My advisor is a fanatic about underwater photography, and so, is also a scuba diving enthusiast. Throughout our advising sessions, she’s talked to me a lot about the scuba-diving conferences she’s gone to in her life.
The first thing I asked her was this: “Professor, do all these events have to happen in aquatic centers? I mean, surely, the conference’s goal is to get people to try scuba diving if they haven’t, right?”
And she shook her head. “No, of course not! These conferences are about scuba diving as an entity: subcultures form around it, ecosystems of equipment and accouterments are invented to enhance the dive, the political issues around diving near shipwrecks, etc., and we talk about all of this, but we also know that the actual act of scuba diving isn’t for everyone. Some can’t swim. Some don’t like water. The organizers understand that some are terrified or disgusted by the idea of volutarily going under water, breathing air from a tank, and that’s why no one’s forced to attend any of our lectures. I certainly enjoy scuba diving, but I’d never forcefully encourage anyone to do so if he didn’t want to.”
This started sounding pretty interesting. “Subcultures? Political issues?”
My advisor nodded in that knowing way. “Did you know that some cultures make a big deal of the “first dive,” that it is somewhat of a rite of passage? Not everyone treats it as a perfunctory ‘oh, let me rent a wetsuit and hire an instructor’ sport as we do nowadays. So there was a lecture on that…There was also an excellent talk by this English professor who discussed scuba diving in literature, and how it reflects attitudes various cultures have taken toward it.”
“This conference has also invited medical professionals to talk about conditions that make scuba diving an unsuitable activity for a person, or what the health risks of scuba were, but to discuss what conditioning exercises someone could do to increase their suitability for scuba diving, and, especially, what one should do to minimize risk of injury.”
I was nodding with interest, but started to get a little puzzled. I mean, doesn’t this theory stuff get boring? What about people who really do want to, forgive the pun, dive right in?
“They had demonstrations of various tanks and masks, and some people get to try them on. That’s actually fairly important–does this mask hurt my face? Is this tank the right size for my body? Equipment’s expensive, you know, and no one wants to make a less-than-fully-informed purchase. Dive enthusiasts, all trained, are nearby to answer questions.”
“There was also an interesting talk on alternative dive-related activities, and their legality. They’re seen as riskier, but if practiced safely, aren’t really any more dangerous than ordinary diving. Nevertheless, some areas will revoke your dive permit if you’re caught attempting one of these activities, which is a questionable decision, in my opinion, of course. Some feel that as long as the risk is known to the diver and the activity doesn’t damage the environment or other divers, it’s ok.”
I now had a question. “And what stance do the conference organizers take on these alternative dive-forms?”
“Generally, the attitude is towards one of personal responsibility. Like, if you’re advanced enough as a diver–physically, intellectually, technically–to research these dives, you should be allowed to attempt them. But we don’t at all encourage people to try them, or imply that these forms are superior in any way. I love plunging down a few dozen feet and just waiting for a beautiful sea creature to float by.”
So now I actually had to go to class, but I wanted to ask one final question. “I have to go to class now, but can you send me a link to this conference? I’m really curious about scuba-diving and its many facets. Though, I can’t swim. I would have flunked Cornell. Would I be uncomfortable? No one’s going to push me into the pool, right?”
She gave me a look that was a definitive “no.” “No, no one’s going to push you into the pool or even put a mask on you. That might happen at a pool party, but this conference isn’t one. I’ll send you the link. Have a good class!”
I’m not sure if I like swimming. but from that conversation, I knew that if there was ever a place to learn about responsible, safe scuba diving, it was at one of those conferences.