My boss at the Aquarium had learned to dive in the 60s. Trained by NAUI in California when diving was still in its infancy, he fell in love with the underwater world quickly and started diving for fun, for dinner, for work, and for a lifetime.
The other day I got to spend some time with a pioneer of technical diving who reported a similar story. There was one set of details in particular that their stories shared and which caught my attention.
Sea Hunt and Cousteau.
These popular media captured the imagination of, seemingly, an entire generation. Arguably inspiring the birth of the sport by tantalizing thrill seekers into something safely dangerous and aesthetes into a gorgeous, alien world.
Where did it go wrong?
When did recreational diving get sanitized into something your grandma does?
Was it simply because that first generation are grandparents now and they are still diving because diving is still awesome?
Was it a shortsighted, concerted effort by agencies, manufacturers, and shops to keep playing to the older demographic because they have money, instead of the next generation who would have to scrape by for entry-level kit and training?
Was it because modern media about diving like The Cave or Into the Blue sucked?
Those early dive classes were so comprehensive, taking weeks or months. Arguably an Open Water diver certified in the 60s would be equivalent to a rescue diver now. However, in those early days of the sport’s evolution you didn’t have people on the internet dissecting your every inadequacy. A dangle here, trim off by 5° there. No, you put on some gear that, by today’s standards, is terrifyingly underperforming and you just went diving. Gleefully unaware that you looked like a trainwreck in the water as you kicked all the coral in the sea.
Maybe, in some confluence of all this, we - the diving community - made it less fun? Why dive when you could mountain bike or rock climb or buy one of those daffy squirrel suits and jump out of a plane? I know from experience those communities have their snarky internet communities too, but I also know from experience that they don’t hold a candle to the raging sun of snark that we manage to keep ablaze.
I often wonder how many people have thought about getting certified during a vacation and dropped the idea like a hot coal covered in fire ants after searching #scuba.
You have to be perfect. And spend a ton of money and time to be good at it. No, you’re not allowed to bring your camera for Instagram until you’ve taken the underwater photography class. The environment is horribly damaged, possibly beyond recovery, and it’s your fault.
Endure this little boat full of old men in speedos for our 45 minute ride through 4 foot seas.
Some organizations think the answer is to create an elite corps of divers, which is small and exclusive. Other organizations think of inclusion above all else, to a different detriment; “Can’t swim, hydrophobic, and hate wildlife? Scuba diving is STILL for you!”
For my part, I don’t have an answer. Without a touchstone like Sea Hunt or a cultural icon like Cousteau drawing people to the sport, exciting them into seeking us out instead of us Shanghaiing people into it there may not be an answer.
My solution: I’m going to go load the car and go diving.