As soon as I saw the sidemount distinctive specialty offered, I was keen for a look. Partly because I’m always interested in new diving options that increase safety and bottom time, partly because I know people who have been diving sidemount and really loved it, and partly to further my own interests as a diver.
Having looked at a few videos on youtube but never having seen a sidemount rig in person, I showed up for the course really excited. The first part of the course was a rundown on the history of sidemounting (long in cave and tech circles, fairly recent in terms of recreational diving) and a detailed look at the equipment. Having done some tech and cave diving before, most of the equipment was familiar in use and I was already excited at the fact that I could pretty much set up my own cylinders with just a few new hoses and some straps! However those people who hadn’t had any tech experience seemed to be coping with the new gear just fine too. After some fitting of the brand new (just out of the pack) BCDs, we headed off to the dive site.
Lilli Pilli is not a site that people consider a great one (although I have a soft spot for it), but it is perfect for this type of training as the soft silty bottom really shows you when your buoyancy is lacking. So we carried the tanks down to the water (no need to carry twins down the steps, you can take the tanks individually if you want!!) geared up and got in. Everyone felt a bit unbalanced on the surface and we were running into each other like Open Water students but after a buoyancy check we were down and in a new world. I found pretty quickly that I needed some trim weight but as soon as I had it I was straight into the horizontal and it felt so natural. After going through some safety drills (which are all so much easier with sidemount because you can see you tank valves) we had a swim around. Everyone took a little time to get used to the feel of the gear, but we all agreed straight away that this was something we wanted to continue. The second dive was just an extension of the first, really just more of an opportunity to get used to diving with the gear and extend some of the skills we had learned. After more safely drills, we dropped one of the tanks for some single tank “monkey diving.” This was a little strange, but so flexible it was hard not to like the feeling.
Day two dawned early as we were to dive with our new rigs on the Ex-HMAS Adelaide. Once we got there though, it was clear that the weather was not sidemount-friendly and so it was back to Lilli Pilli for more low vis action. Gearing up in the water feels like cheating it’s so easy!! The third course dive adds a little more task loading to the situation to make sure that everyone is comfortable in their gear, but never to the point of stress. Just enough to make sure you know where things are and why they should be there (unlike me who had my long hose trapped under a clip so it wouldn’t come all the way out). Another easy exit, taking the tanks off in the water and just walking out. No changing tanks either, we always had two tanks to breathe from if required. The last dive was the best one, just cruising around, practicing frog kicks and reverse frog kicks, some hovering and our sidemount introduction was over. Again, no crushing climb back up like with twins, the tanks came off and got carried up separately (they’re easier to get in and out of the car too!!)
Although the course does incorporate some technical diving skills, this is a recreational course designed to give people the knowledge and safety skills to begin diving sidemount in recreational conditions. However if you are interested in getting into tech diving (or are a tech diver looking for an easier way to do things), this is definitely a course to look at. You will
learn some valuable tech skills in a much friendlier and low pressure environment than many tech courses are able to offer.
So, I would have to say that this course was one I thoroughly enjoyed and will change the way I dive. My future tech and cave diving will be with sidemounts. I won’t go back to that crushing feeling I get with back mounted twins, and I expect that I will begin to incorporate some sidemounting into my normal diving as well, as the safety, redundancy and feeling of freedom are things I want to hang onto.
See you out in the sidemounted world,
Check out our next sidemount course