Take a good look at yourself before you critique any “old fart”.
While cheap essay writing services at the DEMA diving trade show awhile back, I met an old French diver who lived in Bonaire. He was exhibiting some paintings he had made of various wrecks around that Caribbean island. They were beautifully contrived scenes, but I didn’t recognize any of them. When I questioned him where they were, it became clear they were all well beyond 150 feet deep. I asked him if he used Trimix for these dives, to which he replied, “I use air and I have been diving for 50 years!” Today’s technical divers would be appalled.
Some time later, I was sent to the London Aquarium to photograph Ron and Valerie Taylor, who were going to dive in its shark tank. I wanted to go in with them, holding my camera, but the aquarium’s chief diver strictly forbade it. “I’ve got enough on my hands looking after these old people,” he told me. Then he proceeded to enter the water and smack on the nose any little shark that dared to come near the woman who had been made famous for enticing fully-grown sharks to bite her arm for the benefit of a camera.
I watched equally bemused when on a liveaboard with iconic diver Stan Waterman, cameraman from the acclaimed documentary Blue Water White Death. He is now in his 80s and looking a little frail, but he is as fit as a butcher’s dog and has spent more time underwater than some of us have been alive. This doesn’t stop younger divers from giving him advice. He’s always very polite and listens patiently before offering a cheery, “Good for you!” In the water, Stan is the consummate diver. He should be, as they say practice makes perfect. Take away the effect of gravity and the years fall off him. Later, he and I were hanging on a line at Alcyon, a challenging dive near Cocos Island. We were decompressing while the pickup boat plunged and bucked above us, the surface of the water punctuated by small explosions of vomit from those same young self-appointed advisors.
There are a lot of older divers who haven’t forgotten what they are doing, even if the “rules” have recently been changed by some Johnnie-come-lately at a training agency. New divers can so easily become self-appointed authorities. One day, you see them doing a trial dive on a rebreather, frightened to death, and the next, they have bought themselves the most expensive model they can, started a Web site and given themselves guru status.
That’s all very well, but give credit where credit is due. I’m afraid that if technical divers Rob Palmer and Shek Exley were alive today, they might be dismissed by some as has-beens. Okay, diving is not as difficult to understand as quantum physics, so it doesn’t take long to get to the top of the theory tree. Then, it only takes practice and experience, so why shouldn’t a young diver be good at it?
What really concerns me is many of the divers I have spent time with. Although they are a lot younger than 60-year-old me, they are simply in poorer condition. Many who I meet on diving trips appear to be unfit, despite being in the prime of their years. They frequently have trouble climbing into an inflatable — they are reduced to an undignified mass that must be rolled unceremoniously into the boat. Once aboard, they stand on all the gear, including their own cameras, which they wonder why they start leaking on the next dive. Their bellies are too big and their upper body strength too weak. I’m not a doctor, but what happens to them at other times of stress? Are they still going to have the finesse of a beached whale.
I am always fascinated to see American teenagers who are as fit and as athletic as a human being can be, but with their still-young parents sporting rear ends like dairy cows. What happens to them between their teens and their 30s? I asked an American friend who answered without a pause, “Fast food!”
I recently spent time swimming into a current for a couple of hours during a blue-water dive with sharks, which later elicited the comment from a much younger dive guide that I must be incredibly fit. It isn’t true. I’m just fit enough for the job in hand. I have never been interested in exercise regimes. The only early-morning exercise I ever entertained was a buffet breakfast. I have maintained a steady weight for the past 40 years. This has not been achieved by pounding my joints on the urban pavements every morning until I need a hip replacement, nor have I been a member of any gym. I don’t do any regular sports, but I eat a varied diet and rarely touch processed food.
Young people need to take a close look at their lifestyle now. What you put into your stomachs now will count for a lot later on. You may be getting away with it because you exercise a lot but believe me, the time will come when you will find yourself desk-bound and have the needs of children and spouse taking precedence over a morning run. Yet your eating habits will be well established.
Be particular about what you eat. When you’re a “has-been” and dismissed as an old fart by those who think they know a lot more about diving than you do, you’ll be able to accept it with equanimity, because you know you don’t need help getting back into the boat. Like Stan Waterman, you’ll be able to send them on their way with a cheery “Good for you!”