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Face to Face with Sam Kirby

Sam Kirby is the Regional Manager for PADI International Ltd with responsibility for Egypt, Eastern Europe, Wales and Scotland. A former Instructor and Dive Centre Manager who has worked both in Egypt, the UK and the Maldives, Sam is also a member of the UK Freediving Team.

Q: When did you first start diving?

A: I have been snorkelling and swimming in the sea since I was a child growing up on the coast in Cornwall, UK but did not start diving until 1998. My uncle is a real action man and is always begging people to go and join him on various “extreme” sports.  He'd previously tried to get me into surfing, canoeing and rock climbing but diving was the one that really got me hooked.   I learnt to dive in Cornwall and first dived in the Red Sea on a holiday to Hurghada in 2000.

Q: Do you remember how you got hooked on diving?

A: It was incredible to me that the generally grey and uninviting-looking sea I had been staring at every day of my childhood could be so full of colour and life, just a few metres off shore.  UK diving was enough to get me addicted but my first Red Sea dives made me absolutely certain that this was the direction my life had to go in. I was living in London, working in the music industry at the time and suddenly realised that I would rather spend my evenings watching lionfish hunt than rock stars strut around.

Q: What is your typical day like now?

A: One of the best things about my job is that no day is the same.  My time is divided up between my four territories - Egypt, Eastern Europe, Wales and Scotland - and time in the office.  If I am travelling, I usual wake up in a hotel very confused as to what time it is and what country I am in. During the day, I try to meet with as many dive centres as I can to catch up on how they are doing, let them know about anything new from PADI and help with any problems or advice they need.

In the evenings, I generally run some kind of business seminar for a dive centre who has requested it, usually around 6pm when their staff have finished for the day. After that, I grab something quick to eat and write up everything I have done that day, hit SEND and fire off loads of jobs back to the team in Bristol. They can always tell when I have managed to get online as their inboxes fill up quick!

Q: What is your favourite dive site in the Red Sea - and why would you recommend it?

A: This is a tricky one, there are so many.  El Aruk Gigi, off Hurghada is definitely on the list. Not so many dive guides choose it as it is a bit tricky to navigate, so it's usually quite quiet.  There are a few “residents” that you can rely on to always be in the same place - a peppered moray, a couple of butterfly fish and a feisty clown fish that we used to call “Jaws”. I must go back and see them some time…

Another favourite is the Carnatic, at Abu Nuhas.  My grandmother used to travel on the Sumatra, the ship that rescued the Carnatic survivors and I have some old photos of the time. I always think of her when I dive the Carnatic. Also, the stern looks like a child's drawing of a pirate ship which always makes me smile.

Q: You're also well-known as a Free Diver. Which do you prefer and can you explain what the difference means for you?

A: I started freediving as something different to do on my days off when
I worked in Hurghada and have been competing on the UK Team since 2002.  I could talk for weeks about why it is such a passion for me. To keep it brief, freediving offers me a physical and competitive challenge that scuba did not quite satisfy.  Outside of the competitive environment, I love the peace and freedom of diving without machinery.  I now teach freedive courses and train freedive instructors in my spare time. This is very rewarding as people are always amazed and so pleased with themselves at what they can achieve with just a little guidance.  Which do I prefer? No idea! I hope I will always enjoy both.

Q: You've obviously witnessed a few changes in the Red Sea over the years. In your role for PADI, what would you like to see take place here and how do you think the industry could develop?

A: I worked here as an instructor from 2000-2002 and even in the few years since then, the market in the larger resorts really has changed completely. You can tell just by coming through the airport. The carousels are now full of beach gear and baby carriers, dive bags are few and far between.  The new kind of Red Sea visitors come across diving as one of a range of experiences that their tour agent is trying to book them on to for the week.  

Our role as dive professionals is to make sure that whatever that experience is, whether a one-off dive or an entry level course, that it is well conducted and enjoyable so that they get hooked.  We all need to work together to educate the tour operators and local booking agents that diving really is a unique selling point for Egypt and one that will keep people coming back to the country, more so than a visit to a monastery, camel ride or quad bike trip.  The key is to make sure that the experience the guests do have of diving, however short, is conducted well.  

Unfortunately, at the moment, too many dive centres are only marketing “Intro Dives” to these guests, which leave the participant with no real understanding of what they are doing. I would like to see a clampdown on these kinds of experiences which too often result in a “short, sharp, shock” for the participant. Those dive centres who do run a full “Discover Scuba Diving” programme where guests feel safe, relaxed and well looked after find that a much higher proportion of their divers carry on to Scuba Diver or Open Water Diver courses, either on this holiday or on the next.

Q: How do you see the future of the sport? Does PADI have an answer to the near stagnation in the industry and why diving never seems to be able to take off as the number one adventure sport?

A: Near stagnation? That I certainly do NOT agree with! PADI International's certification figures for 2005 were up on the previous year, and that in spite of the world seemingly conspiring against us in the form of recessions, drops in disposable income and all kinds of natural and man-made reasons that put people off travelling.  
PADI are continually monitoring the reasons why people are put off diving and indeed why people enjoy it and looking at ways to address that information in our marketing and training.  These have included changes like the development of prescriptive learning, so people do not have to devote so much holiday time to their course, course options such as Scuba Diver and Adventure Diver, to make learning to dive more accessible and completely new programmes, such as the Digital Underwater Photography Specialty to keep those that are already diving interested and stimulated.  We will keep on looking at these issues and are always pleased to hear of any ideas on how to address them.

Q: Finally, does PADI have any plans for this region that you care to share for 2007?

A: I don't want to give too much away at this stage but in 2007, we will be working with dive centres to focus on offering high quality, fun experiences to new divers as well as encouraging divers to continue their education with our range of stimulating, challenging and most importantly, enjoyable range of programmes. To this end, I will be running seminars in PADI Dive Centres from January onwards on Attracting New Divers, giving advice on how to best market and conduct the DSD and entry level PADI programmes in the “new” Red Sea market situation.

We will also be continuing our “Specialty of the Month” and “Master Scuba Diver Challenge” offers and building them up to encourage more divers to “Go Pro” with Divemaster and Instructor Development Courses.


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