Love Diving

Hate the Dive Industry

CopyRight @ 1997

This is one of two essays that were broken from a single essay. As such, this is going to require some major editing. Oh well...

Welcome to the weird pages. The way I write, is often puddle of consciousness. Let it all drip on a page and see what it means. Well, I did that with this topic and was rather surprised with what the message was that I had written. Why I dive. Well, in writing about why I like diving, I found that I was actually venting my 25 plus years of frustration with the diving establishment. When finished, I found that the essay was somewhat long and rambling, before I even figured out what I was trying to say. It had a certain eloquence to it though. You know, the kind of eloquence that comes to your lips when you finally lose your patience and tell someone off. Only in this case, I get to polish it some before I deliver it. That is called writing, a far better way to communicate than speech.
I know that I am expressing thoughts that many other people have had as well, even if I am a bit more impassioned and verbose about this than some others.

This still rambles, but I am not going to spend any more time on it just now. I would rather write about dive adventures than about "silly instructors I have met". So here it is...

The problem is that the present dive industry wants to take the adventure out of diving, a sport that many do for the adventure. If you are not an adventurous soul, if you only go for the beauty and serenity, you might as well skip this. But if you sometimes dive for the adventure of it, read this ramble and see if it doesn't sound like what you have already thought.

There have always been a lot of divers out there solo diving. Though the training agencies said that it was never to be done, it was common and relatively accepted. To the people diving, it was obvious that danger in diving was a personal thing. There might be hazards to solo diving, but realistically, danger had to be a measure taken from the individual diver. Some divers are just deadly to themselves and others at any depth or conditions. Some divers are poised and in control no matter what happens. But there was no recognition of this, partly because the certifying agencies did not want to say that some people probably just shouldn't dive. It would cost money.

There had always been some controversy about solo diving, but it was muted and considered politically incorrect before there was even political incorrectness. Then Robert Von Maier wrote the book "Solo Diving" and pointed out that solo diving had better be acceptable to talk about, because it inevitably occurred. He was not talking about losing a buddy during a dive. His point was that any time you are with someone who is not able to help you if you get in trouble, you are solo diving. Funny thing. This is an extremely common situation for instructors. An instructor must act as a solo diver, because they cannot rely on their students to help them. It is also a common situation when buddy diving. Divers start out quite inexperienced and it takes a fair amount of diving to be comfortable reacting to surprises or emergencies underwater. You had better not only be ready to solo dive, you had also better be aware when you are, with or without a buddy. This got the certification agencies scratching their heads.

I talked with an instructor at Catalina who claimed to have made more than 2000 dives, never without a buddy. Well, he made his money largely by gearing up uncertified divers and following them around on a one tank dive around the park at Casino Point. Well, I hate to say, but those were all solo dives. That diver with him cannot help him if he gets in trouble. Also, from what I saw when I met them underwater once, the way he stays behind his "buddy", he could get gobbled by a kraken and the guy in front would never have noticed.

Then, there was the resort problem. Resorts get all kinds of divers. Some are neophytes, but most of the people that go on dive vacations are divers with respectable skills. I have been amazed at the skill levels of some divers I have met on charter boats. Well, the situation that often arose at resorts, was that a dive instructor or divemaster with a couple of years of diving, is trying to ride herd on divers with 10 times the divemaster's experience and sense of adventure. If the divemaster cannot adjust to the skill level of the divers or just follows the industry line that all divers are neophytes, they are not going to get listened to by the divers. The problem, is that the dive industry does not promote trying to figure out the divers skill level, it just says lump them all together as neophytes.

Then there is me. It's not just that I solo dive, I also dive where others are not comfortable diving at all, buddy or no buddy. That is still just not alright with a lot of people. Also, some of my hunters habits are considered unmentionable, by the dive industry. 500 psi on the surface. I think not.

Why I dive? Most of all for the challenge and excitement. I am the first to admit, I like a thrill. Where I like to dive, does not make for a calm or social event. I am not recommending this for everyone. This is not the reason everyone dives and diving of the kind that I talk about here is not to be indulged in unless your skills and stamina are up for it. This is the way that many people like to dive though and it is safe enough for them. Then again, I think that a lot of people are unsafe driving a car.

