TS A TOUGH COMPETITION TO JUDGE, but what an inspiring one!
If you want to know what makes a good buddy, you have only to read through the many entries to DIVERs Buddy of the Year Competition. It could make you wonder about your own buddying arrangements!
Of course, there is a prize at stake here - a£2000 diving holiday for two in the Caribbean island of St Kitts, no less - and judges to impress, so no one is making out that this is a scientific exercise. Yet there was no mistaking the genuine passion shown in the entries. You wanted your favourite buddys qualities recognised!
And what a wide range of buddies there are: the partners for life, with their intuitive rapport; the occasional buddies who always seem to hit it off; the equal partners, and those happily locked into a dominant/ submissive relationship.
How to pick a winner We were looking for somebody who was a skilful diver, always seemed happy to go that extra mile, and perhaps spread their charm wider than the immediate twosome. It wasnt easy, but we finally picked the winner - someone with, it seems, almost saintly qualities. Can the nominator really deserve such a selfless buddy!
We have also included some of the other entries. They arent necessarily the best of the rest, but by their range they help to explain what it is we should look for in a buddy.
Congratulations to every single diver nominated, and let them be an example for the rest of us!

Lost!

hspace=5 Wheres the camera, Kev
You had it.
No, I gave it you.
Looking down, Laura Coombs saw the yellow box slowly vanish into the deep. Barely five minutes later, my mask broke, she told divEr. Then we lost each other.
Kevin and Laura found each other and the camera, fixed the mask, and perhaps should have turned for home at that point, but they were at Point Lobos in California and didnt want to miss a thing.
Keeping left of the cove, Kevin settled among the swaying fronds of giant kelp to take a shot. Whoosh! An almighty surge pushed us apart, and Kevin was out of sight again.
I surfaced alone. Then I spotted Kevin several metres away, stranded on a rock amidst ferocious, foaming waves. Keeping back to avoid the danger, and feeling very useless, the tears welled up.
In an instant, Kevin was swept away by another large wave. Seconds felt like hours.
Then he resurfaced... behind me!
Plenty of reassuring hugs later, we worked together to free his reg from the kelp. Waves still crashing around us, we knew we had to move fast. Squeezing hands tightly, we dived through the jungle of kelp. Laura remembered vividly the sense of relief as their fingers touched the slip.
Assessing the dive over a double vodka, it was clear that our years of diving together had created an understanding that was potentially life-saving, she concluded. I simply couldnt wish for a better buddy than Kevin, because we work better together.

Absolute joy

Alice Farrand possesses amazing diving skills, says Ian Ballyntyne. She shaped his diving career by helping him to become a Dive Master. Ive been her DM and her student, says Ian. She was fundamental to my decision to do my instructor development course and has been either directly or indirectly responsible for almost every major dive adventure Ive had in the past few years.
What it comes down to is that its an absolute joy to dive with her.
On some really scary dives, her being alongside me in the gloom is an enormous reassurance, even as an experienced diver.
On the other hand, on some really quiet dives she has kept me entertained to the
point of constantly flooding my mask because I cant stop grinning. Its these amazing properties, combined with her self-depreciating humour and the ability to reduce an entire dive boat of grey and grizzled UK divers to tears of laughter (usually with her, rather than at her) that makes Alice a riot to dive with, every single time. She has to be the best all-round buddy in the world - ever!

Rocks star

hspace=5 David Smallman helped me overcome my fears about wreck-diving, holding my hand when we dived the murky German High Seas Fleet in Scapa Flow, says Sarah Turpin. He always seems able to communicate even the most complex of sentences using hand signals and facial expressions.
Many a time we have been spotted under water absorbed in conversation by other divers who cant make head or tail of what were doing. Even on the most uninspiring dive David has an uncanny knack of making it fun by doing acrobatics (which in full dive kit is not easy).
David even invented a game to play under water called Rocks, which involves throwing small rocks at a big rock. Sounds easy, but try throwing straight under water! says Sarah.
Not only is he a great person to dive with, but he can also handle any situation thrown at him with calm and control. Whether it was a faulty first stage or a mistakenly underweighted weightbelt, he has been there for me. The trust between us is implicit, so he is the only person I feel totally comfortable with under water.

