share this extreme experience.
Despite the liveliness of some groups, as the time nears for open water qualifying dives the groups tend to knuckle down as their thoughts turn toward cold water, and they consider the severity of possible situations if things go wrong. Concentration and attention are increased tenfold during the final confined water training sessions. The divers are all there to learn now, their natural competitiveness subsides, and the team begins to work together.
Occasionally diving instructors are not keen on teaching children, for they are uninterested in what is perceived as ‘babysitting’. I find I have endless patience for the wee diving ones and find their spirit enchanting. Kids are not for the faint hearted. It is not the same as teaching adults, although I can recall a few occasions that maturity might be confused with age.
It is important to consider that they are not just smaller adults. They have shorter attention spans, and more quizzical questions arise; tactical explanations are a necessity if I want to successfully guide kids into diving. I learn so much from interacting and diving with the kids and appreciate their vivid originality. I also enjoy the challenges posed by some wonderful questions in class that spark awesome discussions.
Inspiring the NextGen
Sometimes teaching theory can be interrupted by the excitement of getting in the water, but it can also be more rewarding than the diving itself. Delivering a lesson in a firm, precise, and comprehensive manner can help. So can shorter, fun bursts that include a clear explanation of value, repetition where possible, and a lot of patience. I have a cool story to drop into at every moment, so when daydreams replace concentration, and students drift out of the classroom, sharing a gripping tale of an underwater adventure that I have had certainly grabs their attention
And another thing: when I hit waterside, ensuring that the kids have well-fitted equipment is essential. Smaller cylinders, kid-sized BCDs, well-fitted masks and smaller mouth pieces on regulator second stages and snorkels are critical.
One thing you learn when you spend time with children outside the water is anything that can happen, will happen. Introduce water, depth and equipment to the mix and it really gets exciting. There is not a moment you can safely take your eyes off the young students. You need eyes everywhere. Topside rules are check, check, and check again.
To me this is not a chore, it is part of the fun. The intense excitement is infectious, and when a group goes underwater to take their first breaths, it feels great watching the wonderment behind their eyes. I love asking the kids about how they feel and what it was like, and what they thought about.
Being a role model for my groups is incredibly important. I want to demonstrate how to be safe, have fun, and share experiences and adventures with their friends. Enabling the children of today to take the reins of tomorrow is going to change the future.
Imagine the possibilities as future underwater explorers and ocean advocates that learnt under your instruction go on to discover places where no one has ever dived before, or reverse the effects of climate change, or make more divers to protect our water sources.
Victoria Brown is a PADI Diving Instructor, Commercial Diver-Surface Supplied, and Technical Diver. Based in London, UK, she works as a freelance Content Creator for Suunto, Deeperblue.com, and Midlands Diving Chamber.
A Journey Into the Unknown
Sailor, diver, and professional software implementation consultant turned adventure blogger Michael Chahley shares his quest to discover the unknowns of our world by stepping out of his comfort zone. Are you ready to take the plunge?
By Michael Chahley
The engine roars to life, launching me out of a deep slumber and into reality. “That’s not good,” I think out loud. Rocking in my bunk inside the sailboat, I realize the wind is still driving us against the ocean swell. We do not need to be using the engine right now, so why is it on? Bracing myself, I climb into the cockpit as Paul, the captain, swings us over hard to starboard while staring wide-eyed ahead into the darkness. We are on a collision course with an Indonesian fishing boat shrouded in darkness, and it’s close enough to violate the ceiling of a safety stop. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I count a handful of men staring back at us as they also take evasive action. One of them is standing at the railing brushing his teeth while we run parallel alongside one another for a moment.
Luckily for us we didn’t collide. I went back to sleep with another adventure to share. If you were to meet me today, working a full-time job in Canada alongside Lake Ontario as it freezes, it would not be obvious I spent two of the past four years traveling. Balancing a life of adventure with one of responsibility, I feel fortunate to have explored some very remote places in our world–both above and below the water. But before I was able to explore the Pacific Ocean, I first had to navigate a personal path of conflicting identities in order to find the confidence to jump into the unknown.
For my entire life, I have been more comfortable in the water than on land. My childhood memories consist of watching my parents dive under the water for hours at a time and swim in the currents of the Thousand Islands in the Great Lakes region of North America. I followed the predictable path of our society. I worked hard, achieved an engineering degree, and secured a job. Fortunately, I was able to continue exploring the outdoors with this busy life. Long weekends were spent diving in the Great Lakes or camping in the back-country. I was comfortable enough; however, there was no real satisfaction in my life. As the years ticked by, the gap between my reality and dream world grew. Something had to change, but I did not know where to find the catalyst.
