Scuba diving is a bloody amazing sport. Apologies if that may be over doing things slightly, but SCUBA (Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) allows us as mere mortal human beings to delve into, explore and become one with, the underwater world. This same notion, as far as I am concerned, applies equally for the everyday, apparently mundane act of flying in a commercial jet, whereby we take off, are propelled into the air, and fly through the air column within the jet stream at 30,000 feet for up to sixteen hours or more on a long haul flight, incredible!
Humans as a species firmly belong to the land, we are land lubbers. We have developed ability to swim and to breath-hold for up to a few minutes, yet have not the capability to take oxygen from the water as do gilled creatures, or to breath-hold for extended periods as do cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and sea turtles.
Scuba diving is a great skill to learn, know and develop. Diving is a cool hobby, being social, sometimes challenging, rewarding, relaxing and most importantly enjoyable. You can dive with just you and your buddy, or with a group of divers up to six or eight or potentially more depending on factors such as but not limited to diver skill, dive plan (depth, time, route, safety stops etc), visibility, dive difficulty, presence of current and other environmental considerations.
Simply “blowing bubbles underwater’ is the way that some divers will qualify their love for the sport – just get me beneath the surface, where everything goes quiet, with no annoying chitter-chatter to bother ones thoughts.
Other divers will describe with a knowing grin hidden somewhere behind their lips the incredible feeling of weightlessness felt when obtaining or achieving neutral buoyancy, a term describing when the net force exerted on the diver is zero, allowing the diver to hover at a given depth effortlessly (this is not entirely true – in fact the skill needed to hover effortlessly at a given depth is substantial. Not that it’s hard per-se, more that many hours need to be invested underwater in order to develop good buoyancy techniques. It might be something between a skill and an art, the subtle breathing techniques coupled with innate depth awareness achievable through sight of inert objects or through the slowly gained skill of depth awareness through slight pressure changes sensed in the middle ear space. Or you can just glance at the face of your dive computer, but come on my hippie family, read on).
This neutral buoyancy then becomes akin to flying, soaring above and skillfully not contacting the layer below. (Digressing, in addition to being a diver, I am also a novice paragliding pilot with about 30 hours under my pilots belt spent both soaring upwards towards cloudbase inside thermals with the Jotas in Chile and ridge soaring amongst waterfalls and greenery in the hills of inland Colombia). My point is that these things, these extreme sports, not only act as a sport, an enjoyment, something to do. They become who you are, eyes always gazing up at the sky longingly; wishing, no waiting to return to smile and play with the Jotas, to feel your wing that lies between your physical form and the heavens momentarily partially collapse as you enter or exit a thermal column of air (and maybe leaving a souvenir in the seat of your pants the first few times this happens), imaginings stirring inside the mental for the three knot drift dive running east to west that is achievable at mid ebb-tide at Manta Ray Drop-off on the Great Barrier Reef through careful planning, the anticipation of progressive penetration of a virgin cave system in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and, well you get my drift.
Now that my thoughts are back with diving, brings me firmly to a point of discussion that is applicable for novice and experienced divers alike, being the sometimes lost emphasis on the techniques of trim, buoyancy and propulsion techniques, a matter that some higher level diver trainers attend to well. The learned technique of cave diving encompasses these skills with high importance in safely executing a dive within the overhead environment.
Entry level recreational scuba diving courses teach you what you need to know about correctly and safely planning and executing basic open water dives. The theory and training involved can be solid (depending on your instructor, so choose wisely), however a three to five day training course can only give the student diver a limited number of hours or a certain amount of experience blowing bubbles underwater.
The four states of consciousness and competence, something that my cave diving instructor brought to my attention last year in Mexico can apply to scuba diving, paragliding and probably most learned skills go like this:
Unconsciously incompetent – you don’t know what you don’t know until you start to be taught.
Consciously incompetent – now you’re starting to realize how much you don’t know during the learning phase. This transition will often supply a moment of clarity.
Consciously competent – you are now aware that you know and understand and can develop a level of faith in your own abilities.
Unconsciously competent – this is harder to qualify, and can be shown when a pilot or a diver acts or reacts in the air or underwater through unconscious thought and/or muscle memory. You’re getting in-the-groove (this is mainly used as a sailing and surfing term in my experience, but I feel the phrase applies nicely here).
So, these trim, buoyancy and propulsion skills will be learnt progressively through your diver training courses (some divers will learn these skills more than others, depends who your instructor is and what extra-curricular information you expose yourself to as a diver), but make sure that you are initially aware of them so that you are consciously incompetent. Keep working on them so that you are consciously competent, and don’t ever forget about them so that you never allow yourself to re-become the dreaded unconsciously incompetent where the cycle has gone full circle (this is text book of what can happen after a period of inactivity). You have lost some skill, you have lost some muscle memory and you have become a baby once again – you don’t know what you are now less competent at doing! You have become accidentally blasé. And this is where mistakes can happen to highly trained and skilled divers, pilots and the list goes on.
I know that when I dive I can look at the way a diver trims him or herself in the water column, how they maintain or alter position easily with minimal body movement or exertion, how they streamline themselves to best counter current and/or physical obstacles within a confined environment, how they use or alter their finning technique to best suit their environment to understand what they have been taught, what they consciously or unconsciously understand and also what they might need to be made aware of so that they as a diver can better themselves and become more competent divers.
One aspect of diving that is maybe like surfing is the element of style. Personally I love watching surfers who have style. It’s an art, and it’s beautiful. Sure you can hack the top off the wave and throw plumes of white water into the grommets face who’s paddling over the shoulder, but that’s not my idea of fun, and it looks ugly. The surfer who does this doesn’t usually flick off the shoulder with a wide and genuine grin stretching across his dial; it’s the surfer who dances on the waves with his soul in his legs and through his body, and it’s the diver who becomes a creature of the sea for the gratifying forty five minutes that he is immersed in the watery world of our oceans, and is no longer a land lubber.
Divers (and pilots too, even though I started rambling with scuba diving on the mind and wandered), please, tread with care underwater (not that we tread underwater at all, however if you’re diving with an established buddy, have a nice sandy bottom at have say ten meters of watery fluid above your melons, both take your fins off and have a ten or twenty meter running race; it’ll be fun, make you laugh bubbles of joy through your regulator and will knock the socks off any established SAC (Surface Air Consumption) rate you may have.
My favorite dive instructor who has educated me through two separate dive courses is somewhere around his early to mid-sixties, but still dives with ease and almost beat me in a 400 meter freestyle swimming race. He is in great shape, and has fun. What’s my point? Life’s fun, so enjoy it. Have fun diving, please be safe and promote safe diving practices, so that you and the entire diving community can still be around when you’re in your collective sixties, and you may introduce your grandchildren to the beautiful art of being a diver who knows what it is to become a creature of the sea (and you can also smash your 30 year old diving student in a 400 meter swimming race if that’s what floats your boat).