Push the easy button
DIVERS DO SEEM TO MAKE life difficult for themselves, and I’ve never really understood why. How often have you looked around a boat and seen people struggling with equipment, or sweating with exertion, or complaining about something.
People seem to forget that diving is supposed to be fun. With a little foresight, it can also be easy. So let’s kick off with the obvious question – why do we care about pushing the easy button
It’s all about stress. Stress equals shorter, less-fun dives.
From one angle, it’s all down to gas usage. The more stressed you are, the quicker you will chew through your gas and the shorter your dives will be. It’s also about the love of diving itself.
When I go diving, I leave the stress of the world behind me. No work. No worries. I don’t care about anything except the wreck I’m diving, and the people I am with. If any stress enters that equation, something has gone wrong.
I want my diving to be total enjoyment, with no worries. So over the years I have put a lot of effort into identifying the causes of stress and then, for each one of them, pushing the easy button. Here are my top tips:
1 DON’T BE A CHEAPSKATE
I never cease to be amazed that people want to impress me by telling me how they saved £30 on a particular item by selecting a cheaper alternative, or that they bought something on eBay and got it half-price.
You are going under water. Under. Water. If you were to get onto a plane, take off for a freefall parachute jump, and tell the other people on the boat that your harness and parachute doesn’t fit you properly, is a little worn, and really isn’t ideal for this type of jump, but you saved £100 by buying it off a guy you met on eBay, the other people on the plane would start wondering what to tell your next of kin.
So buy gear that fits you well, and performs well. When I’m coaching divers, it’s invariably the bit of kit on which they saved a fortune that falls to pieces when they need it most, and a video camera is pointed at them.
You can still bargain-hunt, just don’t compromise your own safety or enjoyment to save a few quid. It’s less stressful to do a few wonderful easy dives than lots of dives where you end up swearing.
Badly fitting and performing gear will wind you up, which will in turn lead to shorter, less-pleasant dives. You’ll just be thinking about the gear, not the dives.
You can save money by not having any of your equipment serviced, but then your first indication of a problem is when something stops working.
Under water. That’s like jumping out of the plane to see if the secondhand parachute has any holes in it.
You can save money by using air rather than nitrox, but your dives may be up to 50% shorter. If you want bang for your buck, use nitrox.
Saving money by skimping on insurance is fine if you can afford to replace your gear. If everything is insured, you can relax. If everything is well-maintained, you can relax. If everything fits you properly, you can relax.
On a final note, please don’t relegate the bit of kit you don’t like and have just upgraded to be your “emergency back-up” to save cash. If you are upgrading it because you don’t like it, or there is a problem with it, then the very last purpose for it should be emergency back-up equipment.
Throw it away and get a back-up that works. Push the easy button.
2 SPREAD THE LOAD
“If you can’t lift it, you shouldn’t dive it.” Macho nonsense. I was unceremoniously thrown in the water by a support team wearing twin 18s and four AL80s a couple of years back.
There seems to be an obsession with self-sufficiency, yet most agencies teach diving in buddy-pairs or teams. Take advantage of that.
Don’t carry equipment around on your own; pick it up and move it together. Don’t hover stress-free while your buddy puts up an SMB; split the task between the two of you. If one of you holds the reel and the other inflates the SMB, the stress levels decrease dramatically.
When you’re doing an ascent, don’t both stare at your computers. Let one person manage the ascent while the other reels in the SMB. Spread the load.
The old adage “a problem shared” fits the diving experience nicely. A well-organised buddy team will split the organisation of gas, accommodation or boat.
They will help each other move equipment, help each other kit up, take roles during the dive, and help each other to dekit.
Work as a buddy pair – rather than just calling yourself one – and you will be amazed how much stress is taken away from diving. Push the easy button.
3 SORT OUT YOUR BUOYANCY CONTROL
Of the 200-plus divers I have coached from Open Water and Ocean Diver up to Course Director and First Class Diver, 18 have got through a day’s coaching without me removing unnecessary weight.
I keep count because I can’t quite believe it. My record is 17kg off one diver.
It’s a problem that emerges from initial instruction, where students are often weighted down for the benefit of the instructor and class control, and continue that way because they are worried about uncontrolled ascents, erroneously believing that overweighting will help this.
It develops into a buoyancy problem for the vast, vast majority of divers, in addition to the physiological stress of carrying all this lead around.
A straw poll of people at an inland site recently revealed that an incredible number of divers worry about the ascent part of a dive, or at least identify the ascent as being the most stressful part of the dive.
This means that they are spending a portion of the time when they should be oohing and ahhing at the wonders of the underwater world worrying about what comes next. That doesn’t sound like fun.
