As an instructor that has worked with many students over the past couple of years, I firmly believe that most divers would agree with me on the fact that after you got qualified as a scuba diver (whether entry-level, advanced or further), you had to explain the basics of scuba diving to someone that is not a scuba diver – whether it be relatives, your spouse or friends.
Now this question is an easy one, but it can be difficult to explain. As an entry-level diver you might possibly think the basics of diving include being able to set up your own gear before a dive, being able to communicate underwater or even to understand the theory of decompression sickness. As a more advanced diver you might argue that the basics include maintaining good buoyancy control or to have a background knowledge of marine species. A dive leader (e.g. dive master) might define the basics as planning a safe dive or being able to perform dive skills without trouble.
This, however, is all relative to your dive qualification and I would in fact argue that none of these describe the true basics of diving! I say the basics of diving are as simple as the following: “being able to breathe underwater and doing it safely.” But of course, this is obvious, isn’t it? That’s why you started scuba diving in the first place? But that is exactly my point – we as divers tend to forget this very simple truth and I will explain this to you in the following paragraphs.
Instructors, I ask you if you have ever experienced the following (because I have): that a Discover Scuba Diving student (or equivalent thereof), after just completing confined water dive 1, seems very relaxed underwater and is able to enjoy the experience to the fullest, while an Open Water student (or equivalent), after completing 5 confined water dives, is struggling to maintain neutral buoyancy on his/her first Open Water dive? I ask myself why this is. Is it because they barely touch their Low Pressure Inflators because they are not focused on neutral buoyancy but rather on the experience? Is it because they do not fully understand the risks of diving and are more willing to take chances? Or is it because they are keeping the idea of scuba diving simple? I argue the latter. Although the other two explanations may play a role (and I will not exclude them), I am convinced that they mostly seem more natural because they are not constantly running through everything the learnt all the time during their first couple of dives.
To further this theory, let’s take a look at the basic teaching methods – not focusing on any diving association in particular. When you start your entry-level course, the first segment includes theory. This theory includes all the different equipment that you will use (all new to the aspiring diver), the concept of buoyancy (some may find this difficult to understand at first), the basics of the ocean (tides, basic geography, etc.), what they can expect on the course (skills, minimum requirements, techniques, etc.), the risks of diving (like decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis) and being a responsible diver. Wow, that’s a mouth-full. Yes, all of this is completely new to the vast majority of aspiring scuba divers. And it doesn’t stop here! In the second segment, there are different skills to master (to an extent) in the confined and open water sessions – mask clearing, alternate air source use, neutral buoyancy exercises, just to name a few of them – and all diving associations have guidelines as to how to perform each skill.
These guidelines are there to make sure that the divers have completed the skills to a satisfactory standard according to their experience and I completely understand the necessity of these guidelines. My point is, although all these skills and performance requirements and quality evaluations are necessary, we as divers must not forget the bigger picture – the “basics” of diving. Sometimes it is, at a recreational level, necessary for us to move aside all the dos and don’ts (and steps) of all the skills and just dive. The critical skills – never hold your breath and ascend at a safe rate – have been integrated with your diving style in such a way that they become part of you and that is the most important. To establish this, it is, however, up to the instructor to approach his courses in such a manner that the aspiring divers are not restricted by rules, but freed by having the necessary knowledge (and by no means do I want to involve the “association guideline differences versus the teaching of the individual instructor”-argument).
As for the diver, there are a couple of ways to ensure that you get the most out of every next dive you do. Apart from fine-tuning your weighting and weight distribution, developing proper finning techniques and focusing on proper breathing, rather subconsciously become aware of your surroundings when you are underwater. One weight too much on a dive, breathing a little bit too fast or not clearing your mask completely the first time will not mean the end of your dive – you can adjust it and work on it for the following dive. Everything doesn’t need to be perfect and you do not need to worry about them being perfect. These are things that work themselves out very quickly if you learn to do the following two things: one, start thinking like a diver, and two, spend time underwater. Thinking like a diver is a mind-set, not some checklist run-trough before your dive. By simply applying your mind to diving (especially before the dive) your dive will be more relaxed. Your buoyancy will be better, your breathing will be more relaxed and it will make your dive more enjoyable. Secondly, time spent underwater is ultimately the only way to make you a better diver – it is just as important (maybe even more) as doing additional dive courses. Dive courses might teach you new skills, but time spent underwater is the only thing that makes you more comfortable doing what you do.
Scuba diving means one thing to me – it is a lifestyle. It is a fun, environmentally sustainable way of interacting with nature and feeling more human at the same time. This wonder, though, has to be done in a manner that it is safe for me and safe for the environment – that is why training is of utmost importance. The theory and training may be complicated at times, but diving is easy. That’s why I say – get involved in your region, join a dive club, travel! Spend time underwater and enjoy this miracle! If you are a fellow diver, whether entry-level or more advanced, I urge you to see diving this way – it is as simple as being able to breathe underwater and doing it safely.