“The only source of knowledge is experience” …Albert Einstein
Let me start by saying that I use video to record all my students during their training courses. It all comes down to how much quality & value you as the instructor want to add to your courses!? I really believe that if all instructors do not start using video reviewing techniques they will soon find that they will start losing customers and rightly so!! This article is to explain the reasons why I choose to use video and give some tips and tricks on the best ways to do it and how to handle the additional problems and concerns with shooting video while teaching.
As HD video cameras are getting smaller and smaller, plus relatively low cost and easy to use, an instructor these days does not have much choice than to shoot video really… if they do not students will most likely turn up to class with their own cameras, this means the students focus will always be on taking videos/pics for sharing with their friends on YouTube and Facebook rather than what they should really be focusing on, learning to dive correctly. People want memories and they get them by documenting, recording & sharing everything they do or are going to do… “this is a facebook world and we live in!!”
If an instructor did not offer you video recorded feedback during any advanced diver training levels (meaning anything after your open water course). I would advise you not to take training with that instructor… Why, for the simple reason they either do not understand the advantages what video feedback brings or they are not that capable as an instructor to get you looking good enough to be on video, for the level they are training you at!!
Important note: If a diver is just learning to dive for example, doing a discover scuba dive or open water training dive then I would not advise that the instructor uses the video camera, instead they have a professional assistant do the recording.
Advantages of having video feedback;
- Allows the instructor to give each student detailed critique of their performance after dive; sometimes whilst underwater, if video camera has a LCD screen playback option and you have enough dive time.
- Students take more interest in their training, i.e they can see if their knee drops or fin blade angle is correct when learning to frog kick or if they are maintaining trim and breathing control when not moving etc…
- Giving video feedback greatly speeds up the daily learning process, when a diver views their videos they absorb the feedback in their own preferred style.
- Divers during training perform better as they always think they could at any moment be recorded, so emphasis is on doing skills correctly and performing each well.
- Students being able to keep the videos after the course is also very important as the student now has a way to review and practice the correct techniques, this helps the student maintain the high standards set during training.
- Students will play a part in developing their own personalised training materials, which again ensures they continue to dive correctly after training. This is through skill retention as it maybe a few weeks/months after their course before they can dive again, so having videos to review is crucial.
- Videos provide a cue/reminder that students can use to mentally rehearse and practice skill out of the water …much better than just in front of the mirror.
- In some cases having the student video record the instructors demonstration, can really add value during the video debriefing session and again for the student to bench mark themselves against the instructor after the course.
Good example of effective use of video recording;
Let’s look at teaching a diver to backwards kick; usually it takes 2 days to learn this…
- Diver receives a thorough briefing including video of the ideal technique & completes dry land simulations of this skill.
- Diver then watches a live underwater instructor demonstration of the skill.
- Diver then attempts the skill (instructor video records student).
- Instructor first demos what the student just did incorrectly and then re-demos what the student needs to change (student video records instructor).
- Now the student tries again (instructor video records student).
- Rest of dive is completed, without diver having unnecessary repetition and frustration.
- Diver reviews both the student and instructor videos on land after the dive and sees what actually happened, leaves then with a clear understanding of what is needed for improvement and skill mastery.
- Diver then usually next day, repeats this skill and effectively builds the correct technique as they fully understand what they were doing incorrectly …this maximises there learning curve and training time.
I have found this 8 step method works very well for all skills and the majority of my students are capable of doing some effective back kicking on the 2nd day. Prior to video reviewing I have had much less success and found that it requires a lot more time/dives and much more frustration on both the student & instructor when learning.
Should I video everything..?
No, to be honest this results in too much debriefing time and detracts from what can be efficiently learnt each day. I suggest you apply common sense when wondering how much to shoot and very quickly you will get feedback about this. Best parts to make sure you video are; if say a student has a difficulty with understanding what is expected of them, for example they always do a great valve shutdown exercise but at the end they always forget to check which regulator they are breathing from and how much gas in now in both cylinders.
Instructors need to move with the times!! “Those who can do, those who cannot teach!! Those who can and do are instructors”
All instructors should be comfortable and ready at any time to have any of their skill demonstrations video recorded and later analysed by their students, I think doing this is great as it really raises the bar for instructor demonstrations and for sure levels the playing field for students comparing their skills to their instructors and what actually needs to be mastered “…instructors practice what you preach!!”
Does video recording have much impact on your students/instructors..?
Most students start a course saying they have never seen themselves underwater before, then by the end of training like it so much, that they usually go straight out and buy themselves an underwater video camera. This is also true for every instructor who has come to me for training, they have seen so much value added using video reviewing they also go out and buy a camera, then say they will be using it for all their future courses too.
Why I think video cameras are not used by instructors!?
This article is not a review on different video equipment, so I speak from my 7+ years of video based training and my experience using all the models of GoPro cameras, firstly they are very compact in size, easy to use and not an expensive investment.
