Keryn van der Walt

Dive Industry Profile

Keryn van der Walt

I am the co-owner of RAID Southern Africa and I own Outdoor Focus Dive and Adventure Centre in Port Alfred, which I started 16 years ago. Diving was never on my bucket list. As a kid, I swam provincially and during my training sessions, I spent quite a bit of time watching diving students swim under us, and always wondered what the fascination was.

Shortly after moving to Port Alfred in 1993, my mother-in-law decided that she was going to do a dive course with Dennis Croukamp from Kowie Dive School. She informed me that I was doing it with her! That first course sparked my love for diving and my passion continues to grow, especially since I started rebreather diving. During my first pool session with Dennis, I decided that this was what I wanted to do and I worked my way up with him, eventually completing my dive master and instructor courses in 1996, this time with Ian Symington.

I was besotted with diving. Dennis gave me all his old Sources magazines which he had collected over the years (a stack about 1.5 m high). I read and studied these magazines with fascination and with a growing awareness of the industry. My interest in diver rescue was piqued after I joined the NSRI, and I started to realise the potential risks of diving in a relatively isolated area like Port Alfred. By this time, I had become a training officer at our Port Alfred Sea Rescue station, and we practised various diving-related injuries and scenarios on a regular basis.

Over time, we slowly started hearing snippets of information about DAN-SA. We all knew about DAN in America because of the magazines our agency was publishing. However, without social media as we know it today, news took a long time to filter down to a small town where there was only one dive centre.

In April 1997, a technical diver passed away during a 100 m course off Port Alfred. I was skippering the back-up boat and treated him for the long 20 nautical miles back to Port Alfred and into the fixed-wing aircraft waiting for us. After this event, I realised how little I knew about the process, even after all my training.

I attended Rescue Sunday at the Naval Base in Simon’s Town, where this very incident was presented as a case study. It was explained that the treatment that was given to the diver was certainly less than ideal, although it was unlikely to have made any difference to the outcome. This became a huge motivator to learn more, especially how to treat an injured diver correctly.

So, in February 1998, I looked into DAN-SA and ended up doing their oxygen provider course with Sean French. I began teaching oxygen administration for diving injuries. Over the years, I have taught NSRI crews and many divers how to provide oxygen correctly. I have marvelled (especially on the NSRI side) at how additional oxygen can save a life that seemed to be slipping away.

We take advantage of the amazing DAN-SA Student Membership Programme.

DAN-SA has helped us build a culture of diving safety at Outdoor Focus and our students are introduced to this organisation on every course we run. We take advantage of the amazing DAN-SA Student Membership Programme and DAN-SA has been incredibly helpful to us over the years, counselling us about students who are taking various medications or who have medical conditions. Not having a diving doctor nearby often puts us instructors in a pickle; however, DAN-SA is always there to advise us (and occasionally doctors) on whether a student is to fit to dive.

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