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Tangled up in Blue

It’s not his fault.

Presumably he thinks he has been well-trained. In the last year of his life he has certainly overcome a wide variety of skills and equipment challenges. And, in overcoming them, feels more confident and prepared as a diver. Confident enough to look after people and guide them in the sport. Perhaps even help them get squared away as a sidemount diver. Because, in issuing these certifications, his instructors told him that he should.

It’s not even his instructors’ fault.

Presumably they didn’t just cut cards. Benefit of the doubt: they instructed him to the best of their ability. They followed the standards and they trained him how they had been taught to train him. They helped him configure his complex sidemount gear the way they had been shown to configure their own. And when they were ready to sign off on their student they felt a little professional pride seeing him in the water having grown from when they first worked with him.

A few years ago Nelly and I were on her cousin’s liveaboard in the Red Sea. I was doing deco and watching some tomfoolery unfolding above me on another dive boat moored nearby. Three people on sidemount; leaving aside the whole sidemount off a boat argument, their gear fit like crap, hoses were everywhere, tanks were everywhere, just a complete goddamn mess.

It took me a few minutes to work out what was going on: it was a class. One of those three swimming chandeliers was an instructor teaching the other two how to “manage” the spiderweb of absurdity they’d willingly donned.

During my years overseeing dive operations at the Aquarium I had the conversation at least a half-dozen times, “No, you may not dive sidemount here. It’s 8 feet of water and you will definitely scuff the exhibit glass.”

It’s hard to say sidemount is a fad. Because it is a legitimately useful tool. Beanie babies were a fad (yeah, the most recent fad I can muster, I’ve reached that age where I legit don’t know what the kids are doing these days).

It’s kinda like how wearing 10 swatch watches in the 80s was a fad. Yeah, a watch is tool... but you’re doing it wrong and you look ridiculous. Or, perhaps, it’s like if everyone decided to start carrying an 18v drill around, holstered in their pocket at all times... just in case.

So whose fault is this mess? If not the kid, who doesn’t know any better? If not the instructors who think they know better, but don’t know that they don’t? The agencies who should know better, but need to leave room for regional and situational variance? The manufacturers who keep churning out and marketing dumb stuff?

Nope. It’s us. The community as a whole.

Because we sell and buy and teach and learn that dumb stuff. We’re a market for the dumb stuff. We look at this on a dive boat and shrug. Even weirder, we’ve created the sort of culture where it’s difficult to talk about.

Can you imagine going to some dive master and trying to, even in the politest and most non-confrontational way imaginable, explain that their gear could use a bit of... refinement?

I’ve had that conversation. It usually doesn’t go well.

We’ve created this environment of alpha-dog certainty in what our instructors have told us or that we have sorted out on our own that demands an unwavering commitment.

So what I’m suggesting is not to come up with a solution for this kid. I’ve blacked out most of the identifying info because it’s not just about this kid. This sort of display of the unknown unknowns happens every day the world over. It’s all of us.

What I’m suggesting is to think about how maybe some of the things you think you know... you don’t.

And if you’re looking at this picture and thinking, “I don’t see the problem,” you and I need to talk about YOUR gear configuration.

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