Over the years I have heard a lot of instructors say… “carrying video equipment adds task loading, it’s bulky, gets in the way of diver training, plus it’s expensive!!”
Regarding the “task loading” issue well, to be honest ask yourself who should be the most comfortable and least task loaded underwater during a training dive..? simple the instructor, it’s their job to insure the environment they are training you in, is suitable for the type of training they are conducting and using a small camera at key points during the dive should not be over task loading them, should it!?
Instructors should only teach and make training dives in environments that are conducive to dive training e.g a low visibility dive site (only being able to see 1 metre) is not a suitable dive site for compass/navigation training, actually I would argue there is no point making a dive in those conditions for any reason and for sure it is not safe!! Any instructor that says it’s too expensive to buy video equipment, probably is also charging a low amount or close to nothing for their training courses.
So students reading this please go with someone that offers value in training and they have a solid reputation in the field you’re looking at learning in. If an instructor offers video feedback during training, they will not be worried about others seeing and critiquing there training methods/videos, so they are standing by the training they are offering, which is great 🙂
Video training workshops… Due to many requests; I have decided to offer workshops for divers and instructors on how to effectively use underwater video cameras as teaching tools. Some of the topics covered, setup and storing camera, video features, buoyancy training techniques, what to shoot and when, post dive video analysis and ways to best document and market your dives after training, using your videos. Remember it is all about maximising your teaching effectiveness.
If you have question on this article either email me or contact through facebook. I will do my best to answer each point raised in detail as I am sure this article could have been 10+ pages long and branch off into some many other areas of diver training. If you enjoyed the read and found it useful please say so and please share it with any other divers/instructors you think will benefit from the read. Thanks and stay tuned for my next article, it will be on a very important topic related to technical sidemount diving – that is all I can say for now 🙂
Okay I know the contents of this article are going to come as a shock for most of you. Please take the time to read this article in full; it may save your back – literally!!
After much debate I finally decided to write this article, as I get an ever increasing amount of emails from divers all over the world, telling me that they have taken training with a sidemount instructor and after training they find sidemount is not working for them, they do not look like the sidemount divers they see in my YouTube videos and that now they are thinking of going back to backmount!!
Before we get into this, I personally do not think any particular piece of sidemount equipment or training agency is to blame for what is happening. What I am putting it down to is the quality of the actual sidemount training divers are receiving from their chosen sidemount instructor. Having re-looked at many of the emails I received and replied to… I noticed many similarities in what problems the divers where having, which hopefully I will explain throughout this article.
Problems most commonly mentioned;
- Sidemount equipment does not feel stable enough and is too much of a hassle to use in the water, so I stick to a twinset for technical diving as it is easier & safer.
- Steve having reviewed your online videos, I cannot dive sidemount like you or your students seem to do, you make it look easy!! Here are some pics; can you tell me what am I doing wrong?
- I have taken sidemount training and since then spent time looking at your website, I feel that I did not get much from my sidemount training & instructor.
- Comparing to what I see on your pictures and video, my tank trim is horrible and is constantly causing distraction to me during the dive, how do I fix this..?
- On the surface I cannot float upright, do you find it a problem too…?
- I have approx 20 dives in sidemount now; I just added my deco cylinders and find the whole thing task loading compared to using backmount. I must be doing something wrong, can you advise me..? I am confident with a twinset!!
- Once I added my cylinders I was grossly over weighted and felt like I had just started diving again, is this to be expected..?
- I think the sidemount system I use is the problem, Steve what do you think to this system vs this other system and then what about if I then change this bit and alter this bit etc..?
My general feedback …after finding out more information from students
- Their course duration was too short just 1 or 2 days; this is not enough time spent learning sidemount correctly (3 to 4 day minimum).
- Usually a poor configuration of all sidemount equipment, in respect to what is being used its setup & how the skills are being performed.
- There was too many students on the course (should be max of 3).
- The sidemount instructor they had was lacking actual experience diving in sidemount; most likely they received poor or no training themselves.
- Technical diving using sidemount can be more difficult and problematic than say using a backmounted twinset, this is due to sidemounts flexibility and higher demand on correct cylinder configuration, valves, SM system, hose routing and skill sets from each diver (that said, done right it is far superior to backmount!!)
- With sidemount equipment everything makes a difference your bungee tension, cylinders & cylinder valves used, height of cylinder band placement, cord & bolt snap lengths, your body size, fin choice the list goes on…
- It is true I will always favour and recommend a sidemount system to you; it will be the one I believe is the best on the market at the time. I will only let you use a system this does not compromise or interfere with the training I offer you.
- A lot of people are surprised and did not think we would need the 4 full days but believe me everybody does. I want you to leave me knowing exactly how to use sidemount for the diving you do. I will spend enough time building the right skill sets with you, so you continue to stay in sidemount after training!!
Please note: Answers to those questions above and much more are found in my online training videos and in my FAQ’s section; found further down this page.
Is it hard to find a good sidemount instructor..?
