A Lost Art - Professional Diver Mentoring

May 2020

When a student fails, their instructor fails. When the instructor fails, their instructor trainer also has failed.

Mentorship is too often considered a checklist; not a way of development. Anybody can do skills, but fewer than most can actually Educate. Mentoring is a true art form of itself, that dates back to the dawn of time. A common misconception is that formal mentoring begins the day the mentee starts working under you. Effective mentoring must instead begin during the initial interview process, and by fostering skill sets that are valuable not only to their present work but also to their future careers. In our industry, I feel this is a LOST ART and it simply shows.

 Grow and Train Divers, NOT Statistics.

A mentorship is not running through a list of skills over a 5-day period and saying “hey killer! great job!” Being a mentor is not always easy. At times, it may require much effort on the mentor’s part, but the benefits of a successful mentorship far exceeds these small inconveniences. This relationship becomes an investment.

A dive mentorship is having a dive master (DM) or instructor candidate (IC) WATCHING AND OBSERVING a qualified (not just certified) instructor teach actual classes (yes plural). Taking Notes, listening to the subtle nuances, and gaining knowledge. I don’t care if they have been a DM for 5 minutes, 5 years, or if they are new to a region, a dive shop, a boat operator, an independent instructor group, etc. A proper program should still be followed. Order of progression for any new student and instructor candidate (IC) for quality will typically be WATCHING, OBSERVING, LEARNING, ASKING QUESTIONS, and PROGRESSING forward to the next step.

Then we have Co-Teaching. The candidate begins to qualify their skillsets and fundamental understanding while under the direct supervision of their director. At this stage, a person shouldn’t be focused on personal abilities; they should be focused on their ability to maintain and demonstrate control. At each step during the process, a proper critique is necessary.

Once this has been completed….Then co-Teach again. Receive feedback. Refine Techniques. Execute.


Most Instructor Development Courses teach a series skills (albeit more questionable than not) and not how to educate. Being able to educate is far different than saying DO THIS and DO THAT. Telling (lying) “Hey, Great job now go out and practice [unsupervised];” Or, “you did good, now I suggest you immediately take a follow up course.”

Educating takes a solid understanding and being able to explain the “WHY” of:

  • Why are we ‘teaching’ this way?
  • Why a situation may be critical compared to something minor?
  • Why does this feel and look different than my previous instructors?
  • Why am I really here?

This level of dedication allows the student to ask questions and build confidence. they are prepared to now mentor students the same way you are mentoring them. After careful evaluation and progress when ready, the Instructor Candidate should be allowed to teach full classes. This doesn’t remove your responsiblity to observe and supervise, but it does show you respect their position. Afterall, you are creating your future competition.

In my opinion, unsupervised new instructors are being set up for pure failure. If there is an issue, what do they do? Who do they, or the student, turn to? How can the issue be resolved? The most anxious time of a new diver or professional is always the first time. This is one of the BIGGEST issues I have with mainstream programs and dive shops when it comes to actual quality instructor training and student development.


Let’s step back in time to 2010. While already working with a particular PADI facility in Annapolis, MD, I was seeking higher level training. Within 6 months of finishing my [very easy] PRO program, I was inquiring about why the business wasn’t teaching a more solid foundation. But, what brought about this line of thinking so quick?  Easy. I was enrolled in an Unified Team Diving (UTD) Essential of Recreational program with two of the best divers I had seen up to this point in my career. I was witnessing each week during pool times the recreational students that were displaying better skills and confidence than my actual intructor trainer. I couldn’t believe it. Same amount of time being taught, and skills that were photo worthy.

So, I decided I was going to teach that way. Candidates that were working on their divemaster program would teach that way as well. The respect the students had for their teacher was inspiring. However, the shop didn’t want me teaching neutral buoyancy. They wanted every student on their knees and overweighted.

After four courses taught their way, I contacted the shop owner I was working for. I proposed these changes as a way to remain loyal, but the existing business only saw dollars $$$ and cents $.XX; not the dangers (and stupidity) behind two day classes.  Alas, I hit the crossroad and basically gave them an ultimatum:  Either I teach the way I dive, or I walk. Needless to say, free agency is a real thing in this industry. 

