Friday, March 28, 2014

Scuba life lessons

Dive Buddies through it all

When we have limited information to work with, we often have to make assumptions. Divers are especially prone to making dangerous assumptions about their dive buddy because communication underwater can be so limited. Part of good communication is being able to see a given situation from your partner's point of view.  If you can do this as a diver, your safety and the safety of your dive buddy will be improved.

The relationship you have with  your dive buddy may be one of the most important relationships ever: certainly it is while you are at depth.  If you are lucky, your travel partner is your dive buddy and you are evenly matched in skill and comfort level in the water.  Some lone travelers pair up with a stranger from the dive boat: but no one goes without a buddy. The buddy system is paramount to diving safety and is emphasized in every dive training program, and reiterated in the dive briefing before every dive.  Stay close to your buddy.  What is unspoken is the message to communicate with your buddy.  Staying close is no good if you are not watchful of each other, checking each others status and comfort and using body language and sign language to communicate needs, concerns or interests.

Rob has been my dive buddy from the beginning.  I admit, he gets the short end of the stick when it comes to pairing up with me under water.  He is a stronger swimmer, a more confident diver and uses his air much more efficiently than I do.  But, I keep an eye on him.  I check his gear before we enter the water.  I try to stay out of his way so I don't inadvertently kick off his mask.  I ask about his air level frequently, mostly to check it against my own as I deliberately slow my breaths and calm myself in the water to try to budget my air.  As a rule, we are conscientious of each other and we work hard to stay in close proximity and maintain good communication.

On our last trip, we had our first dive buddy fight.  Oh, it was bad.  We were both so angry, we had an actual yelling fight later that evening.  We had to go to our room and close the door so as not to embarrass his dad.

Conditions were ripe for a less than ideal diving experience: visibility was bad, only about 30 feet at it's best. And the current was strong. Our group was fairly large: ten divers and the dive master. When visibility is low, divers tend to stick closer together, so we were all feeling a bit crowed and getting agitated with each other.  It seemed like every time I turned around there was someone running into me or I was getting finned in the face. Rob had the GoPro and was hanging toward the back of the group getting video. I had deliberately swum ahead to stay out of his way and then chose to maintain a depth about ten feet above the group to stay out of the crowd and also to conserve air. On several occasions as I stopped and did a 360 turn to locate Rob, I couldn't see him.  I'd hover for a few moments, deliberating whether to swim back, against the current to try to find him and then he'd swim into view.  What was he doing back there?  I was getting angry at the way he was so obviously getting distracted with his camera and not staying with the group.  Anytime I tried to actually stop so he could catch up to me, I'd drift away....the current was pretty stiff.  At one point, he swam into view and then beckoned me to swim over to him: again, against the current.  I shook my head and motioned for him to swim to me.  I reasoned that it would be silly for me to go to him when he could more easily and with less energy/air consumption come my way just by drifting. He insisted, so I swam over, pissed off, assuming there was some pretty piece of coral he wanted to show me. But there wasn't.

As the dive ended and we began to ascend, we did our obligatory 15 foot safety stop, though we had not exceeded decompression limits.  Then I signaled and made the final ascent to the surface.  When I had surfaced and filled my BC, I looked around and Rob was nowhere in sight.  I put my head back under and could barely see him but couldn't tell what he was doing.  I knew he had plenty of air in his tank and because I was already angry at the way he had not observed good dive buddy behavior, I assumed he just wanted to keep diving.

So, we had it out later, when we got back to our villa.

"Thanks for being such a great dive buddy!"
"Yeah, you too. What was with you not staying with the group?"
"What? ME not staying with the group? What about you? I can't count the number of times you were out of sight.  Meanwhile I was in the MIDDLE of the pack!"

And so it went.  And we were both so certain that our interpretation of what had gone wrong was the correct interpretation.  I hadn't stayed close.  He'd been distracted with the GoPro.  Who was right?

Rob insisted he was with the group the entire time.  I insist that I was.  Truth is: we were probably both WITH the group, but we weren't with each other.  I put so much confidence in his diving ability, I never even considered that I was putting him at risk by swimming ahead to stay out of his way.  I made sure I stayed close to the dive master so I felt that I wasn't risking myself in doing this.  Rob feels certain the dive master communicated with him that he should make me stick closer with the group.  My take on that: the dive master was actually telling him that he should stick with me. 

After we both calmed down, we decided to turn the miserable dive into a learning experience.  The dive, though not deep or technical, had it's challenges: it was crowded, visibility was poor and there was current.  We added to those challenges by trying to get video with our new toy. We should have had a plan for how to incorporate the camera into our diving safely.  We both know that a diver can easily get distracted when diving with a camera, but we hadn't talked about it further than me saying, "You take the camera, I have enough to deal with on my own."

What we took home is a lesson applicable to life on the surface as well.  We each experience the world from our own viewpoint.  In order to understand each other, we need to broaden our vision: try to see the world through our partner's eyes.  When we insist that our version is the only valid interpretation of events, we miss out on the chance to really connect with other people. When we react to situations based only on our viewpoint, we miss the opportunity to help other people.  In diving and on dry land, we can live more peacefully, connect more fully with our partner and our dive buddy, and experience less anger if we can abandon our narrow-focus. 

Here's what I missed during that awful dive when I was so caught up in my own perspective: When we were surfacing and I assumed Rob had gone back down to continue the dive, he'd actually dropped the camera and had to go back down to retrieve it.  I made an assumption, fueled by my interpretation of everything that had happened previously during our dive, things that I had let anger me, and I assumed the very worst: that he was just abandoning me. What if he had needed my help?  I never even considered that.  We ended that dive not speaking to each other, but we learned a valuable lesson that will improve our communication as life partners and our safety on future dives.

Look at could we EVER argue?