Takes the Biscuits

hspace=5 Kate Anderson regards her husband as a stand-out buddy. On a dive boat, he is always ready to help me into my kit, puts the effort into learning how to fix kit that goes wrong at the last moment, and carries a full set of spares so as not to let a dive be ruined.
He is always ready to provide the same help for any diver on the boat who needs it. And he goes the extra mile - during my Dive Master course, he was always willing to drive two hours to a dive site and kit up just so that Id have someone to be my rescue dummy or certified diver.
In the water, he stays close and understands all my signals, even the ones that say: Doh, distracted by wrasse, have gone wrong way and need to turn around. Ive never felt let down or deserted in the water.
Despite my frequent equalising problems, hes always supportive when our dives are delayed or even dont happen.
Back on the boat, while handing out the chocolate digestives that materialise from his bag, he manages to get the whole boat, including the new folk, talking about what they saw and how much fun it was. Hes not just a perfect buddy for me, but he makes a dive trip more fun for everyone.


Beyond the call

hspace=5 Martin Wilkinsons nominee was his partner Julia How. Though I enjoy diving with most buddies, I rarely relish it quite so much as with Julia. Our interest, already piqued by Jacques Cousteau on the telly, began on holiday in Madeira when I bought a mask and snorkel and plunged into glassy water glittering with psychedelic fish.
I went on about it for days until Julia, although initially nervous of deep water, began joining me. Some time afterwards she came home with a diving holiday brochure and details of a local diving school. We qualified, survived our first 10 dives in Kenya and were hooked.
We joined Cirencester SAC and have been diving ever since, in Britain and abroad, as often as possible as a buddy pair. She is always careful and fun to dive with and shares my interest in marine life. She rescued me when a bad air fill left me dazed and confused at 30m, and was not too upset when a dogfish I had annoyed bit her.
Finally, to prove what an incredible buddy she is, she has carried my kit back after a dive on the Royal Adelaide at Chesil Beach after I became ill. Twice!

Club stalwart

hspace=5 Lucy is the sort of diver every club needs. Lucy is one person I can always rely on, wrote her buddy Tessa Fisher.
Shes always first to offer if a buddy/casualty is needed for training. She can do AAS blindfold; mention CBL and shes happily face-down in the silt; towing finds her lying on the surface waiting; AV, and shes corpse-like, waiting to be passed her mask.
As for being recovered from the water, at 5ft 2in and seven and a half stone wet through, not many are going to complain at her being the victim. It must be in her eyes, says Tessa: They have a mesmerising and calming effect on the most panicked trainee. So when shes not being used/abused in training, she is a picture of patience while her buddy bumbles through kitting up. She readily lends out bits of kit.
On a dive, you can see the bubbles but her air consumption is so low that those who dont know her check her gauges. Shes as happy bimbling in a 5m gravel pit as on a 35m wreck, happily shares the elusive photo shot, doesnt gripe if expected to deploy a DSMB and is ready to give a helpful shove to those of us who cant bounce back into the RIB!
So can there be a downside to Lucy Sorry, chaps, shes married!

Energetic senior

At 72, John Parminter was probably the most senior nominee. Anna Markstam, who works in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, described him as a very remarkable buddy who I have had the pleasure of diving with for a few years.
John visits Sharm a couple of times a year and has done around 700 dives. John is also in a wheelchair, as he had polio when he was 17, so he dives with a private guide. We have clocked up around 100 dives together, says Anna. What I really enjoy is Johns enthusiasm for the diving and the marine life. It doesnt matter if its big or small stuff, he loves it all! And while John has his favourite dive sites, he often says: I dont care where Im going tomorrow, as long as its wet!
John and I have some great memories together, like spending an entire dive with a dolphin or doing a 98-minute dive watching and taking pictures of seagrass ghost pipefish - very cold, wont do that again.
If I have half his energy when I get to that age, Ill be very lucky.

ONLY ONE DEMAND

hspace=5 Anne Butler was already an experienced diver when we met, Neil Blakeman told us. She gave her encouragement, knowledge and patience to my early diving. In time she instilled in me respect for the underwater world and how to behave there.
Before a long dreamed-of diving trip to Australia and PNG
I suffered a heart attack. Her fast thinking helped save me.
When told Id never dive again, she did more than I could ask of a buddy - she stuck with me.
I believed shore cover would be the closest Id get to diving again, but Annes research and encouragement helped me ask the right people the right questions, to pass their tests and get back to diving.
Neils summary of Annes qualities, under water and topside, seems like every divers ideal: She is never controlling but always in control. She is always in reach but never in the way - a must when you both carry a camera.
She is aware of my limitations, misses little and nearly always knows what she is looking at. She doesnt stir things up, hardly ever gets lost and above all else is my buddy.
Annes only demand is that her buddy should last an hour.
I try my best.

