Alexandra Dimitriou is a dive center owner in Agia Napa, Cyprus. She became a diver in 1992 and received her bachelor’s degree in Oceanography at Plymouth University in 2003. Her love of the ocean has always been her driving force, and this has led to the natural progression of becoming a diving instructor in 2005. She is currently a PADI staff instructor and owner at Scuba Monkey Ltd and will be writing a series of guest blogs for PADI Europe, Middle East and Africa.
So, how did she get where she is today? Where does she want to go tomorrow? We caught up with Alexandra Dimitriou for the low-down…..
How did I become who I am today?
I am a “BBC” – a British Born Cypriot, but I grew up in Cyprus. I was lucky enough to have a childhood full of sea, sun and schooling. I could swim before I could walk and scuba diving was always going to be my future. My father was a scuba instructor for the British Sub Aqua Club and he was crazy about diving (he still is). He had a tiny compressor in our garage, and he painstakingly filled the tanks for his friends, as well as himself, all week in preparation for the weekend. The noise from this little machine used to drive my mother crazy, it took hours to fill just a few tanks, and the not-so low hum of this air pumping miracle became the soundtrack to my childhood.
I was always a strong swimmer and I can’t remember ever being chased around with water wings or other buoyancy aids by my mother. My father taught my brother David and I how to snorkel early so we could follow his bubbles while him and his group were diving. We would follow their bubbles as long as we could and often our jaws would ache from stretching our mouths wide enough to accommodate the mouthpiece (no kids’ sizes back then). We would help him and his friends get ready, and those moments were what I lived for every summer.
Under the BSAC umbrella, we were unable to become divers until we were 15 years old. I couldn’t wait that long. I just couldn’t. My father was good friends with a local PADI Instructor and he took me to his Dive Center in the Golden Coast Hotel one summer.Costas was my hero after that day. He put me through the PADI Open Water Diver course after I spent the summer helping them with anything that they would allow me to: coffee, floor sweeping, wetsuit washing – anything! I was twelve years old when I became a scuba diver. It was a milestone that has dictated my life ever since.
Catching the “SCUBA-bug”
I “worked” at the dive center every summer after that. I was rewarded every year with a new course and my enthusiasm grew exponentially. I was living in the UK by this time, for education, but I would return home every six weeks. I went diving whenever I could, but I did not put a toe in the colder British waters until I went to university in Plymouth. I graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in oceanography in 2003. My favourite modules were the underwater surveying ones. My diving experience secured me a spot on a work experience trip to Mexico, where we were counting sea lion pups for 3 weeks while camping in the desert. I still remember how these beautiful creatures moved underwater. Sea lion pups would often play “chicken” with you – swimming with a scary speed on what looked like a collision course before turning at the last possible second. They were training how to hunt. They were having fun. I was terrified for the first week, but by the time I was finished didn’t want to go home. Ever.
From Scuba Enthusiast to Scuba Professional
I did not become a PADI Divemaster until 2005 as I went sailing for a year after I graduated. I remember thinking that I wanted to take the first step on the professional ladder in dive conditions that were far from perfect. Plymouth waters were cold, and dry suits made me feel like an astronaut, but I loved it. My father thought I was crazy, but I assured him that I wanted to have more experience in low-visibility waters to prepare me for less than ideal conditions when working in regions outside of the Mediterranean.
I worked as a Divemaster in Ayia Napa Cyprus over the summer of 2005 with Lucky Divers. I received no payment, instead working in exchange for training in the form of the end of season PADI Instructor Development Course (IDC). I was one of 25 candidates, a huge group by today’s standards. We worked hard, we learned and we practiced until we were ready for the PADI Instructor Exam (IE) in October 2005. We were having fun, more fun than I have ever had. The Course Director and 7 IDC staff members definitely put us through our paces, often drilling us so hard that I remember dreaming about positive reinforcements, mask clearing and worries about failing to hover in front of the examiner. My worries were unfounded, just as I was assured of, and I became a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor on Halloween, 2005. It was life changing.
The freedom of being an instructor
As an instructor I could now travel freely, funding myself while on the move without the need to go home and recharge the bank account. I worked in Cyprus, Thailand, Australia and Mexico; exploring each region in detail, unrestricted by time. I settled into every walk of life. I met people from every corner of the globe. It broke my heart to move on most times, but wanderlust is often strong within diving instructors and I was no exception. I must have done something right, however, as I have students who follow me to whereever I am when they want to take their next course.
Taking the Leap from Instructor to Dive Center Owner
I decided to become a dive center owner in 2011. I flew to Dusseldorf, Germany and went to Boot – the Disneyland for divers. I fell in love at Boot – with the L&W 450es compressor! I started choosing my dream equipment. I started visualizing my dream location. Everything was going well. We chose the hotel and had meetings for tour operator contracts set up for the spring of 2011.
I worked one more season as an employee in Cyprus in the summer of 2011, ever watching for the ideal location for my own school. I found it. I rented it. I found a concept coordinator who made my dreams an affordable reality. I gathered quotes for equipment. I formulated my profit and loss spreadsheets. I bought my beloved compressor. I gave it a name and Scuba Monkey Ltd opened its doors in May 2013. It was a proud moment.
Where I am now
We overcame the obstacles that any start-up business encounters. The move from instructor to dive center owner has been a steep learning curve, but I love it. It challenges me every single day and I cannot see my love of diving ever becoming mundane. I am hugely involved in all sides of the business and do most of the diving myself. Yes, I could delegate the water work to my team, but where is the fun in that? If I don’t dive at least once a day I become miserable. I was addicted to scuba from the first inhalation and I will continue as long as I am able. If I ever hang up my fins for good I will shut my doors forever. I will never get tired of it. Diving is my life and always will be.
Plans for the Future: Where do I want to go tomorrow?
My dream for tomorrow is growth: Growth for myself as a diver by learning new disciplines like sidemount, and growth for my business by offering an ever expanding menu of possibilities. I’m am extremely excited about the new digital learning options that PADI have been developing and releasing recently. The PADI Open Water Touch is a beautiful thing. You will fall in love with learning all over again with the first fluid finger swipe across your tablet, and the planet will thank you for choosing this paper-free alternative.
My five year plan for Scuba Monkey is to keep offering quality, not quantity….and growing slowly until I reach the criteria I need to qualify for all-desirable PADI 5* Status. I know I will get there, and if your dream is like mine – to open your own center – then you will too!