How do I teach in the basic course
In the basic/recreational Sidemount Diver course conducted by me, we start with the theoretical part online (history, equipment, configuration, gas management, planning, emergencies) and then we move on to the meticulous and (sometimes) several hours of setting up the SM harness, determining the length of the elastics, the location and type of d-rings, optical inspection of regulators, clamps, cords and boltsnaps and double-enders. Although I take an active part in the settings, each trainee after the training should be able to make changes themselves and the legitimacy of their implementation is widely discussed. We learn to identify the problem of settings and their corrections (for example, there are at least 5 factors affecting the setting of primary cylinders). Every doubt is clarified and every setting is supported by a specific argument.
After preparing the equipment, we move on to a detailed discussion of the exercises and dry-runs and the visualization of each of them. It is important to know exactly what the instructor will expect from his student before entering shallow water.
The first underwater classes are aimed at familiarizing the student with the new configuration, checking the equipment settings and performing a few/over a dozen exercises. "A few" should be understood as required by the standards and in the case of mastering them, "several" additional, which may not be included in the program and I consider their mastery recommended or at least useful.
During classes in shallow water, I assess the diver's buoyancy and his "diving accuracy" and make minor adjustments to trim and swimming techniques (frog, backfrog, helicopter, flutter, modified techniques).
After the first wet classes, we get out of the water and discuss everything we've managed to do, the problems that arose during the exercises and how to deal with them. All pool exercises are recorded with a GoPro camera (only for course use) and the recorded material is subject to analysis and reliable assessment. Our brain in the water likes to play tricks on us and often after the "projection" what seemed to be correct in the water suddenly turns out to be the first thing to improve and potentially "burned" exercises turn out to be not so badly done. The camera won't lie.
During open water diving, we practice various methods of entering the water. After my course, a SM diver must be able to put on and take off the equipment efficiently and relatively quickly according to the principle: "slow is smooth, smooth is fast". Nothing is more personally offensive at a diving site than an SM diver who has problems already at the entrance and "fighting" at the exit from the water.
In addition to standard exercises such as handling the bag, checking pressure gauges, V-drill, S-drill, gas management, ascent, descent, regulator identification, free-flow procedure or depositing and putting on a cylinder in the depths, I pay great attention to correctly and safely dealing with clarifying regulator hoses (several ways) and main flashlight cable because IMHO this element is very neglected and yet as sidemount divers we want to be maximally streamlined.
As a certified cave diver, I am also preparing for a typical cave diving in the SM configuration, therefore, in addition to changing the regulators with two hands, we learn to do it with one hand, we hide the pressure gauges after checking the pressure, and we carry out the gas sharing procedure in appropriate sequences after prior signaling with a flashlight, which we also learn to operate in appropriate sequences (clear, unpin, use). On request and if you master all standard exercises, we can even perform some of them with a rope and in a black mask. This is a great option for those who decide to take a sidemount course because of plans to take a cave course. Thus, they will save themselves stress and the cave instructor time on the cave course and will be able to focus on typical cave and navigation elements.
During the course, we do not forget about working on the accessibility to an item of equipment; pockets, pouch, mask, cutting tool, buoy (shooting).
As I mentioned, we are constantly working on the correct trim and swimming techniques. I cannot imagine an SM diver without the ability to swim backwards (with or without fins) or one who cannot turn using the helicopter-turn-mode around to his partner. We pull the cylinder forward, to the side, we deal with failures of rubbers, strings, boltsnaps, we rescue unconscious buddies, we swim without one fin... but (to avoid overloading with tasks) we are aware that our course is above all, having fun. Let's remember that what we learn will only improve our self-confidence and thus increase our and our partner's safety.
After each exit from the water, we discuss exercises, clarify doubts and, full of spirit, plan and visualize the next entry. I am a supporter and believer in sequencing in diving. Each exercise to be performed exemplarily must be memorized (including muscular memory) and repeated in a black mask, without fins and in neutral buoyancy. Although the mask and "finless" during skills is not a standard of the course, I encourage all my students to set such standards for themselves during later exercises. After them, the "regular" skill will be just a piece of cake. I will not give only neutral buoyancy. We say a firm NO to the knees on the platform!
At the end of the second day of open waters, we are tired but convinced that our course is not just a formality and not another plastic, but reliable work that raised our skills at least one level higher.
I spend the maximum amount of time with each student. There are more and more of us and it is very important to me that the sidemount diver trained by me stands out among others with his flow, professionalism and attention to detail. Because the devil is in the detail!