Sharing breakfast

Sometimes it isnt the conventional attributes that count. Peter Woolmer was irresistibly honest about his buddy John Axby. John has never saved my life, and definitely gets lost more than most. And occasions such as his drysuit boot coming off in the middle of a dive because hed stuck it on with duck-tape, or trying to read his computer while wearing it on the wrong side of his suit, have become club folklore.
Hes always prepared to share his lunch, or his breakfast, or anything else that he may have eaten before coming out on the boat! However, despite this constant seasickness, he is one of those people with a boundless enthusiasm for diving, and a remorseless sense of humour.
He has also taken the precaution of making me godfather to his daughter, which, as he regularly points out, means that if I dont ensure he returns safely from every dive, itll be my responsibility to finance Lucy through college!
So, besides being a reasonably competent diver (on a good day!), what makes him that perfect buddy Its nothing more than having a mate that you can trust, and someone to share the common passion of diving with, both under water and over a pint of beer!

Highly rated husband

hspace=5 I must be mad entering this competition - once everyone knows that I have the best buddy in the world, theyll all want him! wrote Tricia Smith. Maybe Ill lose him to some gorgeous, young, slim diver (I am none of these, apart from the diver bit, and that has been questioned at times).
We learnt to dive together. I hate to admit it but he was so much better at it than me, and still is, more than 100 dives later. His attributes include great buoyancy control, while I zoom up or down or do uncontrolled and unwanted somersaults; wonderful eyesight - he is able to spot fabulous things, and point them out to me; and endless patience, as he waits while I struggle against that weird current only I can feel.
He always makes good decisions and wins every silent underwater argument. He has saved me several times, such as when I couldnt breathe properly on the surface after a hard dive, and he gently released the excess air from my BC.
Hes always there, right beside me, or behind, above or below me - but there. Well spare this buddys blushes by drawing a veil over certain other attributes, but as Tricia says: Who needs to win any competition Im a winner already, having Julian Little as my buddy and life partner!

Dive mum

hspace=5 Helen Dagless is known in her diving group as dive mum. People ask to dive with her when they feel a bit unsure, or are testing new kit. She is always happy to do this, but it means that she rarely dives with anyone more relaxed, confident or experienced than herself. When she does, her buddy of choice is her friend Nina.
The feeling is so different, says Helen. Even when Nina asks to dive with me because she feels nervous or rusty, she just exudes confidence, and when shes on top form our dives together are just superb! Whatever she feels about the dive on the surface, she is always cheerful and optimistic and has a way of making me feel the same.
I know she will have thoroughly checked all her kit, so we never have any last-minute faffs. She is no-nonsense and has supersense navigation - we call her Efficiency Officer. We have incredibly in-depth discussions under water (sometimes heated debates) about where to go or what to do. Communicating flows so naturally between us, we always seem to know what the other is thinking.
Being so happy and natural under water, she would make anyone feel confident. So when I dive with Nina, I feel like I have my own dive mum. Shes ace!

Strength at depth

hspace=5 John Williams rates his wife and diving partner of 12 years very highly. She once saved my life when my BC developed a severe leak at 30m. I wasnt able to keep air in my jacket, so she ascended with me and made a surface swim of 25 minutes until the boat returned.
Being able to develop gills under water (unlike me!) allows her to do the underwater photography, exploring and the finding of the secrets the waters have to offer. As a very strong swimmer, she has helped me in strong currents, once unbelievably so in the Maldives. She shares her supply of olive oil for those who can suffer ear infections, and our photos for people without underwater cameras.
But the best one can ask of a buddy is that she is always on my left, enabling me to enjoy each dive that we share. My wife is 58 and I wouldnt dive without her by choice. I am at peace knowing that she is with me, sharing the sights of the bull sharks, whale sharks, mantas and many more amazing experiences.

Tiny titan

hspace=5 Weve been diving together for the past five years, and Marie is always there if I need her, wrote Dave Jewkes. On one not-deep dive I was underweighted and kept floating up. She grabbed me, tucked me under her arm and we continued the dive!
As we were photographing, shed point my whole body in the direction of the fish, coral etc. It must have looked hilarious to the other divers.
Marie makes me laugh as she makes up signs for various fish: a seahorse is a jockey complete with whip, and her grouper (groper) is quite spectacular, too. Her joy of diving is infectious, and she has convinced others to join the sport.
She lends her gear out without fail, and a least one potential diver had a try-dive this year with her kit. Very caring about other divers, this year in the Red Sea Marie took over from a divemaster who had been sharing his air with another diver halfway round the dive, and was ready with her octopus during the safety stop just in case.
Shes tiny, only 5ft 1in, but to me shes a giant. And best of all, this year she became my wife.

