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Underwater Wakulla- March 8, 2018

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Too Deep, Too Far, Too Soon By TRAVIS KERSTING

Too Deep, Too Far, Too Soon By Travis Kersting

When we learn to drive, in the US at about 15-16, we haven’t had much experience but we are “certified” to drive. There is nothing stopping someone with their license from getting on the interstate and traveling from one coast to the other at 70mph/113kph. Nothing that is, besides parental control. I don’t suspect too many parents would want a recently licensed teen to take such an ambitious journey without some real practical experience and ample proof of being a responsible driver. In the scuba world it shouldn’t be any different but my recent experience has proven otherwise.

A kid as young as 10 can take a scuba course, under some agencies, though we recommend waiting until age 12 or even later for biological reasons. At these ages you earn a “Junior SCUBA” certification which typically implies the parent must accompany the minor and there could be depth or other restrictions as well. It is the responsibility of the parent to monitor the Junior diver throughout the dive and gradually allow more and more responsibility to be taken over by the Junior as they mature. Often the parent will need to act in the place of an instructor, reiterating what was covered in the in actual course. If you are a parent, which I am not, I assume you wouldn’t just throw your child off the dive boat and expect everything to go perfectly on their early dives after initial training. There would surely be some rediscovery of skills and challenges covered in the course. There is room for the school of hard knocks but I’m not certain that school is best-attended 60ft under water, at 10-18yrs of age.

What we often see can defy logic. Parents will sign their child up for a scuba course, some even attend at the same time, and once completed they take their own boat out for celebratory dives together. Instead of the parent and minor doing some leisurely activity together they get ambitious and opt for spearfishing.  In our area spearfishing is far more common than other activities like sight seeing the reef or underwater photography. Parents could hand their minor a stringer and allow them to help by stringing and carrying speared fish. They could also leave the spear gun on the boat and just make sure the minor is comfortable in the equipment they have and how to use all it’s components properly. But they don’t and instead they will take a spear gun and in many cases allow the minor to take shots at fish.

The task loading underwater can be tremendous even on a routine dive in shallow water. You are monitoring depth, air consumption, time, your buddy, your orientation to the boat or anchor line, and the surrounding hazards such as fire coral or sharks are also kept in check. You do this while attempting to stay neutrally buoyant, meaning not on the bottom nor rocketing to the surface. Perhaps there are other factors like very cold water or current to contend with. For those of you who do not dive, this should all be covered in scuba training but how much practice do you really think you get in a 2-6 day class? Adding additional task loading such as a spear gun, camera, or other specialized equipment is a recipe for a bad time. Unfortunately this is all too common with our newly certified adults and even scarier, kids.

In cave diving we use the phrase “too deep, too far, too soon” to describe task loading, when describing fatalities that resulted after someone lacked the proper experience to go where they went. The same or similar phases can be applied to driving, open water diving, mountaineering, etc. Cave divers used to insist on slow progressive training, or mentoring, followed by slow progressively more complex dive plans.  Advanced activities require divers to master their basic skills first, a process that takes 20 hours or more before progressing into more complex activities.

The open water community, especially those interested in spearfishing, would do themselves a huge favor by following a similar strategy. There will be less wounded fish, less damage to the reef, better overall experiences, and happier divers as a result. If you can’t have a good time, underwater, without a spear gun then this isn’t the sport for you or your children.

If you are new to diving or you’re getting your children involved please consider this. Take some time, do some fun dives together, practice buoyancy control until it’s second nature, work on air consumption until you are basically a fish, add new equipment a little at a time, use equipment that properly fits, and go to familiar dive sites for testing new gear. You’ll thank me later plus you’ll find and retain more dive buddies along the way.