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davidh

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How scuba diving is like flying
« on: October 21, 2007, 12:37:59 AM »
How scuba diving is like flying.  And how it's not.



As some of you may recall, I went on an extended vacation to Southeast Asia in September.  I've been back a few weeks now and life is starting to settle down and return to what passes for normal, and I've even have had time to get my plane through annual and back in the air.  Here' a brief re-cap of my vacation for anyone interested, with some thoughts on flying versus other exotic recreational activities.

I was away for about a month (thanks to everyone for behaving while I was away, and thanks to Al and Tony for keeping an eye on things in my absence).  This trip was done in two parts: the first part, about 2 weeks in Indonesia, was focused pretty much exclusively on scuba diving in Indonesia (around Bali and north Sulawesi).  The second half of the trip was spent visiting with family at various locations in Thailand.  I did a lot of diving on this trip - it was great (although I did miss flying my plane :) ).

In some respects, I think scuba diving is a little like flying.  It's not cheap (one could argue that scuba diving is cheaper than flying, and at first glance it certainly is...but if your kind of diving involves traveling to exotic, far-away destinations and staying in expensive resorts, believe me, it really is not cheap!).  Both activities involve lots of highly specialized equipment, some of which requires regular maintenance to keep working.  And like with flying, to a large degree you stake your life on your gear.  It's easy to sink a lot of money into this stuff.

Like flying, scuba diving requires a commitment, of time, energy and money.  Before you can really enjoy it, first you have to get trained, and once you get your certification, the learning really begins.  You get better at it with experience.  There are times when it's easy, there are times when parts of it seem like a real challenge, and you would do well to try to learn something each time you go out and do it.

Diving can be at times exhilarating, frustrating, humbling, and it occasionally leaves you feeling awe-struck by what you get to witness and experience.  It helps you realize (or reminds you) how small we all are, how big the world is, and how powerful and vast nature is.  You soon learn that being underwater, like being up in the air, it's no place for bravado, and you soon develop a very healthy respect for the natural forces that you must contend with.

Like flying, diving is a great activity to help you keep things in perspective: just like when you're crossing the Cascades or cruising along the Pacific coastline, as you swim along a reef 80 feet down, watching the kaleidoscope of life swirl around you as you suck life-giving air from the plastic-and-metal gizmo in your mouth, all worries about projects at the office, yardwork and the other mundane things that often occupy our thoughts tend to fade away very, very quickly.  You concentrate on the stuff that's truly important, from the most basic (like just breathing, and kicking your fins and twisting your body just right so you successfully maneuver around that stinging fire-coral you're headed for) to the more interesting (gee, that shark sure looks cool, but it doesn't really need to get any closer to me), to the more philosophical (how many tens of thousands of years has it taken for this delicate reef ecosystem to grow to its current state...and how much longer is it going to be around if that idiot behind me keeps banging it with his fins"...).

And, like flying, diving is just pretty damn cool.  Sometimes, it just feels incredible.

A critical diving skill is "getting neutral" -- neutrally buoyant, where you are essentially weightless, hanging at whatever depth you choose, floating along neither sinking nor rising (once you get neutral, you actually make minute adjustments in your depth with each breath you inhale and exhale).  If you've ever wanted to get into outer space and experience weightlessness, this is the best way to do with without riding a very expensive rocket (plus, you are definitely visiting a very alien world, filled with strange creatures, so the comparison to space travel extends even further).  When you're neutral in the water, if there's a current (as there often is), you can do a "drift dive" where you simply float along the reef, expending almost no effort, and just watching the underwater scenery go by.  On one drift dive on my recent trip, the current was so strong that it felt just like flying -- in fact, several of the divers put their arms out mimicking airplane (or bird) wings, zooming along the reef like a plane on a strafing run.  It feels just like flying without the plane.

