So You Don’t Like Fish

I only recently admitted to my friends, colleagues and bosses that I do not particularly like fish. How then, did I become a dive instructor?


And as long as I’m in confession mode: At first I did not enjoy diving. Everything was foreign to me; the gear was uncomfortable and heavy, and made me feel restricted. I struggled to trust the regulator for air and my mask kept leaking, leaving me feeling like I was sniffing the entire pool up my nose.

And diving in colder water meant that I had to struggle into a 5mm wetsuit, which left me panting, hot and feeling like the Michelin man. So why did I continue diving?

Anything you can do, I can do better

My brother was the first in our family to take up this “extreme sport,” and convinced my father to join him. I signed up for a course shortly thereafter. Being the nerd that I am, I applied as much discipline and dedication to learning the theory and skills for the open-water course as I did to my college career, beginning in a quarry and progressing to the ocean for my advanced open-water certification.

By now I had caught up to my brother and dad’s certification levels and I must be clear — my family is very competitive. So we weren’t content with being mere recreational divers. I competed with my brother and father all the way through the Emergency First Response and rescue courses, pushing my boundaries, adding to my skills and growing stronger as a diver and person. The boys and I eventually moved on to the divemaster course.

And finally, during this challenging course, I found my passion for diving. As I became more comfortable in the underwater world, I realized that I was far from the only one who felt like a fish out of water at first.

Through the divemaster, instructor development course and exams I learned that even instructors must learn to make skills look easy. In fact for about a year I was unable to remove my mask without having a mini panic attack.

But my family members are not ones for giving up half way, for admitting that we can’t do something. I went to the pool on weekends, with some very good friends as my support, and practiced removing and replacing my mask until my breathing became more relaxed and regular. Eventually, I managed to swim with no mask without looking like a startled pufferfish.

Turning tadpoles into mermaids

So why did I became a dive instructor? Because every time I struggled through removing and replacing my mask it became easier. With every try I faced my fear, pushed my boundaries and became more confident. Dive skills are not just physical, but mental as well.

I often see my students struggling as they fight to keep their breathing regular, take some time to compose themselves and regain control. I see them fighting the panic. Sometimes they must surface and take a moment to rub the salt water from their eyes and clear the gunk from their sinuses. Most of the time after a few moments on the surface they are ready to try again, ready to face their fear and conquer it. This, for me, is more rewarding than finding a brightly colored fish or sea creature.

I’m lucky to see people overcome a fear every day, push their personal limits, empower themselves and grow stronger through facing that fear. They push through the uncomfortable experiences and eventually gain a sense of accomplishment. My little tadpoles turn into mermaids, and that’s all the motivation for diving I need.