Ten Cars

Posted on January 18, 2019


“No one ever spells my name right,” came the clipped German accent. “I tell students it’s Ten Cars but the other way around. This way they get it right.”

Carsten has been at Crystal Dive Koh Tao since 2005. Originally from Dortmund he arrived in Thailand in 2002 on a world ticket and bounced back and forth until he eventually settled.

He spells his name the Danish way, despite being German. Why? Because his parents wanted all their kids to have their names start with a ‘C’.

“And which part of London are you from Asha?” he probed.

“Saaaarf London,” I exaggerated my response, holding his gaze and waiting for the next question.

He smiled cheekily, shifting on his feet. “Is dat anywhere near Essex?” he said, his eyes lighting up, tilting his head and peering at me through his glasses as he sucked hard on his cigarette.

“Do you want to lose your front teeth?” I returned chugging on a mouthful of water.

“No, but remind me when you’ve got more time, and I’ll tell you about how I lost 13 teeth in an accident,” he replied, laying the bait and reeling me in with intrigue.

Ten Cars is a Master Instructor (MI). A tech diver and the man to go to for anything IT related. He’s usually found chain-smoking in the bar hunched over a laptop. It’s become his office. He also has a plethora of funny dive stories from when the company was in its infancy to present day.

His first career was in IT so his knowledge means he does a lot of computer work for Crystal Dive Koh Tao when he’s not in the water instructing. And boy, is he knowledgeable.

Like many scuba divers who have come to the sport/profession late in life. His motivation to learn was to conquer a fear – he was terrified of the ocean. Mine was to dispel the myth that all sharks are dangerous, man-eaters.

“The older the Germans are though, the harder it is to teach them,” he says, confessing he was in fact a terrible novice diver. He took his first course almost 16 years ago at the ripe old age of 30. None of that matters now.

He flew through the certifications in just over six months to reach instructor level. It’s second nature to him today.

In 2013 Crystal Dive Koh Tao was among the dive schools selected around the world to pilot a revised version of the PADI Open Water (OW) course. At the time PADI said, “…its revision is the culmination of two years of analysis, planning and development. ..”

The trial period was meant to be two months where two instructors trialled at least three students each at Crystal. Ten Cars made so many comments following the trial period that PADI asked Crystal to do another two months with yet more revisions.

“For me buoyancy is key. There were things we were doing already here with the old course before the changes.

“There’s always room for revision, you know my personal opinion about some skills, it’s the same as you.

“But for instance why do we still have to teach skin diving? It has nothing to do with the open water diving requirements. Today there is freediving.

“I still believe that getting students to perform the air depletion skill with alternate air source to swim around horizontally in the pool for at least one minute, then makes them think it’s ok to actually do that. That’s breaking standards. You run out of air, you go up. Why have them swim?

“I’d like to see more flexibility when you can teach certain skills. It’s more about practicality. For example being able to establish buoyancy during Confined Water 2 (CW) means oral inflation of the BCD (buoyancy control device) makes more sense to the student.”

The new revised OW course became official on 1st July 2014 in English. But PADI hadn’t translated it into any of the other languages that it can be taught in (Mandarine, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch).

“Instructors still had old materials in foreign languages but were told they can teach the new course verbally. It took an additional year before all of the new course went online in PDF form.”

Given how much money PADI earns yearly, the fact that material for non English speakers took even longer to publish looks like an administration debacle in my opinion.

At Crystal the maximum ratio of students to instructor on a course is six. The standard allows you to teach up to eight.

As a new instructor I’ve found teaching six a handful. And depending on their efficiency and ability I’m not sure you can convincingly say eight students have all established “mastery” of all 50 skills if you’re teaching solo especially to a set number of days.

“It boils down to money Asha. Instructors get paid per student, so those numbers keep the dive centres happy and the instructors happy.”

Finally, someone not afraid to call it when they see it! I’ve been diving for more than 20 years and the spectrum of teaching and guiding I’ve experienced is huge.

The dive industry is all about paper – bank notes and liability forms. No one wants to lose money (lawsuits) and everyones trying to make it. The joke among divers is that PADI stands for “Paperwork And Diving In-between”.

PADI also sends out a quality assurance email to students to get feed back about their course and their experience. To me it seems somewhat redundant to ask first time divers who have no prior knowledge of diving to gauge the standard of the school and the instructor – they have nothing to compare it to.

Ten Cars told me, “Some of the questions they ask are things like, did you get your materials? Did you watch all the videos? It’s to make sure students are getting what they paid for.”

To be honest some students don’t pay attention to half the things you teach them, even when it’s repeated and repeated. You can form quite a good picture of what people are like in their day-to-day lives just from their attention spans above and below the water.

There was one year where PADI asked students if they learnt how to disconnect the LPI (low pressure inflator hose). This is a device that enables you to inflate and deflate your BCD as it’s connected to your tank.

The dive world has so many acronyms and longwinded terminology most students wrote back saying “no”. They had no clue. They would have been taught this skill, it’s part of the standards. But what it showed everyone was they didn’t remember the name of the skill. Now all instructors make a point of highlighting this particular requirement all the time.

PADI has been around 50 years. It’s dominated the dive industry until now. The new kid on the block is SSI (Scuba Schools International), and it is making waves.

“Do you think PADI needs to be worried?” I ask Ten Cars.

“We’ve already lost divers. People are retraining. It will be interesting to see how much PADI fight for their market position. SSI has a better website, all materials are online so they are cheaper. Trying to log onto PADI can be painful sometimes.”

PADI still has Yugoslavia listed as a country of origin when it comes to certifying different nationalities. The country was broken up in the early 1990s! And anyone from North Korea or Iraq may not even find their country listed in the drop down menu because it’s considered a “banned” country.

“We had some divers from North Korea. They had to select another country for their nationality in order to be registered and then an email was sent to America to get it changed manually.”

Looks like internally PADI could do with some fine tuning itself.

“So how exactly did you lose those teeth……Was it from diving?”

“No, but it stopped me diving. It was a bike accident. The driver was drunk and ran into my bike at a junction. I was on my way home, wasn’t wearing a helmet and he had no insurance.”

Turns out the driver was also a diver who had been kicked off the IDC programme (instructor training) from both Crystal as well as another school for being drunk.

Ten Cars was out of the water for half a year. He was hospitalised, stitched up and his mouth wired to resemble Hannibal Lecter.

For months he was an out-patient at Bangkok hospital with medical bills that were growing faster than some palm oil plantations in Asia. Thanks to the generosity of loved ones he was able to afford the treatment which mounted into the tens of thousands of dollars.

With his jaw wired, it made speaking difficult, understanding him even harder and eating less than joyful. He wasn’t put on a special diet or anything, he just blended whatever he wanted for dinner and sucked it through a straw. Steak was apparently challenging.

“If you think eating was bad you should have seen me smoking,” he laughed. When Ten Cars finally got back into the water he said it and like starting all over again. His balance and sense of buoyancy had catastrophically changed.

“It was like learning to walk again. I felt like an open water student.”

Somewhat ironic then that he was later asked to revisit and try out a new version of the course structure.