Bubbles explode like blossoming fireworks on the Fourth of July. Elbows and fin tips quickly appear at the perimeter of the bubble sphere, each flailing in a different direction. As the effervescence gives way, a diver emerges, eyes bulging wide. The diver scrambles toward the surface like a newborn whale in search of its first breath. It is not a pretty scene.
The giant-stride entry seems to be one of the most intimidating scuba skills taught (second only to flooding and clearing the mask), yet it should not be, given the number of times divers get to practice it.
Your entry can set the tone for your entire dive. I think of it like the tee shot in golf. Everyone is watching. If it's done well, you feel good and are set up to conquer your next task. If you start poorly, you're embarrassed and nervous - afraid there is no room for another mistake.
Don't Keep Your Head Down
Unlike a golf swing, you don't want your head down for your giant stride. It should be level, with your eyes looking forward to the horizon. Looking down at the water pitches your entire body forward at an angle instead of vertical, as it should be. This creates several problems.
First, it creates a large impact area when you break the water's surface. That bangs your mask, regulator and gauges hard into your body, increasing the chance that one of them will be ripped out of your control. In a vertical entry, your fins and body break the surface tension, creating a slipstream for everything else to follow behind them.
A forward pitch also makes it much more difficult to keep your head above water during your entry, which it should be. (Did you know that?)
The giant-stride entry was originally modeled after the rescue entry used by Red Cross-trained lifeguards. It was designed to keep the head out of the water, so lifeguards could maintain visual contact with the rescue target.
In scuba, the goal is also to maintain visual contact, but in this case with the boat crew. Remember, after hitting the water you're supposed do a self-assessment check, then signal the boat crew if you're OK or in need of assistance.
To keep your head level, check that the area around the boat platform is clear of divers before you start your entry. Once done, look back up and fix your eyes on the horizon. Listen to the boat crew. They'll tell you if something in the water has changed. Otherwise, keep your chin and eyes up.
Scissor for Safety
The second key to a good entry is your leg scissor as you break the surface. I think this entry should be called Giant Stride - Giant Scissor because you need both parts to do it successfully.
Too frequently I see divers jump off the platform like sky divers - up and away, legs together with arms and chin tucked into the body. This creates a bullet shape that sends them sinking to 15 feet before they buoy back to the surface nearly a minute later. Others do Michael Jordan imitations, jumping with legs apart in the air, but with no scissor on landing. I don't know why they do this. I know it's not taught that way, and doing so is exhausting, difficult and jarring.
A good giant stride is smooth and makes a relatively small splash. A striding motion and a strong leg scissor will create just that.
Step - don't jump - away from the platform. Extend your front leg and leave your trailing fin behind on the platform edge with the knee slightly bent. As your front heel hits the water, begin a hard, fast scissor kick, pulling your feet together and then beyond. Each leg in your scissor kick should cover 120 to 140 degrees of an arc as you pull it through the motion. (Half a circle is 180 degrees.)
If you execute each part of the entry properly, you'll only sink to about your nose. Your eyes will stay above the water line every time. With a quick OK signal to the crew, you'll be off in good shape, relaxed and confident.