Sandals South Coast veteran Dive Instructor, Nickardo Dennis celebrates the Ocean 365 days a year.
Growing up in the seaside community of Belmont in Westmoreland, Nickardo is a third generation seaman. The sound of the ocean has literally been the theme song of his life and all its shades of blue, the canvas on which his most memorable experiences have unravelled.
“Both my grandfather and my father were fishermen, so my brother and I were always following them out to sea on their fishing expeditions,” says Nickardo. ”But we actually learned to swim by sneaking out and going to sea with our older cousins. We took every opportunity to jump in the water.”
Nickardo says he always knew that his life’s purpose was waiting somewhere out there in the ocean and he was convinced he could find the answer in the hospitality industry.
With that thought in mind, he went to Negril and applied for work. “I worked in Negril for almost a year until 2005 when I heard that the newly built Sandals South Coast (then Sandals Whitehouse) was hiring.” Nickardo applied for a job as a lifeguard, as working at Sandals South Coast would allow him to do what he loved but closer to home.
“Sandals South Coast is where my career really took off,” says Nickardo. He’ll tell you it was also the perfect training ground with his first Watersports Manager, Reginald Vickers playing a major role in his career. “From the very beginning, Mr. Vickers saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself.”
“Back in those days as lifeguards we used to do swim training refreshers each month and swim competitions to determine the strongest swimmers. Growing up by the seaside and swimming since I was six years old, I thought, clearly I had this in the bag. That was until I found myself struggling to keep up with my colleagues,” said Nickardo. He said that experience made two things clear to him; he was playing on a different level and he was in desperate need of training. “Sandals has a lot to teach but I had to be willing to open myself up to the process.”
Some would call Nickardo lucky; lucky to have found his purpose and to do what he truly loves every day. But Roman philosopher, Seneca reminds us that ‘luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’ and Nickardo has never stopped preparing himself through training.
From training focused on team building and service excellence, which has shaped the hospitality professional he is today, to environmentally focused trainings like fish identification, peak performance buoyance and dive against debris and so many in between.
While working as a lifeguard an opportunity presented itself for Nickardo to work in the activities area. “In activities I was teaching guests to sail, kayak, windsurf etc. I was also starting to develop a real interest in the boats,” said Nickardo. After his work hours he would hang around the boat captains and learn to drive the boats and by the time he got his Coxswain Boat License he could drive all the boats in his department except the dive boat.
“The dive boat…that was the dream,” reminisced Nickardo. “Before he left South Coast, Clifford Kelly, a boat captain was the one who first taught me how to drive the dive boat. But there was one challenge, back then, the boat captain for the dive boat had to be at least a rescue diver,” said Nickardo. He admits that at that time he had no interest whatsoever in diving. “When I did the open water and advance dive training it was only so that I could meet the requirements to one day captain the dive boat.”
In 2008 Nickardo became a certified Rescue Diver but still his interest was in driving the boats.
“Being on the dive boat as much as I was, I found myself interacting more with the divers. I would encourage new divers who were having challenges and I would listen with bright-eyed wonder as guests and my fellow colleagues would return from a dive to share their experience in the ‘blue room’,” shared Nickardo. “Soon I found myself yearning to be a part of that.” Nickardo notes that as time went by he started to get a lot more comfortable with diving and slowly but surely his passion for diving soon replaced his love for the boats.
“It’s funny sometimes how life has a way of redirecting you back into your destiny,” Nickardo reflects. He is very grateful to Keith Myrie, boat captain and dive instructor who introduced him to diving and Watersports Manager Rowan Williams, who was very instrumental in encouraging him to get certified as a dive master and dive instructor.
As a dive instructor since 2012, Nickardo has taught approximately 2000 divers at various levels – from the introductory course, Discover Scuba Diving (DSD); PADI® Scuba Diver and Open Water Certification to Advance Dive Certification; Rescue Diver and Dive Master Courses. On average Nickardo, affectionately known as the Scuba Genie, sees about 20 divers per month. He is currently one of five dive instructors at Sandals South Coast and perhaps the first PADI® Certified Dive Instructor from the Whitehouse, Westmoreland area.
After a decade of helping others explore the beauty of the ocean, Nickardo can truly say this is his purpose. “I get such an immense joy from heading out to sea each day with my guests and from watching struggling students blossom into full-fledged certified divers.”
“I consider the ocean to be my second home. I love her dearly and all the marine life and ecosystems that thrive within her walls and it pains my heart to see her hurting,” says Nickardo.
He notes that irresponsible fishing practices and garbage disposal have helped to destroy the reefs. “The ocean is not the way it used to be when I was a child growing up in a community that depended on the ocean as a means of subsistence,” he says.
But he believes there is hope. He says the creation of the Whitehouse Marine Sanctuary by the Sandals Foundation and installation of a team of Marine Wardens to patrol the beach has definitely resulted in an increase in fish biomass within the area. “We can see the difference during our dives and it’s a good feeling.”
“People may not necessarily understand how much work it takes to do what we do on a professional level. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline and dedication,” says Nickardo. “Sometimes I look back at my life and I’m amazed at how far I’ve come. I’ve had my setbacks along the way but I don’t focus on those.”
Instead, Nicardo says he’s focused on his passion for teaching people to dive or rather to expand their boundaries. He’s focused on showing his colleagues that the dream is within reach. And finally, he’s focused on his next dive and the exhilarating rush of standing on that ledge, his dive gear in place, the sea breeze against his face and a team of like-minded adventure seekers in tow.