My Road to Instructor

My name is Javier Cantellops and I have loved the water since I was born. I have just recently become an Open Water Scuba Instructor. I have also just landed an amazing job on the paradise island of Maui. This is the story of how I became an Open Water Instructor, the path I took to get to live my dreams, and my perspective on what it takes to do it. My journey was not your average one, that is for sure, but the outcome was nevertheless standard. Meaning if you want it, it can be yours.

I started my diving career as a free diver, free diving wherever I’ve lived.

I’ve explored the reefs of the Big Island, been spearfishing in Costa Rica and had always gone scuba diving with my friends along the way just for fun.  I’d never had any classes, just always knew what to do and most importantly what not to do (i.e. don’t hold your breath on scuba). That was pretty much all I knew.

After a wild and successful business venture in Costa Rica, and becoming absolutely hooked on diving, I decided, after long thought, that diving was what I wanted to do so we sold the business. I was 32 years old at the time and my son was three and I decided to make a change. So we moved back to the states and staged out of South Carolina, my “hometown”, trying to figure out exactly what it was that I was going to do. I had just the barest ideas of what I wanted life to be about. I wanted to be in the water, I wanted to share my passion, I wanted to help people find excitement, I wanted to be an instructor…

but how was I going to accomplish this?

And then I found my answer. Once again, it was not the normal path, but the one I was blessed to take. I found Discovery Diving Co. and Instructor College in Beaufort, NC that would accept my GI Bill. They have a program designed to take you from the ground up (from open water diver to full blown instructor). No experience needed…but the experience I did have would aid me on this long road. Although it was a preset path, it was not an easy one to take. I lived in SC and the school was in the outer banks, six hours away. I decided to gamble it all. I got a place, paid double rent for two months, and moved the whole family up to Atlantic Beach, NC, where I worked part time and attended school every single weekend.

This was a fairly intense program, OLD SCHOOL style. Full blown lectures for every class, full internship during your off time, working inside of the shop, shadowing classes, taking gear classes, maintenance classes, tank inspection certifications, diving all the time and of course learning all the lectures, gas laws, dive physiology, and dive table lectures.

Complete, Immersive Dive Training

This is the goal of Discovery Diving: complete, immersive, and thorough. This was not your quick eLearning style of training. Every weekend was a new class, with the week before used to read the prescribed book or books all along the way. All lectures had to be written out, all gas laws and formulas were given to us on day one and expected to be learned. It was pretty intense for a newbie, let alone being expected to master this within a year! But needless to say, by the end of the program we were all primed and ready, but on our own now!

Diving in North Carolina is Intense!

NC diving isn’t all 100 foot viz days. Our shore training was within 30 feet but in an inlet that is notorious for serious current and poor visibility. Tying in the dive flag was my favorite challenge. You could run into massive stingrays at the anchor point, and of course simply finding the anchor point and fighting the current to hold on to the dive buoy 30 feet up was a challenge. Knot tying was crucial!

All boat dives were two to three hours out, twenty plus miles, all wrecks, all fairly deep, the shallowest being 60 feet. This part of NC is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic and it definitely deserves the name. For my scuba diving education, I grew up diving some of the world’s greatest recreational wrecks, ones that I have read about in numerous magazines. The Caribe Sea, the Papoose, the Aeolus, the U352!!!

These are all incredible wrecks with amazing marine life. I have dived with over 300 sand tigers on more occasions then I can remember. I always saw sand bar sharks, white tips, groupers, amberjacks, barracudas. And on every dive, we were always looking for the Great White that we knew was always nearby, but I never did get a glimpse. It’s a diver’s dream to see so many large fish and spectacular wrecks.

But diving in NC isn’t all fun and games, especially if you are in an instructor college and wintertime sets in. The water went from 74 degrees to a chilly 52. And although most recreational people were not diving, we certainly were. During our rescue class, I could see my breath, and my divemaster month was brutally cold. And the IDC (Instructor Development Course) was tough to get through simply because of the temperature.

But all that being said, it made me an incredible diver, a confident leader, and an experienced instructor with a wealth of knowledge. Having multiple instructors taught me a lot about teaching techniques and patience. I gained a vast amount of wisdom in a short period of time. In the end, I took my Instructor Exams in Vero Beach, Florida and can proudly say that I smoked all the exams. I was highly prepared, had the knowledge and skills not only to pass, but to ace all the sections. Although I was stressed about completing it, in the end, it was a breeze for me.

My training prepared me to succeed during the Instructor Exams

Now there is no doubt that I was a very confident and comfortable diver before starting this journey, so that gave me a huge leg up. I spent my youth and adult life at sea so I definitely did not enter with fear. I had spent more time underwater, on one breath, than most people spend with tanks, but many of my buddies in the program had never ever dived and they came out of the program as competent, confident, and knowledgeable. It was a true testament to the program and training. So I owe a great deal to Discovery Diving, for preparing me for my future.

All throughout the program people would ask me, “Javier what do you want to do with your certification?”  I always answered confidently, slightly perplexed at the question, “I want to be a dive instructor! I am going to move to an exotic locale with my family and pursue my dream of diving in incredible water and sharing my love of the underwater world.”

I knew I wanted to teach!

This always got a smile and nod but almost always people just took it as a pipe dream and said good luck. But I knew all along what I wanted to do. You see, many of the people who were instructors or graduated the program really did not pursue an exotic career, or even a career at all. Many stayed close to home and some just had the certification and worked on a voluntary basis. Some just dove for fun. I always knew that I wanted to teach, that I wanted to pursue the dream.