I think it is easy to tell what kind of sidemount instructor they are, if they are claiming to be the best at everything and just recently jumped on the “sidemount band wagon” then I would question if you will get good training and should choose them. Basically do your research!! I suggest you look at how much time that instructor actually spends diving in sidemount and are they offering sidemount courses because they really believe in the configuration and the “art of sidemount diving” or do they just do it because it’s cool and because sidemount has a lot of interest and media exposure at the moment…?
From 2017, I have decided I will start teaching sidemount instructors again, please see my courses section on the home page for details of how you can become a sidemount instructor with me. You will get what you pay for!!
“Cheap training comes at a cost, much more valuable than your money”
Sidemount diving is growing at an exploding rate and we are hearing about people trying side mount and starting to see it everywhere!! This means that as soon as divers hear about or see sidemount for the first time, they of course want to try it and find out what all the buzz is about!! Sadly this has meant that many instructors just want to be seen offering the latest thing and get another credential (sidemount instructor rating) as it is the new cool thing to offer and a way to make some quick cash, “jump on the band wagon, so to speak” …while the interest is around.
These same “sidemount instructors” do not care about their own reputation and the damage their cheap, low valve sidemount courses have on the dive industry and people like myself who have dedicated several years of their career to the development of sidemount diving. I hope this article makes student divers looking to learn sidemount think, carefully about who you choose to spend your money with. I hope all sidemount instructors reading this really question if what they are offering is of good value and are their sidemount students continuing to use sidemount after training..? If not please STOP teaching until you are able to offer better training, it is your reputation that will suffer along with all the divers you train thinking sidemount does not work!!
Here is something to think about… If I was to line up 10 cave divers that use backmounted equipment from different parts of the world right now and compared all their equipment used. You will find that what they are wearing and how the equipment is configured and how the skills are performed are all very similar. Google: Hogarthian System. This was not true if you go back to 1990, the “same” cave divers back then would all have different BCD, regulator and hose configurations etc, the reason they all changed to what we have today is because quite simply put “what we have now is well tried and tested, it works and is safe”
Sidemount is improving quickly as each year passes, but I think for about 75% of people using it, for them it’s still in the 1990 stage of development …everyone has their own idea about what works and what does not. There are a few of us (including myself) that actually would argue what we offer and teach is very standardised. I don’t think it will take the rest of the world 20 years to all offer similar sidemount training. I think more realistically as we have history to help us, it will take another few years (2018).
What I am talking about is the refining of the following areas;
- Way we configure our sidemount systems, modular valves waist clip system.
- Correct hose routing, so every piece compliments the next.
- No additional equipment, like add a stage interferes with initial skills learnt.
- Minimalist approach to sidemount equipment, less is more!!
- Using the correct type of cylinders for the correct exposure suits.
- The list goes on…
The problem with finding something you’re truly passionate about, it becomes heart breaking for me to see sidemount being offered so badly by others, especially to hear about the dropout rate of divers now going back to backmount. I want to reassure all people reading this that sidemount diving does in fact work and I believe with the right training, I can guarantee sidemount can be superior to diving in backmount, in fact I will stick my reputation on it!!
Hopefully I will see you in sidemount, regards Steve Martin. Remember to keep updated by clicking LIKE on my Fan Page www.facebook.com/sidemounting
Yes, it is true after much thought I am again offering sidemount instructor training, but for quality assurance there is now only one “very structured” way I will train you as a sidemount instructor or technical diving sidemount instructor. Here is the explanation in a nut shell; In short, you must take student training with me at the level you are looking to teach. Then you go away and practice for 6 months and come back for a 2 day refresher, then assist a full course and have me evaluate your instructor skill demonstrations, then finally teach a full course with me assisting you and then I will certify you as a sidemount instructor and recommend you to all.
Sounds like a lot of hard work right..? That is because it is; it is like any investment it will cost you plenty of your time and money, plus there is no guarantee you will make it and there is a chance you may find out along the way you do not have what it takes. People say it takes years to become good at something, what I am saying it will take at least 6 months to prepare you, then you leave me having gained my backing and now you can start building a solid reputation for yourself. Don’t worry I am not expecting with this business model to be teaching high numbers of sidemount instructors, it has just given a way for some people to join in with me and stand out from the crowd!!
Since the beginning of 2010 you will have noticed many of the “big” scuba manufacturers starting to make “dedicated” sidemount equipment. The main reason for this was to keep up with the high demand generated towards the end of 2009 by divers wanting to “go sidemount”.
Sidemount diving can be split into two parts; 50% making up your “equipment configuration” and the other 50% being the need to take “comprehensive training”. The equipment selection and instructor you choose is crucial especially when you are first learning to sidemount. The right instructor will make the difference between your future dives being 100% “in sidemount” or you deciding to “go back” to diving in backmount configuration.
This page was written to help explain the key differences between the x2 major types of sidemount manufactured systems on the market today. They can be broke into categories either “Side Mount Only Systems” that only allows you to dive in sidemount and do not allow for a backmount configuration or “Multi-Use Sidemount Systems” that allows for both. Sidemount diving is growing at a alarming rate with now more and more manufacturers are making “sidemount only” systems.
