Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#307: Do's and Don'ts in the Dive Park

Summer is over. I'll miss it. I love the visitors to our island... especially one half of them. The dive boats, dive park and beaches fill up with lovely ladies. What more could a guy ask? However, summer also accentuates a problem that has become all too prevalent in our culture. I don't know if iPods and cell phones are at fault, but people seem to move about in their own personal space with little "situational awareness" of their surroundings and the fact there may be dozens... or hundreds... of others trying to share that space. Perhaps it is the increasing urbanization and human density of our living spaces.

People barrel out of stores right into the traffic flow on Front Street (or Crescent Avenue if you prefer) and make those walking with the flow stop abruptly. Others cross the flow of traffic with little concern for others, making them hit the proverbial brakes... or even bumping into them. Some will zip zag right towards you, expecting you to yield despite their erratic path. I don't know what happened to common courtesy... but it is no longer common, and in fact may be an endangered species!

This applies to our dive park as well. Despite the posted signs (which admittedly could be more prominent), divers and snorkelers commonly break the rules that are there to ensure everyone has a smooth and safe experience. Part of the problem is that the stairs, which were placed there to make entries and exits easier, concentrate diver traffic to a small area... ensuring conflicts will occur, especially when so many are impatient. There are still dive instructors like Tom Wetzel who teach their classes how to enter off the rocks, but they are a minority.

I've had divers from the mainland comment on how patient I am as I stand in line on the stairs, waiting for a beginning class to complete their entry. I see no reason for me, or any other diver, to break ranks and walk down the "up" side of the stairway. Yes, there is a down side and an up side. For those of you who learned to drive cars (or golf carts) in the States, it will come as no surprise that we go down on the right (as seen from land) and come up on the right (as seen from the water). And no, the "left lane" is not for passing! Of course visitors from Great Britain and other countries can be excused if they make a mistake.

I once jousted with a lead instructor of the DIR (Do It Right) movement because some of his class members DIW (did it wrong). They couldn't wait in the admittedly long line on the right side, so they barreled down the left side and entered the water. Now if no one had been trying to exit on that side at the same time, this would not have been a serious problem. However, a dive friend of mine from Dive 'n' Surf, Linda Sue, was assisting her class coming out of the water. The DIR divers jumped right in in front of her students. DIW!

Beginning classes often are slow in entering and do tie up the lower stairs, forcing many divers to wait until the class clears the stairs. More experienced divers need to show patience and understanding... or do it the old fashioned way by crawling into the water off the rocks. The instructors in such classes do need to be aware of other divers waiting to enter, but generally they are.

Snorkelers are a completely different issue. Personally I dread seeing large groups of them approaching the stairs. With all the other places they can snorkel (like Lover's Cove where we can't dive, Avalon Bay and Descanso Bay), why do they have to pick the dive park. Yes, I know... a bit snobbish and elitist of me, but... Snorkelers are often very tentative about entering the water. They stand on the lower stairs, blocking access for those in line behind them. They dip their toes in several times, testing the water (and often squealing when they realize this ain't the tropics). They may drop in, only to quickly emerge... and block the entrance side even longer.

Once they actually make it in the water, they often stay right in front of the "fairway" leading from the stairs to open water. When there are large groups, this can pose quite a challenge for a diver trying to get out past them. It also poses a challenge for divers trying to return from their dive since the snorkelers are often blocking the way. Then there is the issue of snorkelers sitting on, and thereby blocking, the stairs especially in groups. The signs clearly state not to block the stairs by sitting on them or sunbathing.

Now I don't want this to seem like a tirade against snorkelers. Once in the water I've had a number of issues with divers who seem totally unaware of their environment. I can understand that for divers who are in certification classes. They are just trying to remain among the living. However, I remember one day when I was lying on the sandy bottom at 25-30 feet filming an anemone. Suddenly I felt pressure on my legs, then my back. I turned my head to see an instructor WALKING his class along the bottom (at that depth?), totally unaware of my presence. I waited until the last diver had planted their fins on my head before trying to resume my video work... but they had stirred up so much sediment, I couldn't see my subject!

Then there was the time I was filming some naked hydroids. No, nothing sexual about that... they just lack any hard protective structures. I was braced on the reef filming my subject when a hand entered the frame, and landed on top of the small hydroids! I looked up to see a diver who was totally oblivious to my presence... he was looking the other way. Now I simply cannot understand how a diver could do that when I was less than a foot away. After all, I'm closer in size to a whale than I am to a hydroid! Another example of a lack of "situational awareness," a necessity for developing courtesy towards others.

So, I'll miss the bikinis of summer and the crowds that give me more opportunities to chat at the dive park. However, I won't miss the people on Casino Way who walk towards me six abreast, expecting me to yield for them. What was I supposed to do... jump in the ocean? I won't miss the long lines of divers on the stairs at the dive park. I won't miss the snorkelers sitting on the wrong side at the bottom of the stairs when I attempt to exit the water in surge and swell with my expensive camera in hand. Oh, and I won't miss those who can't wait in the line at Vons and have to cut in front of me. I really enjoy people, and welcome visitors to our island. However, I just wish courtesy was as common as it used to be when I grew up. If I do find myself nostalgic for the "joys of summer," I can always head over to the mainland and drive the 405 Freeway or shop at the malls during the holiday season!

© 2008 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 49, 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

Proper traffic flow on the stairs, divers entering on the wrong (left) side; group of snorkelers
totally blocking stairs, snorkelers on stairs and in the water blocking diver entering the water.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2008 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia