Scuba Diving

Diver, Turtle, Mexico, Scuba Diving, Sea

Cedar Park Wildlife Removal was on my bucket list, and because I had been close to retirement in the summer of 2013, I thought it was time to cross it off. As I took my first scuba lessons, I quickly learned it is true what many scuba instructors say – water is not man’s natural surroundings. So, I was somewhat anxious about finishing this certification.
After some basic research in local opportunities for scuba education, I had selected a dive shop in Salt Lake City, a brief 20-minute drive from my dwelling. The main reason I selected them is due to the calming influence the owner, Lori, had on my nervousness. She also suggested an instructor that was almost my age, further diminishing my fears.
I vigorously finished the academic work and completed the pool training in good order. The open water certification was accomplished in a salt water”inland ocean” west of Salt Lake City. I had learned the fundamentals and was now a certified, yet still uneasy, scuba diver.
I knew I had to master these abilities to be a safe and competent diver. Although addressed in my practice, I was hardly able to control my buoyancy and even though I spent most of my adult life as a professional pilot browsing around the western United States, my underwater navigation skills were nearly nonexistent. Moreover, I was certified in a depth of 23 feet, and I knew I wanted to go deeper. And to top it off, I never jumped out of my sailboat with 50 pounds of gear on me, so boat diving would be a new experience. By the way, since we live at around 4,200 ft MSL, altitude diving was part of the training I received.
I adopted a 3-step approach to this challenge. First, I committed to joining the dive-a-longs the dive store offered every month to nearby lakes. Since I really do believe that knowledge is power, I signed up for a class titled Diver Stress and Rescue, to further allay my underwater fears. I also signed up for the Evening and Limited Visibility Training Course, as well as the First Aid, CPR, AED, and O2 training. The Science of Diving course was not far behind. And lastly, I devoted time to improve my physical condition.
Whew! I know, that’s a lot of research and effort. But it was worthwhile for me. I learned not only the particular academic substance, but I also learned something about the way to be a better diver in each course. I practiced, watched, and learned.
And then 1 day, I suddenly realized I had not been paying attention to the small things that could help me be a better diver.
Here are a few examples.
We had used weights in the practice environment in the pool and I never questioned their need. One of the first things I discovered afterward was that I really needed no weights to descend in the pool. In the buoyancy class, I learned I was doing the buoyancy check incorrectly. After I corrected my mistake, I used less air in the BC, resulting in more air for me.
The buoyancy compensator (BC), sometimes known as a buoyancy control device (BCD), is the piece of gear which produces diversion diving possible and popular. But it’s the diver who controls the BC. I had to learn how to utilize shorter bursts of air and to wait for neutral buoyancy to become apparent.
I look back now and chuckle as I recall how fast my atmosphere seemed to disappear on a dive. Beside buoyancy, this is, in my opinion, the most important ability for a diver to master.
I learned that my anxiety, which caused poor breathing habits underwater, might be offset and finally eliminated by my increased knowledge and growing experience. My strong desire to improve was also a factor.
The moment I really paid attention to my breathing, I relaxed. The result was twofold – I wasn’t just more relaxed, but I also had sufficient air to fully explore our underwater world.
The worth of a Computer
Every scuba diver should learn how to use dive tables. That way we understand the essentials of gas compression and decompression better. We understand why off-gassing is so important and the best way to accomplish that by obeying the tables. Having said this, diving with a computer is so much better than diving on tables.
But here’s a caveat – learn to use your computer before you dive. Then do a simple dive next and use all the underwater features of your PC.
I recently bought a new computer and practiced all of its features at my kitchen table. Guess which feature I accidentally triggered in my next dive? It turns out I can accidentally turn off the light while in the water, which makes the computer almost impossible to see. Partially in my defense, I was wearing thick gloves and could not feel when I pressed a button. Nonetheless, I must have learned about this feature ahead, and I should have practiced at home with my gloves on.
The past five years of my career were spent sitting in a chair in front of a computer. In other words, I let my physical condition deteriorate. I discovered this to be a distinct disadvantage while learning to be a skillful scuba diver. I could carry my equipment from the parking lot to the shoreline without being winded to the point of resting for 20 minutes before I could dip. This also improved my breathing so I used less air underwater.
Knowledge About the Dive Site
I found that if I did a little research about the upcoming dive site, I was more at ease during the dive. Research can be anything from an Internet search to comments from divers who were there. This reduced anxiety about the dive resulted in being more relaxed during the dive – again resulting in using less air throughout the dive.
Dive Briefing
This goes right along with the previous topic. The more you know about the dive, the more relaxed you can be in the water. The Divemaster or Captain can make every dive more interesting and enjoyable. Be certain you attend their briefing for every dip; they will have seasonal updates on the site, including what you can expect to see.
Like most new divers, I used rental gear for my early dives. Even though the equipment was appropriate, it just was not quite perfect. I made it work, but I knew there had to be a better way. I eventually invested in a better BC and an upgraded regulator. Both of these purchases made diving less taxing and more enjoyable. Because I do a lot of diving in cold water, I decided to invest in a best – not better, but all the way to best – 7 mm wetsuit that match my body form just right. This, along with proper hood and boots, made diving in cold water more comfortable.
Incidentally, I bought the wetsuit after talking to the dive shop owner. Her years of experience resulted in me getting an excellent wetsuit which works perfectly for me. The tip here is, do not neglect to speak to more experienced divers for recommendations when you have a question.
Useful Skills
I recently had a student ask me if I had ever dropped my mask or regular; she wondered why we stressed these skills so much during training. It turns out that on one dive I was not paying attention when my friend, who was facing me, stopped and I drifted into his moving fins. My mask was lopsided and full of water and my regulator was floating in front of me. So, yes, the skills learned in training can be something you need daily, so practice them occasionally. If you dip a few times in the summer each year, consider an update class before the next year’s diving starts.
My point is, we need to pay close attention to the teachers and other divers we dive with so we can learn from their expertise. And we need to make a point of learning something new on each dive. If there’s nothing new, then we can practice something we heard years ago, but haven’t used lately.
Another useful, and possibly lifesaving, skill is the determination to create a safety stop on every dive. I know, computers can indicate no stop is essential, but if you’re making multiple dives each day, or over several days, the benefit of a safety stop outweighs the minor delay in getting to the surface. Plus, it lets you practice buoyancy skills.
Remember, follow the rules, do not dive beyond your training or expertise, and look for the little things that will help you be a better diver.