Sidemount scuba is simply an evolved approach to equipment configuration which was developed by cave divers needing precision buoyancy and the ability to dive in unusually tight conditions. It employs innovation and discipline to produce an arrangement of scuba unlike any the typical diver is accustomed to.
Think of your Scuba back-mount system like a car which has a front mounted engine. It’s there because that’s where everyone puts it and it’s easy. It has it’s limitations, but works for 99% of applications. Sidemount scuba is like mounting your engine in the middle of the car. It’s more complicated and means having to move some other bits and pieces about to accommodate it, but you do it because it improves weight distribution, performance and manoeuvrability. It’s also WAY cooler!
I was introduced to Sidemount by Fernando Cañada, Steve Zoni, Steve Bogaerts and Suzy Phipps whilst living and diving in Central America. This was in the days before the large training organisations recognised a growing trend and when equipment options were a little ‘limited’. Steve Bogaerts went on to create the ‘Razor’ system to overcome this, and this is the setup I prefer to use. Initially I was intrigued by the configuration. I liked the idea of having two tanks with me and the setup looked much more easy to manage than manifold twin-sets (yes, I was also an air hog!) and would mean I could extend my bottom time beyond 40 minutes. I liked the idea of narrowing your profile and being able to follow Fernando through some of those tighter swim-through’s. However, I thought it all looked a little cumbersome and unwieldy. Zoni and Bogaerts both convinced me to start and to stick with it and soon I would be a convert…..
Getting started is hard! Everything feels so wrong. There are tanks in the way and it all feels cumbersome. The harness is too tight and cuts into your neck/hips/crotch* (delete as applicable) and on top of that Bogaerts’ training programme has you practicing buoyancy skills in 3’ of water. It took me about 5 dives to figure out which parts of the harness and ‘rig’ were the most uncomfortable and then to be able to adjust them to a better position. Once you have your rig configured…. That’s it you’re hooked! There is no going back.
On the course you’re taught precision buoyancy skills – holding a position in the water for extended periods of time and trying to get as close to the sand as possible whilst still remaining ‘afloat’ and neutrally buoyant. Different ways of manoeuvring yourself in the water using both hands and feet, and of course how to deal with emergencies. Once out in the open water with a comfortable setup you realize that your position in the water is different. You carry less weight, and less around your hips. This means you become more ‘feet up’ in the water. You’re able to hold a stationary hover almost effortlessly and bend and twist around the reefs like never before. You’ll soon realise that you have increased levels of stability, which is a real boon for the photographers amongst us. Not only can you hold that hover without needing to ‘touch down’, you’ll also be able to comfortably get under those tight overhangs and catch that Nurse Shark image the others can only dream of.
I’m a complete convert to Sidemount and now teach both the Bogaert’s and PADI Sidemount specialities. I choose to dive this way almost anytime I’m diving and not teaching. I am recognised as the only trained Sidemount instructor on the Island of Carriacou and teach all my courses with the same dedication, professionalism and fun as the guys taught me, using my copy of the Razor system. This means that when you’re thinking of learning Sidemount you’ll be confident that you’re being taught by someone who knows what they’re doing and knows why they’re doing it.
On my rare days off, I can be seen dropping into the Ocean with a single Sidemount tank and bumbling around the cracks and holes around Jack Iron Point or Anse La Roche and trying to get some great photo or video for the shop.
If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at www.deeferdiving.com
Or if you are interested in trying Sidemount or learning to dive Sidemount you can find more information at http://www.deeferdiving.com/carriacoupadicourses.html