I’d venture the pandemic turns out to be a good thing for diving. No, I haven’t had a stroke, bear with me on this.
First off: are you a diver or a cert?
I’d venture, if you’re actually reading any of my drivel, you’re a diver. Or you’re one of a little handful of old friends who won’t give up hope that I might one day post something that is, in any way, relevant to non-diving life. Or you’re my dad.
You certainly know certs. You met them at parties or around the water cooler. They’re the folks that say, “Oh, you’re a diver? Me too!” And then tell you about their last dive 7 years ago when they were on a cruise. They don’t own any gear, possibly even a mask. When left to their own devices they’d attach a BC to a tank both upside down, valve facing the wrong way, and (defying Euclidean geometry) inside out.
Some certs are a little more active than others. They’ll actually make a point of trying to get a dive in on family vacations. These folks may even wind up transitioning to being a diver one day.
Divers, as you well know, are a very different breed. To a cert - diving is a thing that might be done. To a diver - diving is a thing that must be done.
Of course you own your own gear; you’ve got a list as long as the line at the DMV of even more shit you’re planning to buy. Possibly risking bankruptcy to do so. You don’t sneak away for a single dive during some vacations; you plan your vacations, sometimes years ahead of time, to dive-specific destinations.
Divers are lifers. Certs, to risk sounding condescending, are dabblers.
They got their OW card, maybe even an AOW card, but don’t really think of diving as a skillset or even a hobby. It’s just a dauntingly expensive, but kinda fun thing to maybe do sometimes if they get around to it, hiring a DM to handhold them through a little adventure.
It is important to recognize that being a dabbler is OK. If that is your level of comfortable involvement, that’s cool. Diving isn’t for everyone. Certain types of diving aren’t even for everyone. I am not one of those poncey jerkoffs who thinks you need to either be a super-hardcore cave diver or go fuck yourself. As long as you’re safe about it: mazel tov.
(By way of warning, though, if you’re not some sort of a diver I will be super-confused and will find it really hard to make conversation. If I just wander away mid-sentence as you’re telling me about golf or curling or off-road unicycling or whatever else foolish thing you’re into it’s not because I dislike you or think ill of you... I’m just bored with not talking about diving.)
Of course certs have been affected by the pandemic, too. I don’t mean to imply, with what follows, that there is anyone on the planet who has had their heels kicked up over the past year thinking life is hunky-goddamn-dory. But as a diver: aren’t you just clawing at the bloody walls? Or possibly at the bottom of your bathtub, looking for fathomable water?
Divers being kept out of the water is a sin against the universe.
Nelly and I are lucky in a couple of ways. Both that we’ve made the odd life-choices that led us to live where and as we do, so we have rarely had long dry spells. But also that we have had the opportunity to make this place for people to come join us and share this thing we love. To have created a getaway for our community of fellows.
It has been a joy to see people arrive after their long dry spells. To see the relief wash over them as they make it, finally, back to a dive vacation, back to a diver’s natural habitat.
And while it’s delightful on a personal level, I’ve been noticing something else that pleases me as a professional. And it has me wondering whether, that twisted thought I started with, whether the pandemic has actually been good for the sport.
Not for the industry, mind you. It has broken my heart to hear the stories, which we will no doubt continue to hear for some time, of the people and shops which were already struggling in a difficult industry having to belt-tighten (sometimes, depressingly, beyond survival). There is a distinction between the industry and the sport.
The pandemic has filtered out the certs, hasn’t it? It’s not like booking a dive is going to be forefront on their minds for the foreseeable future. They’ve been daydreaming of off-road unicycling.
Meanwhile, you’ve been daydreaming about diving. Some of you have been daydreaming about coming to see me and Nelly, or any one of the other groovy operations here or in Florida. Some of you are daydreaming about the trip you have booked to the live aboard in Indonesia or the Red Sea. Or some shipwreck somewhere. Or your favorite dayboat in the Keys. Some of you delinquents are actually daydreaming about the quarry, and may god have mercy on your soul.
But all the while it’s diving. The normal lifestyle/obsession has kicked into overdrive, hasn’t it?
Sure, you’re all excited about having learned to make sourdough. And your new worm compost bin is doing great. And you’ve even managed to finally throw away all those empty paint cans in the shed. But it’s all just a distraction from diving in the end.
Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
There are two consequences of this, as pertains to our thing.
Just as the certs have been filtered out, for the time being at least, the divers have redoubled their efforts. Discussions seem to be more focused on technique and skills refinement these days. Not just which new gizmo that goes BEEP to buy.
Unable to practice it is like folks are meditating more and more on what they would like to be practicing; escaping to their happy place, imagining every detail of their favorite dives, and being the best diver they possibly can be in their little mind-palace. Being dry sucks, but using that dry time to mentally focus on improvement is a great use of time.
Yeah, everyone bickers on the internet, frequently about bollocks, but despite the frayed nerves of our interesting times, it feels (to me anyway) that what people are talking about is how it’s going to be when they can dive again. And it’s going to be awesome. Of course it is after so many months of dry gills.
Focus. Not being able to dive has drawn into focus how important it is to us all and how worthy it is of being done properly. And it’s given us all the perspective to focus our thinking about it.
Which leads to the second consequence of the pandemic-enforced absence, perhaps, being a good thing for the sport.
XOC-Ha is getting busy. Sure, we’re just two mutants with a little spot in the jungle, but over the next year we’ve got a lot of folks scheduled. I’m sure operations bigger than we are have armies of divers scheduled. Travel restrictions will, inevitably, ease. As more and more people can finally start going to do the thing they’ve been daydreaming about non-stop for a year (while they’re feeding the sourdough starter) it is hard to imagine that it will be anything other than floodgates opening.
(It’s my hope this will be in time to rescue those businesses and pros who are just barely keeping their heads above water.)
The people pouring through those floodgates will have been meditating long and hard on how to be a better diver. But now a bit rusty, they may want a little coaching or guidance or, perhaps, a bit of instruction. Maybe they can finally take a class they’ve been putting off or have been waiting for the right time.
In any case, the potential outcome of all this, is to have a resultant tighter, better-trained and practiced community of divers. A global community that slogged through a parched hell together and came out the other side able to hold a stable position in the water without kicking the fuck out of sea-fans.
Just maybe, a better, more desirable community to the certs. A community representative of a sport worth pursuing as a well-practiced skillset, not simply a one-time Instagram photo-op.
Here’s an incentive: if we could turn more certs into divers - proper divers - you would get to stop listening to the crusty old-timer at your shop grumble ceaselessly through a fug of cigarette smoke about how the sport is dying.
With good training, focused practice, time, and experience diving gets easier and easier.
For divers: most have had a lot of time to think about all that, even if the thoughts haven’t been articulated just so. And they’re raring at the swim step to manifest those thoughts.
For certs: it’s further down the line, but we could be even better models of what they could be enjoying. Instead of whatever stupid shit they only think they’re enjoying now. There is no question the pandemic has changed things. Perchance we can take advantage of the opportunity to make sure it's a change for the better.
Cover photo of a tiny light in the darkness by SJ.