How I Teach Basic Sidemount.
Basic Sidemount course begins with theory (history, equipment, configuration, gas procedures, planning, self-rescue and emergencies). Having discussed all the issues in details we move forward to a meticulous and, sometimes, long-lasting harness adjustment, setting the proper length of bungees and boltsnap strings, positioning different kinds of d-rings, revising the regulators and hoses, adjusting cam bands and additional gear. Although I personally participate in all the activities in question every student of mine, having completed the course, needs to be able to make the changes and adjustments themselves and know the reasons why we implement them into our diving. We learn how to identify the problems of the setup and carry out a proper correction. For instance, there are at least 5 different factors contributing to the positioning of the basic sidemount cylinders. No questions regarding these are left unanswered and the instructor (Michur) tries to come up with an appropriate argument to support his views and ideas.
When the equipment is ready the next step is a very thorough summary of the skills to be practiced. We run through them dry and carry out visualization technique for each of them. It is essential to know exactly what Michur expects from his student prior to jumping into confined water.
The objective of the first dive is to make the student more familiar with the relatively new configuration as well as to check the whole setup and perform a few/ a dozen skills. “A few” stands for all the skills required by the course standards. When they are mastered we can carry on with the remaining “dozen” that are not obligatory but I personally regard them as recommended or at least extremely useful.
During the confined water dive I keep on observing the student’s performance in terms of their diving skills such as buoyancy, trim and swimming techniques (frog, modified frog, back kick, helicopter turn, flutter, modified flutter and others).
When out of water we have a detailed discussion on our successes and failures, problems and their possible solutions. All confined water skills performed by the student are shot with GoPro camera (only for the educational purposes) and the footage is then analyzed and intricately assessed. Our mind gets confused in water and sends us misinterpreted signals so what seemed properly executed under water might call for a repetition after watching it on a monitor screen. On the other hand some skills do look much better being watched than when they were being done.
Next day we meet at the local quarry to start our open water dives. We examine the site and entry and exit points. Then we check our equipment and implement necessary changes if needed and not made the day before. We thoroughly discuss, plan and visualize the first dive.
On the second and third day of the course while doing open water dives and we practice various methods of entering and exiting the site such as donning both cylinders on dry land and jumping in, jumping in with one cylinder and donning the other in the water or leaving the cylinders in the water and putting them both after a jump-in, all done in water too deep to stand in. After my course a sidemount diver must be capable of donning and doffing their equipment fast and efficiently according to Protec’s motto: “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. There is nothing more disturbing and alarming than a pathetic sight of a SM diver experiencing problems, literally “fighting” against his gear, entering or exiting the water. For example, one of the official reasons why sidemount divers are no longer allowed to use the facilities of the famous Molnar cave in Budapest is the alleged clumsiness and ineptitude of SM cavers… Let us change the stereotype!
Apart from standard skills such as inflating and deflating the BCD in different positions and both hands, checking the SPGs, V-drills, S-drills, gas management, descending, ascending, identifying the regulator, free-flow procedures or donning and doffing the cylinders in mid-water I personally put a great emphasis on appropriate handling and stowing the long hose (I teach a few ways of doing so)and the primary light cable. IMHO these particular skills are very often neglected and underestimated. It seems strange as we sidemount divers aspire to achieve the state of perfect streamlining.
As a certified cave diver I prepare my basic sidemount students to a cave diving challenge that literally means we train our skills bearing in mind all the requirements of cave diving courses and cave environment. Therefore, aside from switching the regs with one hand we practice doing the same with one hand, hide the SPGs after checking the pressure and the sharing gas procedure is conducted in subsequent sequences preceded by primary light emergency signals. On request, but on condition that standard skills have been mastered, we can practice some of them close to the line and with a blind mask to imitate cave and zero viz conditions. This appears a useful option for students who have enrolled on my Basic Sidemount course having a future cave course in mind. Mastering the skills in a cave-conscious way will save the students time and stress during their cave education process plus their cave instructor, knowing he should not expect any sidemount related issues, will be able to devote most of his time to typical cave-oriented skills.
Throughout the duration of the course we constantly work on the comfort and easiness of accessing particular elements of the equipment such as the thigh pockets, pouch, mask, spools, scissors and knives, helmet (putting it on and off) or the SMB (plus shooting it, of course).
As previously mentioned we keep on improving our buoyancy, trim and swimmimg techniques. I cannot imagine a SM diver unable to back kick (with or without fins) or apply the helicopter turn in both directions. With a bit more advanced students we even try, what I call, “figuring” which basically means swimming upside down, on one side, upside down back kicking and gliding in different positions. We simply take delight in our beloved configuration. In addition, we exercise gunning with one or two cylinders, cope with bungee or boltsnap string failure, rescue unconscious divers, swim with one or no fins, don and doff the left tank with the right on still on and etc…but to avoid task loading we are still aware that our course should be, above all, good fun. We must never forget that all we learn here will only improve our self-confidence and skill mastery and ,therefore will increase our own and our buddie’s safety.
Having exited the water we always discuss our dive, clarify all doubts and full of energy visualize and plan the next dive. I am in favour of sequencing approach to diving. Every skill to be mastered must be first remembered and then repeated a few times (muscle memory)… possibly… in blind mask, with no fins and in neutral buoyancy. Although the blind mask and no fins practice is not a standard and I treat them as optional I strongly recommend trying them at least in future time. Once you have mastered them the “standard” skill will just be a piece of cake. However, what I really regard as obligatory during my course is neutral buoyancy when performing a skill. We say goodbye to knees on the platform here! 🙂
At the end of day 3 we have the right to feel tired . Nevertheless, we are convinced that we did the course not just to be sent another certification but to brush up our skills and put our underwater conduct at least one level higher.
I devote a maximum amount of time to each of my students. The number of my certified sm divers is on the increase and I really mean to license divers known for their perfect skill, buoyancy, professionalism and attention to detail. The devil is in the detail, is it not?
Sidemount diving is a collection of tricks, tricky moves and ideas. I am proud to admit that I myself have invented some of them.I am willing to share them with divers who have fallen in love with sidemount… or call it: become similarly addicted. 🙂
We can obviously do the course using different cylinders such as aluminum (11 or 7 liters) or steel (light or heavy). You will be taught how to configure the harness before you switch to a different set of tanks.
You do not have your own equipment? Not a big problem. I own a few sets of cylinders (alu, steel), harnesses and regulators. You can use them during the course free of charge.
I do hope I can meet the expectations of the most demanding. If you are interested please do not hesitate to contact me via FB messenger or contact form.
Course in your own area?
On request, it is possible to arrange a course with me in your own area. It seems a better solution in case there are more friends of yours interested in my services. Although my costs will have to be covered it still might turn out a better value for money. Please ask me for more details here.