Becoming a PADI Pro – Divemaster Edition
I’m guessing all of you know by now that I moved here and had a massive fear of the water. If you don’t know, please read my blog post titled “How To Go from Complete Scaredy Cat to Rescue Diver.” This will help with the backstory.
After becoming a Rescue Diver, I still didn’t want to be a Divemaster. I was good doing what I call “princess diving.” Clearly, I was worn down. I left the island for a few months for the holidays and to go to Patagonia and Antarctica. When I returned, I signed up to be the next DMT (Divemaster trainee) at Sun Divers. They were finishing up a few other DMTs, so I had a few weeks which was perfect. It gave me the chance to get back in the water fun diving before the work began. A few things to keep in mind. Yes, I knew this was going to be very hard work. However, I had not worked in 9 months.
One perk of DMT’ing at Sun Divers is you get to pick your mentor, but you work with everyone there. This allows you to learn each person’s way of doing things and sharing best practices with others. I feel this helped me become a well-rounded DM (Divemaster) and didn’t limit my learning. Picking my DMT mentor was quite easy. I started my diving journey with Ana. She did my discover scuba diving course and then my open water course, so it made sense to finish this part of my diving journey with her.
My first week as a DMT was so hard!!! From carrying 2 tanks at a time that weigh about 38 pounds each, to finding each diver’s gear (personal or rental), carrying the gear to the boat, setting up the gear, changing the gear if it’s a 2-tank dive, unloading the gear and tanks, cleaning it all. Literally the work just keeps going. While fun diving, I saw this happening, but they either make it look too easy or I just didn’t realize how much work it truly is. At the end of my first week, I was exhausted, and my body hurt so bad. Well, it turns out I ended up having the ‘vid virus (ya, know the reason for all the testing). While this was completely unexpected, because I hadn’t had it and had been traveling like crazy, it was also a bit heartbreaking. I had a schedule on when I wanted to complete my DMT course by, and obviously this was going to delay it some. Well, it was more than some. I was not medically cleared to go back until 30 days after my negative test. Keep in mind ‘vid lung is a real thing with divers and caution is highly recommended when going back into the water after having the virus. Thankfully, I was all good!! I was cleared in time to assist on a friend and his son’s open water course. It was great to see the course from a spectator view and also work with an instructor I hadn’t before.
To complete the DMT program, there is a checklist of tasks and skills to do. We were able to start working on this list. It was great because it gave me a clearer vision of what was needed and expected. Some things were easier. For example: PADI requires you to have at least 40 dives before beginning the DMT program and 60 before being done. I was already at 100 dives before I began. I was also able to use, with a few changes, my emergency action plan I had just done for my Rescue Diver course. Other things were much harder. There are 24 skills you have to do and essentially make them all look easy. I still struggled horribly with taking off my mask underwater. This was the one skill that almost prevented me from doing the DMT in the first place.
At the end of week one, before getting sick, Ana and I worked on some of these skills. She knew the mask would be a challenge and made sure it was on the list of ones to work on. I could do every other task on the list but severely struggled with this one. I felt super defeated and mentally struggled with how I would overcome this. Ana, with her usual patience and empathy, assured me that I would get this and gave me a few tips.
When I was assisting on my friend and his son’s open water, the instructor, Nico, also had me do some of the skills We were at the end of the confined water skills and were swimming back to the shop. Nico suddenly stops, turns around, points to me, and does the mask remove and replace signal. I instantly felt my heart rate going up. I took a few slow breaths to try and keep calm. I then flooded my mask before removing, replacing, and clearing. My eyes burned so bad. I knew I had to keep it together to not freak out the students and was very grateful we were almost back to the shop and getting out of the water. Any time I had to work on skills, mask flooding or removal was always one of them. UGH!
Back to the checklist. We were checking off a lot of tasks, and then I left for Jamaica. When I came back, I had a clear goal of when I wanted to be done and what needed to be done. I was able to do the last 5 tasks in 2 days. This included my final skill circuit presentation which included mask removal underwater. Ana also made it a point while on my deep dive to just take off her mask around 40 feet and pretend that something was wrong with it. As a Divemaster or Instructor, if one of your divers has a mask issue, like its flooding or the strap broke, you swap masks with them for the remainder of the dive. Ana just pulled that thing off her face and was staring at me like it was nothing. I gave her the “I don’t wanna do this” look and took my mask off and swapped with her. This helped prepare for the official mask removal and replacement in the skill circuit. If you are wondering why she did it at the depth of 40 feet, it is because I can’t just surface from there if I start to panic. I have to learn to control my heartrate and handle the situation. The other times we have done this skill has been in water about 10 feet deep. That makes it very easy for me to just pop to the surface. Most of the time in diving, just popping to the surface isn’t an option.
While my PADI DMT checklist was done, there was one last thing to complete. My snorkel test. A snorkel test is done differently in each shop. I talked with Natalie about how I wanted mine to go. I wanted it lowkey, at the dive shop, with just the employees, having some pizza and drinks.
Being that I have been at this shop for a year, my dive tribe is like my family. I was blessed that everyone showed up to my snorkel test. Natalie was a bit under the weather, so she stayed home which was a bummer. But Shannon FaceTimed her for I think the whole thing. To kick off the night, Shannon, a man of few words, made a speech, then Ana, Nick, and Ricky. This transitioned into the “fun” part of the snorkel test. This part is up to my mentor. Ana worked with the other instructors to come up with a list of questions for me. Any question I got wrong some rum or beer was poured into a pitcher. I also had to assemble gear (BCD, regulator, weight belt) blindfolded in a certain timeframe. At the end, the rum and beer were mixed with pineapple juice. I then put on my mask, had a snorkel in my mouth, and the contents of the pitcher were poured into the snorkel for me to drink. It is all fun and not taken super seriously. At Sun Divers, when a student finishes a course, we have a bell they can ring. And ring it I did!!!
Now that my checklist was done, I was stunned and in awe. Stunned that I actually did it. In awe of what I accomplished in less than a year. Not many people become Divemasters and even less do it in under a year from their first dive. I did it!! I was officially a Divemaster and a PADI Pro!
(I love these people so much! A bunch of weirdos, but they are my weirdos <3 )
After completing my DMT, I remembered back to when I had just completed my open water and having a couple of my instructors call me “DMT Mekela”. I would reply with, “That is never happening!” Never say never.
Wander With Mekela