Just as with any skill or hobby, practice — as they say — makes perfect. Most dive-training courses feature curriculum that is intended to improve diver skills and knowledge. But the real mastery comes from practice and repetition beyond any course requirements. Here are five signs you’re mastering the art of scuba diving.
Successful back finning, helicopter kicks and horizontal ascents
Mastering finning techniques is one indication of an experienced diver. Many technical, and some recreational, agencies include these skills as in-water requirements for courses. But really, they take repeated practice in a variety of environments. Back-finning is great for photographers and videographers who want to get close to aquatic life and back away without disturbing it. It’s also key for assessing routes in overhead environments and backing away from hazards. Executing a helicopter kick means turning around 360 degrees on the spot with minimal movement using just one fin. This is a great skill for making turns in tight areas. Horizontal ascents allow for slower ascents/descents and help maintain trim and precise position for decompressions stops. All these kicking approaches require excellent buoyancy control using the inflation system, breath control and finning.
Equipment familiarity even with unfamiliar gear
While nothing beats having your own gear, a competent diver can dive comfortably using rental or unfamiliar dive equipment. This does not, of course, apply to gear they have not been trained in like sidemount and rebreather. Instructors and divemasters in particular might need to juggle their equipment and put students first when it comes to proper fit. Traveling divers often face tight baggage allowances or lost bags, so cultivating some comfort with all scuba gear comes in handy.
Approaching aquatic life
You know you’re a scuba ninja when you near aquatic life without disturbing it. Doing so is especially key for photographers. Stealthily and calmly approaching aquatic life requires excellent buoyancy control, precise finning, and slow, relaxed breathing so that loud exhalations don’t scare off the creature. A true scuba ninja will also be able to back away, even with camera in hand, leaving the creature undisturbed for other divers to enjoy.
Knowing your remaining air before checking the gauge
Good divers are always checking their gauges in training and afterwards on dives, especially in strong currents or when working harder. An experienced diver will know when their breathing or air consumption rates change. They’ll be able to estimate how much air they have left and verify this accurately by checking their gauge. This leads to more accurate air-supply management and dive planning, and hence safer dives. PADI’s 2014 Open Water course revisions added a performance requirement for each open-water student to be able to signal how much air they have without looking at their gauge and be within a 20 bar/300 psi variance upon checking.
Proper entries and exits
In most divers’ quests to master diving, they’ve probably traveled extensively and dived in a variety of environments. As such, they’ve completed a variety of entries and exits at dive sites. An accomplished diver will know a variety of entries when boat diving. These could involve the giant stride, backward roll, or seated entry. Exiting onto boats with ladders in rough seas may require applying force to the lower ladder when removing fins and securely gripping on exiting. An expert will also be comfortable with shore entries and exits in both calm conditions and when timing the entry/exit through rough surf.
While certification cards denote training, there’s no substitute for experience. Mastering the art of scuba diving means spending time in the water in a variety of environments. Soon you too will make challenging tasks appear easy and natural.