“My Sidemount Experience” by PADI Regional Manager, Neil Richards

8 Nov

Written by PADI Regional Manager for East Thailand, Neil Richards.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? Stepping outside of your comfort zone, and trying new things, is the best way to grow.

Most of my friends in the diving industry (and myself included) started out as young travellers looking for new experiences and adventures. Maybe you did the same.

Do you remember when you made that decision to pack your ruck sack and go? With your new bag on your back stuffed with first aid kits, shoes for all occasions and a bar of soap, off you set not really knowing what to expect.

The excitement you felt getting on an overnight train in a completely different country. The new tastes, sounds and smells, experiencing a complete ‘culture shock’. You arrive at the jetty after a long journey to take your first look at the island you will be calling home for the next few months. It was such a change from your normal, comfortable life. However, after some time, the excitement of being in new territory subsided and life started to get comfortable again, some of the excitement was not there anymore. You still loved your new life, but something was missing.

I had a similar feeling when I started diving. Trying something completely new and out of my comfort zone was exciting and challenging. It was so awesome I decided that going home was no longer an option and I went on to become a PADI Instructor. 13 years later, after thousands of dives and a myriad of experience, I started to feel the itch to try something new. I wanted to get back that excitement that I had when I first started diving – I needed a new challenge. So I decided to take the PADI Sidemount course.

I have always had a desire to become a technical diver. This yearning came after some awe inspiring dives in the cenote caves in Mexico. They were some of the most amazing and adventurous dives I have ever experienced. I noticed two other divers had two of their tanks beside them instead of on their backs. They continued into the cave system and were soon out of sight. I became really curious and wanted to follow them but with a single cylinder on my back, and no specialised training, of course this was not an option. I later learned that this configuration is known as “Sidemount”.

The last few years for me have been very busy so only recently did I manage to get the time and opportunity to take my PADI Sidemount Specialty course. Even with all my years of experience, I felt completely out of my comfort zone and I was having a diving culture shock. It felt like the first time I went travelling again. Everything was new and unfamiliar. I had to start thinking about buoyancy again. I was unaccustomed to the trim and equipment configuration. Equipment set up was completely different. As for the in water skills, I almost felt like a complete beginner. Taking cylinders off and pushing them ahead of me whilst I tried to stay streamlined and neutrally buoyant must have looked almost comical, however after a bit of practice it became much easier. It was one of the most challenging and exciting courses I have taken.

The PADI Sidemount Specialty is not just for divers wanting to explore the more technical side of diving. It has become increasingly popular with recreational divers, some of whom find the configuration of having cylinders on the sides instead of on the back, more comfortable and easier to access.

Sidemount has now opened up a whole new avenue into diving I didn’t know existed. Be it technical or recreational, or whether experienced or new to diving, the PADI Sidemount Specialty is definitely for those who love a new adventure.

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