Before reading further I suggest you get familiar with the features of both systems by Googling them. I suggest you use the Razor Side Mount System or XDeep Stealth as an example of “sidemount only” systems and then Google either the Dive Rite Nomad and/or Hollis SMS 100 for examples of the “multi-use systems”. This will help you with understanding the equipment terminology I use below.
Now you have seen what the manufacturers say about each sidemount system, I will explain the major differences I have found based on my personal experiences in extensively using both systems myself and through teaching others to go sidemount.
It is important to know that having a complete sidemount system is more than just having a suitable harness and wing, the other two essential components are a complete regulator package/setup that allows streamlining of all hoses and gauges, the second being cylinder valves & hardware/setup that is clutter free and has redundancy features built in.
You could then say the final and most crucial part is having someone to help you correctly setup all equipment so each piece complements one another; this will add safety to the system and through underwater training allow the standardisation of skills sets and procedures. I certainly believe less is more, when it comes to this equipment configuration and with a short 4 day course can excel your learning curve. My current equipment and a good example of a “complete sidemount only system” would be the XDeep Stealth Tec system with the Apeks Sidemount Regulator Package.
The main advantages of using a sidemount only systems are;
- They use a custom fit harness, so all body sizes and shapes will be compatible, this is not always possible with the multi-use systems.
- The ability to have the 1st stage and valve stay maintained in the same position to the body – this is through using a loop bungee, length & thickness are crucial.
- Using left and right handed valves and bungeeing around the extension post – allows clear access to handwheel as it stays in the same location “once bungeed” meaning a clutter free setup enabling safe & efficient shutdowns.
- Using short LP inflator hoses for BCD and drysuit from a 1st stages 5th LP port – means you have a very direct and streamlined hose routing. Nothing gets in the way of operating any other piece of equipment.
- Behind the head routing of custom hoses – keeps the most important chest area clear, enabling access to all life support equipment, LPIs, SPG’s – nothing gets in the way of anything else, especially when you add more tec equipment.
- Cylinders clip to the hips via the “waist clipping method” vs clipping sidemount cylinders to the “door handles” or “rails” found on multiuse systems – enables far more cylinder stability & control as the sidemount cylinders are “continuously pulling” into the divers sides rather than just “hanging off the sides of your body” which they do with some cases of multi-use systems that use the butt pad (rails).
- The BCD on sidemount only systems is designed to provide lift right at the crucial place where a sidemount diver needs it “at the hip area”, the Razor BAT wing and XDeep Stealth 2 take that a step further and accounts for the diver changing orientation by allowing the air to migrate around the hips when needed.
- The multi-use systems all provide lift very high up on the diver’s body which will effect trim and makes balancing & weighting a real issue.
Important note: If your sidemount instructor has only used and promotes one type of multi-use system and they do not have “diving” experience using a “sidemount only system” do not even consider them for training you in sidemount. I would at very least get them to explain what they think the pros and cons of each system are… “If they cannot you have your answer”.
I am one of the few people in the world who has dedicated the last 7 years to solely diving and teaching sidemount diving. I hope by reading this article it will save you a lot of time and unnecessary expense in buying equipment!! I am happy to answer any questions you have. It will only cost you your time to send me an email.
Back in 2008 I started diving sidemount with Steve Bogaerts as part of my advanced cave training courses. I first used Steve B’s extremely “minimalist” Razor Sidemount Harness with a 6lb camelbak for buoyancy (which 1 year later I upgraded to a modified LPI 12lb MSR Dromedary Bag). After receiving “advanced sidemount cave training”, it was time for me to continue to practice and develop my skills further and see if sidemount could work for all the environments and types of diving I was doing apart from cave diving. So after 1 year of traveling in the UK, Europe and Australia, conducting myself over 200 sidemount dives. I found out rather quickly that sidemount worked for all my diving situations. The limits I found where really with backmounted equipment. It was then after realising that and building my own skill level (over 1 year period) that I decided I was going to start offering side mount training to others who wanted to learn.
Initially the majority of sidemount training I conducted was in the UK. This meant the equipment I was instructing in needed to pass European C.E approval. “Obviously” this meant that a custom razor harness with a drinking bladder as a buoyancy device was going to be out of the question!! So I opted to use the equipment rigging methods I learnt during my time with Steve Bogaerts and his razor system, to “greatly” improve the commercial “Multi-use C.E approved sidemount systems” on the market at the time.
Most of my training in the UK was conducted using the Hollis SMS 100 Side Mount System. I need to make quite a few changes to this system to get it to work better, but it was never ideal.
The major changes were;
- Removing the standard bungee as they are way too thick to put around valve correctly and you cannot customise the length to suit each person.
