I’ve often heard the question asked, “Why should I take a specialty or continuing education class?” There are many answers to that question and I’ll bet at least one can be applied to any diver. Here are three:
It may not be good form to answer a question with a question, but… why not? Why not take a course that focuses on a different aspect of diving than you’re used to. Why not try something new? Why not explore and expand your horizons?
No diver knows everything. Even the most experienced instructors can learn something new. Frankly, that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy diving with other experienced divers. I never know what trick I might learn or some method I might see that can improve my own diving skills.
Sometimes trying something outside of your comfort zone can teach you lessons about diving, about yourself, or about life that you never expected.
I’ve known about sidemount diving for years and had a mild interest in trying it, but never pursued it. That was until a friend of mine (an instructor who has been teaching a lot longer than me) offered to teach me. I figured, why not? So, I read the book and completed the knowledge reviews before we met. Then we sat down and went through the academics, looked at various gear configurations, and worked our way out to the pool.
I thought the gear setup would be easier than it was. Not that it was hard, but for the first time in years I was setting up scuba gear that didn’t feel familiar to me – setting it up wasn’t simple muscle memory. Sure, I knew how to attach and test the regulators, but I found myself having to concentrate to ensure hoses were routed properly and gear was adjusted comfortably. I found myself having to ‘think’ about diving. As we worked through skills, I realized how long it had been since someone asked me underwater if I was okay, how much air I had, and demonstrated skills to me. I’m so used to being the one asking about air and tracking how divers are doing. Being the student diver felt as unfamiliar to me as did the sidemount rig itself.
We went through the various skills in the pool until I was comfortable performing them. Afterwards, I remarked at the role reversal and how I realized I was feeling the way many of my Open Water students likely feel. We chatted and laughed about it as we broke down the gear after the dive and tried to decide when to schedule the open water dives.
I thought more about it as I drove home. Over the years, I’ve become very comfortable using my own gear setup. I’ve customized things to what works for me and donning and doffing my gear and executing scuba skills has become as natural to me as walking down the street. In fact, even using less familiar gear doesn’t phase me. However, that day, I felt differently. The fluidity was gone and I was once again the ‘new diver.’ I didn’t like the feeling at first, but in retrospect it was an excellent experience for a number of reasons. First, it forced me back to my own basics. Second, it expanded my scope and skillset as a diver. Finally, and I believe most importantly, it made me – the experienced instructor – FEEL like a novice, FEEL uncomfortable, FEEL like a student. Ya know what? I enjoyed it. I really appreciate having been put into that position. It made me feel as some of my students must. As dive professionals, we often talk about the elation and wide eyes we see in our students with their first breaths under water. We’ve developed the patience necessary to help our students through their fears and trepidations. But, most of us don’t truly remember what those feelings were like for us. That day I experienced them – and it was awesome – a true reminder of what’s behind those wide, amazed eyes I look forward to seeing.
Every now and then, something will happen in our lives that will change our way of looking at things and make us better instructors, and maybe even better people. This was definitely one of those a-ha moments for me.
Just like my Open Water students look forward to their first open water dives, I couldn’t wait for my open water sidemount dives! Today, I completed my third and final sidemount dive for certification. It felt great to have learned the new skill. But, you know what? I found myself feeling something else my students probably feel when they finish an Open Water course: Wondering if I’m ready to sidemount dive on my own?