Spanish for Diving

November 27th, 2012 by David

My wife and I have a modest use of the Spanish language that we used this past week in Cozumel, Mexico. It’s always fun being able to interact with locals in their native language.

A big hurdle for beginners is simply learning vocabulary. As such, it is commonly recommended to utilize some sort of flashcard system for learning new words. Many experts, however, recommend a smart flashcard system, like those built around spaced repetition. My personal favorite in this category is Anki, but there are a others out there if you look around. You can read more about spaced repetition at this link.

After learning your first few thousands words, you’ll notice that you need to start learning language specific to the things you talk about. So naturally, as a diver, you will probably want to learn some basic vocabulary about diving. Pretty much any dive destination will have English speakers on the boat with you, but think about how suave you’ll look using the native language. :)

For me, the biggest hurdle in a flashcard system is making the stupid things! I always have a running list of words to learn, but never get around to making the cards. Ideally, cards should not just have an English translation on the front and target language on the back, but when possible have a picture on the front to really cement the abstract concept.

To overcome my own laziness, and to help other perezosos, I’ve made a set of flashcards for common diving equipment and generally useful words that can be expressed by pictures. Rather than go for an exhaustive list, I’ve tried to focus on the common equipment and words that could come up.

I have also included input files for Anki, my spaced repetition program of choice. Just import the text file in the folder and Anki should create the cards for you. These words are Central American Spanish, but should function for most anywhere.

¡Buena suerte!

Scuba diving – el buceo
Dive – La inmersión
To dive – bucear

Diver – El buzo / el buceador
Mask – La máscara
Fins – Las aletas
Snorkel – El snorkel
BCD – BCD (pronounced: beh, seh, deh)
Regulator – El regulador
Wetsuit – El traje húmedo
Booties – Los escarpines
Gloves – Los guantes
Hood – La capucha
Tank – El tanque
Dive computer – La computadora (la compu) de buceo
Drysuit – El traje seco
Logbook – El cuaderno (de bitácora)
Strap – La correa
Weight belt – El cinturón de plomos
Weights – Los plomos

Download the picture / word files at this link.

Dive Experience Through Deliberate Practice

November 5th, 2012 by David

One of the pleasures of running this site is that I get to hear from a variety of divers all over the world. At times these divers disagree with me, and I certainly appreciate hearing the different point-of-views these fellow enthusiasts have—even when I think they are wrong! ;)

In my article on instructor certification, I said the following:

The level of experience you quickly achieve moving through the professional ranks comes along with a level of comfort in the water. This level comes much quicker than just through regular diving.

I have heard some disagreement with this statement and it has been misconstrued to mean that somehow advanced certification should serve as a replacement for dive experience.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

However, I will say that the experience obtained through focused training, like that received during certification (or at least should be), has far greater benefit than general diving experience, and when used in conjuction with regular diving, can greatly accelerate how quickly your diving skill progresses.

Just a number

One reader of the aforementioned article pointed out, supposedly as evidence of my lack of experience:
“I notice you do not include your dives logged thus far.”
This is true, and for good reason. Logged dives is just a number, and has little correlation with practical diving skill.

For example, I remember distinctly a boat dive in Bonaire. On board with our group was an older gentlemen who had been diving as long as diving was a public activity. And his gear looked like it. He was the complete opposite of the diving newbie with all new, shiny, top-of-the-line gear but ziltch logged dives. I expected to be impressed with his comfort level underwater.

This man might have been one of the most awkward divers I have ever seen. He was all over the reef. Constantly. His buoyancy control was non-existent. Any turn he made looked like a clumsy seal on land.

According to the logged dives=experience crowd, this man should have been one of the best divers in the world. What’s going on here?

Talent is overrated

The book Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin is a pretty well-known piece of popular non-fiction. The basis premise is that what we refer to as talent is not achieved through in-born ability nor general experience, but rather through deliberate practice. Colvin describes deliberate practice as

Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day.

I argue that the same can be said for diving experience. While there are some with a more natural affinity to the water, this mindset more than makes up for it on the medium- and long-term.

I don’t consider myself the best diver; maybe slightly above average. And I certainly don’t consider myself better than most divers with >5000 logged dives. However, I would put myself up against most any divers with 4x the number of logged dives that I have. The difference is that I have exercised deliberate practice as part of my dive training and continue to use it as part of my general diving experience.

