Do you want to dive like a boss? Alex Griffin reveals how you can fine-tune your diving technique and attitude, and why it matters (Text by Alex Griffin. Illustration by John Grainger)
Most of us have probably made contact with the coral reef at some point in our diving career. Usually it’s accidental, and how bad we feel about that would probably pose as some kind of indicator on the psychopath scale. We know we shouldn’t do it but may well believe that our behaviour is insignificant in the big scheme of things. The following article contains some surprising facts and tips that will hopefully have you reaching for the BCD before you crash land on the reef. Read on to find out why if you’re a male, novice diver with a camera, the coral polyps are already waving a white flag as your wonky giant stride hits the water.
HOW YOU CAN WRECK THE REEFS
We know that coral reefs are already under a huge amount of stress from a variety of factors: Changes in sea temperature and sedimentation caused by man-made factors have a hugely negative impact on reefs. Many people believe that the presence of divers causing the reef to be seen as a source of income helps offset any minor damage – but divers do cause damage to the reefs they visit. Many studies have documented breakages and abrasions to coral reefs that are frequented by divers and many of us have anecdotally witnessed the difference in life between further-flung, less-dived sites than popular training grounds.
Coral is very delicate and slow growing so even small amounts of damage can quickly mount up. With the reefs already under a huge amount of ecological pressure, we don’t really want to add any more.
As a diver, you don’t really want to do all that training, learn about the beauty of Nature’s underwater creation and then be the doofus who kicks off a large piece of staghorn coral because your catastrophic weighting strategy has caused you to swim through the water like you’re riding an invisible bike, do you?
WHAT CAN WE DO?
So, how to avoid leaving devastation in your wake, and the embarrassing situation of having to shake lumps of coral off your equipment at the end of the dive? Well, first of all a sex change might be in order if you’re a man, as you are much more likely to cause damage to the reef. Men are more likely to swim closer to the reef, enter swim-throughs and be less cautious. This could be charitably ascribed to a man’s adventurous spirit but is probably more likely due to our inability to listen to instructions and then not caring about the consequences.
Sort your buoyancy and listen to the briefing: A real man would listen to the dive briefing and not enter a swim-through full of delicate marine life whilst demonstrating the buoyancy control of a shopping trolley. So if gender reassignment surgery is not an option then you’ll probably need to work harder on your self-esteem issues. And your buoyancy control.
Ditch the camera until you’ve mastered a bit of basic buoyancy. That said, studies show that divers with cheap point-and-click digital cameras aren’t the worst culprits. That honour belongs to the owners of the giant DSLR setups. Those guys have a nasty habit of lying on the bottom whilst they set up their shots so if you do own one of those devices and you’re currently using the reef to anchor yourself in place, might I gently suggest some buoyancy control practice. Those cameras are big and heavy and need extra skill to handle whilst still diving properly.
Sort your weights: I’ve spoken about weighting before but it’s imperative that you get your weighting right. Don’t just chuck on several kilos of lead because you’re scared you can’t hold a safety stop. Do a proper weight check like you did in your Open Water course. As with the buddy check, it’s not optional. Once you’re sure you have the correct amount of weight then you need to sort out trim. This means you should be able to hover in a roughly horizontal position. Hovering vertically in the water is so mid to late 90s, but still strangely popular. It’s like the Maroon 5 of scuba diving.
GET A BIT TECHIE AND LOOK AT YOUR FINNING TECHNIQUES:
• Backward Fin Kicks: Very useful when reef diving and/or taking photos and are much more effective than windmilling your hands about.
• Frog Kick: Much better for the environment than traditional flutter kicks, the frog kick works like the kick you do when you breast stroke. Because the movement is lateral you don’t disturb the bottom. You should be horizontal with your knees bent and your fins flat. The kick is a sculling motion that comes from the knees and ankles.
• Reverse Kicks: These let you back away from the reef without knocking seven bells out of it. Whilst in the position for the start of a frog kick, extend your legs slowly with your fins flat and pointing straight behind you. Now angle your fins so they would look like ears pointing out and up at a 45-degree angle if someone were looking at you head on and return them smoothly and quickly to their original position. It takes a bit of practice but is a very useful skill to master.
• Modified Flutter Kick: Useful in tighter spaces, the modified flutter starts in the same position as the frog kick with your knees bent and fins straight but instead of sculling you perform a short flutter kick from the hips and ankles.
• Helicopter Turn: As it sounds, this is for turning on the spot. It’s a little difficult to describe but it’s like the frog kick where only one fin sculls whilst the other acts as a rudder to maintain position. Another way to describe it is one fin does half a frog kick and the other does half a reverse kick. Clear? Good.