The detriment of Social Media in Diving

 

I like many others that love the sport of diving regularly post pictures of the world we encounter above and below the surface of the seas.

Social media has opened the portal of pictured reality rather than an individual’s imagination from the words of a written article.  As such,  we find ourselves absorbing the experiences of others and mounting our own little piece of life in the ever-increasing expanse that is the Internet’s globally public library. Much like any walk-in library, unless you are there to study we tend to glide over to a particular section, whether that be Biographies, Love/ Romance, Sci Fi, Thrillers, Action etc; the end product is to exit our current world for a while, and dissolve ourselves into someones story that we see as significantly more exciting or improved on our own current situation. How many times have you sat in a group, at a bar, at home and all around you are staring at the handheld screen totally oblivious to their current environment. It’s common-place now, its modern socializing (if you can call it that).

jamesemeryshot
Who needs selfies when James Emery is around
Social media is fantastic but it has progressed to a point where displaying the best photo of the most scenic location, with the top 30 hash tags attached outweighs the initial concept of simply sharing photos with friends.  My Instagram is constantly plagued with #like4like & #follow4follow etc and the opportunity to purchase more followers.  Facebook alerts me to absolutely anything diving related, as the platform is clearly much more of a marketing tool than that which Mark Zuckerberg originally created.  For sure it’s modernization,  it’s the new way to do business, how to capture the global market and air your wares.
I like everyone else love to be online,  that’s why I have Instagram,  Facebook, Pintrest;  its human nature for us all to want to share our experiences and follow our sporting idols. I can quite easily kill an afternoon watching the Red Bull Downhill Mountain bike scene and have done on many occasions.
The problem I see is that of emulation, we’ve all done it at some point. As kids my brother and I would spend hours thinking we were Eddie Kidd whilst jumping a ramp of no more than 2m but imagining the double-decker buses beneath us and the crowd erupting as we sketchily landed our Bmx Bandit or Raleigh Chopper. Or later in life as we hit Delamere Forest on quality bikes hitting the berms, seeking out the next big drop-off or the next hillock that we could hit at speed to get air time.
It’s all well and good until you fuck up,  the 2m ramp,  the 7m drop off, they both feel great until a foot slips and the slow motion brain process starts when you instantly know that some skin is coming off your shin and your gooch is on a collision course with the crossbar as soon as tyre meets mother earth.  Even as you stagger around screaming blue murder and cradle your plums, you’re still OK. Nowadays the pro’s are hitting 70 foot canyon gaps whilst doing double back-flips, waving at their mum,  drinking a can of Red Bull and signing autographs all at the same time.  Easy hey, anyone can do it!
Social media makes it look easy with a flourish of epic jumps,  crazy challenges and ever-increasing limits.
Where am I going with this? Well, in a nut-shell the point I am getting to is that of experience in relation to the challenges ahead. At the sprightly age of 42 I’m sure I would be more hesitant at the Delamere drop-off’s or canning my Fireblade down the M5 at 180 Mph. That’s due to my own ability at recognizing that I’m older, less out of the sports, less practiced and therefore more likely to be wandering around with my plums in hand again, or worse.
How many sites/ pages are online now merely to host videos of people’s fuck ups, #instantfail #failarmy #instadumbfuck. It’s all there for us to view at anytime, I’ll admit it,  I find them hilarious at times but how many of these sites show diving fuck ups?  I’ve not found one yet that you can just randomly come across.
There is a very good reason for this,  albeit diving is a slow sport (even Red Bull would be challenged to hype it up for the next X games)  it is actually really bloody dangerous if you push your personal skill boundaries too quickly. I mean, come on, if you fuck up under water it’s not exactly going to be a 10 minute cursing session whilst holding ones plums before whacking them on ice is it.
Having spent the last 4 years diving and instructing in Thailand I’ve gained a lot of experience with new and old divers alike. I like many other instructors in our profession take pride in providing a high level of training to our customers  and without a shadow of a doubt the most important aspect, safety.
Safety comes in many forms but unfortunately these pertinent points seem to enter a new students head and then float back out along with the fairy’s and pink unicorns, only to be replaced with visions of grandeur, deep dives, penetration of wrecks, caves and caverns. Surely social media is playing a key role in this fuck up beyond fuck ups; where else are these crazy ideas evolving from. On numerous occasions I have worked as a dive guide on live-aboards in conditions and on dive sites leading guests that literally have all the gear and no idea.
Imagine the jealousy of your co-workers viewing your latest Instagram snaps of Asian cuisine and you diving; Awesome hey? A few quick clicks on a booking agent website and you’re all set for a 5 day Live aboard. But wait, you are an Open Water diver, you have 10 dives under your belt and the last time you got wet was 2 years ago. Surely that’s enough to dive anywhere in the world right? So off you go, to the beautiful location to dive some of the worlds best dive spots. Quick selfie on the plane captioned ‘Enjoy the frost peasants’ followed by another upon arrival at the resort then another displaying your pasty white knees and toes with the pool in the background. And so it goes on.
That evening you board the boat and receive the welcome brief, settle into your sweet ass room and gorge on the tasty treats cooked up for supper. Following supper its time to set up your equipment ready for the early start, that’s when realization kicks in….. “I do what with the life jacket thing?” and “The hoses go where?
Fortunately all live-aboard trips will commence with a relatively simple dive site and use this as a ‘Check Dive’ to ensure all customers are safe to dive and up to speed with their skills. Saying that, on many occasions I have seen customers that clearly do not have the ability to dive particular dive sites, whether that is through lack of competence or the mental insecurity brought on by the up-coming dive or indeed the fact they have borrowed equipment from friends back home that they literally have no clue about.
The point I’m making (yes, there is one) is that I have found it more and more common-place for people to book a dive or two, or a Live-aboard with all the confidence of a dive pro in the office but the skill-set of an unqualified ‘Try Diver’ ready for a pool session. Every time I take new customers I ask them to do their Buddy Checks prior to entry which is usually followed up with me gawking in amazement as they fiddle with a hose, press a button, squirt some air through the 2nd stage via the purge button and a final exclamation of “We’re good to go