Deliberate practice

How does deliberate practice work? This article gives a basis rundown in four steps:

  • Motivation. The task will require effort and you must have the motivation to do it.
  • Incremental. The task should build incrementally on what you already know, so that you can understand how to do it easily.
  • Feedback. You should receive immediate feedback about your performance.
  • Repetition. Either the same task, or a similar task should be repeated.

Sounds a little like well-designed scuba training, doesn’t it? I don’t think this is a coincidence, and is the reason I made the statement quoted at the beginning of this article.

The good news is that advanced training is not strictly necessary to engage deliberate practice, it is simply a convenient vehicle for providing the necessary environment. The idea is that while diving you should challenge yourself in a way that directly utilizes the dive skills you wish to develop. The main catch is you will need the internal motivation to get better: there is no external motivator like completing certification to push you to improve.

The number one skill certified divers usually need to develop is buoyancy control. If buoyancy control increases linearly with the number of dives, it does so at an incredibly slow pace, in my opinion. A more effective approach, and probably the one you employed (even if unintentionally) if you consider yourself an exception to the previous statement, is to consciously measure your skill in some way and take definite steps to improve it.

For example, instead of counting down the seconds in your next safety stop, what would happen if you picked a visual marker then focused on maintaining an even level with this marker? Or keeping an eye on your computer and maintaining 15ft / 5m plus or minus some small deviation? When this gets too easy you can try doing it completely upside-down. I’d wager a guess that most above-average divers practice these types of skills already, even if they don’t think of it as any special sort of training. They are unintentionally engaging deliberate practice, and reaping the benefits.

Exercises like this one fulfill the requirements, assuming you have the necessary motivation to actually attempt it. It is incremental, in other words, you have all the necessary knowledge to perform the exercise. You receive immediate feedback since it’s obvious when you fail. And lastly there is repetition, since you have at least 3 minutes at the end of every dive to practice.

The sad truth

I can understand how my statements have been misinterpreted. The fact is that much dive training in the world, through all agencies, is sub-par. This was driven home during my instructor examination, where I expected all divers to have fairy polished diving skills and good buoyancy control. I was disappointed with the level of awkwardness a noticeable percentage of participants had in the water, and expected much better from soon-to-be instructors.

A big part of this comes down to instruction, both in the immediate training received as well as the mentality of the instructor. I would be willing to bet that a student of Duane over at Precision Diving, even with only 25 dives under their belt, are looking better in the water than most divers with >100 dives. This is because they have a) received quality instruction, and b) had the idea imparted that certification is only the beginning of their training, and that they should continually improve (the former can be surmised from reading his blog, the latter I am inferring).

As an example, he requires all of his students to perform the requisite skills at neutral buoyancy, not sitting on the bottom as is usually done. This is clearly above the minimum instruction standard of “how not to die underwater”.

Out of proportion?

Am I making a a big deal out of nothing? Does it really matter that Jane Diver with 100 dives looks like a “average” diver with 400?

It does matter, for the simple reason that advanced skill increases comfort level in the water. This has a myriad of benefits, beginning with an overall improved dive experience, allowing a diver to reduce air consumption as well as spend more time observing nature rather than awkwardly adjusting equipment. There are also environmental advantages, since comfortable divers also spend less time crashing into reefs.

As a diver, try to think about how to utilize deliberate practice as part of your general diving experience. If you’d like to hear about some specific methods, feel free to contact me and I can write about it in future articles. If you are an instructor, think about how you can incorporate principles of deliberate practice into your courses, as well as how to encourage your students to continue self-learning even after certification. The oceans and your fellow divers will thank you.

Children and Diving

July 17th, 2012 by David

I recently wrote an “Ask an Expert” column for the July issue of Scuba Diving magazine, available at newstands now. You can also read it online here: Should Kids Under 12 Dive?

I take the stance that “no”, they should not be allowed to dive. Share your thoughts, but please, read the article before you start flaming me. :)

Decorating Scuba Gear with Paint Markers

July 10th, 2012 by David

The other day I wrote about decorating scuba equipment in an environmentally sound way.

