Good Habits for New Divers
Okay, so you’ve just taken the plunge, literally, and finished your introductory dive course (ideally in a relaxing, tropical setting). This was probably the first time in your life you’ve had to think about breathing but you also experienced the weightlessness of being underwater as you explored a world that was previously out of your reach! You’ve gotten over your fear of mask-clearing and breathing out of a hose that sounds very similar to a black-clad sci-fi villain of the late 1970’s. What’s next? Maybe go straight to the advanced course, or should you just do some diving?
Learn from Every Dive
Developing good diving habits after your course is very important. As a dive instructor, I try to encourage my students to improve on every dive. Practicing good buoyancy, finning techniques and breathing properly isn’t hard work. It should be part of every dive. Few things in the industry are as disappointing as taking experienced divers out who think they know everything and don’t try to improve. Try not to be the diver with lazy buoyancy that prefers to stand in the sand rather than hover and has no clue or care for what their fins collide with. If you make the choice in the beginning to develop good habits, you can avoid becoming “that diver.”
Master Buoyancy Control
One of the most important skills in diving is buoyancy control. With good buoyancy control, everything else will follow. This includes body positioning, air consumption, proper weighting and efficient finning techniques. With great buoyancy also comes less stress and anxiety, which can be the cause of many dive accidents and poor air consumption.
So how do you perfect this masterful skill? Practice! While you can take a buoyancy training dive as part of your advanced course, I recommend picking the brain of your instructor or guide and using every dive as a chance to learn your hovering skills. There’s only so much you can learn from one dive, so even if you take the course route, you’ll still need to practice the skills in each subsequent dive to master them.
Understand How Much Lead You Need
Lead weight sinks. The idea isn’t to race to the bottom, but to control the descent with your breathing. The more lead you have, the more negatively buoyant you become. This requires you to put more air in your BCD, which makes buoyancy much more challenging. While lead is necessary for most people, it’s only useful to overcome our own natural positive buoyancy such as fat content, and anything unnatural we’ve added to ourselves, like a wetsuit. It’s important to have the correct amount of lead. If you get accustomed to diving with too much, you tend to develop bad habits like breathing heavily, and kicking yourself up to maintain position in the water column. This leads to bad air consumption and broken coral.
Again, listen to an experienced instructor. Most people dive with too much weight. While this goes hand in hand with good buoyancy, it is possible to understand and achieve adequate buoyancy while being slightly overweighted. Instructors do it all the time, but it’s better for you as a fun diver to start dropping lead and learning to breathe correctly.
Have you ever noticed that your instructor doesn’t seem to kick much at all while you seem to be running a marathon? Once you master controlling your position anywhere in the water column, it’s time to then focus on being streamlined. The ideal diving position is horizontal with your hips straight and knees bent at around a 90 degree angle so that your fins are above you. This will get you ready for the frog kick, helicopter kick and back finning. It will also keep those filthy fins of yours off the coral reef or from stirring up the sand.
If you aren’t diving in a horizontal position, think about where your kicks are taking you. If you find yourself fighting to stay at a particular depth, you are wasting your energy. Get horizontal and be efficient with your fins.
Use Your Fins, Not Your Hands
Do you ever wonder why we have fins on in the water? Because they work! Hands don’t. Waving your hands around doesn’t do much aside from making you look very new and tiring you out. Rather than wasting energy by swimming with your hands, use the fins. As an added benefit, you won’t run the risk of scraping your hands up on the surroundings, or possibly even pulling someone’s regulator or mask away.
Again, watch your instructor or guide. When they turn, they don’t use their hands (or they shouldn’t, anyway). You can learn how to turn with helicopter kicks. It’s even possible to swim backwards, but this takes much practice so don’t get frustrated if it takes a few dozen dives to get even remotely close to back finning.
Pay Attention and be a Good Buddy
As you master these skills, you can stop thinking about diving itself and start placing more of your attention on things like spacial awareness and searching for rare and amazing critters that most people would swim right over. You’ll also begin to pay more attention to other divers and where they are. This is important if you or your buddy needs help, but it also makes you an enjoyable dive buddy because you can then be the diver that finds cool things and shows others. You’ll know exactly where you are in the water column and safety stops can be done leisurely.
You can take an advanced course to learn a thing or two about buoyancy and go on a deep dive, but in the end, that alone won’t make you a better diver. It’s up to you to practice everything you learn and perfect it more and more with each subsequent dive. Find a good role model and be humble. If you aren’t sure about something, then don’t give advice to another diver. Become a sponge and soak up knowledge from experienced dive guides and instructors. Take advice from non-professional divers very cautiously. Don’t get too comfortable with your dive skills and constantly try to improve. In other words, just dive!