I got to see some fierce rescue skills in action the other day when a tall athletic looking guy and his even taller blond girlfriend came into our shop and bought a dive package. He was advanced and she was a beginner and neither one of them had been in the water in over a year. Let’s call them Hans and Maria.
Hans and Maria had no gear of their own and wanted to rent everything from us so I started handing out gear and right away Hans had problems. I gave him a weight belt with 12lb on it and he handed it back to me and said he wanted smaller weights that he could put in the pockets of his BCD. Well, no. Sorry. There’s no way I’m putting weights in the nonintegrated BCD of a diving customer I don’t know and risk having to fish around to find them if something goes wrong.
Hans argued with me but Bella, another DM at our shop, backed me up, told him he couldn’t put weight in his pockets and gave him a different belt with a bunch of small weights on it to pacify him. He wasn’t happy with the belt and only got more difficult in the boat, arguing with Bella and I about how to gear up, whether or not to tuck in his SPG etc. while Maria sat by quietly without saying anything. When they were both in the water and Bella sighed and said “Let’s keep an eye on them.”
The dive briefing had been clear that Ted the DM was leading the dive, everyone should stay with their buddies and follow Ted except Bella and I came down after everyone else and just in time to see Ted go one way while Hans went another way, leaving Maria about 50ft behind him. Bella watched Hans swim away and had just looked at me with her hands up like “where is he going?” when suddenly Maria started thrashing around and I saw her regulator fly out of her mouth.
For you non-divers, the regulator is where the air comes from and without a regulator divers breathe seawater. That doesn’t go well. Sometimes a regulator fails so every diver has an alternate and they’re taught how to recover a lost regulator and how to use their alternate air source in their very first open water skills class. The tricky part is not freaking out in order to remember those things because the other option is to react like Maria did, go into a blind freakout, think only “AIR AIR AIR AIR AIR,” locate the source of the nearest regulator and then claw at that person’s face and try to pull their regulator out of their mouth so you can use it.
That’s panic. It’s not pretty.
In Maria’s case, the nearest person happened to be Bella, who’s a new DM that has never had to legitimately use her rescue skills before but this was a textbook panicked diver and she handled it perfectly. Bella kicked away slightly to keep Maria from grabbing her, guarded her own reg while grabbing her alternate, shoved it into Maria’s face right side up and then grabbed Maria’s BCD to keep her from ascending as she hyperventilated into it. Amazing.
Maria took several breaths and then gestured “up, up, up” and that’s when Bella was a real rockstar. She held onto Maria, made fierce eye contact, shook her head, made long steady “calm down, breathe in, breathe out” motions with her hands and then hovered there for several seconds, breathing with her until Maria started to calm down. Conveniently, this was also the exact moment that Hans showed back up from his little tour of the reef with no idea that there were any problems at all. He flashed everyone the OK sign and Maria hesitated but gave it back to him. OK.
At this point, Maria was calm enough to switch to her own regulator. Bella made “go diving?” motions with her fingers and Maria hesitated again and then nodded, for which I give her mad props. Bella adjusted her buoyancy and then let her go after motioning to Hans that he needed to stay with her. Maria shakily kicked away from us and Hans followed her for about .2 seconds before he took off in another direction. Bella actually had her hands on her hips in what I’ll describe as an adrenaline fueled furious hover as she watched him swim away. I was merely incredulous. That guy. What a piece of work.
Maria did a short dive before running out of air so Bella took her up early, which gave them a chance to debrief. Hans heard all about the regulator mishap when the rest of us got to the surface. He seemed slightly apologetic and stayed closer to Maria on the second dive, during which she had no problems. I hope it occurs to her to thank Bella at some point down the line for keeping her at depth during that first dive. If Bella had let her go up, chances are good Maria’s fear would have kept her out of the water for a long time afterwards. Maybe forever.
But Hans wasn’t quite done annoying us because he and Maria both showed up the next day to dive with our most experienced dive guide, Da Bull. Da Bull is a big burly guy who’s lived on this island for 12 years. He’s a spectacular diver, he knows the island dive sites inside and out, he always finds cool stuff and he knows how to keep a group together. Hans mostly behaved himself until the end of the dive when Da Bull called a safety stop at which point Hans shook his head and pointed to his gauge. He had more air, he wanted to keep diving. Da Bull said no and made the safety stop motion again and Hans turned around and started swimming away.
Yeah, he totally did that.
Well, in our shop we offer guided dives. The divemaster says go up, everyone goes up. No questions. If you don’t like it, go rent a tank and do your own thing but don’t come to our shop and disrespect our guides. Thank God Hans did that to Da Bull who was big enough to be on him like a flash. Da Bull grabbed Hans by his BCD, hauled him to 5 meters, gave him one look and the safety stop motion and Hans nodded and stayed put until everyone broke the surface. Hans played it off and Da Bull let him and we haven’t had any problems with Hans since.
Sometimes you think things can go unsaid but you’re wrong. So, as a note to future divers with us, all we require is that you follow the leader and don’t leave your girlfriends to die.
Is that so hard?