For many of us, flying tends to be a solitary activity.  Unless you're lucky enough to have a flying buddy or spouse who usually rides along, I think many of us spend most of our flying time by ourselves, and that leaves a lot of time for quiet reflection.  Diving is even more solitary, at least for the 40-60 minutes that you're underwater: you may not be completely alone (in fact, you're pretty much always diving with someone else, if only for safety), but you cannot communicate verbally -- there's no talking underwater (yes, there are full-face dive masks and integrated voice communications gear available, but they're very expensive and I've never met anyone who used them).  Underwater communications is generally limited to hand signals and pantomime, which does work (sort of), but when you're underwater, the only voices you hear are those in your own head, and it's very solitary.  Of course, there's plenty of social interaction at those times before and after you're actually underwater, and the intervals you spend underwater are short; individual dives rarely last more than 60 minutes each, and for most divers, two dives a day are plenty; only the most hardcore divers spend more than a couple hours underwater in a single day, but few pilots would flinch at the idea of logging more than a couple of hours in one day.

But make no mistake -- flying and diving are not exactly the same.  In some respects, they are quite different.

Scuba diving seems to be growing in popularity, and doesn't appear to be significantly threatened by rising petroleum prices, encroaching government restrictions, or docks closing.  The diving demographic is also quite different than the crowd you typically see out at the airport: divers tend to be younger, more fit, and there are more new divers taking up the sport than there are older divers who are quitting (or otherwise no longer participating).  To me, recreational diving seems to have a much brighter future than recreational flying does (of course, there are many reasons for this).  That makes me wonder if we might be able to steal a few ideas from the dive industry (more on that some other time).

To some extent, I think scuba diving may be perceived by the general public as perhaps more "hip" than flying.  Diving generally comes with a strong environmental ethic that tends to put a nice, socially acceptable gloss on it -- although one could easily argue that diving does more environmental harm (physical damage to the very fragile reefs, lots of fuel burned getting to the dive resorts and then out to the dive sites, etc.) than it does good.  Because it does involve some physical activity, I think diving may generally be viewed as "healthy" -- and frankly, how much exercise do we get when we go flying (no, lifting the hundred-dollar-burger does not count)?

The diving community does a lot of talking about how dedicated they are to spreading the word about how important it is for us all to work hard to preserve a healthy environment.  For divers, it's not just some abstraction; a healthy environment is something that has an immediate, direct, and completely obvious impact on their activity.  Yeah, it's also good PR.  This is another angle that I think the aviation community could spin more effectively.  Even if you might view the term "environmentalist" as a sneering pejorative (personally, I'm proud to call myself one, but I know that for some, it's a politically charged term), I think everyone appreciates a clean, healthy environment, even if they might differ on the best public policy means to achieve it.  Personally, I think there are few better ways to really appreciate how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world than to go flying around this region.  We just haven't done such a great job of letting the world know how great a tool that a general aviation aircraft is to highlight that -- maybe we need our own Jacques Cousteau for that.

Flying and diving both require you to have some regular practice, but flying definitely requires that practice to be more frequent.  The FAA requirements for currency notwithstanding, I know that if I don't fly at least one a month, I'm really not very good at it (if I'm flying more than once or twice a week, I'm definitely a lot more skilled).  On the other hand, one can go for a much longer stretch without going diving and still retain almost all of one's skills.  Prior to this recent dive trip, it had been almost 4 years since our last dives, so my wife and I did take a short "refresher" course before we jetted off to go diving in Indonesia...but that wasn't something that was mandated (although few reputable dive operators would probably take you diving with such a long time since your last dive). And the truth be told, I have gone diving previously after a break of 2 or more years without any formal recurrent training (and I was fine - then again, I've been diving most of my life, so for me, most of the skills are pretty deeply ingrained).  Note that I do not recommend doing that!  Of course, I wouldn't think of taking up an airplane by myself if I hadn't flown one for 2 years or more.  At best, I probably won't go diving again for at least half a year; it's quite possible that my next dive won't be for another year or two (we'll see about that).  Sure, I'll miss it, but I'm not going to worry about being away from it for so long.  On the other hand, if two weeks go by without me getting off the ground, I start to feel a little guilty (part of that is because if I don't fly the plane, nobody else does, and the plane needs it at least as much as I do).  Still, breaks from diving can be a lot longer, and a lot less consequential, than breaks from flying.

