Becoming NZ’s first GUE instructor

I know as a Pom, I’ll be accused of whinging, but damn it was hard work! And not because I’m new to instructing and had no idea what to expect – I’d been a dive instructor with various agencies for over 12 years. It’s simply that GUE is different and proudly so.

It all started in 2001, whilst I was backpacking through Mexico. I had just finished a two year stint working as a dive instructor on a marine science project in Fiji and was looking for a change. I spotted an advert for diving in the Cenotes, spectacular caverns and caves scattered across the Yucatan peninsular and decided to give it a try. At the time the caverns looked fabulous, but I assumed to explore them, you either had to be mad or suicidal – I was neither. So I booked myself onto a cavern diver course.  At the time I had no idea that to be a cavern instructor you also had to be a full cave diver. Once I knew that I was intrigued to see how ‘crazy’ my instructor would be. As it turned out he was quite normal, but also dangerously persuasive. A couple of days later I found myself doing a real cave dive and from then on I was hooked.

As a dive instructor and backpacker you are always short of money, so after leaving Mexico it wasn’t until 2005 that I managed to return, this time with 3 friends. Our plan was to spend 6 days completing the NACD Intro-to- Cave course and do a bit more exploring. My cavern instructor had left Mexico, but two of the original instructors from the same school were there. At the time I didn’t know, but they were also GUE instructors.

To cut a long story short, the course turned out to be a major turning point in my diving career. Although I had completed nearly 900 dives I was astonished by the level of control and finesse our instructors displayed. I wanted to be that good. Back in the UK I followed their advice and enrolled on a GUE Fundamentals course (GUEF), which is the foundation course for all GUE cave and technical classes. In 2006 I went back to Mexico to do the GUE Cave 1 class. Later that year I did the GUE Tech 1 class in the UK and in 2007, after I had emigrated to NZ, I went back to Mexico to do Cave 2. Unfortunately my Cave 2 instructor was another dangerously persuasive individual and somehow he managed to put the idea into my head that I should work towards becoming a GUE Instructor. By then I knew how intense GUE classes were, but I still had no idea what a mission it would be to become an instructor.


The training philosophy

I said in my introduction that GUE is different and their attitude towards instructor training is a case in point. Many new agencies are characterised by a rapid expansion of their instructor base, in an attempt to capture a market share. Such an expansion has without doubt led to a large variability in instructor quality. In contrast, after operating for more than 15 years, there are still approximately only 120 GUE instructors worldwide. GUE does not accept such variability in its instructor base.


The process

The first step on the GUE instructor ladder is to become a Fundamentals Instructor and there are no cross-overs or short cuts. In order to enrol as a GUE instructor candidate, you must be qualified as a Tech 1 diver. This was not a problem, however the next requirement was. Before attending an Instructor Training Course (ITC) you have to intern with another instructor. This ensures you are as familiar as possible with the course. There was no one based in NZ so I had to travel to Australia to work with Liam Allen, a GUE instructor based in Sydney. Theoretically you only need to do one internship, but following Liam’s advice (thank you Liam!) I did four. Two in Australia and then I organised for him to run two courses in NZ.

In October 2008 I flew to Florida for two weeks to do the ITC – which whilst fun was also stressful, tiring, hard work and costly. During the ITC all aspects of the GUE fundamentals class are explained and examined. Candidates are expected to give both scheduled and impromptu lessons and presentations, all of which are followed by debriefings and suggestions on improvements. To give an indication of the seriousness with which GUE takes Instructor training you only need to look at the ratio of the students to the instructional team. For 6 students we had 16 qualified instructors acting as assessors and mock class members.

Thankfully, having done more than the minimum number of interns, based on Liam’s advice, my experience in Florida was far less stressful than some of the other students. At the end of the course students are given an evaluation. It’s the basis of how you work towards getting signed off as a full instructor. I was told to do at least two more interns where I taught the majority of the class, (with Liam watching), and then I could apply for the exam.

So in January 2009 I was back in Australia doing my first intern, followed by a second trip in February.  Liam organised the very first ITC for Australia to take place in March and the plan was for me to do my exam at the same time.  The exam itself is not a few hours of paperwork – you teach an entire class from start to finish. You do all the lectures, all the dry-runs and dives, all the organising of getting students to the dive site – basically everything. And for the entire time, three full days, I had three examiners watching. Now do you understand my introduction? – It was hard! There are no short cuts, there is nowhere to run and hide – you are examined on everything you will be teaching. At the end of the three days when they told me I had passed, the sense of achievement was enormous. I had joined a very select group of instructors and had become the very first GUE instructor in NZ.


So what now?

In the 7 years since becoming a GUE Fundamentals instructor I have had the pleasure of introducing 100’s of divers to GUE. As well as developing their skills I have also been developing my own and I’m now a GUE Instructor Trainer, as well as trimix instructor, cave instructor and various other ratings – none of which were easy to obtain.

I have moved my base of operations to Tutukaka and now regularly enjoy exploring the very deepest parts of NZs best loved dive destination. At 90m, when you have left the rest of the world behind and can quietly contemplate life, I know I made the right choice back in 2007. The GUE classes which I have taken have proven to be the very best and I can guarantee if you take a class with me you will feel the same way.

If you want to know more then drop me an email.  Jamie Obern is a director of Tech Dive NZ (, a Tutukaka based scuba training provider. He teaches a variety of technical diving courses for several different agencies and is currently the only GUE instructor based in New Zealand.


By Jamie Obern

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