A diver's guide to surviving the pandemic

By: Aziz Khan “Sinbad”

We are divers in the age of an evolving pandemic. The world has changed and we are changing accordingly. We used to be an industry that was built around tropical vacations, but then airlines stopped, borders got shut down and international tourism froze.

Still, America should not have been hit as badly as it did. After all, we are a nation of 2.6 million active divers that are geographically surrounded by over 95,000 miles of coastline, so why should any of this affect us? Still, our local dive industry took a hit.

There were flaws in which diving was being marketed prior to Covid. Pick up any scuba magazine and it is assumed that we all are looking to fly to the next far-off tropical destination. From the gear that was advertised to the places that were featured, we imagined diving to be something distant, something expensive, and something 100 feet vis! True, Covid took that away from a lot of us, but there was still 95,000 miles of coastline! So what happened?

As an irrepressible optimist, I truly believe that there are some lessons that Covid tried to teach us. At this point, there is no formal course out there or a publication or webinar that will teach these lessons, but if we were to accept adversity itself as our teacher, then the five lessons would be as follows:

1. Purchase a drysuit

The United States alone has more than 95,000 miles of coastline to it and that coastline is really worth seeing. It is home to giant kelp forests, wolf eels, otters, and other critters that have evaded the tropical diver. For inland divers, there are countless quarries and lakes to be explored. But sometimes, comfortably exploring some of these incredible places means first investing in a drysuit.

A good drysuit can cost around the same as (if not less than) your international dive trip, but that investment may open up miles and miles of diving, closer to home, on a much more frequent basis. For the wetsuit divers, diving is often a vacation whereas to the drysuit divers, it is a lifestyle.

2. Invest in long term training

One of the longest and the most productive courses I took was my TDI Introduction to Technical Diving. By the time it was over, my proficiency was at a different level. Those days-after-days of drills that we did in the local quarry remain one of the most productive diving experiences I have ever had. A lot of times, the purpose of diving is not to see something but to “be” something.

3. Pursue more advanced training

When the charter boats stopped running, we all waited for the world to return back to normal. Cave divers were still diving. Other technical and advanced sport divers were still diving. In times like those, types of diving that did not require boat transportation kept divers in the water. Covid made me personally realize that I wanted to be a cave diver.

4. Shore dive

During the days of Covid boredom, I decided to make a shore diving atlas of America.That 95,000 miles of coastline and the many fresh bodies of water meant that there were so many shore dives, from the Great Lakes and the shores of New England to Florida to the West Coast, with a whole lot of mines and quarries in between. Iit would take many lifetimes to fully explore these dive sites.  There were wrecks and reefs and lost towns that we had all been forgotten about in our quest for the next tropical adventure and had it not been for the Covid, I may never have learnt about them. Almost anyone can swim out from the shore, but to return safely to the same place may require some training and the SDI Shore and Beach Diving specialty with an instructor local to those places may be a good way to start.

5. Camp where you dive

While the hotel industry is slowly bouncing back, Covid taught many of us the value of a good tent and the pleasure of sleeping outside. It was cheap and easy and when we talk about the 95,000 miles of coastline that we are blessed with, a lot of those marvelous diving opportunities are only available to those who dare to leave the comfort of a good hotel room.

6. Take the Solo Diver course

I remember the days when this would not be a politically correct thing to suggest. Then certain safety procedures were developed and the SDI Solo Diver course trained divers to reduce the risk that is associated with solo diving. As the world is in the process of learning new political correctness, I would dare to suggest that Solo Diver training makes more sense today then it would have made if not for the pandemic.

The whole world is in the process of unlearning and relearning, and not all the lessons have been formalized yet. But, if we could collect bits and pieces of different peoples’ experiences during these strange times and what they all did to remain divers, then we can see that the pandemic has opened our eyes to many possibilities that were virtually at our feet that we just couldn’t see.

We were too busy staring at the horizon.

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