Alchemy partner Alli Penovich is a freediver and spearo based in Florida. An ex-triathlon athlete, she currently ranks #2 in CWTB (USA) and holds 4 spearfishing World Records. Only a couple of years ago, she also became a freediving instructor. This is her story.
The Road To Becoming An Instructor
I became a Level 1 freediving instructor for Freediving Instructors International, F.I.I, a little over two years ago. Becoming a Level 1 freediving instructor is one of the most rewarding things I have ever accomplished. The week consisted of three components- Advanced Freediving Safety, Assistant Instructor, and the Instructor Exam. Even though I was well prepared for the course, it was not only the most mentally challenging week of my life but physically as well. Yes, I shed a few tears over the course but it was all because of how much I wanted to succeed… and pure exhaustion. Freediving has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I received my first mask and snorkel when I was three years old and have been in and out of the water ever since. I took my first freediving course when I was 17 and even though I thought of myself as an experienced diver, the course opened my eyes to a whole understanding and appreciation for the sport. After working in a freedive shop for about a year, the next obvious step was to become an instructor. Luckily, I had the support of my dive shop, Florida Freedivers, to help get me prepared for the upcoming instructor week and my current coach, Bobby Kim, F.I.I instructor trainer and Level 3 instructor, to push me and teach me over the course of that week. No matter how grueling it was, I learned from the best and every second was worth it.
Do Your Research
The first step to take when thinking about whether to become an instructor or not is to spend some time researching what agencies are popular in your area. Ultimately, you want to represent an agency that people have heard about. Get familiar with the courses they offer and how they are taught- in person or e-learning options, class size, prerequisites etc. It’s also important to find an agency that you respect yourself. I valued how highly the instructors for F.I.I and the agency itself are talked about. In my opinion, yes it may be a little biased, F.I.I. has some of the most credible and qualified instructors because of how rigorous the instructor course is.
Enjoy The Ride
If you thoroughly enjoy freediving, and I hope you do, that passion will shine through in your teaching. I have such a love for freediving and being able to share my knowledge and experience to brand new and seasoned divers alike is something I will always enjoy. I have spent the majority of my life in the water, freediving and spearfishing, so I have plenty of experiences I can use to relate to my students and help them work through issues they are facing. As an instructor, I find it important to be able to relate to students using personal life experiences rather than information learned from the internet.
Get To Know Your Students
From the classes, I’ve either taught, shadowed, or been a part of, the variety of students I’ve come across is huge. You can have a class full of teachers, military, doctors, engineers all in one. When you first meet your students, take the time to get to know them and understand the reason they are taking the course. Knowing that information will help you mold the course to their specific needs. If they are wanting to learn to spearfish, for example, use spearfishing scenarios to reinforce the information you are discussing.
The majority of your job as an instructor is student interaction. Students range from all levels of experience and regardless of this, they will put their full trust in you as an instructor to teach them what they don’t know and to keep them safe. Some students might need more encouragement than others, some will be fine with just constructive criticism. Remember this with how you approach each student. Try to connect with each student on a personal level. Making them feel comfortable and in a judge free environment should come first. Learn how to give constructive advice while also uplifting them. If your student isn’t understanding a certain topic or skill, try to relate by telling a story of a time you’ve had to work through a similar setback yourself.
The biggest component in any level of freediving course is safety. In a level 1 or beginner course that is even more so the case. This level of freediving course is the building block to all future courses- level 2, level 3, or even spearfishing. Being able to reiterate and teach effective safety techniques will be a priority. For yourself, being able to handle and remain calm in unexpected situations is critical. You are out in the open ocean and you must be prepared to jump into action if needed. After all, these are your students and it’s up to you to look out for them. They might be incredibly nervous and the first time they are out in the deep blue, so for them to feel completely confident in you will benefit everyone. Have fun with it and make sure they are too! Freediving is an incredible sport and even though it might be natural to you, it could be the most terrifying thing in the world to your student.
Mental & Physical Preparation
My advice to those thinking about becoming an instructor is to prepare during the weeks and months leading up to the course. If you don’t feel ready, don’t jump into it too fast. Sign up for the next course available and spend more time getting comfortable yourself. Nerves will always be present in this setting but your confidence from your extra studying and time diving will benefit you so much.
As I mentioned earlier, it was the most exhausting week- physically and mentally. I did triathlons competitively in college so I’m used to being pushed to my physical limit, but doing that in the open ocean and on a single breath is a whole different story. This isn’t meant to deter you, I’m just giving you a fair warning to be in athletic shape before you take the instructor course. Also, be mentally prepared to put in long grueling hours. It’s a week of diving, studying, learning, and presenting. It’ll take a lot of dedication but if you want it, all the work will be worth it. Being extra prepared will also show your instructor trainer that you take this seriously and that you want to be the best instructor you can. Go into the course willing to learn, take criticism and improve for the upcoming days.
As you're preparing for the course, make sure to use the resources you have available. The freediving community is such an incredible one to be a part of. Everyone is always ready to help you out. I had the support of some close friends who are also instructors and their shared knowledge and advice made me that much more prepared for the course. Try to shadow courses of the same agency and level you’re becoming an instructor for to become familiar with content you’ll be teaching. I learned so much from my colleagues and those extra weekends I put in shadowing courses gave me more confidence when the instructor course came around. It gave me knowledge on how the Level 1 courses ran, what type of questions students might ask, and how to relate and problem solve. If you don’t have any instructor contacts, try to reach out to the instructor trainer or agency you’re interested in and I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to give you some advice on how to prepare. Everyone will want to see you succeed but it’s up to you to put in the prep work. Spend as much time in the water and on the line as you can to increase your comfort, dive ability and get your technique consistent and perfected. Huge thanks to Virgil and Matt for all the tips and tricks you shared with me and the time you took out of your days to help me succeed!
All in all, if you’re thinking of signing up for an instructor course- absolutely take the leap and do it. Step out of your comfort zone and be willing to learn. Of course, every agency is different in how they conduct their instructor week and the extent to which they push their candidates but this what I have to share from my experience and I wouldn’t change a single aspect of it. I have met so many amazing people and have spent countless hours in the water doing what I love and sharing it with those who have the same passion as me. So many doors have been opened for me since I became an instructor. If I never signed up for the course, I wouldn’t have made the decision to travel to Bali and freedive competitively and that is one of the best experiences of my life. Who knows what doors freediving will open for you but I encourage you to take the step to find out. And what’s better than making a living out of doing what you love?