Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Argument for Rogue Agencies

The chat group has been wild over the last week or so (I did not pick up mail for 4 days and had over 80 mails sitting there). What jumped for me was a reply from one of the agencies about how they had trained all of the divers listed as ‘heroes’ in one of the responses. Now my name was on that list of heroes and I found myself with a sudden resistance to an agency laying claim to ‘glory’ just because I happen to have a certificate from them. The main argument was on creating divers with the right attitude and the agency in question was ( I guess) trying to imply that they create divers with the right attitude who become role models in the community (nothing like a blatant plug on an impartial chat site). Which just stuck in my throat. Is attitude created or is it something that was there all along ? And if it was created, by who ?
I doubt the answer is simple. Good divers start off with the ‘right’ tendencies that a ‘good’ community will re-inforce. Conversely, bad divers will be influenced by the community in which they find themselves. And there is that word again, community. The diving community is a complex animal, made up of divers, equipment suppliers, dive sites, operators and of course, the agencies. They are all interlinked, but some have more influence than others. A dive site/ operator that does not enforce standards by banning rogue divers creates an environment where there are no consequences and so allows other divers to start breaking rules. Their influence depends on the number of options out there, so dive sites have more influence than say a dive operator who has to compete with a number of similar operators and so is probably less inclined to be concerned and drive away paying customers. Then come the divers themselves, who get to choose to stand up for standards and make it known when they are broken and that it is not OK to do so. Their effect is also variable and often creates cliques of like minded divers who are hard to break into. Finally come the agencies. Now, as an agency your job is to create skilled divers. These divers become your brand, your face out in the world if you will, which implies that an agency should be carefully monitoring its divers and ensuring that they are in fact representing the right image. One would expect that agencies (both sport and technical) would pro-actively discipline its divers and instructors when they flagrantly violate the rules and standards. But they seldom do which creates an impression that (once again) this behavior is condoned. The result is that we have created a community where there are simply NO CONSEQUENCES.
So I was pleasantly surprised with ISDA. For those of you not on the chat list, this is a new, local agency that has received a lot of flak for breaking away from the older, more established agencies. It now has the unenviable title of being a rogue agency. Johan Beukes (a controversial figure in himself) decided that he was fed up with the lip service being paid to standards and to the poor quality of diver that was being created by our locally established agencies (both sport and technical), so he created his own. The recent incident where a sport instructor took open water divers on what is a full Cave, Trimix dive saw the usual blame shifting… except for ISDA, who suspended the open water diver who did the dive! In fact, they recently suspended an instructor for taking experienced open water students to a mere 40 odd meters in open water. ISDA divers know that they are their agencies brand and their agency is serious about its standards. They now know that if they break those standards there are consequences, which means that there are probably going to be a whole lot less standards being broken by those divers. Which leads me to ask the question, isn’t it time that the old, complacent agencies started to catch a wake up! Here is an agency that takes its standards and reputation seriously. Here is an agency that understands that its reputation is based on what their divers actually do AFTER the course is over!
I find myself asking the question, should I be paying more attention to ISDA and getting involved ? It would blow my neutral stand completely….but maybe it is time to stand for something, rather than against something.
We are the diving community ! Who you are and the service you demand from agencies and dive sites is what has created and what will create the community in which we dive. If you want to improve the standards out there, you need to commit to creating an expectation of action from the agencies and an expectation of compliance from the divers. And while that happens, I am going to start paying more attention to those so called rogue agencies!

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