- Removing the door handles or rails and adding d-rings to the waist, as this would address many of the issues with the cylinders “hanging at the sides”
Even though these and slight other changes were made, the system still was not even close to the razor system I had been diving, the wing lifted in the wrong places, the inflator was difficult to use and connect to at the start of the dive. The whole thing felt bulky to use, this system was greatly impacting my diving and training, I found I was all the time making corrects to placement of weights on the rig as the balance was never correct.
Others “Multi-Use Systems” I used and configured for others included the following;
- Razor Harness using the Hollis SMS wing for buoyancy.
- Hollis SMS 100 systems (single and dual bladder).
- Golem Gear Armadillo Sidemount System.
- Diverite Nomad Expedition System.
- Oxycheq Recon Sidemount System.
- OMS Tesseract BCD and Profile Sidemount System.
- UTD Z-System for Sidemount.
All the configurations mentioned above are (Multi-use) backmount and sidemount systems. Each of the manufacturers tell you to use the “rails” or “door handle” for cylinder attachment to the harness. What you will see is that I do not use the rigging system they suggest and instead use what is known as the “waist clipping” technique. I have found that on all these multi-use systems, I have had far better results getting each system to work on divers learning sidemount. At this point I was responsible for teaching over 30 people with these systems configured in this way. You can see what some of these divers thought about the training.
Now I teach with Sidemount Only systems and always travel with x4 complete sidemount teaching sets. This allows me to train up to x3 people without the student needing to buy their own equipment (try before you buy). All my sidemount courses have a minimum of 3/4 days and are limited to a maximum of x3 people, please research your sidemount instructors experience before paying them for any training.
Some tips when picking your sidemount instructor;
- They should be using sidemount for the majority of their own diving.
- Avoid someone who tries to push you to buy a sidemount system before you take training, all equipment should be provided during your course.
- Avoid learning with a group size of more than x3 students.
- Insure your instructor has at least 1 year worth of sidemount diving experience.
- Instructor should have a high skill level (e.g. is a certified sidemount cave diver).
- All open water sidemount courses should be x4 days in duration.
- Cost of sidemount training should be approx 750+ euros per person (if less I would avoid that course).
- Sidemount Instructor has actual experience using all the different systems on the market.
- Sidemount instructor actually learnt on an intensive sidemount instructor training course not just on a half day upgrade, straight after learning a student level sidemount course themselves.
With the ever increasing “open water” sidemount instructors hitting the dive industry, make sure you select someone with a lot of sidemount experience and worldwide teaching skills. Bottom line if you are going to pay for training, then you should be getting the maximum value you can, this can only be done by getting training from someone with a high level of sidemount experience and who truly believes in sidemount diving and the equipment configuration used.
I hope this information helps the people reading this with your equipment and instructor selection. Don’t just take one person’s word that their system is the best and works, try them all out if you want. Remember with me, I am that confident about the training I offer, you can just bring your mask, fins and an exposure suit and use all my equipment before you decide on what’s right and what works, I will even do the first day of a booked course FOC and we go our separate ways, no worries, that is if you do not get what you want from me at the end of the 1st day. Look forward to your questions and meeting you in the water – Steve Martin
My diving credentials;
- Steve Martin;
- PADI Course Director #626508
- TDI Technical & Cave Diving Instructor #18183
- TecRec Instructor Trainer (Full Trimix)
When did you learn to dive and when did you become an instructor..?
I learnt to dive from the early age of 16, back in October 1999. Then just 2 years later I became a technical diver at the age of 18. 2 more years on I did PADI Divemaster and Assistant Instructor in 2003. 16 months later aged 21, I went onto become a PADI instructor in November 2004. From then on I was working as a full time instructor in the UK, this involved taking groups of diver’s overseas to destinations around Europe. I became one of the youngest PADI Course Director’s at 23 years old in July 2007. Since becoming a Course Director I’ve been working freelance, offering diver training in recreational, technical and instructor level courses all around the world. My biggest achievement was building the experience needed to become a cave diving instructor which I did in 2013, since 2010 I have been one of the key people leading the field in the development of side mount scuba diving.
Are you a full time or part time instructor..?
Since I became a dive instructor I have worked full time in the industry. I am a full time dive instructor that actively teaches diving courses, this is my sole source of income and funds what I love to do. When I am not teaching a course, I make a point of regularly spending time diving for myself. This allows me to push and develop my own skill level and keeps my passion and enjoyment for scuba diving. With part time instructors, I have found that even though they are mostly as dedicated as full time instructors, they may not find enough time to run courses which is needed to keep their teaching skills at a high level. They can also fall short on time staying up to date with new diving skills, techniques and equipment developments as well as their own dive fitness level.
What countries you have worked in..?
The countries I have worked and lived in are; UK, Scotland, Malta, Greece, Mexico, Australia, Solomon Islands.
The countries I have visited and conducted courses in are; all around the UK, Shetland Islands, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Egypt, Maldives, Bahamas, Florida, California, Mexico, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand.
What did you do before becoming a dive instructor..?
