Scuba diving is a recreation that has evolved since the classes in the early 60ís. The classes then are not the classes I took in the late 70ís nor are they the classes we are offering today. But one thing that has remained a consistent theme through all scuba courses over the years is the emphasis on safety. I donít contend to know anything about the ďrescuesĒ you performed or have seen in or near the La Jolla Shores area, but I do know that in general todayís scuba instructors are training divers with a strong emphasis on personal safety just as they always have. The instructors in scuba and our industry as a whole are quite proud of our record, and we commonly boast that our mortality rate is lower than that of the vast majority of recreations. For instance you stand a better chance of suffering an injury by a golf ball, than you do scuba diving. This is not an accident, but due to the diligence of the scuba industry and its instructors.
Before I go on, let me say this. Iím not your average dive instructor. Iím not some diver who thought being a scuba instructor would be a fun way to dive for free. Iíve been an instructor for some years and have been certified as such by several training agencies finally attaining the Course Director rating. Iíve experience teaching and training divers from entry level open water courses through preparing divers to spend extended time in Cenotes or dive the Andrea Doria. Iíve also had experience as a teacher and instructor in recreations from alpine skiing, to ski racing, to mountaineering and winter outdoor survival. All of this isnít intended to impress a soul but rather offer up that that my thoughts arenít a whim but based on many years of various experiences.
The area you contend divers should not be is one of a couple very popular sites for deep training in Southern California that is accessible from shore without the aid of a boat. It is also a very unique and interesting area to explore, offering an amazing variety of marine life to see and while it does require training to prepare the diver to safely enjoy being there, it is far from an unsuitable dive site. The water here is generally calm and due to the underwater terrain, navigation is quite easy. In a nutshell, if for what ever unknown reason 2 students surface 1/3 of a mile, as you state, from their instructor in that particular area, chances are quite strong they are certified divers taking a continuing education class and would/should have the knowledge to follow the waves to the beach.
Everything over time evolves. Physicians once called upon Holy Men to rid people of illness, until Antony Van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria. Leeches were a preferred method of removing bad bacteria or virusís until drugs were discovered to kill or control them. It wasnít until after all this that common hygiene was found to be an effect way to avoid the majority of it all. People moved about using dangerous versions of steam engines until the carbureted internal combustion engine became common, only to evolve into a fuel injected version which is just now evolving into hydrogen or battery operated versions. Scuba courses over time have undergone this same evolution. The old Navy UDT or current Seal Team manual is a wealth of information and is the perfect tool if your goal is to infiltrate a beach unseen or if you choose to destroy something and escape silently. The level of fitness that those courses require is necessary for the diver who is being dropped off Ĺ mile or more off shore and expected to swim to and from their submarine through surf conditions a defender would not expect a human to attempt. Many of the stringent standards for becoming a certified scuba diver from the early 60ís were deemed unrealistic and unnecessary by the time I took my first course in the late 70ís. From there the evolution of equipment and training techniques pared down again much of what was found to be unrealistic and at times even dangerous for the recreational scuba diver. Take for example the Navy Dive Tables. My first scuba course still used them. They are a marvel of mathematical engineering and science that even told you when to make decompression stops in order to lower the nitrogen levels in our system to safe levels. They were found to be too precise over a period of time, didnít take into account differences in human physiology and gave way too much credit for the average human being able to follow a precise set of guidelines and not push their limits. Over the past 20 years those tables have been made more conservative a number of times in an effort to maintain and help ensure safety in recreational divers.
Equipment of course has followed suit. What you dismiss as ďfancyĒ I contend is more streamlined, more comfortable, more functional and in essence more safe than gear has ever been. Since you first learned to dive, for instance, buoyancy compensators have gone from something you make with directions found in the back of a Skin Diver magazine or a book (safe?) in the local library to a good idea, to a recommended piece of gear to a required piece of equipment. Why? 100% diver safety. Also, looking at that buoyancy compensator, and forgetting itís evolution in styles and types, it originally did not have a power inflator, it had an emergency Co2 inflator. The best idea we had at that time to assist a diver in an emergency situation was deemed to be obsolete and unsafe and was replaced with the low pressure power inflator and diver training and education was amended to teach us that that same rapid ascent we kept that Co2 cartridge handy for would quite possibly kill us. Scuba equipment is engineered and manufactured with diver safety in mind first and foremost. It is the foundation that every single piece of gear starts with. Once the item, concept or innovation is found to be safe, then and only then is it made to appear ďfancyĒ. And of course it is. You would no sooner walk onto the local car lot to purchase your brand new car and get excited over a Hudson or Nash even if it was filled with todayís technology than you would any piece of scuba gear that looks like something Jacques Cousteau or Emile Gagnan engineered in 1943. In terms of sales, it is indeed quite important that the gear be eye catching to the consumer. But never for a second let that be mistaken for unsafe.
Scuba courses are designed to teach divers to dive within their limits. In the late 70ís and early 80ís a person could actually earn a PADI Basic Diver certification card with as few as 2 check out dives. The additional 2 dives were a recommended up-sell by the instructor to earn your Open Water Diver card. This was found to be not a great idea and courses today have in essence been made more thorough by the requirement of 4 dives under the supervision of an instructor to demonstrate all required skills comfortably. Scuba instruction starts with safety and it is an integral part of the course from start to finish. The need and necessity for continued and/or specialized education is stressed through out the course as not only a method of increasing the instructor or shopís income but to predominately stress the need for experience and training in order to safely experience the type of diving that interests the student. 2 hour resort courses do not give a certification of any type. They are an introduction to scuba that is performed completely under the direct supervision of a qualified and trained scuba instructor. Their goal is to give a taste of the sport and excite the customer into taking a complete scuba course.
All in all, scuba today from instruction to equipment is as safe as it has ever been, and while we cannot account for the personal actions of those divers who choose to push themselves and resist seeking out the proper training for their interests that in no way means their instructors failed to stress the importance of it upon them or cut corners in order to increase profit nor has the industry lowered their standards in a way that sacrifices diver safety for profit. The continued evolution of our sport will be driven by innovation and education, both of which will always revolve around safety.