I have always been a strong swimmer and a pretty big, solidly built guy. I have been diving a long time. In that time, I also managed to do a fair amount of water skiing, bodysurfing and snow skiing. I noticed that I always liked the challenges. That last run across the lake, at dusk, when it has gotten glassy and my brother shows me just how fast his flat bottom is. Bodysurfing at Steamers Lane when it is so big that the little surf nazis on their short boards can't even go out... and even bigger than that. I like tree skiing. It's a cross between powder skiing and pinball. Heck, the job I had back then could get you killed. I did not do it for the danger though and I never got hurt playing at any of these. Well, I like, maybe need, a challenge. A suitable challenge.

We come to diving. I have habitually dive remote, rough, nasty, exposed places, because this is what tends to be the most pristine and exciting. Life just grows thickest there. I do not often buddy dive in these places, primarily because it is hard to get a qualified buddy, but also because I am likely to be hunting, something that is difficult with a buddy.

I have been repeatedly told that I am not supposed to solo dive. Actually, I have been told by a park ranger that I was an "asshole" for even diving at Patricks Point. It was really nice diving. People may think they know about my diving, but in reality they have only told me about their diving... limitations.

Because of the technical nature of diving, it is regulated to try to insure that a diver has a basic knowledge of the equipment, diving physiology and diving physics. This seems appropriate. There are easily avoided mistakes to make if you don't know about them. This is true of many sports. But while other sports make the assumption that you will then take responsibility for your own safety as you develop your skills, the diving establishment makes no such assumptions. You are supposed to dive the same way as you did when you learned the sport. This is so common that it is widely accepted in our sport. It is good for the diving establishment to keep divers uncomfortable with their skills. This is an interesting paternalism that would never be tolerated anywhere else in our society. Where do these instructors, with a few years of diving in easy conditions with students, get off telling me how to dive?

Diving has a habit of bringing out the machismo in some people. It is not that diving is such a macho sport. No one knows what you are doing down there. You cannot really compete, except with yourself. It is very personal. On the surface though, some people just love to order other people around. I met a gent who owned 3 dive shops in Hawaii. He said that his main problem was getting instructors that weren't terminally macho. Power, even small bits of it, attracts the type who like to tell people what to do.
An instructor for CSUN university was known for not certifying women. Tell me that that is necessary and not just his attitude.

A regional director of NAUI, dive mastering on a trip on the Emerald, found out that my buddy had already stopped diving for the day and tried to tell me I couldn't dive anymore. I said that "only the skipper could say that". The skipper said "no one dives that I do not think is safe". That muted things a bit. At the time, more than 20 years ago, I was already more experienced than all but perhaps 2 divers on the boat. The skipper knew this. The dive master did also. The dive master also knew before I signed up, that I was a solo diver. But the dive master was not talking safe for me and the conditions, he was trying to enforce his rules and habits, using the authority of the industry, not common sense.

Diving has its hazards under any condition. Where there is water, a person could drown. Really though, it is not much more dangerous than skiing. Diving has gotten the reputation of an extremely dangerous sport, mainly because it is exotic. Dangerous for who, when? I hope that you don't believe that it's safe to expect your buddy to save you. I have always railed against the busybody individuals that want to tell me how to dive. When I just want to baffle them instead of picking on them, I say that my job is more dangerous than diving. They say "what job". I was an electrician. It probably was more dangerous than anything less than extreme diving. Polite, sensible people usually left it at that. If not, I tell them that a buddy is like a dive knife, pretty useless except if you feel insecure and anyway it's gone when you need it. (Perhaps not so true now, with gill nets more common now.) If that doesn't do it, I tell them a buddy is like a dive light. If it lasts more than 2 years, it's a pretty good one. (In California, the chill water makes this commonly true.) Now, I don't even bother to pick on someone about this unless they are an instructor. They are the only ones that are opinionated enough to talk to me at that point. So if they persist, I still have my favorite dig. "I'll be diving when all your students have quit". That one hurts, because in general, it is likely true.

Diving in rough conditions can be great. When its like that, you can feel the sheer power of the ocean. It's contagious, the way emotions are. That power matches my capacity for excitement. That doesn't even mention the amazing sea life and the colors. Riding the surge makes me swim like a fish. There you are. I admit it. I'm just another adrenaline junky. If I was skiing or racing a car, that would be considered fine. The dive industry, on the other hand, gets weird and says "you aren't supposed to push it any". Who are you kidding? There are a lot of sedate dives and sedate divers. I enjoy a calm beautiful dive of sight seeing and feeding the fish myself, sometimes, but when I want to get that wild, do you think you can stop me? Do you expect me to do anything but look at you an smile? Oh, go back to your office. I feel sorry that divers have to be so apologetic when all they want to do is have some fun. I would have made a good pioneer. I believe in self reliance. Like a lot of other divers I know, I am strong, skilled and careful. How I dive is my choice and you can stuff it if it doesn't suit your rules. I would strongly suggest that you don't judge me by your standards cuz I am quite positive that you don't want me to judge you by mine.