Everybody I knew had no real idea of what to do once they left school. Most enrolled in colleges and universities or just found any job they could. From the ages of 16 to 18, I spent my time developing sales skills working for outdoor activities companies and then decided that I would be one of the few people that would try something “outside of the box…” From the age of 10, I have been involved in water-sports, it started with water-skiing. At 18 years old I realised I had what it takes to help others learn and share what I loved to do and was so passionate about.
I became a waterskiing and barefoot instructor throughout 2001 to 2003, while working for Lowwood ski school, Windermere, Lake District, UK. It was during those 2.5 years while developing my teaching skills and building my scuba diving experience. Combine this with the fact that I wanted to travel and see the world… Lead me to my chosen career as a scuba diving instructor and instructor trainer.
If you’re not out diving what else do you do..?
I now spend most of my spare time keeping a high fitness level, since 2013 I have been doing crossfit training 5 to 6 days a week. I believe keeping fit is important for any diver especially someone who makes technical dives. I regularly run, road cycle, swim and do weight training to balance it out. Other interests I have are kite-surfing and I enjoy any competitive sports. If I have to stay indoors then, making online training videos, doing website development and catching up with friends and family over Facebook and Skype.
Are you involved in technical diving and how did you start..?
With anything you do, especially technical diving I found that you needed to make technical dives on a regular basis to keep your skill level high. Another would be the need to take further technical training with people who specialise in different fields of technical diving. I have always had an interest in wreck diving and went technical for that reason and the fact that technical divers learn a higher skill set than recreational divers. I learnt to technical dive in Egypt during 2001 and worked my way through the courses to become a TDI advanced trimix diver (open circuit). I built up my technical dive experience working for many dive centres around the world. In 2006 I became a DSAT, PADI TecRec deep and trimix instructor. Two years later I became a PADI TecRec instructor trainer writing my own distinctive specialty courses for teaching people sidemount scuba diving.
2008 was probably the biggest eye opener for me; this is when I learnt to become a cave diver, possibly the hardest environment within technical diving. This took me to Mexico’s cenotes and a cave instructor called Steve Bogaerts, later I would go on to learn advanced cave penetration using sidemount equipment configuration. From then on sidemount diving became my passion…
What types of dive environments, do you have experience diving in..?
I have been subject to diving in many different dive environments throughout the countries I have been to. These environments include;
- cold water diving (4*C, drysuit)
- warm water diving
- remote location diving (Shetland and Solomon islands)
- hazardous dives with high current, low visibility
- wreck dives (involving penetration work)
- deep dives
- cave diving
- DPV dives
What are your goals for the future..?
Since creating online training materials, I now want to help educate as many people around the world as possible. Now that I have the online training this gives me the chance to reach divers that I might never get to meet in person, so I am very proud and privileged to be in the position I am. After all we only get so long on this planet and to help as many people as you can is a great way to spend it, I think!!
That is a very good point and for many divers, they see equipment overload and it does initially put them off, but why do you have to carry two cylinders I say… when you are in a warm water location (using a wetsuit) diving sidemount with one aluminium cylinder “at your side” is in fact a great way to dive. The divers I have trained in sidemount single cylinder really enjoy the freedom, of having a cylinder off your back provides and they quickly find out that adding an additional 2nd cylinder is not that different and even easier to balance and trim yourself over using a single cylinder.
After a few dives more using two sidemounted cylinders correctly they then start to see the many added benefits of carrying x2 cylinders underwater. All this then results in a changed perspective from each of the divers and the problem of carrying two cylinders is no more, especially if you have someone else bring them to the water’s edge for you!! 😉
So why do we have our cylinders on are back anyway..?
My explanation for both guys and girls, picture yourself at home and the washing machine has just finished its wash cycle, you do not have the spin dry function so your full load is still soaking wet… okay you look outside it is a sunny day, so you are going to use your washing line. I bet you generally empty the wet washing into a basket, then pickup the basket using the two handles on either side and carry this approx 100 to 200 yards to your washing line. Not too much of a problem carrying that weight for such a short distance right..?
Now I want you to imagine that same heavy wash basket and the weather is not suitable for drying outside, your partner has the car so you are now left with walking to your local laundry shop 10 mins walk from your house. Do you still fancy carrying that wash basket? …No, me nether!! It is too heavy for just our arms to carry, so what we do is either find a rucksac or bag with wheels and put the washing in there for transport. This is because it is much easier to carry the heavy load on our backs.
