Most dive publications and advertising suggest that everyone who has ever donned a wetsuit is a smiling, friendly and likeable sort of person. The guys are cheerful and helpful and just the kind of fellow you would want by your side on any dive trip should anything go wrong underwater. The women are bright and healthy and look great in a brightly-coloured shorty, preferably with the zip casually opened.
Reality is seldom quite so shiny and perfect. Anyone who dives regularly will know what it means to be stuck listening to some boring moron drone on and on, or see some gung-ho macho divers doing something to imperil everyone.
Everyone has their own pet hates when it comes to fellow divers and, when you are stuck on the ocean in a small boat, there is no escape. Your bug-bears are in your face. The irritants are inescapable. So what are the most common ways for divers to get under the skin of others and, more importantly, are you guilty of them?
Conversations about diving when on a liveaboard or in a beach bar in the evening are pretty much unavoidable and, if you can't stand talking about diving, you should probably be doing something else. However there are different types of conversations. There are interesting chats about ground-breaking conservation movements or unusual encounters or discoveries. In other words, interesting tales contain an element of novelty. Sadly, there are many divers who mistake their own banal and unexceptional anecdotes for something of interest e.g. 'Yeah and then on one trip in Thailand I saw not 1 but 2. 2 really big manta rays!!'
Incredibly, this affliction can often spread like rabies and infect the person beside them and the person beside them, until suddenly you find yourself listening to several dive bores all jockeying for airspace and constantly striving to trump the preceding tale.
Interestingly, anyone who does know a thing or two about diving, knows that these dive bores tend to have more limited knowledge and experience than their gusto attempts to project. Experience teaches that the most deserving of respect and admiration in the dive world also tend to be the most humble.
Everyone knows, or should know, where to draw the line when it comes to what level of interaction with the marine environment is acceptable. The majority of divers know that they are visitors in another realm and try to observe without molestation. Sadly not all. There are would-be heroes who organise dive trips with a group of their adoring fans/customers and then proceed to give the worst possible example of how human beings should behave underwater.
I saw an American trip leader in Fiji chase an octopus into a hole and proceed to jam his pointer in every fissure in the rock to force the hiding creature out. Several desperate puffs of ink, a panicky retreat ensued. He then proceeded to collect shells and even give the "OK" or otherwise to his disciples regarding their choice of mollusks.
At one point he swam quite near me and threw to me, in the style of a basketball pass, a cushion star, only to be disappointed when I failed to receive it. Instead I responded with a hand signal that might have looked like the initial movements of 'scissor, paper, stone'. I am not sure whether this particular primate felt the need to entertain his gang so much that all his etiquette went out the window, or he simply didn't give a toss in the first place. In any circumstance, the hands-on diver will cause much upset.
An honourable mention here must go to the photographer for whom the relentless pursuit of that awesome picture comes at the expense of the marine environment. All photographers are guilty of this sin to some extent and it is not necessarily the inexperienced who are the most to blame. It may not be fashionable to say it but. photographers damage reefs! Many claim somewhat arrogantly that the consciousness-raising their images inspire among the great unwashed masses results in a net environmental benefit, but this excuse just doesn't wash. The fact remains that many divers have witnessed more contact, interference and damage to the reefs by the sprawling limbs and sprawling equipment of role model photographers than the occasional stray fin kick of an open water diver.
I have been to resorts that ban gloves yet cater exceptionally well to photographers. To me that is a nonsense of the highest order. Yes, some may abuse the use of gloves but they are often worn for the same reason the rest of the body is covered: warmth and protection. There are times when currents require some form of holding on to a piece of rock, or a line or various other occasions when you may have to use your fingers, which are often softened and tender. Yet the mention of gloves leaves many in a state of apoplexy whereas someone bearing a bus-size amount of hi-tech photographic equipment and almost certain to damage the reef, is given the red carpet treatment.
Have you ever gone to hang up your wetsuit beside someone else and been overpowered by an acrid stench of pee? In what other sport or activity is it acceptable to foist upon one's companions the whiff of one's own feculence? Admittedly it is, to some extent the unavoidable result of well-hydrated bladders surrounded by liquid for ¾ hour and with no clear escape route.
However the writer has a zipper in his wetsuit and seldom struggles to find a quiet spot at least once on every dive to find a little shelter and create his own wee yellow thermocline. Just a quick check that there are no titan triggerfish around looking for a bite size snack and go with the flow.
It is easier for guys of course, and you need your own bespoke wetsuit but it can be done. Shouldn't you give it some thought?
New divers, bless their little heads, are in a weird and wonderful new world and we have all been there and marvelled at the strange new element and the oddness of getting around in water. Propriosensitivity, or knowing where you are in relation to everything and everyone else, is a skill that develops over time.
We all know this, but it doesn't stop us getting annoyed when some newbie manages to kick and slap and swim into you (and everyone else) throughout the entire dive. Sure you can give the guy a wide berth but lose focus for a minute and start peering in at a squat lobster in a feather star and bang! In he clatters to you, arms waving in a riot of frantic bubbles.
Diving over a healthy reef can be such a soothing experience that when disturbed by someone who moves like they are the subject of an LAPD car chase, it really is a rude disruption and one that can remove all pleasure from the dive and restfulness from the mind.
One of the great joys of diving is the lack of conversation. Meaningless, irritating jabber is something to be tolerated above the surface, yet below the waves there is little audible human chit-chat. However, one cannot get away from one's thoughts and I am sure many divers have, like me, found it vexing that even at 30m it can be difficult to shake from one's head that catchy tune that was being played during kitting up. Diving is a place for pinks not Pink, buoyancy not Boyzone.
What is worse is when you are stuck on a liveaboard trip with someone who makes irritating repetitive noises above land that continue to plague your mind at 100 bar. I was once in the company of a Frenchman who insisted on randomly saying 'Pee pee pah pah po po' for no apparent reason on the dive deck. That, and the stereotype affirming 'Oh la la'. Incredibly these inane utterances managed to spin around in my head during any quiet time on any dive, much to my chagrin. Furthermore I would actually hear strange musical noises on dives and finally identified this same character as the culprit.
The world is full of human noises. Some inspiring but mostly just white noise, space-filling garbage and surely the watery world is one refuge where we should be able to escape the boring babble.
This list could go on and I am sure everyone has their own favourites that they could add, but there seems to be such an atmosphere of 'niceness' in diving that people would often rather just let it go than cause any upset by giving voice to their woes. Indeed discretion is normally the better part of valour when diving with the same strangers several days in a row. What joy it is to be able to vent one's splenetic juices from the safety of the keyboard!
If you see yourself in any of the above, please don't take it personally. You might not have realised that someone's hackles were being raised because we are all much too polite to say it. Well, most of us.
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