So as I got closer to completing my Divemaster, (before becoming an instructor), after numerous certifications, classes, lectures, training and shadowing, I began to put my resume together. 

I told myself I would not send my resume out until I had my Divemaster credentials in my hand with an IDC date set. And that is exactly what I did. When Debby Boyce, the owner of Discovery Diving, handed me my Divemaster certification packet, I almost immediately started sending out my resume, with the explanation that I was about to complete my IDC and had an IE date set. I went on PADI’s job board and started looking for jobs in places I would like to live, I knew could be suitable for my wife and son, and were first and foremost hiring instructors.

This is where I stumbled across Maui Dreams Dive Co., an amazing dive shop in Maui that actually never openly posts for instructors but had recently posted an ad, seeking a serious individual who was willing to commit, not a transient instructor. I said what the hell, I’m 4800 miles away – let’s see if they respond…. And they did! We talked on the phone and I was somehow immediately confident this could be a real possibility. Now I began this search without my instructor credentials, confident that I would pass the IE and become an Open Water Instructor! And in my cover letter I stated this. Now all I had to do was take the leap, buy a plane ticket (for myself at first) for a meet and greet and basically commit to an idea from what seemed a million miles away.

This is what stops most instructors!!!!

This alone is why people pump their brakes. The unknown, leaving comfort, going to a place that may or may not work out. Actually pursuing the position. People start doubting, start questioning. What do I do with my stuff? What do I do with my job? What do I do in general? Why is this such a stopping point? This is why we do this, isn’t it? As my favorite show states, “To explore new worlds and seek out new civilizations to boldly go where no one, (well someone, but not many) have gone before.” Silly, I know, but the sense of exploration, adventure, and discovery are what lead me to be an instructor.

So I decided to take the leap. I bought my plane ticket, and in reality, unknown to anyone else, I purchased future tickets for my wife and son and myself. I committed, I was all in, even if the dive shop wasn’t. You know why? Because why not!? I will never forget talking to Rachel Domingo over the phone and her positivity and excitement matched my own. I felt sure about my idea. I felt confident that my dream was close at hand. I sat down with my wife. It was late, as we were six hours ahead at the time, and we were talking for hours after the phone call was over.

I remember saying “This is it!! THIS IS IT!!!”

My wife was hesitant, felt it a little bit but obviously wasn’t sure. But I was! A couple of conversations later, Rachel invited me for a meet and greet, which I obviously accepted. That’s when I bought my tickets and purchased the future ones for my family, to be used just a month after I went to check things out. I figured if it didn’t work out then I would figure something else out, but once you dream of working and diving Maui, it’s hard to turn back to another idea. I said “I’m all in!” not only before seeing the river card, but before seeing the flop!

So I started selling my stuff!!!! I quit my job and began preparing for the move before I even had the job. I sold my car, got rid of furniture and went all in on the prospect of moving to Maui. This all with a wife and kid. This was the only way I knew it could be done. I had to plan from a distance, I had to plan on a belief in myself, the dream, the idea, and purely on faith.  I knew the only way to make this happen was to will it, to believe in it, to go ALL IN!

So let’s fast forward….I wrote this blog on the airplane heading back from Maui. Needless to say, it was amazing. I shadowed the Maui Dreams crew for a few days, got in some incredible dives, got to know the position, became friends and family with the staff, explored Maui and…..I got the job!!!! I purchased a car, lined up a place to live and overall completely fulfilled the beginning of the dream, pursuing my instructor career! Pretty much a dream come true. All this was done not on whim but on a dream, on passion, on a belief that I could do this, that I wanted to do this and that I would not fail. Pretty much on faith. We all love to dive, we all love to travel, at least anyone still reading this certainly does.

“Dream the right dream!”

My journey was uncommon but at the same time it’s one we could all take. If you are an instructor or want to be one, all you have to do is go out there and look for a place, take a chance, take a risk, and as my brother says “Dream the right Dream”. For in this life we have only one shot at things, one shot at life. So why waste another minute wondering what could be or what could have been; start focusing all your energy toward what will be and what can be. No procrastination, no endless debate.

You will never have it all worked out to the last letter – this is when faith in yourself takes over. This is when we say I’m all in before seeing the rest of the cards. This where we feel life coursing through our veins. The pursuit of happiness is ours to pursue, the pursuit of adventure is one that I feel calls to all of us. Do not hold yourself back. You too can do it, you too can take a chance, and if doesn’t work out, at least you can say you tried instead of regretting a missed opportunity.

My name is Javier Cantellops and I am extremely proud to say that I am an Open Water Scuba Instructor! And even more proud to say I am going to work with Maui Dreams Dive Co. in Hawaii. I will use this knowledge to learn more, and to grow more. I will use my certifications to gain even more experiences and to most importantly share the underwater world with others. I will give others amazing experiences, life changing days, and maybe show them that they too can do the impossible. If you are ever in the paradise islands of Hawaii, look me up on Maui. I will be in Maui Dreams dive shop sharing my love of the sea with others. You will find me tan, happy, surrounded by great positive people and ready to make some new friends. I hope my story helps you on your journey and I TRULY hope to see you underwater!

So in closing, I’m by no means telling you to quit your job, sell your stuff, and follow your dreams. All I’m trying to say is that you CAN.”Be just, fear not” and never ever stop believing in yourself!

Aloha, Javier