"Religious Ritual?"


Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D.

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One technique I use in training dive leadership-bound people is to spend one NON-DIVING day at a local quarry used for training basic open water divers. We spend the entire day walking around and observing the way divers are trained. The leadership-student, at each group, is asked to comment on the good, the bad and the ugly of what is observed. This occurred one day during such an exercise:

We noticed a group of about 20 divers (2 rows of ~10 divers each), locked arm-in-arm walking forwards into the water. Someone was weakly splashing water on these wet-suit clad people. It looked like some sort of baptismal ritual. So, curiosity piqued, we walked over to this particular training site.

As we approached, I noticed the instructor (wearing a logo ball cap and no scuba gear), was occasionally sweeping both arms towards the students and shouting, "Surf's up! Surf's up!'  Rarely did any of the splashed water touch a student. Then the instructor said, "Now that you know what surf is like, you should consider our trip next month to Monterrey Bay, California."

A few years later,  I was on an educational leave of absence to study a peptide synthesis technique at the Scripps Institute of Medicine in La Jolla, California.  While there, I took a local course called Rocks, Rips and Reefs. I cannot say enough good things about this course. It is local environment conditioning at its very best. We spent several hours doing nothing but surf entries and exists at a variety of dive sites in the San Diego area. I would strongly suggest that anyone contemplating surf diving in this region consider this (or an equivalent) program prior to recreational diving that involves the surf zone.

A week after my course, I went with some divers I had met at Scripps to a place they called Swami. Three things stand out in my memories of that dive.

1. The long flight of stairs up and down the cliffs to transverse the distance between the parking lot and the beach (in a dry suit) reinforced my belief that often, the most strenuous part of the dive is NOT the dive itself, but transferring self and gear to and from the intended play site.

2. As I stood anchored on the beach waiting for a large taller-than-I-was wave to come plummeting down upon my body, I remembered the "domino divers" of the Ohio quarry and imagined their potential dismay when they discovered the difference between the surf zone on a California beach and an Ohio quarry. The sound of "Surf's up!" echoed through my mind as I prepared for my entry. I tried not to calculate the tons of water force that were about to come plummeting down. All I could imagine as the wave crashed down upon me was a picture of chaos: arm-in-arm divers scattering like bowling pins in the turbulence about to strike me. I congratulated myself on taking a proper course before attempting this dive.

3. A body surfing exit was a unique and special thrill for a Great Lakes diver.

I eventually did bunches of beach dives (From San Diego to Monterrey Bay), but the image of those "surf's up" quarry divers never left me.

The points of this story are:

1. Quarries are great places for teaching basic open water skills. However, they are NOT viable representations of intense specialty environments.

2. Training should accurately reflect the intended environment. Inaccurate simulations could lead to disasters.

3. Whenever possible, local orientation classes should be sought. They will not only increase your safety, but provide knowledge and skills to dramatically enhance the enjoyment of the in-water play..


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About The Author: 

Larry "Harris" Taylor, Ph.D. is a biochemist and Diving Safety Coordinator at the University of Michigan. He has authored more than 200 scuba related articles. His personal dive library (See Alert Diver, Mar/Apr, 1997, p. 54) is considered one of the best recreational sources of information In North America. 

  Copyright 2001-2024 by Larry "Harris" Taylor

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