Building comfort in the water is key to becoming a better diver. It leads to improved air consumption, improved ability to problem solve underwater, less anxiety and a lower risk of panic, which can lead to accidents. Whether you’re a “fish” or a hesitant new diver, you can always increase your comfort level in the water, and there’s no better time than the present to begin. Here are a few ways to get started. \
By Caitlyn Ruskell
Most open water certifications require students to complete a 200-yard swim. As long as students complete this swim without stopping, they meet the requirement, but this swim test alone does not guarantee proficiency in the water. Some people argue that the ability to swim is not necessary for diving, but there is no doubt that becoming a better swimmer will make you a better diver. Good swimmers are typically more mentally and physically comfortable in the water, and strong swimming skills will only serve you well if trouble arises out on the water.
If you’re nervous to start, just get in. Once you’re there begin with treading water, floating on your back and swimming the breast stroke. From, there tread or float for more time, gradually swim faster over longer distances and employ other strokes such as the front crawl (or “freestyle” stroke). The more you swim, the more comfortable you’ll feel in the water, and your fitness to dive will increase, as will your confidence. If you’re looking for a challenge, pack your fins in your pool bag; fin swims are an excellent way to break in new gear and build muscles useful in diving.
Get Used to Your Gear
New gear can be tricky even if you’re not new to diving. Before you set out with new equipment, test it in a controlled environment. This is not just to make sure the equipment works, it is to make sure it works for you. If you’re uncomfortable with any piece of gear, practice with it. Scheduling a pool session with a buddy to fine-tune your equipment can be really fun, and it can prevent you from squandering a dive you paid good money for. You’ll learn the ins and outs of your gear in a place where it’s easy to problem-solve. You may even be clued in to solutions that can cause you discomfort in the water. For example, trying your new BC in the pool before your liveaboard trip to Socorro could make you realize you need to wear a rash guard with it to prevent it from rubbing you raw under your arms. That 30-minute pool session just saved you from 10 days of pain and distraction from some of the most epic diving you’ll ever do.
Face Your Fears and Break Them Down
Was flooding your mask the bane of your existence during training? Face your fears and practice clearing your mask in the pool until it no longer phases you. If a skill makes you uncomfortable, break it down and condition yourself to the parts of the skill that seem to bring you the most discomfort. If it’s a flooded mask that really triggers you, fill the mask up with water and sit up out of the water with a full mask on your face. Practice no-mask breathing. If you have to hold your nose at first do it, then repeat the skill until it is second nature. Depending on the skill there are even things you can do to build your comfort on land. When certain underwater tasks push you to your limit, talk with your buddies or ask an instructor for advice on breaking the necessary skills down, then crush your fears by repeating the skills until they’re no-brainers.
Perfect Your Buoyancy
Poor buoyancy leads to a lot of discomfort and undue stress underwater. Being over weighted and sinking like a rock or being unable to vent all the air from your BC and constantly floating upward can be unnerving, and it can even put you in danger. Fine-tuning your buoyancy comes with practice. Practice adjusting the amount of weight you wear, practice hovering, and practice adjusting your buoyancy in the pool or on every dive you make. It’s also a good idea to consider taking a course that focuses on fine-tuning your buoyancy. Once staying neutral is effortless, you’ll see a night-and-day difference in the quality of your dives. Instead of constantly worrying and feeling the physical discomfort that comes with bobbing up and down underwater, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your bottom time.
Just because you feel right at home underwater does not mean you can’t get even more comfortable. If you’re a fish in the water looking for ways to safely push yourself to the next comfort-level, grab a buddy and practice skills like bail-outs or ditch-and-dons in skin-diving gear (mask, fins and snorkel). These exercises push you mentally and physically, and the outcome of completing these skills with ease is increased comfort in the water.
Another way to reach the next level of comfort in the water is to pursue advanced training. Continuing your education puts you in new environments and forces you to problem solve and keep your cool there; to do this successfully you must work to build comfort in the water in that context. Over time you can work until your skills are demonstration-quality, meaning you can do them so calmly and methodically, your instructors might just ask you to help teach their classes.
Being comfortable goes a long way to keeping you out of harm’s way — and to ensuring you can relax and enjoy the dives ahead.