sidemount diver

Instructor Surfaces as a Sidemount Diver, Undeterred by Obstacles

By Phil Jennings

SDI instructor Shane Latham achieved his tech diving goals despite disability

I have been diving sidemount for almost ten years and I have been a sidemount instructor for nine years. During this time, I have had many students and from each student, I have taught there is always something to take away as an instructor.

January 2023, I received a call from SDI instructor Shane Latham, Shane is a very active instructor working in Puerto Galera, Philippines where he operates Dive Dojo. Shane told me he wanted to start his journey into technical diving and would like to begin by learning sidemount with me.

Due to Shane’s positive attitude, hard work ethic and ambition you wouldn’t think he lives with a disability he’s had since birth. As a diving instructor, he is as capable as any and this does not get in the way of his success as an instructor. Before we started the sidemount course I had my concerns and I was wondering to myself how we will conduct the course as sidemount is an equipment intensive activity. I searched first on the internet and asked other instructors for information on any other disabled technical divers. I couldn’t find anything.

I traveled to Puerto Galera in February of 2023 to start the course with Shane and his Divemaster student Kim.  We planned four days for the course with a combination of pool sessions and open water dives.

SIDEMOUNT CONFIGURATION

Day one, equipment configuration, followed by the late afternoon pool session went smoothly. Shane’s right hand isn’t fully mobile so I was worried about how he would be able to wrap the bungees around the tank valve on the right-hand side. Truth be told, it was not an issue and Shane was able to do it using his left hand. We then practiced skills such as valve shutdown drill which again posed no problems as Shane was able to simply use his left hand to shut down the right tank valve. Throughout the session, we encountered the same routine problems, such as forgetting to switch regs, buoyancy, proper kicking, etc but these were all easily overcome.

OPEN WATER EXECUTION

TDI SDI dive crewThe next couple of days we were diving in the ocean practicing boat entries and exits. Again, these were mastered very quickly by Shane. To enter the water from the boat, Shane needed assistance from the boat crew, however, this is quite normal for all students doing their first deep entry in sidemount configuration. We know that in sidemount, propulsion techniques and trim are fundamental skills and very important. Shane’s left leg is significantly shorter than his right which means he needs to adapt his finning techniques slightly. After a bit of practice, Shane’s finning was looking very stable, he was able to maintain efficient kicks in perfect horizontal trim.

At the end of each dive, the cumbersome task of storing the long hose was performed very well by Shane. This skill is usually performed at the safety stop/last deco stop of the dive so that when the divers surface they can easily hand off their tanks to the boat crew.  Shane stored away his 2-meter-long hose into the bands on the right tank with ease, some students find this skill quite tricky.

As we finished the last dive,  I was overcome with a strong feeling of admiration for Shane as not once did he use having a disability as an excuse or complaint. As an experienced instructor, I have heard other students complain about the extra effort accompanying a sidemount or other tech diving courses.

ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LEARNsidemount diver in ocean

In summary, diving is not black and white and with the right mindset, diving can be accessible to everyone. Working together as a team with students such as Shane will help me and other instructors. In the future, these experiences may broaden our minds and offer new ways of teaching courses. Shane is not just a wonderful instructor, he is an amazing person who is always upbeat, generous and friendly to everyone. Like I said ‘there is always something to take away as an instructor” and from Shane, I learned that almost all obstacles can be overcome. Shane will progress into more technical courses and achieve his goals, I wish him the best of luck!

Phil Jennings helps run the SDI Regional Office and is based in the Philipines.

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