Sailing & Scuba
5 Tips for Being a Better Diver
By Hannah Tannenbaum, Broadreach HQ and PADI Scuba Instructor
If you know Broadreach, you know that we love to dive. We’ve been teaching scuba to teens for over 26 years, and love seeing a passion ignite when a student takes that first dive. Scuba diving can be challenging when first getting started. For those who may be new to the wonderful world of diving, here a are few pointers that will help your first dives be successful, fun and maybe even a little easier.
DON’T SWIM WITH YOUR ARMS
It’s a completely natural impulse to swim with your arms – that’s how we learn to swim, right? But, our arms are so inefficient at moving us underwater compared to our legs which have the advantage of fins to help us. Swimming with your arms will tire you out, cause you to use your air faster and prevent you from having good buoyancy control. Not to mention you are more likely to hit the reef and your buddy if you are swimming with your arms. Instead of holding your hands together or holding your arms at each elbow, try holding onto part of your BCD. It’s a lot easier to go from holding your hands to arm swimming than it is if you’re physically holding onto something. As soon as you stop swimming with your arms, your air consumption will improve and you will automatically start to slow down as you dive and enjoy diving more as you will have more control.
KICK WITH YOUR WHOLE LEG
Swimming with fins takes some getting used to. For many people who aren’t accustomed to using fins, their natural impulse is to kick from the knees. This reduces your power and control while diving because it causes you to only use about 2/3 of the length of your combined legs and fins. Instead, extend your kick to originate from the hip instead of from your knees. Your knees should still be relaxed and somewhat bent, but the power of your kick should come from the waist and hip area.
You may notices that many Divemasters and Instructors swim ‘frog-kicking.’ Give it a try! It makes you kick from your hips, and slows down your movements allowing for greater control and ease of swimming.
BREATHE SLOW, DEEP AND LONG
Once you get used to swimming using your legs and kicking from your hips, breathing slower, deeper and longer will come naturally because your movements have already become more deliberate. Breathing long, slow and deep is a skill that has to be consciously practiced. We’re used to not having to think about how we breathe, but having proper breath control while diving takes conscious effort to exercise control over our breath.
Remember that as you descend and are under more pressure, that pressure affects the volume of your lungs. If your breath is shallow and rapid at the surface and as you descend, you won’t be able to maximize your lung capacity at a greater depth. Start thinking about your breath as soon as you put your regulator in your mouth to begin your descent.
To start, practice counting to seven on both your inhale and your exhale out of the water. Your entire breath should take fourteen seconds. You should be sipping the air not gulping. Remember that if you can count to seven on the inhale and exhale out of the water, you can do it in the water too, it just takes being conscious and thinking about your breath underwater.
When I was a new diver, I found that singing underwater helped me to use the full volume of my breath. Be advised – people can hear you when you are singing underwater, and it has caused my fair share of embarrassment over the years. The singing probably doesn’t help as much as it just makes you aware of how you are breathing. Once you start thinking about your breath as you dive, it allows you to have better control, and gradually with practice, becomes one less thing you have to think about underwater.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE PROPERLY WEIGHTED
Determining your proper weighting is a skill. Most instructors will overweight their students during the open water course (as they should) so they’ll be able to kneel on the bottom and do skills, and a new diver shouldn’t have to stress out about staying down. However, many people continue to dive with the same amount of weight after their open water course, or use matrixes to determine weighting based on height and weight. Being over-weighted will put extra strain on your body, make all of your movements more strenuous and cause you to breathe heavier and more rapidly. Having proper weighting will allow you to move more easily, breath more slowly and just generally help you exercise more control over your body.
Improve your weighting incrementally. If you deflate your BCD and sink rapidly underwater, you are over-weighted, so try taking off just 2 lbs. If you are nervous about being underweighted, ask a Divemaster or Instructor to bring the extra weight for you just in case.
If you are properly weighted, you should have to exhale hard to descend at the start of the dive, and you should be able to ascend at the end of your dive using only your breath.
Proper weighting is a lifelong process – it is an aspect of your diving that can always be improved and refined, and is also very dependent on where you are diving, the type of exposure suit, and the water temperature. I had been diving for 8 years before a dive instructor suggested to me that I was over weighted. I dropped 2lbs and was amazed what a difference it made immediately. I now dive with half the weight I dove with for those 8 years, even though now I am larger than I was as a teenage diver. Even now, I still continue to work on refining my weighting to improve my dive skills.
There are so many amazing things to see while scuba diving, from tiny jumping cleaner shrimp to the colorful swooping parrot fish, it can be hard to be conscious of yourself and your body underwater in the face of all these beautiful stimuli. Personal awareness is about having an understanding yourself throughout the entirety of the dive.
Throughout the dive, you should have an understanding of where your body is relative to the reef and relative to the other divers. You should also know your normal rate of air consumption – at depths less than 60 feet (I normally go through 1000psi per 20 minutes). This allows you to see your own progress, or to identify if something is wrong – if you go through your air much slower, why? Was it a very shallow dive, or have you stopped swimming with your arms. If you go through your air faster, why? Did you go deeper than planned, or is there something leaking on your equipment, or maybe you saw a shark and your breath became faster and heavier for a bit. As you learn to recognize these things, you can start to control them more.
Sharks have this super cool physiological characteristic called their idiosphere (self-sphere). Their bodies have pressure sensors throughout them, so they are always aware of their body relative to other objects or organisms. This is why a shark “bump” is a misnomer – all of their movements are controlled and deliberate. Be like a shark!
Think about your idiosphere when you go diving. Try to visualize your idiosphere as you think about your buoyancy skills, and your personal awareness will improve immediately.
If you want to go above and beyond, extend the personal awareness to buddy awareness too. Know where your buddy is during all parts of the dive, and know their normal rate of air consumption. This makes you a better diver, a better buddy, and will allow you relax and enjoy diving more once all of these skills become practiced and instinctual.