HELL NO YOU’RE NOT!!

Back to basics folks. Your Buddy Checks are the ultimate safety check for recreational diving. If I gave you a bike at the top of the 7m drop-off with no air in the tires would you still do it? (I know a few who would (Tim)) You would think it’s lunacy, it’s not safe. So why would you submerge up to 30m in water without checking that you have air in your dive tires, your tank?!?
Yes it’s great to have lots of likes on your latest photo or the floods of comments from grey cold offices back in London wishing they where on site with you, but do you ACTUALLY have the skills and experience to dive these epic dive sites? There is a significant difference between diving Twins or White Rock at Koh Tao, Thailand and diving the ripping currents that The Maldives can produce (you actually get issued a hook to hold onto the rocks on some dives the current is that strong).
You don’t need to be the next Red Bull Slope Style Champ to enjoy a holiday, you can capture some awesome photos that will make the office green back home in thousands of locations around the world. My personal feeling is that people are willing to push those boundaries a little bit too much nowadays, all for the sake of being in a particular location, capturing that photo, gaining those likes and all at the risk of their own safety and indeed the safety of those they dive with.

In Summary

Don’t choose your locations purely on how it will look on Instagram, the last thing you need is to be the next statistic through bad diving practices (try hashtagging that one to get lots of likes) all for the sake of some online kudos dealt by lots of people you’ll probably never meet.
Before jetting off on your next dive holiday plan a refresher, whether that’s at the local pool or on location once you have arrived. Remind yourself of the safety elements of diving, your equipment set up, your pre-dive buddy checks, will the location suit your level of experience? Are you planning to increase your experience? and if so make sure you can do it to the standards laid down by the governing association. PADI, NAUI, CMAS, SSI, RAID….. the majority of the qualifying associations within the industry now have online access, use the tools at your fingertips to make sure you are safe to enjoy your dives; THEN you can think about that next epic kudos building photo upload without having to cradle your plums.
Photo credit: James Emery
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