Good Dive, Better Dive

By Mikey Augustine -

One of the most vexing questions facing most of us divers is whether there is such a thing as a 'bad dive'.

We've all had dive days where nothing’s gone right, where the viz has been appalling, where the fish life was scarce or where the unpredicted current carried us halfway across the ocean.

But really, when you think about it, were they really “bad” dives?

I have a 'smiley face' system for assessing dive sites in my log book and, on flicking through the pages of said book, I counted three 'unhappy' faces, depicting bad dives, a strike rate of less than 1%. One was a situation in which I'd taken to the water, knowing full well that there was a big swell brewing, the viz was about 0.5 metres, a south westerly wind was howling and the only marine life likely to be out and about was those critters rushing for shelter. But still I went diving. And it wasn't fun. Another 'unhappy' dive falls into the same category while the third related to being half choked to death underwater by a new wetsuit.
But apart from these little glitches, most of my dives have been 'good'.

While I'd like to take the credit for this overwhelmingly positive attitude, I must admit that I was inspired more by a guy I buddied up with on a dive trip in 1994.

We were having chat topside after our first dive and the gist of my buddy's attitude was that every dive can be a good dive if we approach it in the right way. If we approach it as a chance to learn more about our diving skills or the marine environment, then every dive, no matter how downright awful it may appear on the surface, has something to teach us. Which makes it a positive thing which, by extension, makes it a 'good dive'. Using this logic, even my three dodgy dives had their positive points.

A case in point is diving in Perth’s Swan River at the Bicton Baths. The site is silty, the viz is generally appalling, the place isn’t a hot bed of diverse fish life, there's generally a fairly decent strength current rumbling downstream or upstream, and there are days and nights when it would be suitable for ice diving.

Many West Aussie divers you talk to who take a dip at Bicton say the diving's crap there. And, on face value, it is.

But think about a night dive at this appalling site, what might you see? Big crabs waving their pincers at you angrily; huge prawns darting here and there; large graceful anemones waving in the current; colorful sponge-encrusted moorings and old chains; maybe the odd wreck or two; squid which wait warily in the beam of your torchlight; flounder and flathead ensconced in the sand; large sea stars; if you’re really lucky, a dolphin or seal may toddle past.

What might you experience? The thrill of zooming along the river in a current, adjusting your speed and direction with a tiny flick of your fins; the wonder of turning off your torch and waving your hands about, watching the bioluminescence explode off your hands like stars; the fascinating glow of the cyalume sticks of other divers bobbing about in the distance, their torches leaving an eerie glow in the gloom.

So you might have ended up 200 metres from where you planned to exit. The lesson is maybe your navigation needs to take the current into account a lot more. That means the next time you dive in a current, you're just that little bit more confident of navigating your way around it.

And what if your aim was to catch prawns and you come up after an hours effort with five? What's the big deal? You had a chance to get wet and see a world most people can barely imagine. You got to experience the thrill, and frustration, of the chase, even the worlds most efficient predators come up empty handed sometimes. You might've learnt a bit more about diving or prawn-hunting technique.

Put all these things together and what you have is an interesting, fascinating dive. You learnt some things, you saw some interesting things, you experienced something different. That'd make it a 'good' dive, wouldn't you think?

Having watched and listened to many divers over the years, I've noticed that many 'newbie' divers have their attitudes about 'good' and 'bad' dives shaped by the old hands and their instructors. An instructor who steps out of the water at, say, Rockingham and harps on about what a God awful time they had and how the viz was crap passes that attitude onto their students.

Contrast this with the attitude of the instructor who hops out and excitedly says OK, the viz was pretty bad but we got a chance to see some seahorses up close and see some of the sponge life on the wrecks. And did you guys catch a look at that octopus and that cuttlefish? is inspiring their students to take a broader view of the diving experience.

This attitude isn't being Pollyannaish, rather, it's making the best of what might otherwise be a dodgy situation.

I think when you can look at a dive and try to find positives every time you're underwater, you're more likely to fill your logbook with smiley faces than unhappy ones.

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