The recreational-diving industry has a small portfolio of tools and diversionary props to both accommodate and mitigate the effects of sub-standard divers.
Rarely do these include any form of improvement, and are more akin to railway buffers or motorway hard shoulders.
A private guide often becomes a private aquatic bouncer, keeping the “offender” arm’s reach away in non-challenging environments and at a safe distance from coral.
Further mitigation practices include the diver being relegated to “local sites” instead of the premier league iconic ones where the less-skilled would inflict more damage.
Fifteen-litre tanks are frequently requested or even “prescribed” in resorts because the guest is “bad on air and needs a bigger tank”.
Learner car-drivers who are bad on driving aren’t issued with an air-bag or sin-binned to a disused car park… they are taught to drive properly and pass a test under the evaluation of an external examiner.
Some experienced divers feel resigned to a life of short dives and a short leash, erroneously believing they are not among the chosen ones.
With the acquisition of some dive-centres by large travel and resort operators, the focus has been on volume rather than enhancing what is essentially a specialised sport.
Plane-seats, hotel rooms, beachside animations and excursions have been the mainstay of these corporate giants, and attempts at forcing the beginner dive-training industry into an image of its larger self hasn’t worked.
The “intro” dive, while satisfying the operators’ volume quotas, further removes the acquisition of skill, leaving just a momentary glimpse of life under water while securely attached to an instructor.
Because of the social, travel and community nature of scuba-diving it is also full of frills, attractions and diversions from achieving what really matters… the true mastery of neutral buoyancy control.
In many quarters the industry has sacrificed independence to unity, value to cost, quality to speed and professionalism to package.
The image they see around them is the product of ideals that have demanded more sacrifices at each successive disaster. High-quality resort diving is now a shadow of its former self.
The VIP luxury resort sector is also frequently oblivious to the elephant in the pool. While smart staff uniforms, good manners, polished service skills and reduced class sizes are marketed and welcomed in these gold-plated environments, neutral-buoyancy skill development can still be subjected to the Sixty Second Challenge.
I was once asked to supply a luxury resort’s dive-centre with an 18-litre scuba tank because its heavy-breathing billionaire diving guest was a demanding and valued customer.
I explained that its bulkiness was likely to cause yet more excessive air consumption. It’s a bit like running out of oil and using a longer dipstick.
The last time I saw any of these monsters, they were strapped to the back of world-record-breaking deep divers. “How about you teach him to dive properly?”
“We’re a 5* resort and we always give the guests what they ask for.”
The tail wagged the dog; two industries under one roof; room service competing with specialised instructional sports advice – a grey area?
It’s big and grey all right!
Visiting divers, in these circumstances, experience but a snapshot of what’s possible on their one-week diving holidays.
They might experiment on-the-fly with weighting, trim and position, only to crack it on the final day before flying home.
This is in blatant contrast to their guides, who flawlessly glide and hover motionless throughout the dive before surfacing with near-half-full tanks.
Are they gifted? Do they walk with the gods? Can they impart just a little of their heavenly knowledge during those multi-hour surface intervals?
The industry is still largely responsible for not only turning out thousands of divers who can’t dive properly but sustaining their continued lack of quality with props, diversions, illusions and little willingness to intervene and improve the status quo. So who is to blame?
No one and… everyone.
The offender is a mindset, a viral belief even, not an individual or entity that might accept or reject that mindset. If time and direct input is devoted to the problem, the results will show.
The solution requires nothing new. No gizmos, gadgets or “special training”. The professionals, agencies, dive-centres and equipment already exist and are well structured to provide the solution. All they have to do is… their job.
Unearned certification represents abdication of the responsibility that is the professional core of nearly any other field of education and training.
The alignment of agencies that don’t put neutral buoyancy development at the forefront, instructors who simply follow the printed word and decades of unsuspecting customers has created the perfect storm of cognitive dissonance, grand-scale Stockholm syndrome and perhaps the longest example of psychologist Solomon Asch’s Conformity experiment ever.
The result is a tightly woven tapestry of monumental illusion with few noticing that the aquatic Emperor really has no clothes. Scuba’s equivalent of “The Big Short”? It’s taken a very big shortie to keep this elephant insulated for so long.
Despite attempts to shoehorn dive training into the same buying process as Amazon orders, an entry-level scuba course that you can now “add to basket” is a service, not a product.
It might have an identical name and technical script to that offered elsewhere but its method of delivery and execution can be worlds apart.
If the existing gatekeepers have failed, the job falls to those who have already seen the elephant, whether they’re agencies, dive-centres or individual professionals. But is it all worth it?
In my long experience, here’s what happens when divers develop great buoyancy control:
• They feel good. Great diving experiences are not just about seeing, they’re about being.
• Their sense of safety and control is elevated; their air consumption drops.
• They dive more often, spend more, are easier to manage and less stressed.They tell others.
• You can take them to more interesting and exciting dive-sites. The underwater environment improves.
• They recognise value against cost. They’ll support your business.
Those outside the industry need to be presented with the information that lets them know they have a choice, what that choice is and who can deliver it. It’s not difficult and I believe all divers are entitled to it.
The elephant never forgets but after 20 frustrating years it’s getting rather impatient.
I think it’s time to drain the pool.