Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Man! I have NEVER felt ANYTHING like that before!”

So, back to last month’s dive trip where I went to The Big Apple dive resort with the express purpose of earning my advanced recreational diver open water certification through PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors).

If you read any of my earlier posts about the trip you’ll know that I MOSTLY found the certification course quite easy. But! Just because I found the series of instructional dives pain free, and even mostly pleasurable, it doesn’t mean that it went without a hitch. I have to confess that I had a couple diving moments that were a bit dicey; and I’ll also admit here and now that my relationship with the instructor was not perfect either.

My difficulty with Pedro was entirely my own doing. My mistake was telling Neil, the resort manager, in an email that even though I wasn’t certified by any diving associations that I did have over forty dives already under the tutelage of a highly experienced diver friend. To make it worse I even told the manager that I’d been down below 100 feet, 125 feet actually. Neil responded with concern, hoping that I had the proper level of training to do something like that. I didn’t realize it until later that he had forwarded the entire email string on to his instructor, Peter, aka Pedro, the angry Aussie! (No, he's not THAT bad. I jest!)

Pedro does have a bit of a reputation and in my case it had preceded my meeting him. The guy who I had heard about Pedro from is also the guy who convinced me that The Big Apple is the best place around to get a dive card. He said, sure, the instructor comes across sometimes as hard bitten, but that toughness is balanced by his willingness to give students the benefit of the doubt, that they actually paid attention when verbal instruction is given. And after going through the training regime myself, I can verify it’s true. Pedro tells you what you should know, he demonstrates it, has his students give it a go, and unless they completely botch it (and even if they do), Pedro will pass that student. And why not, if the new diver isn’t comfortable with their newly learned abilities, what they SHOULD do is continue to work on them until they ARE comfortable.

In my case for instance, I never did absolutely perfect my buoyancy control during the relatively short duration of my training. With Pedro observing I attempted to complete the various exercises for this important diving skill and I did get through most of them, but if I had to describe how I did, I would honestly say, speaking scientifically, that I got through much of that part of the curriculum slightly better than half-assed. Point is, I KNOW I was woeful at it and need to work on it. I still do.

The first moment I realized that Pedro was already pre-cocked to be irritated with me was on the second day in the pool. He had me demonstrate how to react to a free-flowing regulator, where it malfunctions and provides air nonstop at full blast. Obviously you can’t just leave the regulator in your mouth, the air is impossible to breathe that way. The idea is to learn how to sip air from the discharging regulator by holding it to the mouth while directing a portion of that flow into the mouth for consumption. In a real emergency situation like that you’d be heading back to the surface at the same time your sipping because at that rate of air flow your tank will soon be empty.

I was pumped at the end of the drill, which consisted of me holding the manual button down to simulate a free flow and breathing from it until Pedro was satisfied that I knew how to “sip” from it. The reason I was so wound up was that the air jetting out at that uncontrolled rate is icy cold and literally freezes the teeth during the sipping process. I exclaimed to Pedro, "Man! I have NEVER felt ANYTHING like THAT before!"

Now, I THOUGHT that THAT was a relatively innocent thing to say. No big deal, right? I was ready to press on to the next, but Pedro peered at me oddly before saying coldly, “You know, I have NO IDEA what you’ve done or NOT done.”

It was strange, because up until that moment I had never picked up any kind of negative vibes from him at all, and now, THIS. Immediately, I KNEW he had read the emails I’d sent to Neil all those weeks before. I looked at Pedro, pretending to be puzzled at his comment, while trying to figure out what he expected from me in response, if anything. I mean, I had obviously just pissed off someone I did NOT want to make upset and NOW all I wanted to do was defuse him. So, when in doubt in a situation like THAt, the best policy is usually to suck up. In other words, grovel. With groveling in mind, I said with as much self-deprecation as I could muster, “Peter, I’m here to learn from the best; and that would be YOU, right?”

He looked at me expressionless, I think looking to spot any sarcasm in me. I slapped him on the shoulder hoping to express sincerity, and not knowing if I was succeeding. Somehow, I don't think so, even though I actually WAS as sincere as I could be.

Anyway, thankfully, the moment passed and we continued on with the training checklist. At that, I told myself, ‘Dang, I do NOT want to get on this guy’s wrong side. I need him to sign me off so I can get that card! Let’s be careful with the offhand remarks, boy. Keep ‘em to yourself!’
(Famous last words!)

Unfortunately, that little incident was NOT the end of the tension between us. It turned out to be just the beginning… although, honestly, for the most part we got along just fine. It's just that every so often.... more on that in the next post.


Ed said...

In my student career, I've almost always liked the teachers that all the other students hated. I seem to thrive under them. Pedro sounds like my kind of teacher.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Pedro is probably younger than me but he's been a master diver since the early 80s. He's probably coached hundreds and hundreds of students. Anyway, he's earned any eccentricities he may have. As far as my association with him, it was never a dull moment. He made it interesting and therefor memorable.