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Go Team, Go!

Same ocean diving. That is frequently what I feel up against for the first few days of technical classes, the fact that very nearly everyone, in their early dive career, gets very used to and comfortable with same ocean diving.

While solo diving not only does happen at the technical level there are even some (remarkably rare) circumstances where it is prefered. Diving as a part of a cohesive and communicative team is far, far prefered.

But often new and unusual to people.

The vast majority of recreational diving happens on reefs, following a guide in a group. You might have a nominal dive buddy that you swim, perhaps, near to that the rest of the group and you show eachother a neat fish. But generally eyes are on the divemaster, communication of important information (time, depth, gas) happens with the divemaster who is also looking after everyone else in the group, too.

What's more, the divemaster may be some way away. As may be your buddy. But when visibility is good, the ocean is big, and it's oh so much easier (when, for everyone in the large group, holding position might be a challenge) to spread out so everyone has plenty of room.

You're not really part of a team.

When that is what you have grown totally accustomed to it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock when you start technical training and, all of the sudden, here's yet another thing that you need to completely unlearn and reframe your thinking about.

Usually it comes pretty quickly.

But here's why I'm thinking about this today: when shit goes south, people will fall back on what they know best - what they've practiced most.

If someone is new to technical diving, or they dive at this level infrequently, or they simply don't continue to practice solid teamwork consistently at every level (even when they're reef bimbling) they run the very real risk of becoming a useless team member when it is needed most: when there has been a failure or series of failures.

A person might revert back to the mentality by which they had been diving for all that time and fall back on, "Get back to the surface, get the the surface, get out, get out, get out." Poorly responding to the increased stress of a situation, they might abandon their buddy in even a perfectly manageable situation.

Instead of what they should be doing, which is calmly pooling team resources in terms of equipment, attention, and number of hands to ensure that the entire team can make a calm, measured exit from the environment.

So how far away from your buddy do you swim? Under what circumstance would you make the decision to abandon them? How frequently - and using what communication - do you check in with one another? And what information is exchanged? With new people do you discuss all of this before getting in the water?

I frequently saw new divers on boats have these sorts of conversations. I, myself, did as a brand new diver. What I usually found, with insta-buddies, was that they'd roll their eyes about being stuck with a newbie and treat my desire to have a good pre-dive conversation as a waste of time. So, to seem all cynical and world-weary and awesome myself I abandoned the practice. I imagine this is why almost all new divers abandon the practice.

Then I'd find (still as a new diver) that when we got in the water my more experienced buddies would pay me no mind whatsoever. We could more or less see eachother and, of course, we could always go the the surface if there was a problem. So, likewise, I started behaving the same way; because I was a good diver, too.

I was wrong.

I was falling into a bullshit treatment of teamwork (or non-teamwork, really) that represents a perfect example of how just because everyone is doing it doesn't make it right.

Here's a fun exercise a buddy recently showed me and that I've incorporated into my classes when I have someone who is struggling to understand the importance of being near your buddy, ready to render assistance:

Measure out a distance of 30 or 40 feet. Calmly stand in one place. Calm yourself, slow your breathing. Then hyperventilate for a few seconds (do NOT overdo the hyperventilation lest you risk fainting). Now take a great big breath and hold it. Calmly walk your measured distance. When you reach the end, turn around and walk back. Count the number of times you can walk back and forth before you absolutely have to take a breath.

Now... Go back to your starting point. Jog in place for 30 seconds. At second 30 immediately exhale everything and start to walk your measured distance. See how far you get.

If you actually run out of gas (the only true emergency in diving) which do you think is going to be the likelier analogy. Calm, cool, collected, low CO2 loading, low heartrate, great big breath to get you to your buddy? Or elevated heartrate having just exhaled and then trying to pull a breath out of a dead regulator.

We all practiced that dumb CESA in our open water class. It's an interesting exercise in physics. But, again, chances are that you are not ascending exhaling a full lungful. Chances are that you are anxious and out of breath the whole way. (Oh, and probably swimming against being negative and overweighted, but that's another story.)

Now how far do you think you should be from your buddy at all times? Even in open water.

And wouldn't it make more sense for recreational instructors to instill the idea of teamwork from the beginning? Wouldn't it make sense for divemasters to act simply as a guide for strong buddy teams who are tending to themselves instead of needing to be shepherded?

Even if it’s just to have someone there to tell you your backup light is on or that you have things hanging out of your pocket, things that even the best diver in the world might miss, simply because they can’t see behind them...

Wouldn't it be valuable that all divers think of teamwork itself as a skill to be practiced and honed so that it's not something that needs to be learned on top of so many other skills... or worse, abandoned when it most counts?

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