Does this sound familiar? “The Open Water Diver course is designed to prepare students to plan and make no-decompression dives with a qualified buddy — independent of supervision — in conditions similar to those in which they were trained.” Odds are this statement, or one very much like it, will be the first paragraph that appears in your Instructor Manual under Open Water Diver Course. And I’m here to tell you it’s bullshit.
People often ask me where I get my material. It’s really very simple. I just go to a local open water dive site (any site will do) and wait ten minutes. What I will see during those ten minutes will be more than enough for a lengthy article. Today was no exception.
The most counterproductive word in diver training is the one instructors use to justify not making learning to dive more realistic, more relevant and more effective. That word is should — along with its siblings should not and shouldn’t. These words have done more to stifle meaningful change in diver training than any others in the English language. What do we mean by this? Here is an example.
The “standard” flutter kick taught in Open Water Diver courses is one cave divers simply don’t use. Instead, they have a repertoire of propulsion techniques that allows them to choose the right technique for each situation. These techniques not only allow cave divers to move efficiently, they help divers avoid silting out the cave or damaging fragile formations. It is for this reason that every diver should learn these techniques, to help protect fragile coral and aquatic life as well, and keep the visibility pristine for others.
What is the correct way to attach a snorkel while scuba diving? Is it to put it on the left? On the right? Far forward on the mask strap? Farther back? Well, for most scuba divers, the correct answer is none of the above. To understand why, you first need to know a little bit about the history of snorkels and scuba diving — and about some very real drawbacks snorkels have that training agencies seem unwilling to acknowledge.
An article in a recent edition of DAN’s Alert Diver magazine warns of the perils of diving with an isolator valve you only think is open (link below). While your SPG may be telling you that you have phenomenal gas consumption, the reality is that you are sucking the right side of your doubles dry and may soon run out of air without warning. This story hit close to home for me, as I’ve witnessed this same situation twice…and experienced it once.
Odds are, if you have been cave diving — or just following cave diving — for any length of time, you’ve come across a video showing fellow cave diving instructor Max Kuznetsov tackling among the tightest of all cave passageways, the infamous “Fluffy Bunny Tunnel.” It’s available on Vimeo and it’s a great video to share if you want to absolutely horrify your non-cave-diving friends.
There’s a popular video entitled The Five Monkeys which helps explain why so many people do things that are completely unnecessary, while having no idea why. Although not based on an actual experiment, the underlying concept has been validated by other studies. The “Five Monkeys” concept applies to diver training as well. I continue to see instructors and training agencies teach skills or require equipment items that are either completely unnecessary, or which should have been superseded long ago by updated procedures.
We’ve all seen the disclaimers: These people are trained professionals. Do not try this at home. And what do warnings such as this help guarantee? That some idiot will, indeed, try this at home. That’s why there are the Darwin Awards. Thank goodness this sort of nonsense doesn’t go on in the diving community. Or does it?
What is the best strategy for cave diving in north-central Florida on busy summer weekends? Cave explorer Win Brown may have summed it up in one word: Don’t. Seriously, if you can limit your summertime cave diving to weekdays, you’ll be happier for it. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many people.