Reader Marwah, who asked the original question, sent me an update. Apparently permanent markers washed off her fins, but paint markers worked great. There are two things I took from this:

  • The importance of testing out your paint before you do a lot of fancy artwork. It may wash right off. Permanent markers worked well for my rubbery fins, but didn’t stick on Marwah’s more smooth, plastic fins (as I guess they are).
  • Paint markers are a fantastic option that I didn’t think of. Sharpie, Art Primo, and many other brands make these oil-based pens, so they should be easy to find at a craft store in any part of the world.

Decorating Scuba Equipment

July 5th, 2012 by David

Reader Marwah asks,

“I wanted to know if you know of paints or markers or other mediums I can use on my gear that wouldn’t be harmful to the coral or marine life. I want to put elaborate, colourful stuff on my fins to begin with but I don’t want to do it at the expense of underwater life. If you know of anything I could use please let me know.”

Great question! Fortunately, these days paints and markers are fairly safe for the environment and getting better every year. The main things you want to avoid are:

Lead-based paints. These are getting harder to find, but just like its toxic to humans, lead paint in the water can be harmful to sea critters.

Anti-fouling paints. Again, you aren’t likely to find these at a local crafts store, but anti-fouling paints are used for painting the hulls of ships. They are designed to kill barnacles, algae, and other marine organisms that would slowly eat away at boat bottoms, so they are of course not good for anything living in the water. I doubt you would run across these, but I don’t want readers to see them, see that they are intended for boats and think they are a good choice for equipment decoration.

When looking for paints, one of the key things you need is for it not to be water-soluble, otherwise it will dissolve into the water. Your best bets for decorating are the old standbys:

Acrylic paint is actually a good option, with one caveat: it must stay on the material you paint! I personally found out that acrylic paint (at least the “beading” squirt bottle kind) does not hold well to fins, and will easily get knocked off. Because acrylic paint is just a form of plastic, this can’t be great for whatever it lands on. However, it will stick well to BCD’s and possibly wetsuits as long as you spread it flat, and it’s not any worse for the environment that any other plastic on your BCD, regulator, mask. etc.

If you are unsure, test it out by painting the equipment, let it dry, and knock it around a bit to simulate a dive. If some of it chips off, then you probably should peel off the rest and use something else.

Tip: many scuba shops sell pricey paint specifically for dive gear. This is just acrylic paint, sometimes called “fabric paint”, that you can find at any hobby / craft store for one-fourth the price.

Permanent markers are awesome for drawing patterns and coloring. They are not water-soluble and will not leak toxins into the reef. Better yet, permanent markers can write on just about anything, even fins, which acrylic can’t hold on to. I personally use them to write my name / initials on my gear.

Update: another email from Marwah alerted me to this option.
Paint markers are oil-based and will soak into a lot of materials that acrylic and permanent markers may not penetrate. In fact, if I were to decorate equipment from scratch, I would buy a small set of paint markers and supplement with a few permanent markers that I have on hand.

Have fun!

DVD Cases: Redux

June 4th, 2012 by David


I’m in the middle of a cross-country move and had to initiate a second round of DVD case reduction—they’re just a huge waste of space. The inlined picture is a few of the cases I had to throw out. I put them in recycling, but who knows what their final fate will be? Interesting to note is that all these cases were acquired in the last 1-2 years, well within the era of broadband internet connections.

The possibility of PADI switching to slim DVD cases spurred some readers to comment. Apparently I’m not the only one frustrated with the excess plastic lying around. Some commenters think scuba agencies should switch to internet distribution, and I tend to agree. Some even pointed out the conflict between all this plastic and PADI’s own Project AWARE. Others point out that apart from any environmental impact, they just take excessive shelf space (thin cases vs. full size doesn’t save that much plastic, after all).

In other areas PADI seems to be opting for digital distribution. New instructor manuals, for instance, can be downloaded in PDF format. The PADI Guide to Teaching also comes with a digital version, in addition to the oversized hardback binder. I think this is great, and in fact never use the hard copies (and most likely never will), instead opting for iPad + PDF.

I wonder if copyright protection has anything to do with the slow adoption rate? It’s easy to duplicate digital files, and selling books / DVDs is a good stream of revenue for most agencies.

Is pure internet distribution in the near or distant future for the major agencies? Would most scuba trainees even prefer this over traditional paper or DVDs? It seems at this point the question isn’t if, but when.

