Scuba Diving

Dive, Blue, Diving Deep

Cedar Park Wildlife Removal was on my bucket list, and because I was close to retirement in the summer of 2013, I believed it was time to cross it off. As I took my first scuba lessons, I quickly learned it is true what lots of scuba teachers say – water isn’t man’s natural surroundings. So, I was a little anxious about completing 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 home. The main reason I selected them is due to the calming influence the owner, Lori, had on my nervousness. She also suggested a teacher who was almost my age, further diminishing my fears.
I vigorously completed the academic work and finished 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 uncomfortable, scuba diver.
I knew I had to master these skills 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 almost nonexistent. Moreover, I had been certified in a depth of 23 feet, and I knew I needed to go deeper. And to top it off, I never jumped out of my sailboat with 50 lbs of equipment on me, so boat diving are a brand new adventure. Incidentally, since we live at around 4,200 ft MSL, altitude diving was part of the training I received.
Knowledge is King
I embraced a 3-step approach to this challenge. First, I committed to joining the dive-a-longs the dive store offered every month to local lakes. Since I really do think that knowledge is power, I signed up for a class titled Diver Stress and Rescue, to further allay my submerged fears. I also signed up for the Night and Limited Visibility Training Course, along with the First Aid, CPR, AED, and O2 training. The Science of Diving course wasn’t far behind. And finally, I devoted time to improve my physical condition.
Whew! I know, that’s a lot of research and effort. But it was worth it for me. I learned not just the specific academic material, but I also learned something about the way to be a better diver in each program. This was further strengthened every time I went diving. I practiced, watched, and learned.
And then 1 day, I suddenly realized I had not been paying attention to the little things that could help me be a better diver.
Here are several examples.
We’d used weights in the practice environment in the pool and I never questioned their need. One of the first things I noticed afterward was that I really needed no weights to descend in the pool. In the buoyancy class, I learned I had been doing the buoyancy test incorrectly. Once I corrected my misunderstanding, I used less air in the BC, leading to more air for me.
The buoyancy compensator (BC), sometimes called a buoyancy control device (BCD), is the piece of gear that produces diversion diving possible and hot. But it’s the diver who controls the BC. I had to learn to use shorter bursts of air and to await neutral buoyancy to become apparent. As mother said, patience is a virtue.
Breathing
I look back now and chuckle as I recall how fast my air seemed to evaporate on a dip. Next to buoyancy, this is, in my opinion, the most important ability for a diver to master.
I learned that my nervousness, which caused poor breathing habits submerged, might be offset and finally eliminated by my increased knowledge and increasing experience.
The moment I really paid attention to my breathing, I relaxed. The result was twofold – that I wasn’t only more relaxed, but I also had enough air to fully explore more of our underwater world.
The Value of a Computer
Every scuba diver should learn how to use dive tables. That way we understand the principles of gas compression and decompression better. We understand why off-gassing is so important and the best way to achieve this by obeying the tables. Having said this, diving with a computer is so much better than diving tables.
But here’s a caveat – learn to use your computer before you dive. Then do an easy dive next and utilize all the underwater features of your PC.
I recently purchased a new computer and practiced all of its attributes at my kitchen table. All but one, that is. Guess that feature I accidentally triggered on my next dive? It turns out I will accidentally turn off the light while in the water, which makes the computer nearly 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 heard about this feature beforehand, and I should have practiced at home with my gloves on.
Personal Fitness
The last 5 decades of my career were spent sitting at a chair facing a computer. In other words, I allow my physical condition deteriorate. I discovered this to be a distinct disadvantage when learning to be a skillful scuba diver. Now I could carry my equipment from the parking lot to the shore without being winded to the point of resting for 20 minutes before I could dive. This also improved my breathing so I used less air underwater.
Knowledge About the Dive Site
I found that when I did a bit of research about the upcoming dive site, I was more at ease throughout the dive. Research can be anything from an Internet search to remarks from divers who have been there. This lowered anxiety about the dip resulted in being more relaxed during the dip – again leading 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 are in the water. The Divemaster or Captain can make every dip more interesting and fun. Be sure that you attend their briefing for each dip; they will have seasonal updates on the website, including what you can expect to see.
Equipment
Like most new divers, I used rental gear for my early dives. Although the equipment was appropriate, it just was not quite right. I made it work, but I knew there was a better way. I eventually invested in a better BC and an updated regulator. These two 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 – better, but all the way to best – 7 mm wetsuit that fit my body form just right. This, together with proper boots and hood, made diving in cold water more comfortable.
By the way, I bought the wetsuit after talking to the dive shop owner. Her years of experience led to me getting a quality wetsuit which works flawlessly for me. The tip here is, do not neglect to talk to more experienced divers for recommendations when you’ve got a question.
Useful Skills
I recently had a student ask me if I had ever lost my mask or regular; she wondered why we stressed these skills so much during training. It turns out that on one dive I wasn’t paying attention when my buddy, who was facing me, stopped and I drifted into his moving fins. My mask was lopsided and filled with water and my regulator was drifting in front of me. So, yes, the skills learned in training can be something you need some day, so practice them periodically. If you dip a few times in the summer annually, consider an update class before the next year’s diving starts.
My point is, we will need to pay close attention to the instructors and other divers we dive with so we could learn from their expertise. And we will need to make a point of learning something new on each dive. If there is nothing new, then we can practice something we learned years ago, but have not used recently.
Another useful, and potentially lifesaving, skill is the determination to create a safety stop on each dive. I know, computers may indicate no stop is necessary, but if you’re making multiple dives per day, or over several days, the benefit of a safety stop outweighs the minor delay in getting to the surface. Plus, it allows you to practice buoyancy skills.
Conclusion
Remember, follow the rules, do not dive beyond your training or expertise, and look for the small things that will help you be a better diver.