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By Emily Frisan, Sept. 21, 2021

From warm water diving instructing in Honduras and deep sea diving off the coast of the Catalina Islands to university instructing, Douglas (Doug) Hayes, scuba dive center coordinator at the BRIC, has taught scuba diving courses at CPP for two years and is just shy of completing his 6,000th dive.

Brenda Calderon Aceves, a master’s student in the Claisse Lab at CPP, has worked with Hayes since 2019 when she completed her Advanced Open Water (AOW) scuba certification at the BRIC. Hayes continues to guide Aceves in her AAUS Scientific Diving Training program, a two-week scuba course needed to conduct academic, research or conservation work while diving.

“He has encouraged me to work past some of my own self-doubts and insecurities by never questioning my abilities as well as allowing me to work through challenging situations,” said Aceves.

Hayes participating in first Rec Fest outside of the BRIC. (Courtesy of Douglas Hayes)

Before earning his certifications, Hayes’ fascination with the water and the wildlife that inhabits it was instilled by his grandfather early on in life. At the time, however, exploring diving as a career was the last thing on his mind.

“That was my first dive. I went down, saw a couple of fish and I thought, ‘well this is the worst ever,” Hayes added. “But it was all fun.”

At 23 years old, his first dive in salt water lasted 18 minutes on a 100-cubic-foot tank, earning him the title of an “air sucking dog.” The term is typically used to reference divers who consume an 80-cubic-foot tank rather quickly on dives.

According to Hayes, with many more practice dives and dedication he quickly began to improve his scuba diving skills. If Hayes were to take the same 100-cubic-foot tank from his first dive on a dive today, his expertise would allow him to stay underwater for two and a half hours.

Although he has a background of 28 years of professional diving, Hayes began working for CPP only two years ago. His initial plan to be drafted for the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs after high school graduation fell short due to an injury which ruptured his lower leg ligaments. Ultimately, the low impact and team-oriented nature of scuba diving provided the athletic lifestyle Hayes wanted without the health risks posed by baseball.

Hayes relaxing at the beach on his free time. (Courtesy of Douglas Hayes)

“It’s a completely different world; one where we can’t survive normally and so we put on this equipment, stay under the water for an hour and we get to see all these creatures and things in their own world, doing their own thing. It’s like floating around in space,” Hayes said.

Hayes’ professional career began in 1994 instructing for WW Diving Company in Texas and was followed by the move to form a part of an all-women dive team in Honduras at Coco View Resort. Later moving to Roatan to form part of the scuba diving team at Barefoot Cay Marina, he worked to improve its diving program for over a decade before accepting a position at CPP in 2019.

“I could change more people in the university setting than working in resort management and running the dive operation,” said Hayes. “I feel a greater sense of educating and mentoring students here where

I can change them now while they still have a chance to change, make up their mind, find a passion. It’s all about finding what you love to do.”

Hayes chose to accept the scuba instructor position at CPP because it is one of three Educational Dive Centers for the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) in the United States where professional certifications can be earned.

Currently, Hayes is working on earning the highest certification as a PADI Course Director. This certification allows him to teach PADI Instructor Development Courses (IDCs) and other instructor-level training. Although Hayes’ 22 previous recreational certifications each last a lifetime, he continuously renews his professional certifications every year to ensure that he can accurately educate students.

Hayes releasing sharks in collaboration with former Honduran president, Lobo Sosa. (Courtesy of Douglas Hayes)

“We decided that the opportunities that scuba diving affords students is so great that we feel like everyone should have the opportunity to participate. That exposure changes people’s lives,” said Hayes. “I’ve seen students from 8 years old completely change what happens to them in a classroom, high schoolers change what they want to do for a living because of diving and I’ve seen college students change their majors to pursue diving in a professional manner.”

BRIC Fitness Coordinator Iván Serrano admires Hayes’ contribution to the growth and atmosphere of the scuba program at CPP, as enrollment in scuba diving classes has significantly increased since his hiring.

“You can hear Doug’s laughter from a mile away. He’s a very upbeat and positive force in the building. It’s always a treat to cross paths,” said Serrano.

As his student for two years now, Aceves acknowledges that Hayes facilitated her development through college and beyond.

“I have undoubtedly benefited from programs like scuba through ASI, which make courses accessible to students and my mentors like Doug who have taken a chance on me and are actively invested in my growth and success,” Aceves said.

In addition to his recent certification efforts, Hayes has just completed his associates degree and plans to earn his Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences at Penn State University, where he then plans to graduate with a master’s degree. For now, Hayes aims to continue improving the BRIC’s scuba dive center and increase its accessibility for all students.

“In diving, there’s not been any huge difficulties, it’s just about persevering and putting in the work and that’s just for about anything. It’s not just for diving,” Hayes said. “That’s been for school; that’s been for life. Getting up and continuing putting one foot in front of the other no matter what life gives us. The successes far outweigh the difficulties.”

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