News Feed

What I’ve Learned: Tony Fontes

67, Airlie Beach, Queensland, Australia

Diving is a lifestyle; money is a fringe benefit.

I arrived in Airlie Beach in 1979 as a backpacker keen to dive the Great Barrier Reef.

On that first dive I saw my first clownfish, turtle and wobbegong shark. It was better than the National Geographic channel.

I never left.

I became a PADI® Open Water Instructor in 1979.

My first Open Water Diver students were all family members. My sister nearly drowned on our snorkel dive. For a few terrifying moments I thought, “What will I tell Mom?”

Instructor training can be intense, and candidates need to be encouraged to relax and have a bit of fun. To meet this goal, we provided candidates with their own IDC Survival Kit.

Each kit contained a number of performance-enhancing tools. These included pencils, sharpeners, erasers, chocolate candies for the healthy diet, toothpicks to keep the eyes open, dice to guide the tough decisions, and a bottle of behavior-enhancing pills: “uppers,” “downers,” “hallucinogens” and more.

These were actually chocolate M&Ms, but we never told them. (I think they figured it out pretty quickly.)

My most memorable moments on training programs are watching the instructor candidates develop, sharing their success at graduation and then blasting them with super-soakers at the celebration dinner.

I’ve certified over 2,000 instructors.

My proudest moment as a business owner is following the successful careers of my instructor candidates. Many went on to run successful businesses, some even moved up to Course Director and even PADI Regional Headquarters staff.

To be a good instructor you need really good people skills. You can be taught diving skills and you can be taught teaching skills, but people skills come from within.

Make fun a priority and build it into your courses. If you aren’t having fun, your students aren’t having fun.

The secret to longevity as an instructor is never stop learning, never stop improving, never stop developing new skills and, most importantly, never stop having fun.

My scariest moment in water was snorkeling at night on a reef dropoff. The first bump and flash of gray startled me, but it was the third bump that got me walking on water.

My best dive ever was way back in 1989, at night during the coral spawn on the Great Barrier Reef. Hundreds of corals releasing eggs and sperm, all drifting toward the surface, creating an upside-down snowstorm.

The best dive memories I have usually involve family dive trips. In particular, a three day/night trip to the GBR with perfect weather and great dive conditions including close encounters with humpback whales.

Always put a little time aside to do some fun dives with family and friends.

Really, though, there have been too many great dives.

Reef side event at the world parks conference Sydney 2014

Today, a dive instructor’s responsibility isn’t just the training and safety of students, but the protection of our marine environment too. You aren’t doing your job if you’re not leading your community down the path of sustainable use of our marine resources.

Saving the Great Barrier Reef is obviously important because the Reef epitomizes the beauty, the wonder, the complexity and the importance of nature. Equally important, we need the Reef as it supports many of our coastal communities.

If we don’t take action now, we will lose the world’s most iconic coral reef system, something that most of thought was too big to fail.

We were wrong.

The keys to enjoying life are the people you enjoy life with.

And give back to those who make you happy.

I am proudest of my family. They are independent and at the same time a very close and caring bunch.

On my first instructor training course I became acquainted with a young female candidate named Beverley. A year later, we became partners – in life and business – and have remained so for 40 years.

The one trait you need to be a good husband is to recognize that marriage is a partnership based on equality.

My best dive buddy is Beverley, who is also my fellow dive instructor, fellow course director, fellow business partner and fellow adventurer.

The key to running a successful dive business is to never forget why you got into diving.

If you are going to do it, do it well.

I would have liked to have been a professional nature photographer. Nature gives life meaning.

My fondest memories of PADI are the times we would come together at updates, seminars and conferences. I really enjoyed the camaraderie with PADI staff and fellow Course Directors.

On my first ocean training dive a very big, rugby playing instructor candidate refused to enter the water because of a large and very friendly Maori wrasse hanging about. It was only then he admitted that he suffered from fish phobia. When asked why he wanted to become an instructor, he replied that he’d heard that the best way to overcome a phobia is to face it head on.

The funniest moment on a training program occurred on a graduation dinner. Keep in mind that practical jokes were part and parcel with our staff. On this occasion, I was called to the bar for a phone call when a waiter (bribed by some devious staff member) snuck up behind me and dumped a huge bowl of whipped cream over my head. Everyone else thought it was funny.

The one trait you need to be a good father is patience.

Seeing my boys leave home and create their own lives in the real world. I am just as proud that they still come home for a visit.

Regrets? Losing touch with good friends from the past.

I am still waiting for the absolute happiest nondiving moment in my life. There have been so many.

Interviewed 14 June 2020

Based on an article that appeared in the Fourth Quarter 2020 The Undersea Journal®

The post What I’ve Learned: Tony Fontes appeared first on PADI Pros.

Asia Pacific, Training, australia, IDC Staff Instructor, PADI, Professional Association of Diving InstructorsPADI Pros