What really sets diving apart from other sports is the fact that while they're in the water, really good divers use very little energy. In fact, the pre- and post-dive phases are frequently more physically challenging than the dive itself. Schlepping tanks, heaving weight belts, dragging gear bags and pulling on rubber suits: These are the physical challenges. And they're important, because if you start a dive flustered, you start at a disadvantage. Dive professionals dive smart and gear up slowly while staying cool. They're calm and relaxed before they enter. You should be too. After the entry, and unless you've got a surface swim to a descent point planned, it's usually preferable not to delay your descent. There is very little to be gained by bobbing around on the surface. Make sure, though, that you take enough time to relax, orient yourself and communicate with your buddy before starting a proper descent. There is a significant difference between rushing and not delaying.With few exceptions, divers use fins to move underwater. Don't use your hands, instructors the world over say to divers in training. Don't bend your legs at the knees, they holler. Useful advice for the neophyte, but not strictly accurate. It's OK to bend your legs a little. The idea is to make sure that you're using all your muscular resources. Kick slowly and vary your kick style occasionally. You can use a dolphin kick (this is really fun but probably not as efficient in the long run as the flutter kick). You can scull with your fins (keeping your legs still, use your ankles to move slowly forward or back), which is really useful when trying to get close to something without disturbing the surroundings. Or you can pretend you're a frog and frog along. (Again, this is not as efficient as the flutter kick, but it is different, and it's particularly useful for sneaking around quietly on the surface.) While on the subject of fun, there's a common colloquial term of special relevance to divers: hang. You're not really weightless underwater; you're just neutrally buoyant. If there's a little air in your BC and some weight on your belt, you're hanging. This is not necessarily a bad thing. One of the most moving dive strategies I know is simply doing nothing. Stop. Don't move at all. Hang. Those fish that kept disappearing as you flew past actually come toward you. You notice things that you would previously have missed. While you're doing nothing, look around. It's amazing how infrequently divers look up or scan to the limits of visibility in all directions (particularly behind). It's also amazing what you'll discover by doing this, especially if you're on a dive site with deep water nearby. While you're hanging, experiment with small movements. If you're vertical, one stroke of your hand can really turn you effectively. If you drift a little too close to a wreck or a reef, check to see where your fins are before you start kicking hard. The number of divers who don't realize how often their fin blades touch something is truly amazing. (You'd think divers would figure this out on their own after the dive as they put their fins away: How did all those scratches get on the top of my fin?) When appropriate (and never on living coral), a well-placed finger can really help you maintain position or move on carefully. If, for example, you're diving on a wreck and you want to avoid silting up the dive site, you can often move very efficiently by using your fingers and hands instead of your fins. Watch out for sharp objects, and make absolutely certain that you're not harming aquatic life colonizing the wreck. If you're trying to get from one end of that wreck to the other and cover some distance in the process, kick at a relaxed and steady pace. Make sure that's your buddy's pace if it is slower than yours is. There's nothing more important than breathing slowly, deeply and continuously. If you start breathing hard, slow down.There are very few situations in recreational diving when you'd even consider breaking this rule, but there are some. A quick sprint to avoid getting swept past a tag line from a boat might make sense. Assisting a diver back to the boat or shore may also require a little more effort than usual and when you face these situations, there is no substitute for simple physical fitness. All divers should strive to stay in good condition through regular exercise, good diet and adequate rest. But anyone who wants broad shoulders should take up swimming; anyone after strong legs should hop on a bike; and if you want to be tall, take up basketball ... dream on.John Kinsella is PADI America's director of training and quality management.
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