The first time I had to guide another diver, I was nervous. It was part of my divemaster course and although there was only one student diver and my instructor, I still felt nervous and my usual self-imposed pressure to complete the task to a high standard. Although I had completed some 70 dives at that time, I had always just followed who had been in front of me. There was always a dive guide who knew their way around the dive site and all I had to do was follow. Sometimes this was fast, sometimes this was slow, it depended on the individual guide. They set the pace and I followed. I always listened to the dive briefing and looked at the map of the dive site but I never thought of it during the dive, I never really needed to. All I had to do was follow my dive guide, check my air and watch my buoyancy.
As my diver was a student, he had to complete some skills with our instructor before we undertook the tour component of his dive. We sat on the sandy bottom on our knees in around 6 metres of water whilst he went through the skills, flooding and clearing his mask, hovering with manual oral inflation, buddy breathing and a controlled emergency swimming ascent. By the time he had finished these skills we were ready to start our tour, lead by me. By now we had already been in the water around 15 minutes and our dive briefing had been some 20 minutes prior to entering the water so I took the lead nervously and somewhat blindly as my nerves made me forget the dive site map entirely. I glanced at my instructor who gave me a reassuring nod that I was at least heading in the right direction.
There was sand, sand and more sand. I assumed that we were not quite where the dive site started so I kept up a steady pace so we would get there and stop wasting our time on the sand. Yes, back then, I actually thought sand was a waste of time which I know now it’s not and at that point in time I forgot the whole saying about it being the journey and not the destination itself. Eventually we came across a solitary boulder and so I keep going, swimming across more sand, thinking that we must be close to the reef. Solitary boulders kept passing us by and other than passing fish, we were not really seeing anything. “Pretty boring dive site” I thought to myself. We continued like this for twenty minutes before the student was low on air and we had to end our dive.
Back on the boat, I over heard other customers talking about what they had seen. Blue spotted sting rays, garden eels, heaps of moray eels hiding in the rocks and even some cleaner shrimp who cleaned their finger nails for them. I didn’t see any of this. Actually, I had even forgotten that I should keep a look out for some of these creatures so focused was I on getting there.
My instructor pulled me aside for a debrief during our surface interval.
“How do you think that went?” she asked me.
“Not very good” was my response. “I didn’t feel very confident and we didn’t see much.”
She nodded at me. “You went too fast” she told me.
“Really?” I said. “I didn’t think it was too fast, although it was kind of hard to tell being in front.”
“No, you were going fast” she told me in her direct German way.
“Oh! Okay!” I exclaimed. “Well I was trying to find the reef, there was so much sand.”
“Yes but if you look at the dive site map you’ll remember that this site has mainly boulders and sand.” “Oops. I kind of forgot about that after we got in the water.”
And that was the first and last time I ever dived super fast and forgot about the dive site map.
Ever since I have been conscious of going slow. In fact, the more I dive, the more my pace has slowed unless of course the current dictates otherwise. You see, it is a different world underwater. Our eyes don’t see the same way that we see on land. Things look closer than they really are, our sight is often limited due to water particles reducing visibility, our peripheral vision is limited because we wear a mask, and many creatures camouflage themselves with their surrounding environment which means we have to look harder and let our eyes adjust before we can actually see them.
So having learned the need to go slow rather quickly as a novice divemaster, I am surprised to see many divemasters power around a dive site with their customers. Kick, kick, kick, swim, swim, swim, point at a fish and keep going. Rarely do they stop to look in holes and crevices to see if there are any special creatures there. Rarely do they look in and around different corals to see what might be hiding or lurking. Even more rarely do they take time to watch the sand and see what surprises lie in wait. They dive like they are on a mission to get there and with little curiosity of the world around them from what I observe.
Some times the speed diving of these divemaster is a blessing to me, especially when many divers descend upon a dive site simultaneously or in quick succession as they will generally overtake me and be far out of my sight within a couple of minutes. I am most amused when they have not only overtaken me but also reached the end of a divesite and turned back when I am only half way along the site. Every time I wonder, “Did they stop and show their customers anything at all?”
Diving is not a race. It is not about trying to see a whole dive site in one dive unless you are attempting to draw a map of the site (which is rarely completed in one dive) or you are planning repeat dives and using the first dive as an orientation. Moving through the water too fast will cause you to burn more energy which causes you to breathe more and use up your limited air supply more quickly reducing the amount of time you can stay underwater. We dive with scuba units on our backs so that we can stay underwater for prolonged periods of time.
When I rush through the underwater world I miss, not all, but a lot of the beauty that surrounds me. I don’t see the tiny nail-sized nudibranch slithering along a boulder because I passed it at break-neck speed. I don’t see the black and white zebra moray eel hiding under the rock because I didn’t take the time to look. I don’t see the blue-spotted sting ray buried under the sand with it’s eyes visible, a tell-tale marker of what hides below. I see the puffer fish hovering in the water but I don’t see how it is enjoying being cleaned by a small cleaner wrasse nibbling at its body. And I don’t see the little goby on the sand, standing alert and on guard whilst it’s shrimp partner works in the hole behind him because I have already approached too quickly and scared both of them into hiding.
When I rush through the water, I feel the movement of water gush around me and I feel my own power as I raise and lower my fins and glide through the water but I don’t get to fully experience and appreciate the joy of being neutrally buoyant, the way my body is perfectly suspended by the water particles around me when I have perfected the balance between my weight and breath or how the feeling of being one with the water, as if my body doesn't exist and I am nothing but a breathing spirit. When I rush through the water, I am on a mission and my mind somewhere else.
When I slow down, I see more of the beauty around me. When I slow down, I give my body time to feel the joy of seeing different creatures and amazing underwater landscape around me. When I slow down I feel the awe from realising again and again that such wonder exists in our world. When I slow down, I enjoy being in the water so much more.