As a community unfortunately us divers can be more than a little judgmental, you only need to log onto a divers forum to see it in full swing. It may be someone´s equipment configuration, attitude, fining technique, colour of kit…the list is endless and I´ve been guilty of it myself, especially when it comes to Sidemount diving. The first questions (even if they are only in your own head) are quite often WHY? You´re not in a cave or squeezing through a wreck so why not wear a twin set like the rest of us!
Well recently I have been able to answer that and now my question is why didn´t I try this earlier!
I have been a TDI Advance Nitrox and Deco diver using a 12 Ltr backmount twin set for 4 years and for me it was a means to an end, I wanted to spend a week in Scapa Flow and to get the most out of that trip it was essential. From there Deco diving became a regular occurrence and something I have always enjoyed. While I loved the planning, the diving and of course the apres dive there was a huge downside. Twinsets are HEAVY and like a lot of girls that scuba I have always been adamant that if you can do it, so can I. Yes girls can Tec dive too and if that means carrying my twinset to the gas room that’s nowhere near the quay side, loading it on and off the boat, passing it up to the skipper on the RIB, then that’s what I´m doing, I will apologies to my aching bones later! So what changed?
This year my aim was to get Cave certified, In the world of diving Cave divers are rare, female cave divers are rarer still and the course is physically, mentally and emotionally the most challenging diving I have done but I signed up knowing it was going to push my diving skills to the extremes. What I wasn´t expecting (rather naively) was that getting in and out of the cave would be the first challenge. But look at this picture I´m so happy to be rock climbing out from the cave while wearing my twin set!
What it doesn’t tell you is that I had already left my kit down there, climbed out to get out my drysuit and into a good pair of trainers then gone back down with the assistance of my very supportive other half, Ed Smith (who had already climbed out in his own twin set) to collect aforementioned abandoned equipment and attempt to clamber out with it. Not such a big deal I know but you can´t help but feel a bit disheartened. So when Simon Townsend, the instructor at Scuba Murcia, suggested doing a Sidemount course I didn´t have to think twice.
There is a misconception that Sidemount diving is simple and easy, there is so much more to it than just moving your cylinders to your sides. Every piece of webbing, Bungy, D ring, bolt snap, double ender is measured within an inch of their lives to ensure correct configuration. Your harness is measured, moved, adjusted and measured again before getting anywhere near the water then we start on the cylinders (my very simple one piece twin set harness is suddenly looking very nice!). The process starts again with the tanks, the bands are measured and set up to where we think they are going to be the most streamline once in the water and it´s time to give it a go.
On dive day I was feeling confident and excited to finally try the equipment we spent so long getting right. Finally, an easier way of getting in, the tanks are going to be perfectly aligned with my body and I am going to look like a diving Ninja in my shiny new Sidemount gear, oh how wrong I was! I should have known when Simon got in with a screwdriver that it wasn´t going to be quite so simple. My Aluminium tanks stuck out too far, they floated up too high, they felt bulky and too light compared to my trusty steel tanks. Time to have a chat with that little voice in your head saying just stick to what you know!
An hour and a half later and we have finally made progress, I was finally starting to look like the pictures I had seen and it was a revelation. Shut downs were much simpler, I could easily remove and move around the cylinders to compensate for their positive buoyancy and not only did I feel like I have more ability to move around I could actually look up without banging my head on a manifold. I think I could get used to this Sidemount thing. Now was the time to practice and fine tune my newly developing skills ready for the second part of the Cave course.
Jump forward 3 weeks and I am officially a Sidemount convert, I must be as I now seem to have acquired a load more gear including adding a tape measure to the tool kit to ensure my tank bands are always 15cm from the base of the cylinder!
I have learned a lot in these few weeks, not just about Sidemount and cave diving but about ignoring pre conceptions, even when they are my own. Is Sidemount a fad outside of Cave diving? Maybe for some divers but for me it has opened more doors to different diving experiences that would previously been out of reach.
From now on I won´t just be wearing my Sidemount in Caves (we all passed the course by the way!) but also in Open Water, fully expecting some sideways glances and the occasional eye roll at the girl in Sidemount who´s nowhere near a Cave! But my reasons are mine and I think that is enough.
Sidemount Training by: Simon Townsend
Full Cave Training by: Simon Townsend
Dive Center: Scuba Murcia
Dive Buddies: Ed Smith and Arvis Grinbergs
Coming next…Sidemount pro´s and Con´s and the never ending argument about which is best!