The Sea on Fire

May 31st, 2012 by David


We don’t see much diving fiction, besides maybe a few scenes from Clive Cussler novels. In The Sea on Fire, author Howard Cunnell wisely foregoes the diving-as-action approach and presents the emotion and sensation of diving that we feel through the main character, Kim. As a diver and someone who writes about diving, I was intrigued when I heard of this novel and how it would capture these feelings in words.

Kim is a man who needs to decide what he wants out of life. In his youth, Kim worked as a dive guide through many exotic locales with his buddy Garland. Now, married with kids, he yearns for those days. He works at a dead-end construction job in England, biding his time until he gets a call from Garland that they have a job, and off he goes, much to the chagrin of his wife. The latest call is a turning point for Kim. On the home front, his wife is fed up with him up-and-leaving at a moment’s notice; Kim needs to decide whether he wants to be a father and a husband or if he wants to live life on the road.

Kim is one of those characters that drives a reader nuts. He consistently makes poor decisions (how does his wife keep getting pregnant? Contraceptive, people!) which are infuriating. Despite these flaws, Kim is an excellent diver, which we are regularly shown. Cunnell presents diving as an emotional metaphor for the way Kim feels about his life. Diving is his escape. From poverty, tyrants, responsibility, and yes, even his wife. His description of diving is spot on, from the feeling when you first hit the water, to the excitement of sighting sharks. For me, this is the strongest aspect of the book.

Most of the plot revolves around Kim’s latest job, where he meets a larger-than-life character named Teddy King, and his muse Jody. Both capture Kim’s imagination. Kim enjoys his time partying and diving, but soon finds that he can’t keep his worlds separate, both physically and emotionally. King is one of those “stranger than fiction” characters you can’t believe could possibly exist, yet probably does.

Kim’s friend Garland Rain is an interesting character as well. You can find pieces of him in many old-school divers, particularly technical divers. For these people, decisions are black-and-white with no moral gray areas. Garland serves as the model man that Kim thinks he should be, although their relationship remains strained by Kim’s increasing stupidity.

In many ways The Sea on Fire is a book about Kim hammering out his personal philosophy, trying to merge competing ideas of loyalty to his wife and kids, who he loves dearly, and his passion for adventure and life on the road—with the vices that accompany it. As these worlds collide he must sort through his emotional baggage to discover who he really is. The Sea on Fire is not an action novel. There is much navel-gazing and musing in Kim’s head throughout. The plot itself is secondary to these concerns.

My main complaint is that the book tries to cover a lot of ground. Kim clearly has many issues to work through, including a dark secret from his past and his admiration for Garland, but one novel felt like not much time to work through all of them. With so many threads opened, though, it was hard to feel a sense of resolution for all of them. Maybe that’s just life.

Most people reading this are scuba divers. If you are interested in the philosophical side of diving, and diving as a way of life, then you may be interested in reading The Sea on Fire. The plot moves along, straying between different genres, but in my opinion, is secondary to to Kim’s struggle, which is verbalized via internal thoughts rather than through action. If this review seems scattered it’s probably because this novel is hard to pin down.

If you are a voracious reader, you could do worse then to add it on your reading list, although I wouldn’t recommend it for casual readers. If the diving aspects are your sole interest, despite the strong descriptions of diving, they are few and far between, so creative nonfiction like Deep Descent, may be a better place to go.

Dive Theory Study Guide

May 6th, 2012 by David

No matter which scuba diving agency you train through, once you get to the leadership level there are some basic theory requirements you must complete (the Recreational Scuba Training Council requires it). With areas ranging from physiology to physics, it can feel like a lot of material.

Fortunately, Rod Abbotson of Dive Aqaba has put together a Dive Theory Study Guide. It’s PADI-centric in that it is a (very quick) summary of their Recreational Encyclopedia, but I imagine even those from other agencies would find it useful in their studying, given the significant overlap in material. It is especially useful by the time you get around to instructor courses and have been tested on the same material 3-4 times. I used it to quickly find those areas where I needed to read the original text.

It may also be of interest to others, like open water divers with an interest in science as it relates to diving. Or question writers for Jeopardy.

Here is his version in Microsoft Word format. I’ve converted it to PDF as well:

Dive Theory Guide (DOC)
Dive Theory Guide (PDF)