Wisdom and Youth

John BantinThe confidence of youth is wonderful. We’ve all been there, but I, for one, must have been insufferable! It was Sir Isaac Newton who said, towards the end of his illustrious career, that he felt he had been merely playing on the seashore when the great ocean of discovery lay before him. As we get older, we begin to realise how little we know, but it seems there is no shortage of younger people to remind us of that.

I remember well the newly qualified dive guide, a lone American girl working in a French Caribbean resort, giving me a dive briefing that included putting my finger alongside my nose before drawing it down to find the dump valve on my BC before an ascent. I was more surprised after she offered to model for my camera but later berated me for swimming ahead of her and three feet below her in order to get a picture of her.

I’d draw a veil over the young liveaboard guide who accused me of not listening while he read out my old dive briefing notes that I had written on various sites when I had been his predecessor.

It was embarrassing when, on a press trip with ex National Geographic photographer Mauricio Handler, we were both told by a young dive guide that the dive on the wreck of the Rhone would be to sixty feet for 20 minutes and that we were not to leave his side. We both did our own thing once we hit the water.

It was even more embarrassing to witness young well-intentioned divers giving tips to Stan Waterman, a man whose hours underwater amounted to more than they’d been alive, on how to improve his diving.  He was always good natured and responded with a cheery “Good for you!”

Even seemingly trivial changes to our established routines, insisted on by the well-intentioned, can put us off-balance.

Mary Wicksten, a biologist at Texas A&M University, long-time Undercurrent subscriber and author of Vertical Reefs, wrote to say, “I was trained for beach entries to put my fins on just after I cleared any rocks or before I waded backward into the water over a sandy slope. Now I meet the [dive guides] who want me to wade in at least knee deep, stand on one foot while wearing my BC, tank, weight belt with 25 lbs. or more, and while wearing a thick wet suit. Add a bit of chop and I am knocked off my feet. I can’t manage to get into my gear even if somebody helps me. I flounder fin-less in the surf. I’ve seen other younger more agile divers, especially women, who have the same problem. Please, let me put my fins on and walk backward!”

Most of us are never too proud to let someone else carry our gear, or get a lift to the jetty with heavy camera kit when younger people have to walk. In developing countries young people usually demonstrate a respect for age.

However, as David Haas (Stow OH) with 47 years diving experience as both instructor, dive store owner and trip leader, suggests, “I also would add there is [often] a huge disparity between dive guides in the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Dive guides in Asia in general are not only more interested in showing divers marvelous things, they truly seem to care about their customers enjoying themselves overall. They are also much more aware of the average sport diver client’s skill and pay attention to potential problems almost unnoticed. They make it look so easy. I’ve also found (at least in the Philippines) the average dive guide has many more hours leading dives before being turned loose, than in other locations.

Don’t take this as a condemnation of [all] the Caribbean guides as I’ve had many great guides there also. But too many are fresh out of school and can’t tell who they should be watching or seem interested in finding creatures that may be of interest to their guests.”

He adds “I am polite and if not intruding on my own dive plan will follow the ‘rules’ especially in places looking to see creatures the guides are experts at finding. In those cases I do stick by their side and it is wonderful!”

Like Stan Waterman and most of the rest of us he subscribes to the following idea: “One thing the wisdom of age gives many is to not argue. Better to smile, be polite and, when hitting the water, control your own dive and have fun safely.”

Youth is a wonderful thing, but you can’t make a career out of it.

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2 thoughts on “Wisdom and Youth”

  1. Excellent article. While wisdom comes with age, judgment comes with maturation. The human brain does not exercise adequate judgment for many activities until it matures physiologically into an adult brain around the age of 23 and even into the thirties for many people with attention deficit disorder. or later for people with personality disorders. We all must realize that while diving, we place our very existence into the hands and judgment of our divemasters. Diving is a great experience that can quickly turn tragic. I don’t have years of diving under my belt, but what I have experienced has taught me that the quality of one’s divemaster and dive partner may mean the difference between life and death. Qualify both of them to the best of your ability, and if you don’t feel safe with them for whatever reason, do not dive with them. Respectfully submitted, Donald M Jacobson, MD, diving medicine and safety blogger and psychiatrist and sleep medicine physician – http://www.scubagearpro.com/blog

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  2. John, as a diver with 58 years’ experience and over 5,000 dives, I chuckled reading your column. I too have experienced numerous young dive guides who were well-intentioned but displayed poor judgment, both in their customer interactions, and more importantly, in their behaviors underwater (e.g., conducting an entire dive against the current, improperly assembling a diver’s personal gear with which they are not familiar, leaving part of their group to tend to another part, etc.) Young divers may generally have more physical stamina, but like young motorists, often lack the experience to know their limits and to take appropriate precautions. It takes a while to develop the humility to survive and prosper in the ocean.

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