Guest Blogger: Jo Walters
The 2015 Elite Instructor My PADI Challenge winners share the secrets to their success in this monthly series. Read on to see how Open Water Scuba Instructor Linda Eckardt turned a vacation on a live-aboard into a lifetime helping young people realize their true potential.
- Describe your inspiration to become a diver.
I always loved water and grew up dreaming about diving with dolphins and turtles. It was an unexplored world to me, filled with adventure and mystery. From the day I learned it was possible to breathe underwater, I knew I would end up diving. Then, I had the opportunity to attend a marine biology high school – where diving was a part of the curriculum – I jumped at the chance!
- Tell me about your decision to become a PADI Professional. What or who inspired you?
I finished high school and took a very unexciting desk job. I hated the sedentary lifestyle. So, my first vacation was on a live-aboard dive boat in Egypt! I befriended the crew and it soon became obvious that this was the job for me! That’s when I decided that the next step in my career development was to become a PADI Professional.
- How do you think you’ve changed personally and professionally as you’ve moved up the ranks from PADI Divemaster to Elite Instructor?
During my first three years as a scuba professional, I advanced from PADI Divemaster to Open Water Scuba Instructor. I was so lucky to have incredible instructors as my mentors. I was amazed at how calm they always seemed – and a little surprised by the amount of responsibility they entrusted to me. Looking back, I understand that they shaped me into a good instructor by pushing me outside of my comfort zone – but always maintained a safe and controlled environment. Now, having gained years of experience, I have become more like them; I always feel relaxed with and in control of any situation. And, I now have the immense pleasure and responsibility of providing the same support to new, upcoming dive professionals.
- What do you consider your greatest achievement in your diving career?
My greatest achievement was to be hired by a company that uses scuba diving as a tool to truly change the lives of young individuals and teenagers by showing them that they are capable of accomplishing anything. Seeing a student come up from a training dive – that they never thought they could complete – with a new realization of just how awesome they are, is by far the most rewarding thing I have done.
- What is your next goal related to scuba diving?
I’m considering opening up a scuba store, where I can use my ability to train scuba professionals to help these young individuals – to give them a profession and a means to provide financial support for their families.
- Everyone has a certain style of teaching. When you’re teaching someone to dive, what do you put the most emphasis on?
Safety is always my main focus, but I try to teach it in a way that isn’t overwhelming or intimidating. Many student divers have told me that I teach with “tough love”, meaning that I can be tough in the beginning in order to create good habits, but then I focus on the fun. I try to never forget the reason we’re diving to begin with – to have fun!
- Did you have to overcome any fears, challenges or obstacles to get where you are now with your diving career?
I was one of those students with constant ear problems. Looking back, I recognize that part of the problem was psychological rather than physical. The more experienced I got, the fewer ear problems I had. However, they would always reoccur during dives that were outside of my comfort zone or experience level. Now, I consider this the most valuable knowledge I have when teaching students: I can tell them “I had ear problems, too!”
- Tell me what you enjoy most about teaching people to dive.
I enjoy my ability to give the gift of courage just by showing someone how to breathe from a regulator or take a mask off underwater. I can help them understand that not all obstacles are real, and that they can indeed accomplish anything with determination.
- Describe an encounter you have had along the way that inspires you to keep teaching.
Last summer, a colleague asked me to take on a teenage student diver who was falling behind her class. The mask skill was her nemesis – and at first the teen tried to trick me into believing that she had already done it successfully. I didn’t fall for that. Instead, I took her on a couple of dives just focusing on having fun and showing her the underwater world. Finally, she finally agreed to attempt the mask skill again. She did it amazingly well! She came up and smiled, but said “I hated that!” I responded “I know, but had you looked uncomfortable I would have made you do it again, but you didn’t, so well done!” She successfully completed her certification, and then wrote me a thank you card for not giving up on her, mentioning that people usually did. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had as an instructor, and it makes me want to do it again!
- What does diving give you that nothing else does?
Diving gives me a forum for silence and relaxation – where I can enjoy the now, and save any troubling thoughts of the past and future for later.
- How has diving changed your life?
Diving has given me a chance to work in far-flung corners of the world. It’s given me the opportunity to meet the most incredible, inspiring people – who have encouraged me in my mission to continue exploring life.
- Do you believe that you change others’ lives through diving?
I do. I really think that as a scuba instructor I provide the tools for personal growth. While I don’t change everyone’s life, I know I do for some.
- Describe in a few sentences how you would convince a non-diver about why they should learn to dive?
Diving is all about exploring the underwater world on your own terms. It is about letting fun and curiosity become more powerful than the fear.
- Walk me though your most memorable dive experience.
My most memorable dive experience was my 100th dive in Menorca, Spain. I was working as a Divemaster and I only had one customer that day, so I decided to take a dive that was a little more advanced than usual. As if to greet and congratulate me on my 100th dive, a school of 100 barracudas circled above the sand, and moray eels and squid decided to come out from their hiding places to say hello. Even my favorite nudibranch, Flabelina, showed up for the party. It was 60 minutes of pure joy!
- What does ‘the My PADI Elite Instructor Award’ mean to you?
The My PADI Elite Instructor Award gives me the means to measure my progress and development throughout my career as a scuba instructor. I think it’s a great initiative and I am grateful for being recognized for the work I have done as a PADI Professional.