Have you tried Sidemount diving? As our guest Simon discovered this week, sidemount diving is not just for serious technical divers (although they love it, too). Benefits include more comfort in the water, better buoyancy control, improved streamlining, and additional safety thanks to having a redundant air supply and a completely separate regulator.
Simon visited Two Fish Divers for a week of fun diving whilst his partner, Clare was going to complete her Open Water course. At our dive resort in Bunaken, Two Fish Tech offer guests a free trial of Sidemount equipment or twinsets in the swimming pool, and when another guest decided to take us up on the offer Simon decided only to join as a poolside spectator.
Well, to make a long story short – while the other guest had to leave us on the following day, Simon decided on the spot to sign up for his TDI Sidemount Diver course. Over the next few days, we spent time talking about different options for gear configuration, both for warm and cold water, regulator options and, of course going for our open water Sidemount dives.
One of the main benefits is the flexibility of diving this way. You could simply carry one tank, but it does mean losing the benefit of redundant regulators and gas. Most divers, even if they are planning a dive well within recreational limits, choose to take both tanks with them.
Another advantage is just how little equipment is needed. Take a look at some of the most popular Sidemount wings / harnesses currently on the market (Hollis, XDeep, Diamond, DiveRite to name just a few) and none of them would strain your luggage allowance. However, all of them offer a variety of ways for setting up and diving.
Accordingly, we spent quite a bit of time at the beginning of the course looking at setup options, working out how much weight to use as compared to single cylinder diving and where to place it. Adjusting the harness to suit the individual diver is one of the most important parts of this process. Regulator set-up was and hose routing was next before a thorough pool session.
In Bunaken, we are lucky to have a pool with several levels, from 70cm to 3m. The shallower parts are great for kitting up in the water, allowing ample time for adjustments. The deeper parts are great for practising skills and drills and they are large enough to actually have a mini dive.
Anyway, it is only a pool, so the next morning was spent completing two open water dives at Alung Banua and Lekuan III. Both are perfect for completing skills at the start before heading off on spectacular wall dives to really put everything in practice. And the flexibility is striking once more – if you have trouble standing up with scuba equipment, it’s easy and quick to jump with your BCD only and mount the tanks in the water.
What’s involved? Fine-tuning propulsion techniques for a start. Simon has taught recreational diving for a while and has around 800 dives under his belt. So is there anything left to learn? Yes, there is, especially when it comes to back finning!
Next on to basic skills like regulator switches and one-handed mask removals, all conducted whilst hovering neutrally buoyant – no need for kneeling at this level.
Next a dive and time to practise managing the two cylinders. Later on, we introduced more complex skills such as valve drills and removing and replacing equipment – yes, all done whilst neutrally buoyant.
One day two, one of our dives took us to near enough 40 metres. Simon is already qualified to hit that depth and his Sidemount qualification will allow him to dive to 40 metres in Sidemount equipment, so we better have a go! On Ron’s Point, usually one of our best sites for spotting larger life, we have a plateau in about 40 metres making this the perfect dive site for this depth. We hovered for a while looking around (no luck this time!) and decided to turn back to the reef and look for smaller creatures instead.
Sidemount’s natural buoyancy allows you to get up close and personal with marine life, takes the strain off your back and adds to your safety underwater. What’s not to love?