Meet The Dive King of the Caribbean
He’s Michael Clarke, Corporate Director of Watersports and The Man Who Has Led Over 140,000 Divers to Get Certified and Discover the Depths of the Caribbean Sea.
Believe Michael Clarke when he says he has the best job in the world. Could there be a more natural fit next to his name than “Corporate Director of Watersports for Sandals and Beaches Resorts?”
A case could be made that Clarke has spent as much time in the tantalizing Caribbean Sea as any person alive. He taught himself to swim in it, snorkel in it, spearfish in it, and to care deeply for it. About five years ago he stopped counting his personal scuba dives at some number well beyond the thousands and he’s helped over 140,000 others get certified to discover the Caribbean underworld. Clarke has done deep dives, shallow dives, wreck dives, drift dives, night dives, wall dives, and dives that are indescribable.
“No two dives are ever the same,” Clarke says.
The word “corporate” in his title might give the wrong impression. Clarke says sitting behind a desk is not in his nature, so he spends as much time as possible on boats, where he can educate younger people about the sea, talk with Sandals and Beaches guests, and elevate the experience for the next groups who will be coming.
Clarke doesn’t even call this a job. “It’s a passion,” he says … with passion.
Keep this in mind: He’s the only English Speaking Caribbean born PADI Course Director - period - at the silver level, who is certified to educate divemasters so they can become PADI dive instructors, and sits at the top 1% of PADI Membership.
His mission? To train other men and women who share his love for the ocean, so it grows exponentially among Sandals guests and in Caribbean communities.
What he really wants to see, without saying it, is more Michael Clarkes.
“I like to look at the faces of people from our Caribbean island right after they pass training,” he says.
“For them it’s a dream realized. They might have thought becoming a divemaster or instructor as being out of reach. I know how good it feels to complete the training because I’m familiar with their backgrounds.”
Clarke grew up along Jamaica’s north shore, not far from where a Beaches Resort would open some 20 years later. Something about the water took hold of him and would not let go.
When he went to the beach with his mother, she had to ask other people to swim out and pull her son back to shore when she was ready to leave.
“When her day was done, I felt like mine was just getting started,” Clarke says.
“Being in the ocean was my escape,” Clarke says. “The weight on my shoulders would immediately disappear.”
As a teenager, he found a job at one of the many small hotels that dotted the island’s perimeter. Perfectly, he worked in watersports. Guests learned from the teen where to go for the best snorkeling and kayaking. He always made the experiences so personal.
Clarke thought he knew the sea as thoroughly as a person could possibly know it … until he took his first dive. Deep below the surface, he was introduced to an incredible sight that had always been there, but just out of reach. If it hadn’t been for the scuba tank needing a refill, Clarke might have never left the water.
“From that moment on, I wanted a career in diving more than you can imagine,” he says.
But diving is not a sport he could teach himself. It requires detailed instruction and guidance. This is why to this day Clarke is grateful for the divemaster who led him through the process of becoming a divemaster himself. To advance to the next stage as an instructor, however, he had to fly to the Cayman Islands for his exam.
“When I returned home, I was one of only three Jamaican nationals certified to instruct diving,” he says. “Most instructors would come in from other countries. People like me, who grow up on the islands, know this sea better than anyone. We have a lifelong connection to it. The fact we had to bring divers in from other places didn’t seem right. But what could I do about it?”
It turns out, he would do more than anyone about it.
THE SANDALS CONNECTION
After returning to Jamaica, Clarke worked at a few dive shops, including his own. He wanted more people to know what he knew: the Caribbean Sea is an endless kaleidoscope of living treasures. His bandwidth, however, was limited.
Then he received a call in 2002 from a colleague he’d once worked with at one of the hotels that had closed down. She had accepted a role at a new resort called Beaches Ocho Rios.
“My business was doing well,” Clarke says, “but she said, ‘you need to come and see what we’re doing.’ So, I agreed to look around.”
What he saw at Beaches grabbed his attention about as firmly as his first dive in the sea: a five-star watersports experience for guests with five-star expectations. The resort team had invested in high-end regulators, tanks, boats, and keeping everything pristine — something unheard of at an all-inclusive resort.
He heard about structured training to expand the dive operations, strategies to work with communities to improve the health of the marine environment, and policies of politely teaching guests to “leave only bubbles, take only pictures.”
He noticed something important about everyone leading the conversations: they were all from the Caribbean.
“I could tell this meant a lot to them because they all grew up in the ocean, just like me.”
That meant Clarke did not have to convince anyone about what he had on his mind. They were thinking it, too. “People don’t need to travel to Tahiti, Australia, or Palau. The best diving on Earth is right here in the Caribbean.”
He also knew the best way to showcase it would be with local divers.
“When people come to explore the Caribbean, they want an authentic experience from people who have the islands and the ocean in their DNA. This is fertile ground for that.”
And so, he joined the Sandals and Beaches team, and began to sow seeds.
AN INCREDIBLE SEA HARVEST
Since that interview in 2002, the diving fields have flourished. Clarke is too humble to take credit. The numbers speak for him:
There are now more than 150 home-grown dive instructors at Sandals and Beaches Resorts, leading nearly 30,000 guests every year into the spectacle of the sea amassing over 89,000 dives yearly from a fleet of 26 Newton Dive Boats, which Clarke calls “the Rolls Royce of dive boats.”
“Newton Dive Boats, Luxfer and Catalina tanks, SCUBAPRO and Deep Blue equipment and gear - it's an incredible thing to be able to treat our guests to the very best dive experience.”
“But what makes me most proud,” he says, “is the fact we’re able to turn young, eager nationals with various levels of education into diamonds. They all feel like they have the best jobs in the world.”
They become just like Michael Clarke.
Clarke could work at any dive destination on the planet, but Sandals is home. This is his ocean. It’s why he feels a tingle on his skin every time he’s on a plane descending over the too-good-to-be true waters around Beaches Turks and Caicos, or when he looks from a balcony toward the horizon at Sandals Emerald Bay.
“It never gets old,” he says. “Out there,” he says of the million square miles of Caribbean Sea, “is where I feel alive.”