Diver back rolling into water

Becoming a better diver!

David Mansfield

This month marks year 22 of my scuba adventures. To toot my own horn for a second; I have accomplished 3,731 actual open water dives as of Saturday  morning (yes, I have a dive log). Additionally, I touched the bottom of a Catalina dive site at 302 feet with the proper equipment and traveled to 28 different countries to experience their waters over these years. Whether it was a cave system in the middle of Missouri or the isolated islands of Micronesia, there's been a commonality on every single dive: I can become a better diver. 

You might think to yourself 'That is impossible! This guy has way too many dives! There is no way he is not just amazing.' - do not worry, in my own mind, I think I'm pretty awesome. But, I would be remiss if I did not accept the fact I have made errors during those thousands of dives. On logbook entry 25, I decided to go on a dive to celebrate my achievement with one of my good friends. As we chatted, I grabbed the new cylinder from my vehicle and set everything up. We got to the water and began our dive. At about 25 feet and 5 minutes, the regulator stopped working completely after a distinct wheezing sound came from my tank. I grabbed my octopus and experienced the same issue. There was no air! In a split second, the realization the cylinder I had put in the vehicle was already used! With my remaining breath and a reddening face, I bolted to the surface and (frantically) orally inflated my BCD. My buddy ascended to address the issue and I began to blame everything but the real problem; I made a serious mistake. I did not adhere to one of the most important principles of scuba diving; the pre-dive safety check. If I would have simply taken the time to run through an inherently safe method of ensuring everything is in good working order, I would have saved myself embarrassment and a possible real issue that could have gone much worse. All these years later, one statement sits firmly in the back of my head: I can become a better diver. 

The word "training" is synonymous with improvement. One does not have to subject themselves to actual emergencies to gain experience where education from more experienced trainers can help. You'll find the real key to becoming good at anything is through consistent and constant practice. The author Malcolm Gladwell deduces a person isn't born with natural gifts. Instead, they are gifted through dedication to hours of honing their craft. Whether it is strumming a guitar or replacing a glass window, the user finds themselves better at that 'gift' through dedication to the craft. If you do play an instrument, you can remember when you first started playing people would walk past you with their hands over their ears and a sympathetic smile. The off-key twangs and erratic bursts of sound were like nails across a chalkboard. With more hours of work, you may now manipulate a musical instrument in such a way people demand to hear you play when you are around. It may come as naturally as breathing to you. The same principles can be applied to your scuba diving. 

Terrible Divers

Having good buoyancy control, breathing techniques and working towards safer scuba diving are worthy goals for a new diver. The divers in the above photo are actually working on hovering, a common goal for all of us when scuba diving. It is easy to look at them and critique the million things wrong in this scenario; but, they are trying to learn how to be a better diver. The truth is they could have honed these skills in a confined water environment and successfully executed them perfectly (and off the poor reef) had the instructor invested in their training and education. That is what those hours in the pool and in safe, sandy environments in the ocean are designed to accomplish. 

As you gain experience in the water, it is also a great idea to seek out further education through a training program. If you want to be better at something, why not practice it in multiple environments that will only make you better at scuba diving! The folks in the picture could be working on base level performance requirements; but, they will become better at buoyancy control if they take the time to do further techniques in a continuing education class or by dedicating their time to performing the skill better. As we all know, practice is an extremely important facet of making ourselves masters at anything. This is where a training program will assist.

When I took the Advanced Open Water Course, I was extremely excited at the experience of night diving. At the time, all Advanced divers were required to conduct Navigation, Deep and Night as three of the five elective dives. These dives were the first dive of the actual specialty course. If you accomplished five of those dives, you'd be certified as an Advanced Open Water Diver. As we descended at Wood's Cove that night, I was super excited. My light illuminated creatures I had yet to see during the day. Lobsters, octopus and rays were flitting about the underwater realm in search of food while the normal day animals were tucking in for their naps. I found the exploration of the reef at night was something I was not fully comfortable with doing. My instructor encouraged me to sign up for the Night Diver specialty. On consecutive nights, we explored other coves and did skills to enhance our comfort level while being in a nighttime environment. This experience motivated me to comfortably dive at night and, at the time, I worked a night job. From that point on, I would spend Saturday and Sunday mornings from 3am to 4am exploring the reef system at Moss Point and more! But, what did I learn? I learned how to become better and much more comfortable operating at nighttime while wearing scuba equipment. Turning the lights off, navigating to and from a point underwater, and much more, taught me how to safely operate in a nighttime environment. Today, we night dive every other Sunday night with the dive club to keep our night diving skills in tip-top shape! 

Seeking out education did not make me a master of the night environment, but it did establish a foundation of principles I could then carry into hundreds of night dives across the world. It made me a better diver. As with all things, I could give you fifteen bullet points on how to become a master. But, my challenge to you is to become better through dedication to the sport of scuba diving. As you get better in the skills you learned in the Open Water Diver program, seek out experience through other courses and conduct dives with more experienced divers. Take the time to read about the latest technologies and techniques. If you can stay dedicated to the craft, you'll find yourself waking up with thousands of dives under your belt, a better education and the ability to teach others the importance of getting better at scuba diving! 

About the Author:
D.J. Mansfield

D.J. Mansfield is a PADI Course Director who dives Southern California and has done so for 22 years. He is currently the Director of Operations for Beach Cities Scuba and is a committed ocean steward and trainer for divers all over the world.

Follow him on Instagram @djmansfield7or contact him at dj@beachcitiescuba.com.   

Did you know Beach Cities Scuba is a 100% AWARE partner? We are committed to supporting our ocean partners and creating a protected environment for sea life that includes responsible fishing practices and minimal human interaction. See how you can get involved today!


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