Among the constant surprises that accompany the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new dive season are the number of divers who seem totally unprepared to dive!
Most of us – especially those who live in places where winter temperatures dip below “I’m comfortable standing outside dressed in a light hoodie and long pants” – take some sort of hiatus from regular diving during the cooler months. While it’s perfectly fine to drop out of the groove for a few weeks or even a few months, a common mistake seems to be thinking that a break like this does not have any effect on our abilities. Simply put, it’s unrealistic to think we can pick up the pace and intensity exactly where we left off.
While it may be a little late to suggest a New Year’s Resolution, perhaps it’s a good time to think seriously about making a few New Dive Season Resolutions. Here are some suggestions of what to add to your list.
Your first resolution should be to start the new season in better physical shape and a positive frame of mind.
It’s said that to be successful at technical diving we have to balance the physical aspects of the sport with the mental challenges that go along with them. So it follows that any “workout” regimen that exercises both will have its benefits.
A good starting point is to get an all clear for diving from your family doctor. The Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) recommends that divers get an annual physical from a health professional familiar with the rigors of diving and diving medicine. This may be a tall order for the rank and file, but it is a good plan to tell your doctor or nurse practitioner (or whoever is running your tests for you) the type of activities your diving entails. This will include lifting heavy gear, swimming against high flow and current, cold, sun, etc.
DAN medics are constantly researching ways to keep divers a little safer; one study being carried out in Europe is worth noting, especially for those of us with a few miles on our treads.
As we age, one ‘side-effect’ is that our blood vessels become less elastic. This is thought to be a factor in several issues including heart disease. Diving, and the resultant increase in nitrogen partial pressure, also has a temporary effect on the elasticity of a diver’s blood vessels, similar to the aging process. Therefore, diving – especially deep diving — may exacerbate any pre-existing health condition related to this issue. While there’s a fair amount of speculation informing the advice, it seems like a great additional check for those with either a pre-existing condition, a high-risk profile, or those who are simply older, to have some form of stress test to help identify any factors that might come into play while participating in technical dives.
Of course, an active lifestyle, regular exercise and a health-conscious diet all help to keep us in shape for diving, especially when local conditions make it hard to keep our fins wet for weeks or months at a time.
Any aerobic activity is recommended (given the OK from your doctor), but certainly one of the best is swimming. Most divers enjoy the water – now that’s not a surprise, is it? – and many find that a regular date at the local pool helps to maintain and increase cardio-vascular fitness. Pool time is also invaluable to work on scuba skills. Check to see if your local SDI/TDI facility opens its pool to customers or dive club members during the less active dive months, or if there are club dates for the local municipal pool; even a couple of hours in the water can help keep skills “game ready.”
Maintaining mental “match fitness” may sound a little more challenging, but staying physically active is something recommended by the medical profession. Of course, one of the mental challenges divers have to be ready and “in shape” for is staying focused and coming up with the right solution – or at the very least a workable one – when something hits the fan at depth. We can simulate this type of event – which seems to help when the real thing rears its ugly head – but when we are not actually diving, what’s a viable alternative?
The role and positive contribution of “targeted visualization” to help competitive athletes in this regard is widely accepted, and although technical diving is not an Olympic sport, we can certainly gain some pointers from pro sportsmen and women.
Visualization coupled with familiarity with our kit really does help maintain a mental edge. Sitting on the sofa watching TV while doing regulator switches and practicing bailout procedures might get you locked up in some states – or at least locked out of the bedroom if your significant other is a non-diver – however, several well-known technical instructors swear by the benefits of “dry-land role playing” during inactive and active dive periods. The thinking is that it helps to maintain muscle memory and a deep, lasting familiarity with the configuration and position of one’s kit. All of which may help to sway the outcome in the diver’s favor when something fails at depth.
Speaking of equipment and failure, one of the most useful things to do to get ready for the upcoming season is to make the effort to maintain and prepare every piece of kit in your dive locker while there’s some slack time.
In addition to making arrangements for tanks, regulators, and anything else that requires at least an annual check by a factory certified or qualified tech, this is a great time to cast a critical eye over every o-ring, hose, valve and connector on your rig (even cave line, cable ties and the like need replacing occasionally). Replace anything that looks worse for wear, lubricate everything that needs it, and get the voltmeter out to check on batteries and fuel cells to find out how well they’ve done on their holidays.
Finally, if you do not currently use a checklist to help your gear assembly, gear packing, and pre-dive procedures, consider developing one, or download ours here >SDI-Diver-Checklist. The value of a physical checklist to aid CCR divers has been well-documented and well-promoted following Rebreather Forum 3.0 held in Orlando last May, and now several technical diving professionals are calling for open-circuit divers to follow suit.
The TDI pre-dive check, START*, goes part-way to meeting a basic need, but there is value in creating a personal checklist for packing and assembly now during a dry spell to help eliminate that sinking feeling when you arrive at a dive site missing a vital piece of kit. Even something as simple as making a note of the basic hand-signals used in technical diving, and having that as a printout to share with your buddies, would be a smart move.
A smart man once said that the secrets to success are to Plan, to Organize, to Check and Check Again. And as simple as that may sound, it’s a great policy to adopt if you’re looking for the simplest way to get yourself and your kit ready to take advantage of what looks like the best year ever for great diving.
Dive safe and dive often!
*START is an acronym developed by TDI to remind divers to check: S-DRILL including a check to make sure that ALL regulators and inflators work, no hoses are trapped, everything is connected, and there are no bubbles where bubbles do not belong; TEAM, which is about team readiness and understanding of the full dive plan; AIR, which means gas volumes, gas limits and gas toxicity have all been taken into account; ROUTE, which is not just a call to identify safe entry and exit points, but also to plan the dive around a series of waypoints to help keep it on course; and TIME, which is a final check on the dive and ascent schedule as well as contingencies.
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