Fortunately, the two dive instructors (Jonathan Edwardsen and Tanya Kuck) doing my UTD course with Submerged, Inc. that believed in the same philosophy and principles I did. They lead through solid demonstration, not by their ability to talk a good ‘game.’ Every part of my training addressed how to be a better diver so I could mentor my teammates, and future students. They showed me the path I was currently on, and the path I envisioned myself taking.

Two months later, I became an instructor for Unified Team Diving after passing a rigorous evaluation board. This was only possible under the guidance of my local instructor trainers devoting hours of helping me perfect skills. Submitting hours of videos (as required) to the board of me learning to educate. Teaching classroom materials until I felt like I could author my own book. Tackling difficult Question & Answer sessions knowing there will always be an overly inquisitive (wise-ass or engineer type) student.


And Now…

I take pride in knowing that even after 11 years of teaching, and thousands of dives later, my success in this industry was based on not compromising quality and finding a way to generate an income. As of today, AQUI Water Sports sits in the heart of Lauderdale by the Sea, one of the top diving destinations in the United States. We compete in a saturated market with revenues increasing each year. Our target market is unique and we offer a product I feel is unmatched due to not settling for the mediocre status quo. Most importantly, we continue to build a community of safe divers, thinking divers, and friends.

As we grew, so did the agencies we teach for and develop professionals. Though I no longer teach for PADI, I do instruct for:

SCUBA Diving International & Technical Diving International

SCUBA Schools International (SSI)

 Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID)


Despite the personal and professional successes, I am in a position to invest in others as was done for me through mentoring, professional development,  and consulting.

For those that don’t know, AQUI means “here.” Here is where we came together to create a brand that not only reflects years of dedication to the industry, but also a headquarters for our growth to come. Earlier this year (2020) AQUI took on a partner that values the industry without compromising on quality. This was a huge decision to make, and it had to be the right one. From a different background, Landon Lasseter came on board and we decided our goals to grow this industry were on the same page.

Mentoring doesn’t always have to come from a higher position. It can happen between you and a colleague, or your partner. His strengths compliment areas of improvement we needed, and I haven’t looked back since. Motivating, Inspiring, Coaching, and teamwork coupled with the same vision can create major wins for you and your goals. If your goal is to own your own dive business…then do it. If your goal is to partner in an existing one, find a way to raise funds…then do it.

If your goal is to make a career in diving…then become a true professional.

There are always people that will never agree this path works for them, and that is okay. Striving to be the best diver, divemaster, or instructor isn’t for everyone. Those that choose this path, will always EVOLVE from the crowd. Never apologize for the difficult path you take to achieve success. Never apologize for the thousands of hours spent in a pool perfecting even the most basic of skills. Never apologize for knowing that the level of quality and mentoring provided to new divers are among the highest standards in this industry. Last…and most importantly, as an instructor, you should ALWAYS accept the challenge to be the best.

Why? Why not, I ask?

We all know it takes money to run a business, but seriously what is your time worth? What is the minimum quality of student training you are willing to accept?

Best of luck to all new Dive Masters and Instructor Candidates!


Ryan Custureri

Continuing Education

Check out these posts to continue learning how to become a true scuba dive professional. Our discussions range from exploring teaching techniques, to operating a dive business, becoming a full-time instructor, or planning events and more. 

Are you Ready for Technical Diving

Are you Ready for Technical Diving

Deep Oceans... The final frontier... These are the voyages of all Technical Divers. Their continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds... To seek out new life; new crustaceans ... To boldly go where no recreational diver has gone before! -- Ryan Custureri,...

NX Assembly Guide – Backplate & Harness

NX Assembly Guide – Backplate & Harness

First step in assembling and configuring your harness is to ensure the top and bottom plates are correctly aligned to your body position. The top plate goes between your shoulder blades, and the bottom lumbar in your lower back; straps comfortably come forward across the hips.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team; as well as exclusive offers, event invites, and new product previews.

You have Successfully Subscribed!