I am not inclined to tell a person how to live their life. Bad habits that I have thought needed critique are:
1. Losing gear - The first year a diver loses gear. The second year, they stop losing it. The third year, they start finding gear... or so they say. Here I am not talking beginners. I have been down with divers that I am constantly picking up after. It's weird and they never seem to catch on. They usually do quit soon enough though.
2. Divers that swim in a small circle under the boat... especially at night.
3. Divers that are doing something they don't understand that is likely to get them hurt. They make people worry about other divers that are responsible.
4. Divers that sign up for advanced trips, that they are just not skilled enough for. They may ruin a trip for the whole rest of the boat.

Notice that all of these critiques apply to stupid people doing stupid things. It is not the diving that makes for danger, it is the diver.

If scuba certification agencies were ski instructors, they would tell us to never leave the bunny slopes. This has always been my pet peeve about the dive industry. Many instructors that I have talked to, seemingly only do dives with students. "Oh, I have 2000 dives" Well, they might as well have been in a pool. Please, call yourself an instructor and don't dare criticize my diving. You would die where I play.

Cool, huh?

A further note. On the web sites I read, it seems mandatory that you have a major page on safety. I even made one, though mine isn't near as sappy as most. It's that apology thing. Well, I just looked at a site for a dive boat that I like. Under safety, the guy goes on about how dangerous kelp is. Jump off and die. If the owner of that boat reads what is written on his site, I hope that he is embarrassed.

One qualification that I have to admit to. When I call about a charter, I always ask if solo diving is acceptable. Usually, I am told that experienced divers are not herded. Most dive boat operators actually trust divers and want them to have fun. It is the instructors and certification agencies that want to tell you how to dive. If I am told that buddy diving is required, up front, I either buddy dive or do not sign up. Fair is fair. On boats, I have had dive masters try to back out of saying it, once we were ready to dive, but that is just comical.

Now, if I haven't annoyed enough people, let me fire one more salvo. Dive gear suffers from feature creep. The computer industry is famous for this. Luckily its absurdity becomes more immediately noticeable with dive equipment. "Well SharkGobbler Dive Gear put this Turbo Friction Anti-Bubble feature on their snorkel, so maybe we better add it to ours". "It will help us compete". The first rule of successful engineering is the KISS rule. Keep it simple, Stupid! This is even more true for diving than almost any other products. Everyone trys to improve the simple elegant systems designed for diving, but their very simplicity is usually what makes a superior dive product. A bane upon all SuperVision Masks, Fara-Fins, ported valved snorkels and so many other of the neat looking, but silly ideas the engineers came up with. This was much more of a problem in the early 80's than it is now, but it is a problem that regularly returns. Watch out for it.

The problem is that past a certain depth, it is hard to safely make a free ascent. I used to be able to hold my breath really good and free ascents were a feasible option. Now though, I still end up without a buddy, but depend on redundancy in my dive system. There is one place where liability concerns have helped the diver. Dive equipment, as a consumer product, is built to something like military specifications. Failure of well maintained gear is unusual... Better watch your air and know when to turn over.

If you question my point of view as being uncommon or even perhaps suspect, think of this. The dive industry is completely skewed towards the beginner diver. That is where the most money is to be made. On a dive boat, the dive must be planned to accommodate the weakest diver. If the ski industry was like the dive industry, we would never leave the bunny slopes. That is not my idea of diving. I do it for the challenge and the excitement. I have a well developed sense of caution. I had a dangerous job for 20 years without getting hurt. The industry has been hurt by so many images. Jaws, etc. What a joke. In my many years of diving, a continuous sense of caution and adequate physical conditioning, has prevented me from having any accidents. Accidents are incidents that became a problem. I have rescued people on occasion. Also, and this may sound uncharacteristic, on some dive boats, such as Truth Aquatics, if the divemaster knows me, they may try to buddy me up with a particularly weak diver, because I take good care of real beginners... for a dive or two... if it is not the beginning of bug season... I stay with a person. My only bad habit is that I usually try to get them to eat some scallop under water. They always tell good stories about that.

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