“Everyone at the shop dives Mares because it’s the best.” “The best thing about PADI certifications are they’re recognised all over the world.”
“You really have to attach your Octo using one of these things, it’s the only safe way.” “Ugh… split fins? Really?” “You have to dive sidemount, it’s the only way.” “You have to dive backmount, it’s the only way.” There’s this broad, muddied, subjective line between offering valid advice and being a pedantic git. As an instructor and guide it’s a bog full of mines I navigate frequently.
In my role as an instructor, for the most part, I’ll tell people, “For at least this week, you’re going to do it my way.” Gauges are going to go where I think they belong. Everything extra gets stowed in pockets. Hoses get routed as efficiently as I’ve seen on various regs. “Trust me, I’ve done this before, and I will explain the reasons behind absolutely everything. If you decide you like some other way better later, that’s fine.”
As a guide, however, I start every visit by telling folks, “I’ll be as full of advice or keep my mouth shut as much as you like. As long as whatever you’re wearing and doing is safe, I’m OK with it.”
Many of our guests have enjoyed the advice. Some folks may listen, but decide not to follow for whatever reason. And every once in a while there is someone who has been doing things the way they like, a way that works for them, and they’re not terribly interested in change. To date I haven’t had any problems with people being intractable about something serious. One week we had a guest who has been teaching cave diving for longer than I’ve been alive. Gear was all configured according to some very old philosophies. Other than some advice on how to deal with a halocline (which they’d never really contended with before) there wasn’t a hell of a lot of advice I had to offer. Another week we had some guests who have their gear configured in a way that I think, frankly, is completely daft. Weird bolt snaps all over the place. Weights on sidemounted 80s. Reg hoses pointed every which way. A harness cobbled together from pieces of other harnesses. But that’s the way they like things and there was zero safety issue for me to point to, so that’s the way they happily dove things. I tend to be wary of people who have The Answer. Obstinate certainty is the hallmark of religious fanatics and salesmen. But therein lies the real trick. Is when I DO see something that needs to be corrected before we get in the water. Here’s an example that lays in knee-deep mud in the no-mans-land between valid advice and git-ness: Person shows up with their backmounted regs configured so that the wing inflator was coming off the left post. “Why is that there?” says I. “Oh. Uh… I dunno. That’s just where it’s always been.” “Alright. There is an argument to have it there. But there is a better argument to having it on the right post and here are the reasons why,” I outlined why inflation is typically from the right post. “So if you want to keep it there,” I concluded, “That’s cool. But have a good reason. Because people will ask. And they will be shitty about it.” After two or three dignity days they wound up moving the hose to the right post.
An example closer to the valid advice side of the line: Person has a particular type of reel that has a tendency to easily come unlocked clipped to their ass.
“You really should put that in a pocket. Or just leave it behind,” says I. “It’s my safety reel, but there’s no room in my pocket.” “Sooner or later it’s going to come undone in the middle of a dive and it’s going to be your danger reel.” Wanna take a guess of what happened that very dive? When we turned the dive we discovered that the danger reel had paid out about 100 feet of loose line all over the cave behind us. I like to think I don’t have stories of me being a doctrinaire, demanding an adherence to my way simply because I know my way is best. Although I suppose everyone would prefer to think that of themselves. Some folks do display a tendency to see the line as a bit wider that it actually is. Periodically some picture of someone who is just an utter goddamn trainwreck shows up on the internet and people get sometimes rightly (sometimes a bit overly meanly) critical of it all. There follows the inevitable cry, "What difference does it make as long as they're having fun?" It does make a difference, though. Because do you really think someone who has so little regard to their gear, buoyancy, trim, or skills is is going to make sober judgments to avoid a situation from which they can extricate themselves? Are they actually capable of self-rescue, much less a team rescue? Fun is great and all... but safety first. In these cases accusing someone who may know better of simply being an authoritarian or an absolutist is to be a bit overly forgiving. There are things I like and things I don’t. For years I’ve been picking and choosing through the various training methodologies and gear configurations of countless instructors and mentors and team-mates. Not being much of a joiner, I don’t have access to any unified truths reached by consensus. And not having to run a retail shop or act as any sort of brand spokesman, I don’t have anything I need to sell as the best thing on the market. (Well, I do have something of a financial interest in selling XOC-Ha… but even there, it would be foolish not to concede that are lots of fantastic places to stay and people to learn from or be guided by in this area. I lack the audacity to insist, “We’re number one!”)
Don’t be a dogmatic pain in the ass. Everyone likes to be right (no shit: when you feel you’re right your brain floods with dopamine… so you can actually be addicted to being right) but just because people do shit differently than you doesn’t mean they’re wrong. And just because there's a bunch of you who agree, doesn't mean you're any more right: there are a whole lot of people out there who think the Earth is flat. Or do be a dogmatic pain in the ass. Whatever. I'm not your boss, nor do I want to be. I guess some people dig dogma and they deserve joy in their approach to the sport, too. Which is why shops that are full of completely crap equipment and Amphibious Outfitters t-shirts stay in business. And why the UTD Z Manifold is a thing.