Derailing Diving’s Myths and Fears

By Ken Kurtis

If you are thinking about getting certified, you may have a few questions, fears or lingering doubts in the back of your mind. So we thought we would take a shot at putting those to rest.

Every time I start a new class, I spend some time the first night asking my new divers about their concerns and then explain, through rational thought and personal experience, why these fears are only myths. What follows are some real concerns I have heard expressed over the years and my responses.

(I always get the ball rolling with the most obvious one which is …)

I Will Be Eaten By a Shark
Especially in California, where I teach, the chances of seeing a shark are rather remote. And even if you do, consider it a rare treat as you view one of nature’s most majestic, highly developed apex predators. It’s much like getting the chance to see a wild lion while on safari. Shark attacks on humans are very rare—on divers, almost unheard of. In fact, more people are killed by pigs each year than are killed by sharks.

I Will Run Out Of Air
When you dive, you have a gauge that tells you how much air pressure (in pounds per square inch, or psi) is left in your tank. Even with a new diver, a tank of air will easily last 30-45 minutes. A good habit to get into is keeping the gauge in your hand and glancing at it every few minutes. I teach my students that if they have consumed more than 500psi since the last time they checked, they are waiting too long. Check your gauge frequently and running out of air won’t be an issue.

I Will Get Lost
It’s actually pretty tough to get lost diving since we generally don’t go more than a hundred yards or so from the entry point. You might, however, find you get disoriented, which basically means you are not sure of the correct path back to the boat or shore. Rather than swimming around aimlessly, you and your buddy can head (slowly and safely) to the surface, get your bearings and finish the dive back where you started.

I Will Get Hurt By An Animal
The ocean’s creatures do not start salivating every time they see a diver coming. When you hear stories such as “When Sea Creatures Attack,” what you usually find is someone who stuck their hand in a hole or under a rock without looking, and the animal reacted defensively. So watch where you stick your appendages. The other side of this coin is picking up everything in sight. Uncle Ken’s #1 Rule—If you don’t know what it is, just don’t touch it! It’s really that easy. A guy in Florida picked up a bristle worm (looks like a caterpillar but is heavily armed with stinging cells and HIGHLY painful to touch), brought it to the surface, put it on his lip, and said, “Look at me! I’ve got a mustache,” followed immediately by, “Arrgghhh! My lip! It’s on fire!” Repeating Rule #1—If you don’t know what it is, just don’t touch it.

I Will Get The Bends
Although a very real concern, the bends is a malady that is generally predictable and avoidable. It’s a function of the amount of excess nitrogen our bodies absorb during a dive, which is in turn a function of depth and time. In your class, you’ll learn about dive tables and dive computers, both of which help you avoid the bends. Simply stay within recognized table or computer limits and the bends should not be a problem.

I Will Have Equipment Failure
Equipment failures, especially ones that result in injury, are rare. According to D.A.N. (the Divers Alert Network), most injuries/accidents are the result of diver error. Modern diving equipment, if it should fail, is designed to do so in a manner that doesn’t cut off your air supply. If you have a problem, abort the dive, surface safely and you should be able to correct the problem.

I Will Hurt My Ears Or Sinuses
Although ear problems do occur in some divers, they too can be avoided. Because the pressure increases as you descend in the water column, you must equalize the pressure in your ears and sinuses. There are very simple techniques to do this that you’ll be shown in your class. You might occasionally feel a little pressure, but you should NEVER feel any pain. If you do it properly, your ears and sinuses underwater should feel no different than they do right now.

I Will Get Entangled
Watch where you are going and carry a knife. Although it’s unusual, there’s no guarantee that you will avoid fishing line, kelp or other entanglements (although in clear, tropical water it is not a common issue). But the way you get yourself really tied up is by reacting improperly at the first snag. If you start spinning around and writhing in the water, you’ll do a pretty good job of ensnaring yourself. Instead, stop, figure out where you’re caught (many times it’s your fin strap or tank valve) and either cut the snag yourself or have your buddy help you, and you won’t experience any major problems.

I Will Get Cold
Actually, yes you will. Water is an excellent conductor of heat. Unless you’re diving in water that’s 98.6° F, you will eventually get cold because you will lose body heat to the water. So it’s important to wear proper thermal protection, which can keep you very comfortable. This will vary depending on where you dive and your personal tolerance of cold. But the key to all of this is to end your dive before you become too cold. (If you’re in a class, be sure to signal your instructor if you’re getting too cold and need to get out.)

I Will Have My Hoses Cut
I actually got this one time from someone who had watched far too many episodes of Sea Hunt. I simply advised him not to go diving with Lloyd Bridges.

If there’s still something that concerns you, be sure to discuss it with your instructor. Diving opens up a new and incredible world. Take the plunge and savor the experience.