Julia Kennedy was born in Aberdare, grew up in Tonteg and moved back after a brief stint living and working in London. So yes, she is definitely a valleys girl at heart. Having worked as a sonographer in the NHS, she is now a lecturer in diagnostic ultrasound and radiography at Cardiff University. Her passion before scuba diving took over her life was dancing, when, as a teacher, she taught Ballet, Tap, Modern and Jazz and also worked as musical theatre choreographer.
No great surprises here. It all started very traditionally with a ‘Try Dive’ in the Maldives in 2007. One dive and Julia was totally hooked!
Julia completed a PADI Open Water as soon as she returned home and so the journey started. The desire to progress was helped by supporting a local dive business which motivated her to become a Divemaster in 2010, and then a recreational instructor by 2012. It was at this point that Julia first realised that being a female instructor working in the male-dominated UK dive industry was not that common!
“You might say that teaching was already in my blood.” She had effectively built her professional career around teaching and developing people. Whether that was the various genres of dance, radiography, ultrasound and so on.
The progression from Divemaster to diving instructor just seemed like such a natural step. “I was also surrounded by some very good instructors who would always encourage and support me to achieve my diving ambitions.”
"Above all, I believe it is having the ability to engage with your students in a friendly and approachable manner. It is key that you are able to empathise with them, especially when the going might get tough.”
The ability to motivate and inspire students will always help to get them over the line. However, all of this means nothing, if you do not have the basic credibility as an instructor. Total command of the in-water skills, good organisation and knowledge for the subject and patience, patience and more patience!
“Women do tend to be more empathetic, caring and understanding. This is especially important and beneficial with students who might require additional support. Some students, particularly girls, often open up more to me than they might do if the instructor is a guy.”
“Women and girls often have different requirements with respect to the equipment. It is much easier for me to appreciate these requirements first hand so I am able to pass on this knowledge directly with a degree of credibility.”
Despite some improvement and a lot of effort by the agencies, scuba diving is still a male dominated profession and it can be a little intimidating for females in classes dominated by males being taught by men. The ‘This Girl Can’ campaign has been a great help.
“I find that being a female instructor creates a more open and safer environment for female students. Women just love to talk to each other! We all know this is a proven fact! It can often be the case that a friendship started on a scuba course results in a friend for life.”
“I’ve grown up with lots of male friends so being around a bunch of guys is generally fine and I’m happy being treated as ‘one of the lads’ and whilst I might act it, I’m not! Women generally feel the cold more, so a macho approach to long decompression stops in cold water is just not on.
Men also just ‘don’t get’ the showering thing and the fact that women need for a certain level of restroom facilities! We are not known as the fairer sex for no reason.
The most obvious situation which makes me chuckle is when I introduce myself as the instructor, most, if not all, of the students assume that I am just one of the helpers on the course".
“Just do it, it is such a great thing to do. Taking non- divers to being divers and then encouraging and coaching them to progress their diving is an amazing and privileged opportunity. I always think if my students enjoy diving half as much as I do then all the ef- fort of teaching them has been worthwhile.”
“I have made the most amazing friends and had some truly unforgettable experiences through learning to dive and instructing. If I had my time over – I would have started at least 20 years earlier!”.