Simon Pridmore, author of Scuba Fundamental – “Start Diving the Right Way”, offloads six essential skills to master when learning to dive:
Your first scuba diving course takes you on a momentous journey from permanent landlubber to temporary denizen of the watery depths. You have a lot to learn as you make this life-changing transition: so much that it may all seem overwhelming.
To be a safe, successful scuba diver, the following six elements are the things you have to concentrate on mastering more than anything else. They are all inter-connected. Improvement in one area will lead to similar progress in all the others.
Focus on these things, get them right and everything else will fall into place.
Despite what many new divers are told when they begin, you do not breathe “normally” when you are on scuba.
While you are underwater you are breathing air under pressure, so the air is denser than the air you breathe from the atmosphere when you are on land. You are also breathing through your regulator, an artificial device that creates a larger gap between your lungs and the source of the air. This gap is called “dead air space.”
If you breathe as you do on land, that is, haphazardly and without thinking about it, turbulence within the dead air space will prevent much of the air you inhale from reaching your lungs. You will just breathe it all out again without most of the important oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange having taken place. This is not a good thing because this exchange is the whole point of breathing.
To breathe efficiently underwater, you have to develop a controlled long, slow breathing style, pull the dense air down deep into your lungs with each inhalation and then expel it in a long, slow exhalation.
The extended cycle of deep inhalation and full exhalation will also ensure that the transfer of gases is as effective as possible. More of the oxygen you breathe in will be transferred from your lungs to your bloodstream and more carbon dioxide will be removed from your body.
This benefits you enormously. A build up of carbon dioxide in the body induces stress and anxiety and can lead to panic, a diver’s worst enemy. So, as this type of breathing cycle reduces your body’s carbon dioxide levels, it helps you become more relaxed.
Being relaxed when you dive enables you to be more attentive, puts you in a good frame of mind to deal calmly with an emergency and reduces considerably your tendency to panic. The greatest threat to any new diver comes from an uncontrolled ascent. Every diver knows this from the start, yet uncontrolled ascents are still much too common. Why? Because panic over-rides the intellect and induces people to do things they would never do if their brain were in charge.
When you first start diving, you may feel extraordinarily clumsy. This is how most people are when they first go underwater. At one point, even the professionals you see hanging effortlessly in mid-water in total control, while you flail and roll around, were once awkward and ungainly like you.
In your class, you will be taught a variety of techniques to help you acquire good buoyancy skills. Practice these at every opportunity. Unless you are working with an instructor one-on-one, you will always have down time while the instructor is working with one of your classmates. Use this time to watch how the professionals control their movement and position in the water while they are working. Notice how they hardly use their arms at all and how their ability to “fly” underwater mostly comes down to fin control, body control and breath control. See their mastery of the environment as something to imitate.
When you dive be attentive to your environment and alert to everything that is going on around you. Yes, monitor your gauges as you were taught but don’t become fixated on them. Just as you do when you walk around on land, look where you are going and, if you are planning to return by the same route, turn round occasionally to see what it will look like on the way back.
As you are descending, look down to see what sort of topography waits you. Are you going down towards sand, reef, rock or seaweed? Are there other divers below you? When you plan to ascend, look up before you go up and be more cautious the closer you get to the surface, where sharp and potentially deadly threats await in the form of boat hulls, boat propellers, jet skis and other marine traffic.
In your daily life, you have developed sensitive, invisible antennae that you deploy subconsciously as you go about your business. They enable you, for example to cross roads safely, avoid potholes in the pavement or spot people who need your seat on a busy train more than you do. Don’t retract those antennae when you go underwater.
Your fins are your propulsion devices as well as buoyancy controllers and stabilisers. When required, they can be finely tipped quill pens and delicate precision instruments or broad paintbrushes and power tools. You use your fins like you use the pedals when you are driving a car, except that, not only do fins enable you to speed up, slow down, stop and change gear, they help you steer as well. Your fins do it all. For scuba diving purposes, your arms and hands are simply for signalling and are tucked away when you have nothing to “say.”
Every fin stroke must be conscious and have a purpose. As well as learning how to fin, learn not to fin as well. Get into the habit of staying motionless in the water.
To get the most out of scuba diving, look beyond the reef at the fish, at the animals, at their behaviour. To borrow a common phrase, learn to see the wood for the trees. This often means you have to get closer. This is where some of the other six essentials such as buoyancy, finning and relaxing come in handy. Develop these skills to the point where you are able to remain absolutely still in the water without consciously thinking about how you are doing it. Then you can concentrate your attention completely on what you are looking at.
Scuba Fundamental -“Start Diving the Right Way” is a unique concept. It is not just another run of the mill “how to dive” manual. It is primarily for people who do not yet dive but are thinking of learning. It takes them from the germ of the idea that they might like to try scuba diving up to the point where they have done around 20 dives.
This is a crucial phase in every diver’s diving life. This is the time when a person decides if they will be a diver forever or if diving will just become something they did once upon a time. Too many people stumble into diving without being properly prepared or doing enough research and, sadly, end up abandoning the sport, wasting both money and time and missing out on a lifetime of incredible experiences.
The aim of Scuba Fundamental is to make sure that doesn’t happen, by guiding new divers along the right path and helping them make all the right decisions and avoid the many pitfalls that lie in wait for the unwary.
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