This is the exact same problem we are all faced with when using are “even heavier” scuba dive equipment. Again picture yourself you have your normal cylinder, bcd, regulators and lead weights, we are at the dive site and the walk to the water is a good few hundred yards away. It makes sense our BCD’s are designed like a backmounted rucksac, it makes carrying are SCUBA gear to the water possible. Once you make it to the water, what a relief to get that weight of your back right 🙂
Underwater we can feel weightlessness by adding air to our BCD which allows us to become neutrally buoyant, but what we still can notice is when we move and especially change orientation by turning onto our side, upside down we feel the weight of our backmounted equipment shift, this is due to our centre of gravity changing due to placement of equipment on are back. When using sidemount equipment are centre of gravity shift is not like backmount as the sidemount cylinders balance each other out all the time, and the positioning of the cylinder(s) gives you a much more streamlined profile, this creates real underwater freedom, comparable to that of a freediver!! …just using scuba 😉
I think backmount BCD’s where originally designed like a rucksac, as an easy way to carry our weight of equipment from land into the water, while keeping our hands free “not because backmounted equipment actually performs better underwater”
Another huge advantage to sidemount diving, if you think back about that few hundred metres walk to the water I mentioned, the walk can be made much easier; by setting up the regulators on the cylinders and then leaving them at the dive site entrance point prior to the dive, you then get changed into your exposure suit and sidemount BCD and walk relatively weight free to the water’s edge… once there you can then put on our sidemounted cylinders (in water) and go diving, without all the stress and strain of the walk with equipment normally on your back!!
Thinking back to the story, you could say that diving in sidemount is just like doing your washing at the laundry shop in the first place!! 😀
Sidemount Experience with Steve Martin YouTube Video – http://youtu.be/0XQivbDCCZk
Is sidemount really that much better than backmount under the water..?
Yes, let me explain – backmounted equipment is not as hydrodynamic as sidemount equipment, meaning that when using side mount you can achieve;
- More buoyancy control through better streamlining of all your equipment.
- More comfort as your spine can flex as it is supposed to do.
- More efficient propulsion and glide from every kick you make.
- More tasks like operating your BCD inflator and deflator become even easier.
- More comfort knowing you have extra redundancy in case of equipment failures
- more available air supply, for yourself and buddy
- complete redundancy if a regulator fails for any reason
- all this results in you having more time and less stress underwater
Top 5 benefits for why we should choose sidemount;
- Generally most sidemount harnesses are custom fit, this adds comfort and allows correct fitting for all body shapes & sizes.
- Having the option to put on the heavy bits (cylinders) in water first, makes scuba diving far easier and gives you more energy for underwater swimming.
- Being more streamlined underwater makes more dive sites accessible, as many sites have challenging conditions like currents, long swims etc…
- For many ladies sidemount makes technical diving possible (no twinsets to carry)
- Using sidemount diving just looks way cooler and much more fun!!
So when you really think about it Sidemount equipment is better than backmounted equipment in nearly every way you can imagine… I thank you for taking the time to read this article and hope you have enjoyed its contents. I know you will have lots of questions after reading this, don’t worry I am expecting them, after all I designed the article this way 🙂
I have been diving for over a decade now, my only wish is that I had discovered Sidemount diving from the beginning; most of you have the chance to do what I could not!! Sidemount scuba diving really is the future!
Find out more about Steve Martin through his Fan Page www.facebook.com/sidemounting
As a fully certified “backmount” cave diver, I decided to learn more and train at the advanced “sidemount” cave diving level (my instructor Steve Bogaerts).
February 2009 (+3 months)
My first PADI Distinctive Specialty Instructor outlines and teaching presentations were written & approved (single & twin cylinder). Given my background and as an instructor trainer I instantly saw the opportunity to take “sidemount diving” into the open water environment.
Important note: Even though my sidemount courses where developed it would be another (+1 year) before I would teach my first sidemount student. This was mainly due to me building my own sidemount skill level in the open water environment. After all there was little to no information available about sidemounting from boats and the sidemount equipment available at the time was lacking!! So it was down to me doing it the hard way and getting wet, that year was spent in Australia.
December 2009 (+10 months)
Before I trained my first student, I would have 150+ open water sidemount dives “under my belt”, more than half where made on Australia’s most famous shipwreck (S.S Yongala). Having now gained lots of experience myself I decided to further refine my distinctive outline and changed it to have x2 standalone sidemount courses (single cylinder) and (twin cylinder).
March 2010 (>1 year after the course was developed)
The first person was trained in (twin cylinder) sidemount a Matthew King …Later followed several training courses and the start of something I knew then would go big in the dive industry!!
April 2010 – (1 month later)
As a PADI Course Director (Instructor Trainer) it was only natural for me to want to help develop other instructors to teach their students “something I knew they would love to do” and other “open water sidemount instructors” where needed to grow awareness and popularity with sidemount in the open water environment, “after all it is not just for cave divers anymore” …so after now having conducted several sidemount courses in Australia, I applied to PADI to become a “sidemount instructor trainer” for my own distinctive specialty (single & twin cylinder).
Important note: Another passion of mine is and always has been wreck diving. Given my wreck diving and sidemount experience to date and through what I had learned about penetration training during my “advanced cave side mount course” I decided to have a go at putting together a technical distinctive specialty “Advanced Side Mount Wreck Diver” which was approved in April 2010.
April 2010 to October 2010 (+7 months)
With the interest in my “sidemount diving courses” spreading… It was time for me to head back to the Manchester, UK (north). There I would conduct sidemount training at both student and instructor levels. This extended to me travelling to several locations in Europe to promote sidemount (Greece, Portugal and Mallorca). I also decided to revisit Mexico to gain further experience by assisting Steve B on a sidemount cave diving course and do lots of cave diving in sidemount, constantly improving my own skill level.