Like any other armchair traveler, I idolized the explorers from the Age of Discovery. Adventure books weighed down my bookshelf while travel documentaries glowed on the TV screen in my room at night. I understood what made me happy, but I was unsure of what I stood for and believed in. I was living a life in conflict with the trajectory I wanted to be on, but I had no idea of how to become an ‘explorer’ who lived a life in pursuit of the unknown. While commuting to work each day in a crowded subway, I daydreamed of sailing the oceans and exploring the underwater world. As I grew increasingly more frustrated, one day I unloaded my concerns on a friend. They had the nerve to say I was ‘living in a dream world’ and needed to focus more on my real life. This hurt to hear at first, but then it dawned on me! If dreaming was a part of my life, then why couldn’t I make it a reality, too? This was the catalyst I needed.
I finally understood that even though others might see my dreams as frivolous, it was okay for me to follow a path that was meaningful for me. Like a weight lifted from my shoulders, I discovered it was okay to be uncomfortable with the status quo. With this in mind, I quit my job, packed a bag, and with no concrete plans, bought a one-way ticket to go halfway around the world.
One-Way Ticket To Ride
I found myself flying to the Marshall Islands with a one-way ticket to meet someone I had only communicated with over email. The customs officer did not find it amusing, but after some tactful negotiation, I was let into the country and even offered a free ride to the marina. It was 2016, and I was on my way to meet Tom, the captain of a 53-foot, steel-hull ketch named Karaka. Tom invited me to join his crew and help them sail across the Pacific. Even though blue-water sailing was new to me, for him it was a lifestyle. He was nearing the end of a 12-year circumnavigation after saving Karaka from a scrapyard in Hong Kong. Along the way, he would have crew join him as a co-operative, which is how I ended up spending eight months on his boat exploring the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.
When not visiting uninhabited atolls, the outer communities we visited were so isolated that we were asked to help out by delivering fuel, cooking oil, and mail. During this trip, our daily routine consisted of free diving on pristine coral reefs, gathering coconuts, and sharing meals with some of the friendliest people in the world. From spearfishing with the local fishermen, exploring the shipwrecks and ruins of World War II, and partaking in long walks on the beach or up a volcano, it was a new adventure every day. As a shipwreck enthusiast, I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to free dive to within sight of the HIJMS Nagato in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll and to dive on Japanese Zeros in waters of Rabaul. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself exploring these regions of the world; reality had transcended my childhood fantasies.
Just like diving is for many of us, once I started traveling, the passion grew and is now a core part of my identity. Flash-forward to earlier this year, and I am back in the capital of Papua New Guinea helping Paul and his partner repair their 34-foot sloop named Amanda-Trabanthea for a journey out of the country and into Indonesia. Adventurers themselves, they had just returned to their boat after sailing through the Northwest Passage. Over three months we managed to visit some of the most hospitable and isolated regions of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. I was lucky enough to go diving in Port Moresby, the Banda Islands, Wakatobi, Komodo, Lombok, and Bali. By the time we survived the near-collision with a fishing boat, I had come to expect the unexpected and cherish the exciting moments in life.
Explore The Unknown
Diving and sailing share a lot of similarities. Both are perfect for getting off the well-beaten track to explore places of our world few have ever seen. We must be confident in our abilities and have the appropriate training to safely handle the unexpected. A strong technical understanding of the physics and equipment required to operate safely is very important. Meticulous planning is essential for completing long passages and technical dives. But most importantly, it is the adventure from exploring new places that makes it so fun and gives us reasons to continue doing this. I strongly believe that communities such as GUE play a pivotal role in society by encouraging and promoting exploration within the individual. With time, I will combine my passion for both diving and sailing to help discover some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world. If you have never sailed before, I highly recommend it.
I am back in Toronto where this journey began. I’m working full-time; however, this time with a much more solid understanding of myself and as well as a greater appreciation of the world we share. Only by stepping outside of my comfort zone to explore our world I was able to overcome the uncertainty that kept me from living an authentic life. Author Dale Dauten put it succinctly, “Success is an act of exploration. That means the first thing you have to find is the unknown. Learning is searching; anything else is just waiting.’’
During my travels, I realized that we cannot let others define us. We must reach beyond personal boundaries, take a risk, and venture into the unknown. In doing so, we become explorers in our own reality, which is the only reality that matters. So, rather than daydream about future adventures, we need to believe we can incorporate those dreams into our lives. All we have to do is to dare to take that first step into the unknown.
Michael Chahley is a professional software implementation consultant and an industrial engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. A finalist for GUE’s 2019 NextGEN Scholarship, he is a passionate diver, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and an experienced traveller. Founder of the online blog Nothing Unknown.com, Michael is on a quest to discover the unknowns of our world and share them with you. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at @NUDiscover on social media or his email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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