The Problem With Younger Divers

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John BantinTake 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!”

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11 comments for “The Problem With Younger Divers

  1. Bret Gilliam
    December 2, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Ah, John Bantin has once again pointed out the absurdities that all divers over 50 seem to have to endure as well-intended youthful “experts” attempt to look after these old farts. My dear friends Ron & Val Taylor, although in their mid-70s now, are probably the last people I can imagine that might need help, assistance, or advice from the divers whose ages don’t even equal half the time the Taylors have spent underwater since the 1950s. In fact, if you ever get on Val’s bad side, you better be able to out-run her as she is both intellectually superior and wields a capable “bitch-slap” to those who need it. And, unlike most women young enough to be her grandchildren, she still looks drop-dead gorgeous in a bathing suit!

    As to Stan Waterman who will turn 87 in April 2010, don’t let his eye patch and an occasional hitch in his step fool you. Salt water runs deeply in his veins and he’s as capable today underwater as when I met him while working on The Deep back in 1976. He was then 53 and I was surprised that he would actually walk upright unaided by those of us in our mid-20s who regarded ourselves as bullet-proof examples of extreme physical prowess. Of course, Stan’s performance, grace, and skill underwater every day both astounded and humiliated us as we tried to keep up with him with futility. (You also don’t want to get into a drinking contest with Stan for fine single malt Scotch. I still have a lingering headache from the last memorable evening of raised glasses and sea tales.)

    I made it a practice my whole career to get up each morning and learn something new. A large amount of that valuable process was achieved by listening to my elders such as those noted above and following their examples and advice. As I close in on 60 myself (in February 2011) I still practice that ethos. I like to think some of the mentoring they, and others did for me, helped me to pass along some valuable tips to younger divers as they followed in my wake.

    One thing is for sure, if I’m in a tense situation at depth, in a marine life encounter, or even about my choice of wine… I’m following the Taylors or Stan without a second thought. Not the guy right out of instructor class with 50 patches sown on his windbreaker.

    That’s good advice that you can take to the bank. And be sure to say, “Yes, ma’am” to Val Taylor. She’s your better and she’s forgotten more than you’ll ever learn.

    Bret Gilliam

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  2. December 3, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Bravo!!!! 62 & holding hope to make Stan Waterman’s distance with grace and style

    Cheers

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  3. Steve Arnold
    December 7, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I wonder just how much of that attitude is a function of how easy it is to get not only basic certs, but advanced certs as well. Cookie-cutter C-cards and almost no knowledge of gas and pressure laws required. Equipment that almost dives for the diver.

    That’s not to say that the advance in technology and equipment in the past 40 years since I’ve been privileged to spend a little time underwater hasn’t done a lot of good, but I think sometimes it’s like the advent of the calculator when I was in Engineering School. We still had to know the basic technique. The calculator was a tool not a crutch. God, I’m sounding old!!

    I like Bret Gilliam’s read on Val Taylor (who is one of my very few heroes/heroines)and Stan Waterman.

    Maybe the “good old days” were older than good, but they sure as hell were educational. Along with a lot of us from “the good old days.”

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  4. John Bantin
    December 11, 2009 at 10:24 am

    …and I always assumed Bret was a LOT older than me!

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  5. matthew peck
    December 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Great story.

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  6. Jeff Bloomer
    February 14, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Amen brother!

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  7. Jim Babe
    February 28, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Ah but it is so much fun to watch them turn colors and wretch. I find it very amusing to explain that I learned to SCUBA on a double hose rig. And yes we had re-breathers and closed systems before they were born. At least they could be eye candy I guess but still wish they give me a break. When I the customer has to help fix no only the compressor but the beer tap also, I mean where has the talent gone. Yes I am an “old fart” and yes I have had to realign a few attitudes but that is why now when I go diving I warn the operators that I bite worse than a pissed off shark.

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  8. Naomi Stern
    March 6, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    I’m an 80 year old woman who just did that trip with Maurine and Burt in Triton Bay (I was more excited about it than she was!!!) Am already planning next year’s trip to Uepi.

    I don’t do more than three dives a day any more, but other than that I’m up for everything!

    And the crew always treat me like a queen!

    Keep diving!

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  9. Mike
    April 11, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Ahh, the arrogance of old age, as if you people have nothing to learn from the young.

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  10. dtr
    April 27, 2010 at 4:59 am

    So, each time I hear about old ‘farts’ I applaud. Each push by some over acheived diver, whom has money, tech, instruction and no age dive time tells me about how a dive which is deeper than a nuke sub and how many time they did it. I keep thinking did you see the small square foot of life as you pass to the ‘great goal’. That small life existed before your reg or suit…..
    oh well, I guess being old is part of the lack of understanding…the young…

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  11. January 31, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Went to sealife Dec 11th. Amazing place to visit, fair enough there were a lot of kids running around which is not ideal for a couple but it’s to be expected. If you love fish like me then it’s an amazing experience but I could imagine why someone not that fussed would not be overly bothered. Seeing the sharks was incredible! Far better than I expected from the reviews. Would really recommend!

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