An ascent should be no more stressful than any other part of the dive. If it is, ask yourself why. Sound buoyancy skills have a huge impact on stress-reduction and an equally huge impact on gas usage.
If you want longer dives, sort the buoyancy control out. If you want stress-free dives, sort the buoyancy control out. Any problems that occur in the water are made more stressful with poor buoyancy control, and less stressful with good buoyancy control.
4 DON’T ASSUME YOU’RE THE EXCEPTION
We’ve all done it. We’ve assumed that there is something special about us that means we will never become a statistic, or worse – a training anecdote.
That silly clip you know you should get around to fixing. Fix it.
It won’t be any less annoying under water.
That bubbling hose won’t go bang in the back of your car. It will happen at 30m.
You have no magical physiological composition that exempts you from the dangers of narcosis or oxygen toxicity, so remove stress by following well-established procedures. Analyse your gas. Avoid deep air. Your dives will be less stressful, and your hair less grey.
Gas doesn’t just last longer in the shallows because of pressure. It’s also less dense, which means easier work of breathing, which in turn means less CO2 retention, and ultimately longer, less stressful dives.
If you want to dive deep, use a gas more suited to diving deep, one that is thinner and easier to breathe, and less narcotic, like a helium mix.
Talking about exceptions, remember how all agencies teach that you should remain dive-fit. That includes you.
If you are out of breath kitting up, or tired after 15 minutes’ finning, there is an easy way to have less stressful, longer dives.
Get dive-fit. Join a gym, or just start walking. The fitter you are, the easier diving is. You are no exception to this rule.
All skills require practice, yet every year people strap kit on that has been in the garage for months and go diving. Under water.
Practising skills through the winter months has a number of benefits. Firstly, you will be confident that your equipment is going to behave itself when you jump in on a real dive. This in itself removes stress. However, well-practised divers will also be confident and relaxed, because they know that they will behave in the way they expect.
Diving off a boat for the first time in six months is a lot less stressful if your last dive was last weekend rather than last season. Keeping skills up to date is recommended in all sports, and is especially so in one that can be as unforgiving as being under water.
You can take practice to the next level by getting in front of an instructor, or coach, and asking them for formal feedback on your skills. After all, it would be nice if someone checked your equipment and reassured you that you were ready before you jumped out of that plane, so why should diving be any different
Few things are as scary as being in an underwater situation that you don’t feel mentally equipped to handle, so please take appropriate training for the diving you are doing.
Of course, you can learn it on your own, but this takes time and assumes that you won’t hurt yourself in the learning experience.
You can push the easy button by having someone who has been through that experience short-cut it for you. Ensuring that you are well dived-up and appropriately trained is pushing a big easy button.
6 SORT YOUR GEAR OUT, THEN LEAVE IT ALONE
I’ve talked about the false logic of saving money on diving equipment, but there is another issue here – familiarity. You know that feeling when you get behind the wheel of your own car. You almost go into autopilot. Everything works the way you expect. Everything is where you expect it to be.
You are completely relaxed and have a feeling of competence.
Then you get behind the wheel of a hired car. That feeling of competence returns, but you spend the first couple of hours adjusting seats and mirrors, and learning how to use the controls because they are in different places.
You don’t know how to program the stereo, and you drive up to the wrong side when filling with fuel. All of this takes your attention away from driving, leading to a more stressful experience until you adapt to it and it all becomes natural again.
This experience is something we all face. The more familiar we are with something, the easier and less stressful it becomes.
I coach people who use every conceivable equipment configuration – I don’t care, it’s their call. However, what I do try to convince them about is to pick a configuration that does the job they need, and then leave it alone.
Changing it every week, or buying some shiny new bit of plastic every time you walk into the dive-shop just means that you never become familiar with your equipment. So leave it be.
There’s a reason that the old guys who have been diving for 40 years seem to be completely chilled and relaxed, despite their kit looking as if it’s 40 years old. They probably haven’t dived anything else for 40 years.
So push the easy button. Pick an equipment configuration that does the job you need it to do, then leave it alone.
Those same guys often dive very simple gear. They know what they need and leave everything else behind. I know you want that electronic SMB and reel with built-in self-retracting line and a beacon that signals the crewman telling them how much sugar you need in your tea based on your current body temperature, but you don’t need it. You don’t.
This familiarity extends to back-up kit. Rotate your mask and back-up mask between dives. Your back-up should feel like an old friend. If you have a back-up SMB, rotate that too. If the worst happens, you don’t need the additional stress of unfamiliar equipment.
Push the easy button. Sort your gear, leave it alone, and then become familiar with it.
7 DIVE SAFELY!