Leading by example

hspace=5 Chris Angel completed his PADI OW course in August 2004. On his first club night he got talking to Graham Allathan, who offered to take him diving in Wraysbury Lake the following evening.
I had no idea that Graham was knowledgeable about dive physiology and technique, or was a certified cave-diver. He showed up with a twin-set and 7 litre stage (practising for a course, I later found out), answered all my newbie questions and offered helpful suggestions on my kit configuration, additional equipment and its use.
Visibility was very poor on the dive and they became separated. Graham had talked about this and other eventualities before the dive, making sure I knew exactly what to do. We surfaced, sorted ourselves out and continued the dive.
Graham has since buddied Chris on 65 of his 115 dives. He introduced me to sea-diving, boat etiquette, drysuit, twinset, winter diving, low-visibility diving and much more. Weve become close friends and he never misses a chance to help, compliment or guide me, in the water or out. Hes always the one who spots the crabs, sees the swim-through on the wreck and books the dives for us.
I now realise that taking a fresh OW student on their first dives is an immense responsibility. I also realise the frustration a highly qualified diver feels when the simplest techniques elude the newbie.
Graham did this for me (and still does) with a smile and genuine enthusiasm for diving. Hes the best buddy in the UK by far.

Keen observer

hspace=5 My buddy Estelle Howarth is always there to pick up my glove when I drop it, notices that my strap has slipped and my mask is about to fall off, massages my calf when I get cramp, always spots the interesting critters on a dive, but also spots the potential hazards, Leigh Scott told us.
She plays games with me on the safety stop to pass the time, and is always the first to start planning the next dive trip. Shes been happy to dive in any weather, even when there was snow on the ground and we had only semi-dry suits to dive in!
Estelle brings total 110% enthusiasm and fun to every dive we do. She finds something to love about every dive (even the rotten ones) and makes me look forward to every trip, whether we dive or not. She loves to dive, and I love to dive with her.

Calming influence

hspace=5 Diving didnt come naturally to me, Sheryl Clark admits. During my training, I was in a group with two fantastic guys, which knocked my confidence as I knew how good they were compared to me!
My buddy Paul Holmes has worked wonders. Hes not a divemaster or instructor, just a more experienced Open Water Diver than me.
He helped curb my panicky moments and told me to stop worrying about issues such as neutral buoyancy, and just go with what feels natural. I began to relax and enjoy diving.
Ive learnt more about diving and about myself than I thought possible. I now look forward to diving weekends, whereas before I looked forward to obtaining my PADI qualification and then giving up! Thats all down to having a patient, calming buddy, who doesnt think that having a newbie diver buddy is a hindrance to diving enjoyment.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to say thank you to Paul.


hspace=5 THE WINNER

Mark Harris enthused about his buddy Laura, and we could see why. She persuaded me to rekindle my interests in scuba, which had lain dormant for several years, and took it up herself at the same time.
Soon after, Laura bought Mark his first under-water camera and he started to win awards at his local photographic club exhibitions. While I received the accolades, Laura was the one who would faithfully watch over me while I hovered over a lump of coral for half an hour, waiting for some elusive creature to appear.
Somewhere along the line, I thought it would be fun to take up free-diving, and trek off to cold, deep quarries with a like-minded bunch. Unfortunately for Laura, her abilities did not stretch to long periods of breath-holding and rapid equalisation, so this was not something we could share together.
hspace=5 Undeterred, she gathered together a group of hardcore tekkie scuba divers, and made sure that they watched over us as angels of the deep while we filed down and up the guideline.
Laura and her team do this month in, month out, with the cost of mixed gas, risks associated with deep diving, and even sustaining injuries along the way. To me, the term buddy is not a true reflection she truly is my angel.

THE £2000 PRIZE

hspace=5 A week of Caribbean diving at St Kitts Bird Rock Beach Hotel near Basseterre awaits our winners. The hotel has well-appointed air-conditioned rooms all with sea views; pool and beach; restaurants and bars; and a wide array of water and other sports available.
Laura Harris and husband Mark will dive with the hotel dive centre Dive St Kitts, and can choose from some 50 dive sites, including coral reefs, hotwater vents, canyons and caverns. There is plenty of marine life and the remains of several hundred wrecks dating back to the 17th century. Find out more on www.birdrockbeach.com

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