Thursday, August 21, 2008

Getting Started - Picking the Right Agency

Getting started in tek requires a number of decisions on the part of a prospective student, not the least of which is, ‘Where to go ?’ and ‘Which agency to choose? ’ Do you go NAUI, TDI or IANTD and what about ANDI ? Which is the best ? Which has the standards ? Which better materials ? Which better pricing ? Which better course structure ? Which is agency is for you and is choosing an instructor as important a choosing an agency ?

Within the South African technical diving community there are few full time technical schools that focus only on technical diving. Some sport schools do have an in-house instructor who can offer a limited selection of technical courses, but their focus remains on sport divers. Mostly technical instruction is done on a part time basis through part time instructors who offer technical training on weekends. This means that courses are few and far between and often take time to complete having to be undertaken over a number of weekends. Indeed, Liquid Edge is one of two full time technical schools in the country and the only company that is not affiliated to a single agency. Which is where we pick up flak, surely we should have picked one agency and should be recommending this above all others ?

Our non affiliation to any one agency has been an active choice on our part. Our aim has been to provide a single point of contact for divers that crosses all the brands and in so doing provides the client with the ability to choose the ‘right’ course rather than the ‘right’ brand. Indeed, a large part of our goal as a company is to promote technical diving as a whole, regardless of who you end up choosing as an instructor, school or agency. This means we are the only school that has experience in technical diving across all the agencies (NAUI, TDI, IANTD and ANDI) at all levels of instruction (from nitrox, through trimix to expedition trimix and full cave). This means that as an instructor, Liquid Edge’s Gerhard du Preez has unparalleled exposure and experience which in turn means you get a holistic view of all the agencies… enabling you to choose the one that fits best for you (rather than the one we are punting).

There is another reason why we did not choose to represent a single agency… because no agency stands out from the others when it comes to actual standards (and standards are the first and most obvious criterion on which to make a choice). Of the list that we represent, there are only two agencies that are proactive about enforcing and protecting their standards – NAUI and ANDI both of whom do not believe in paper instructor cross overs and made Gerhard do the complete course, all aspects (including swims and breath holds). They also require two pairs of eyes on certification. So yes, we favour NAUI and ANDI from a pure standards view point, however there are other aspects that need to be taken into account as well, like existing brand loyalty (PADI and NAUI both generate students that are loathe to leave their brand) and of course quality of service and materials (books, c-cards etc).

Apart from their international standards, every agency has its own particular South African flavour that either adds to or detracts from our image and the quality of the service we provide when we interface with students. So, whilst we may favour NAUI and ANDI from a standards perspective we have to factor in cost (ANDI is more expensive) as well as the course structure (ANDI has more steps to get to the same place … which from a standards perspective is brilliant as you get a seriously competent diver, but it means it costs more and takes longer). Taking out ANDI, TDI, IANTD and NAUI have similar course structures so it takes about the same time to get an equivalent qualification. They also have a similar cost structure. Which leaves us with the quality of the materials and service that is available to us and our clients. Based on these criteria we prefer TDI as their materials are more what the average PADI diver is used to (professional and high quality).

Based on all of this, our recommendation is simple. If you are a PADI diver, then go TDI. If you are a NAUI diver, why change ? And if you are really sold on IANTD, then congratulations, we can provide you with excellent training that incorporates our knowledge of all the programmes in an IANTD format! In fact, when it comes to cave certification there is no single certificate that will guarantee that you can dive in any cave in the world which means that if you have an IANTD cave course you still need a TDI certificate and visa versa.

Indeed, I would argue that it is not so much the agency that creates excellent divers, but the instructor! What an agency gives you is a set of minimum standards that all divers with that brand will have. Good instructors add to the basics of their preferred agency giving you more than what their agency offers.

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