November 2010 (+21 months after developing first course)
I decided to update and revise my current sidemount courses. Major change was to stop teaching the (twin cylinder) specialty course and instead offer my newly developed distinctive specialty course (sidemount essentials). At this time I also decided to stop training sidemount instructors and instead concentrate on offer high end student level sidemount training courses. The main reason for this was due to me having no real ability to “quality control” what other instructors where doing with my distinctive sidemount course “a lot can change in a year”.
Important note: At the time of writing this page (February 2012) none of the sidemount instructors I have previously trained, have ever come back to me for a sidemount training update or retraining. All instructors I trained are still offering my now dated distinctive specialty “twin cylinder” training course. I believe it is crucial to get updates “from the source” this allows you to move and develop with the times. This is even more important when the instructor does not spend everyday working and diving in sidemount configuration.
December 2010 to June 2011 (+7 months)
I was back in Australia again, this time with one focus to further promote sidemount diving in the open water environment – ohh and escape the European winter 😉
Steve Bogaerts invited me to join him and two others and at the time we would be the only four Razor Side Mount System instructors worldwide. Since I had already trained with Steve on advanced level sidemount diving, no additional training was needed, I was willing to run Go Side Mount endorsed courses and asked them if we should bring my Sidemount Essentials program under there banner so to speak. But due to business negotiations between us, we decided to both go are separate ways. I maintained friends with Steve and have a huge amount of respect him and the cave training I received.
July 2011 to September 2011
Brought me back to the UK/Europe to further promote sidemount diving and awareness of my sidemount essentials training course.
November 2011 to February 2012
It was European winter time and a good opportunity for me to escape back to Australia for 4 months, of course I took all my sidemount equipment with me.
I am back in the UK/Europe to get ready for a big year of sidemount training. PADI themselves have finally decided to offer standardised sidemount training courses, this will mean a huge amount of new sidemount instructors hitting the market. Like anything in life some things are worth paying a bit extra for and if that is high end sidemount training from a highly experienced sidemount instructor/trainer then I look forward to hearing from you.
**Important note: everything you have read so far in this article was actually written in February 2012, with the release of my new website you are currently reading this on, I decided to update this article… it is now 4.5 years later and rather than give you a month by month account as I have done since I started sidemount diving and the development of my courses, I will just tell you the highlights of where I am at now 😉
For the last 4+ years, I moved between Gozo (Malta) and Mexico mainly. I continually improved and improved my Sidemount Essentials course and trained many divers at this level. I then used this course as a benchmark level before I would continue to train sidemount divers into the technical fields; like deep decompression and cave diving. I got to a point where every course I would advertise I would generally fill and then in the busy periods I could not meet the demand for the customers wanting courses, so this got me thinking… how can I still help and train all the divers from around the world requesting me, if it was unlikely that we would ever get to meet in the water.
Then one day it hit me, every sidemount course I did was almost exactly the same as the last, all the equipment setup workshops, the briefings, the in-water training sessions etc… So what if video recorded myself doing all the equipment setup, BCD system, regulator system and cylinder setup. I would then have all the students just watch it before the course start, then we could spend more time in the water!!
Well let’s just say this worked, it worked so well in fact it would make more in a year than I would make in the water teaching diving. Even better than the financial rewards it actually prepared the people taking my training course really well and meant that in the 4 days someone would train with me, we got a lot more time in the water developing skills and then divers left even better than I ever could get them before I started with the online training materials.
So I got thinking again and decided to make more online training videos for my course and this time concentrate on skills done on the course as well as cover the common problems for each skill and then video how to best correct each. This lead to me releasing an 8 hour skill video after going through hundreds of hours of video material I had shot from students in training from all the courses I had conducted.
Now I had a full online training product that covered everything in my Sidemount Essentials course. During 2015 I was amazed at just how well prepared somebody could be from using my online materials and study at home, then come to me for in-water training, the results were amazing and I will let you read the 40+ testimonials I have added to this website, just scroll up and down the page you are on right now, I will let them speak for themselves.
The entire year of 2016…
Based on the huge success of my online training; since it’s initial release in 2014. I decided to invest the entire 2016 year, into remaking from scratch a completely new range of online training materials. In fact the website you are reading this article from is completely new and designed around hosting my new eLearning online scuba diving training video lessons. I don’t think I need to say much more as this entire website covers the new materials and exactly what they will do for you, I am expecting this to really take off and I can not tell you how revelived and excited I am after spending 12 months of my life working almost everyday on this, and I mean working 8+ hours each day, sometimes one day blurring into the next.
I hope this article, gives you a clear picture of how sidemount grew over the years and the part I was/am lucky enough to be playing in it. Thanks to everyone reading this and investing in my online training, you keep me doing what I do and I would not change my job for anything!! Cheers, Steve Martin