‘Should I be a d*ck?’ The armchair divers guide to commenting on someone else’s social media post.

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angry keyboard

You stand poised at the keyboard full of righteous indignation- I mean have these guys even heard of horizontal trim?! But wait- how do you know if you should proceed? The quick answer is to ask yourself this: ‘Are the people in the water having fun? Is nothing clearly dangerous or irresponsible taking place?’ If the answer is yes and no then you should shut up the hell up. If the answer is no and no then it’s probably just a tec diving course. In tec diving everyone knows that if you’re having fun, then you’re doing it wrong. Right?

Facetious as this all may be, the reality is that over the last couple of year. I’ve seen several pics and vids that have been shared around alongside a hefty portion of mocking commentary mainly about, but not limited to, the lack of skill demonstrated. The original postee, I imagine, just thought they were having fun. Oh how wrong they were….

These posts have included the following unimaginable crimes: Some divers doing tec skills whilst standing on the sea bed, someone diving with their sidemount tanks floating vertically from their harness, an instructor wearing a t-shirt and board shorts teaching his students whilst kneeling on the bottom and some people using their scooter D ring to clip their stage tanks.

Now I’m not disputing that there are better methods BUT none of these things is really all that terrible are they? I have been in the industry just long enough to remember when a man with a compensatory six pack and very small swimming trunks plied his trade on internet forums calling anyone who didn’t dive exactly like him a ‘stroke’. It was pretty unpleasant but eventually everyone moved on and even at the time it was mainly a preserve of the more anal end of the tec diving community. The problem I see now is that a similar level of mockery has become far more prevalent and is now bleeding into the recreational market.

If you ask some instructors what the goal of a diving course is now, they’ll tell you all about safety, team awareness and trim. That’s all very nice but actually you should be doing all that anyway because they’re standards. The most important goal of a diving course, assuming that the above is met, is for everyone to have fun and want to do more diving. I can’t think of a more pointless endeavour than to spend hours beasting a bunch of open water students through endless drills and skills attempting to perfect buoyancy control if the end result is they have a miserable time and don’t bother doing anymore diving.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not for one second advocating that we don’t start upping our game and really working to improve the buoyancy control and technique of new divers but somehow we’ve gone from inspiring them with excitement and cool diving destinations to skill circuits, buoyancy platforms and team awareness. I don’t know about you but if someone says ‘team awareness’ to me, it sounds like a complicated skill that I might not have. Translated into English, as in ‘pay attention and know where your buddy is’, all stuff that is extensively covered in the course already, and it all sounds a bit happier and easier.

Here’s the thing: All this stuff about ‘horizontal superman style trim’, it’s all very nice, but it’s also a bit bollocks… Jacques Cousteau certainly didn’t give a shit. In fact the dive industry has somehow trucked on for the last 60 odd years churning out happy smiling divers who’ve gone their whole diving careers having loads of fun without ever worrying about whether they can back fin or not.

So does this mean I think all of this superman trim stuff is a waste of time? Well, as anyone who’s dived with me knows, this is actually exactly how I teach divers and I have put an increasing emphasis on it at IDC level. In fact, I think I can put my hand up and say that I have probably been guilty of getting a bit fixated on this in the past. My attitude can now be summed up as follows: The ‘superman trim’ thing is essentially a teaching technique (just like the Buddha hover that came before it). I believe it’s the best method to use to teach someone how to dive a drysuit. I believe that as a goal, diving instructors should be able to dive in and teach horizontal trim to their students. I also know that many qualified divers want to improve their skills and therefore want to and should feel proud of their accomplishments when their technique improves. However what I strongly believe is that it shouldn’t be positioned as an end game in itself, particularly to new divers.

The dive industry, particularly in the UK, is suffering because we have fewer people coming into the sport. I know that when you’re on the inside of something it’s very hard to see it from an outsider’s perspective but I’m fairly certain that very few prospective new divers are enticed by the chance to clench their arse under the water and bring their knees into line. It may well be that all this hand wringing is only of concern to us qualified divers but even if that’s the case then I still feel that an atmosphere of emphasis on perfection and a judgemental approach that stops people from posting on social media for fear of criticism isn’t exactly going to inspire a new generation of divers.

As a final summary then, what can we do to improve the situation? Here are a few suggestions and I’m going to try my best to make sure I apply them too:

  1. Watch your language: It can all be very exciting using military sounding tec speak but talking about team formation and minimum gas in the context of a 12m bimble on the house reef is probably counter-productive. Try talking about watching your SPG, what bar pressure to start ascending and paying attention to yourself and your buddy instead….
  2. Remember the fun: The only reason anyone does a diving course at any level is for fun. If the course becomes a joyless exercise in skills and drills then at some level you have failed as an instructor. Even negative experiences underwater can be lightened with a good debrief. Always put skills into a context, get divers moving and exploring the dive-site and get them excited about the subsequent dives that will become possible for them with their new certification.
  3. Performance requirements: It’s an old one but a good one: Can a diver meet performance requirements? Can they dive safely and deal with potential problems at the level at which they’re certified? They may not be as slick as you’d like and you might not like their kit configuration but if it’s safe, it works for them and they’re happy then jobs a good’un.
  4. Wind your neck in: Somewhere along the line you may have unwittingly become a member of the sidemount stasi, pointing and laughing at people hanging ali tanks off the butt rail of an SMS 100. Just try and remember that unless they’re planning on squeezing through a cave restriction anytime soon it really doesn’t matter does it? So just leave them alone. And that goes for everyone else having fun in the supposedly ‘sub-optimal way’.

As a final thought, I feel our industry is going through a bit of a transition at the moment. We’re trying to improve our teaching techniques, which is only to be admired, but sooner or later the whole diving in horizontal trim thing will hopefully have become so much the norm that we’ll need to find something else to fixate on. I suggest that we do our best to hurry that along so we can leave all this ‘hovering on the platform for an hour without moving’ stuff behind and try and get back to emphasising the fun, adventure and excitement that diving offers instead.