Ask technical instructors what skill you need to go from recreational diving to technical diving and the common answer is “hover.” It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your new harness or rebreather, if you can’t maintain a stop or stay off the bottom then your introductory technical courses won’t be successful.
Part of your instructor’s job in the course to teach
Now, with that said, it’s part of your instructor’s job in the course to teach and not just evaluate but course prerequisites do expect a certain level of skills. For Intro to Tech or TDI Sidemount you’re learning new equipment and, no matter your skill set entering the course, your buoyancy will take a step back. Part of those courses is an introduction to the equipment in a controlled environment, to work out comfort and trim characteristics, then moving back to open water to dial buoyancy down to a predictable science.
At higher level courses the instructor may expect you to enter the course with certain abilities, such as hovering in full equipment +-1ft. That implies you have learned that skill during a previous course or through previous experience and should start the course with that previous skill set in place. This will be clearly communicated by the instructor before the course and should be demonstrated on the first dive.
Buoyancy control has to be controlled and predictable, in any situation
Regardless of whether it’s an evaluation aspect of a course or a taught aspect: buoyancy control has to be controlled and predictable, in any situation. Buoyancy control shouldn’t be done until it works. It should be practiced until it can’t be done wrong. At the technical level, the diver needs to be able to hold position no matter what. Mask strap breaks and gets lost? Don’t change depth when you deploy your backup. Catastrophic gas loss? Do those valve drills without changing depth.
Buoyancy should be innate, at any level of diving.
Maybe for certain commercial purposes, negative buoyancy is preferable but that’s the exception, not the norm. Expert buoyancy control isn’t exclusive to diving in doubles or a rebreather in a cave. This is a scuba skill, not a specialized super-secret-technical diver skill. It becomes directly disastrous to the diver’s health when diving in overhead and decompression environments.
Diving can and does have disastrous effects on the environment.
Our coral reefs are in enough danger: we don’t need fins and boots furthering that problem. Even taking the environment out of the picture having a steady position in the water column is objectively easier for locomotion, buddy awareness, not crashing into things and enjoyment. It’s not easy to enjoy the awesome seahorse if you’re bouncing up and down or scaring it off by crashing into its habitat.
So that brings us to trim.
You can’t talk about fried liver without talking about onions, which is… kind of analogous to this. Trim is one part skill one part equipment. Yes, you can twist and turn your body to get trim in pretty much any gear but subconscious trim is only achievable in gear that’s fine tuned to the individual diver. Being horizontal gives you the least drag and provides for the easiest locomotion. Proper trim keeps your fins from contact with the bottom, even when inching in for tight macro shots of sea life. Trim is often touted as too hard for everyone and not useful outside of caves. That’s an antiquated excuse from a time period when gear balancing was impossible and diving was about being a big strong macho man. Trim is easy, balanced gear is accessible and buoyancy control can be taught early and effectively.
Who cares about buoyancy? Everyone! Buoyancy control is a dive skill, not exclusive to any particular class.
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