I’ve seen a lot of Open Water students come through the shop in the past few weeks and watched them fumble around with their gear, put their regulators on the tanks upside down, barrel up and down through the water, inflating their BCDs to bursting and then plummeting onto the sand. At the end of the dive, they pull out their little logbooks, open to the first page and document everything, asking about depths and times and what the name of the dive site was again. I’m sure they look around the shop at those of us working here and wonder how long it takes to get to the point where they could set up a tank in their sleep, dive for longer than 30 minutes and stay neutrally buoyant without crashing into something.
I still remember my very first dive 4 years ago up in the Pacific Northwest. The water was 46F degrees, I wore a dry suit, my fingers were practically frozen despite my gloves and the water was so cloudy that we couldn’t see further than 5 feet in any direction. I pulled out my old logbook and looked at that first dive and for the description I’d written “Crappy visibility. Overweighted.” That pretty much says it all. I didn’t get into exclamations points until my third dive (buoyancy!) and I didn’t dive in warm water until my 10th dive when I dove Seal Island in San Carlos, Mexico. I vividly remember those early Mexico dives because I saw my very first wild seahorse and I got to dive with sea lions zooming around me like golden bullets. I’ve never gone back to cold water.
I did my 100th dive today. The Caribbean sea was flat, the sun was shining, the water was the deepest blue with visibility for days and I can now hover at any depth without effort. My dive skills are a far cry from my beginning open water days but I can look back and see that journey from there to here. What I can’t remember, even though it only ended a few weeks ago, is what it felt like to be a fun diver.
Back in the day when I was a fun diver (lo those 3 weeks ago), I never ever worried about anything except myself. I rarely set up my own gear, I kept an eye on my diving buddies but I didn’t pay them a lot of mind and if pressed I couldn’t tell you how many other people were in my diving groups. I just didn’t pay any attention. I remember my divemasters from various dives, I remember sights and animals and wrecks and cool caverns but I took very little personal responsibility for my diving and I was lucky enough to have uncomplicated diving experiences where nothing serious happened.
I’ll never get to dive like that again. If there’s one thing that’s changed in these weeks of DMT training, it’s the way that I approach diving. Every time I get in the water, I’m thinking about the group I’m diving with, how they dive and where they might need help. I’m thinking about my technical skills, my air consumption, my buoyancy and where we’re going (more or less in that order). I’m trying to learn dive sites and marine life in case I ever have to lead dives in these places or answer questions. I’m trying to figure out how a DM manages to put together a dive profile that suits the site and the abilities of the group, figures out where they’re going and how to get back to the boat, lets all of that go enough to look around and find cool stuff and marine life that the diving customers might otherwise miss and does it all within an hour or so without GPS or talking (two things I can’t generally can’t survive without when I’m on the surface).
It’s a lot of stuff to learn but mostly, I’m adjusting my mindset. I’ve let go of the idea that it’s just me, in the water, doing my own thing and letting someone else handle everything else. Now I’m training to be that person that handles everything else. From here on out, whether I work in the dive industry or not, I’ll never just be a fun diver. I’ll always be paying attention and that means I’ll always be somewhat responsible. It changes everything.