DiveRAID is Expanding Around the World - Old Hands With a New Plan
Many divers from around the world will be aware of the name RAID – particularly amongst the technical community, from which they originated – and many recreational divers will have come across the acronym, even if they don’t know what it stands for.
In the last few years, however, the agency formerly known as the Rebreather Association of International Divers is becoming a much larger player in the world of open circuit recreational training, but without losing sight of their dedicated technical background.
Launched in 2006 as a rebreather only agency, since 2014 RAID has been 'completely rebirthed to be a free diving, recreational and technical agency', in the words of James Rogers, Director of RAID for the UK and Malta.
James, who learned to dive in 1989 and became an instructor in 1997, previously operating under the auspices of PADI and IANTD, explains how the transition from the rebreather-only RAID to the multi-discipline agency now known as ‘DiveRAID’ (but the old name is still acceptable) came about after SSI (Scuba Schools International) were bought by the HEAD Group, who also own Mares.
'When SSI was bought by the HEAD Group (Mares), they disassociated with several of their global redistributors’, said James in an e-mail to DIVE. ‘One of the key ones was their Asian redistributor that had grown SSI in the area dramatically over the previous decade. With no feasible agency alternative, they looked for a new option.’
Part of the reasoning behind the decision to adopt RAID was due to the increasing presence of rebreather training in the recreational world. PADI, for example, had not long launched their Draeger Dolphin and Atlantis semiclosed rebreather specialities in association with the IANTD (International Association of Nitrox and Trimix Divers).
The owners decided RAID needed a new direction and bought it, and since then have rebuilt the agency, with their regional offices now numbering 20 globally. Although their presence is growing, they have no desire to compete with the industry giants such as PADI and SSI, instead offering an alternative form of training to the short-course resort based market
‘We are already in the top tier of agencies, with RSTC membership and a fast-growing, new, energetic group of global members,’ said Rogers. ‘We are, however, not wanting to be a resort-centric, turn- up-and-pass agency. We're trying to add meat to diver training and improve diver competencies and retentions as a result.'
‘We don't want to be PADI,’ said Rogers. ‘This might sound weird based on their market share and alleged market value but our business model is totally different, we (our Members as well) don't need vast training numbers to be hugely successful.’
DiveRAID considers it self to have ‘separated from the pack’, and there does seem to be a lot of merit in this sentiment. It is as if they have taken the best aspects from other operations, added them to what they already knew, and taken off in their own direction.
There is a certain energy and drive behind DiveRAID of the sort that turned PADI into the powerhouse it is today, but without the desire to own the market, and yet a familiarity between the agency, its members and students that might be more commonly associated with the likes of BSAC clubs in the UK. They take parts of both worlds, and neither, and have developed their own training program and standards.
‘Doubling the water times in training delivers better divers and better Instructors,’ said Rogers. ‘We do this by using the most up to date training materials and online training systems on the market. Our mantra is: Great buoyancy is no accident.’
This year alone, DiveRAID have updated more than 50 courses, at the same time encouraging their dive professionals to be honest about their own diving skills. ‘Being different and separating from the pack is a smart move.’
DiveRAID is currenly present in more than 100 countries, with 20 regional offices. They are focussing on new growth and are actively targeting several new markets. Discussions are being kept under wraps at the moment, as they are in the process of vetting those markets ‘heavily’, to determine if they are right for the agency, and not the other way around.
Speaking as a (currently inactive) PADI Master Instructor with almost 10 years as a full-time dive professional, I am very well aware of the issues surrounding professional membership of the large training agencies, and although I have faced some of them myself, I have on the other hand very often found myself fighting in their corner against a great deal of political backbiting from other members of the dive community. I found James’ speech at the UK’s Great Northern Dive Show earlier this year to be quite refreshing as both an instructor and journalist – and, first and foremost, as a diver.
I asked James if he ever saw DiveRAID competing on the same scale as the likes of PADI and SSI with respect to their volume of traffic.
‘No, not in my lifetime,’ he said. ‘We're a privately owned agency (by passionate divers), without the burden of boardroom politics and shareholders and vast overheads to hold us back and force us to be the same as the big boys. We want to be different and improve a failing industry and sport in our own way, in our time.’