By Kim Mangan.
I decided to do my side mount training course as a first step into technical diving as well as to further develop my diving skills and honestly I’m now totally converted that having two tanks is better than having just one!
The course started off with a brief intro at the dive shop with Jamie and meeting up with the other guys on the course before heading off to Lilli Pilli where we were going to do 3 dives that day.
The first step was learning how to set up the gear, this definitely reminded me how it felt to be an open water student all over again but luckily Jamie is there with you every step of the way giving tips and pointers on how to do it correctly and setting up so it will be comfortable for you when you get in the water.
Putting a BCD on without any weight in is a novel experience and makes you feel little like a ninja turtle so after carrying the rest of our gear and tanks down to the water’s edge it was time to complete the set up and attach the tanks. As you can imagine attaching a tank to either side for the first time is a little awkward but being in buddy pairs everyone helps each other out so it’s no problem at all and results in everyone looking at each other saying how awesome you look.
Once we’d all jumped into the water and had done our in water buddy checks it was time to descend and get a feel of what it feels like to dive side mount, from here I’ve been hooked ever since.
You can imagine the scene…..4 divers in new gear learning how to hover with twice the amount of tanks we were used to looks fairly amusing to start with but after a couple of minutes and with Jamie coming around to us each in turn making minor adjustments to our trim so we were all feeling much more balanced and hopefully looking much smoother in the water after a short while!
The 3 dives consisted of mastering new skills such as switching between two different regulators to balance the pressure in the tanks, how to shut down your tanks and practicing out of air drills to ensure you are competent as well as safe whilst diving in the side mount gear. There was however lots of time factored in for us to swim around exploring the dive site just getting used to the feel of the new equipment and tuning up our buoyancy skills.
For the second day of the course we had a beautiful sunny day so after a short class room session with Jamie on the history and the thinking behind developing side mount diving we headed to magic point where we were to embark on a 2 hour dive. Something that was just not possible on one tank so as you can imagine there was a lot of excitement especially as Magic Point is a prime location to see grey nurse sharks. The other side mount divers from Abyss had also come along for the dive so there was a real energy amongst everyone as we all kitted up in the car park before heading down to the beach to make our entry.
We headed out as group along the reef towards the cave where the sharks are. We stopped briefly on the sand to have another practice of a couple of skills as practice does make perfect after all! Once these were competed we set off on the dive. All the practice and tips we had got from Jamie the day before had definitely paid off as we were comfortably switching between our tanks tuning up our buoyancy as we went, detaching our tanks from our back clips to swing them round to fit through some pretty small gaps!
Being able to do a 2 hour dive was awesome as we were able to cover much more distance then we could if we were only to have one tank enabling us to really enjoy the dive admiring the variety of cool critters we found, the reef and of course the sharks!
If you are thinking of doing the side mount course but are too sure whether it’s worth doing so then I would 100% say go for it. It’s not just for people who want to get into technical diving, lots of recreational divers are choosing side mount to get longer dives as it gives you the opportunity to explore an increased range of reef systems as you have more time in which do to so, it also counts towards your Master Scuba Diver rating! As well introducing new concepts which keep diving exciting side mount also allows you to tune up your dive skills whilst having a lot of fun. The side mount course is run in a way which allows each diver to individually develop at their own pace. Jamie is brilliant and provides any support and guidance you need so by the end of the course you have a real sense of achievement and join the growing number of people being converted that side mount is a perfect way to go to further progress your diving.