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Paulo Vincenzo Toomer

I have not been a diver that long in the grand scheme of things. Truth be told I was too frightened to go in the waters of South Africa, the country I called home at the time. My Dad tried and tried, but after watching Jaws as a young man, I was just terrified of being eaten. Back in the late '70's everyone that went in the sea seemed to get eaten, and divers were hard as nails. They weren't seventy something kilo weaklings like me. They were cool, sexy, Red Bull type people that braved the waters with equipment that they built in their garages and an understanding of the environment they were entering that was akin to how Buzz Aldrin must have felt when he stood on the moon. Man I wanted to be like them. I oozed envy!

Everyone has fear, they're just afraid to admit it. I decided to conquer all my fears. My fear of public speaking - I joined a rock band - we became number one in South Africa, even played for Mandela. I started riding a bike, got a bunch of tattoos, put on some kilos and one by one overcame my fears.

In 1996, the lure of the ocean became greater than the sum of my fears. I could not believe how well suited I was to the sport, the gear and the environment — I was unafRAID. Even though it's not that long ago it was a super cool sport. My Instructors were fierce bastards, friendly, but fierce. I loved the sport and within 6 months I owned my own dive centre in London. It was awesome. Our club nights were legendary, ending sometimes as the store was about to open. Me and my fellow instructors ruled the world, there was no stopping us. I went on to be a Course Director in 2001 and then pursued a career in technical diving. My new sport took me all over the world, teaching and exploring some of the most amazing things you could ever see.

I dived wrecks, caves, polar ice, I dived with dolphins, sharks, little fish, big fish, cardboard box — it was mental!! As a tattooed biker and ex drummer, this was the life for me. I had conquered all my fears - I was unafRAID.

And then I noticed it all changing - it was like my (OUR) beautiful sport was being taken over by "suits"! Everything was about money and it all became drab and serious and DULL. It was like when surfing was corporatised, or when punk became a dress code rather than a way of life. I was sad, really, really sad.

After many conversations with many a good friend I decided that it was time to do it for myself. Why blame people for something that perhaps I could change!

Now go back to 2006 and a gentleman called Barry Coleman was helping a scuba manufacturer (Poseidon) break all the rules and design a recreational rebreather. The industry went nuts, rebreathers were for those tech lunatics, surely. But Barry and Poseidon decided that the moment was right and the industry needed a big fat kick in the pants. And boy did they deliver. The MKVI was born.

Unfortunately, getting a mainstream training agency to take them on was extremely difficult. I mean they'd only just fallen in love with nitrox and technical diving was slowly being embraced. But now a death box for recreational divers – "You must be crazy"!

Undefeated, Barry and Poseidon decided to launch their own training agency and that agency was RAID, Rebreather Association International Divers. They decided immediately that because their unit was state of the art, the agency had to follow suit. Because rebreathers have a very small carbon footprint, the agency should be the same. So the world's first 'paper free' comprehensive digital only agency was formed.

Obviously the MKVI rebreather was a success and most agencies wanted to be a part of the recreational rebreather revolution. Due to a conflict of interest for the training agencies (an agency being owned by a manufacturer) Poseidon decided it was best to separate the two entities and Barry was keen to take up the challenge of his own agency.

Barry knuckled down and designed the most advanced online training agency with the only dynamic online quality assurance system in the world of diving. Sounds good, no? Barry went even further and wrote a further 60 programs which took RAID from a rebreather only agency to one that offered the full spectrum of programs from learn to dive all the way to technical trimix rebreather and open circuit diving. A monster achievement for sure.

Cue December 2013. After a wonderful two years working for a training agency I decided that my friends were right and I should be doing this for myself.

And RAID met diver and diver met RAID.

So what and where are we now? First off, we are just RAID, we are no longer a rebreather only agency, we cover the whole spectrum. Open Water, Advanced, Rescue, Divemaster, Specialties, Instructor, Open Circuit, Closed Circuit, Technical, Sidemounts and very soon wreck and cave. RAID is just RAID, no alphabet soup.

Our online training system means that we can update standards and materials on a minute-by-minute basis and that is an extremely important point when the diving industry is moving exponentially and book based agencies have to run out of stock before they can do a global update. Our standards are universal as they all come from one source, our website.

In terms of quality assurance, we have a pro – active system that ensures everyone knows the course content and cross checks to maximise compliance with standards. Students, instructors, instructor trainers and dive centres have 24-hour access to the latest version of our training materials, no waiting for special release dates.

Our quality assurance program also means that RAID can track a diver and instructor as they move through a program thus enabling us to provide help to the instructor and diver if needed. This fits with our philosophy of being the people's training agency.

RAID is a modern training agency. Remember when "Kindle" was something you used to start a fire and "Amazon" was a jungle. Do you remember Kodak, they made film? Change is inevitable and I am excited to be an owner in a company that can make some positive changes in the industry I love and help re- energise and re excite the industry – we will get some stuff wrong but we plan to get a lot more things right, without risk there is no change and one thing is certain without change everything just slowly withers.

Quite simply RAID want diving to go back to the future(!)

We are a diver training agency run by divers (extreme and recreational) for divers. Now It's Time to Dive.

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