I'm sure there are a handful of divers amongst our board community -- diving is one of the activities that seems to appeal to a lot of pilots and vice-versa (riding motorcycles seems to be another -- I wonder what the other cross-over activities are?).  Those who have never "gone down" might be pleasantly surprised to know that there's an occasional full-page ad from Cessna appearing in the major scuba diving magazines - the first time I saw them, I was shocked.  In fact, other than in aviation publications, I think dive magazines are the only other places I've ever regularly seen a large ad from an aircraft manufacturer.  I'd like to see more of that, and I'd be curious to hear from others if they see aviation ads in other specialty publications (or if there are publications you think would be good targets for such ads).

As for the particulars of our trip, I think I provided most of the details in my "vacation postcard" posts (http://www.pacificnorthwestflying.com/index.php?topic=864.0), and I won't bore you all with the details, other than the general itinerary, which was...

We flew from Seattle to Bali, Indonesia (long flights! SEA - SFO - HKG - SIN - DPS...took about 2 days).  We dove around Bali for about 9 days.  We started in Menjagen (a fairly remote area in the NW corner of the island, far from the major tourist areas), then went east to Tulamben, then south to Candidasa (which we used as our base for dives on the island of Nusa Penida).  After a couple of days relaxing and sightseeing topside ("offgassing" before flying), we flew to the town of Manado, on the north end of the Island of Sulawesi.  We dove several days there at Bunaken National Marine Park.  All the diving in Indonesia was incredible.  We stayed at some very, very nice resorts, and had a wonderful time.  For those of you who are divers, I would highly recommend these areas (ping me if you want more details).  After 2 weeks in Indonesia, it was time for us to head to Thailand, where we visited with family and did a variety of activities.  Towards the end of the trip, we took two of my sisters-in-law to an island in the Gulf of Thailand (Ko Tao) where we did some more diving (the diving there was nice, but didn't really compare to the incredible diving we had done in Indonesia - we are completely spoiled now).  The route home was much less grueling (BKK - NRT - SEA).  Other than "flying" along the reefs underwater, and flying commercial, I didn't get a chance to do any aviating while there.

If you're interested in seeing my first attempts at underwater photography, I've put some of my better shots online here:
http://www.geoduckmedia.com/travel/Bali_Sulawesi/.

When I got home, my airplane was out-of-annual and waiting impatiently at Auburn.  It took me a week or two to get the annual done, bring it home to Boeing Field, and work out a couple of minor squawks.  It's now all good to go, and I'm looking forward to logging some time if/when we get a decent day.

I do miss the warm, clear waters filled with exotic criters.  But it sure is nice to be back in the sky again.   :D
« Last Edit: October 21, 2007, 10:38:02 PM by davidh »
David Herman
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Boeing Field, Seattle, WA

Ddayle

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2007, 07:34:05 AM »
David,  It sounds great, except for the "(gee, that shark sure looks cool, but it doesn't really need to get any closer to me)," part. I used to surf, but now I refuse to swim anywhere I might be BAIT! I am sure everyone else is also glad you did not become bait either .  I enjoyed your travelogue and will view the pictures next.  The tiedown line looks complete agian with the little broomtail back in place at the end. DaveR
Flying Juliette.  a borrowed 150

Ddayle

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2007, 07:37:11 AM »
P.S.   maybe now we can get a new  mystery airport ?
Flying Juliette.  a borrowed 150

davidh

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2007, 10:38:51 PM »
P.S.   maybe now we can get a new  mystery airport ?

Done!   ;D
David Herman
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Boeing Field, Seattle, WA

Jim L

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2007, 05:00:53 PM »
Those are great photos. It looks like a lot of fun!
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davidh

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2007, 10:22:15 PM »
David,  It sounds great, except for the "(gee, that shark sure looks cool, but it doesn't really need to get any closer to me)," part. I used to surf, but now I refuse to swim anywhere I might be BAIT! I am sure everyone else is also glad you did not become bait either . 
Nah, the shark-as-relentless-killing-machine meme is (mostly) a myth.  Most sharks don't want anything to do with people (of course, that's small comfort if the odd shark happens to clamp down on your arm...).  Fact is, you're more likely to be struck by lightning than bit by a shark.  To be sure, there are limits, and there are circumstances where you're asking for trouble.  But the sharks that are routinely encountered by tourists on resort dives are rarely very dangerous.  Otherwise, the dive operators wouldn't take customers out there.

At least that's what I told my wife's sister (on her first post certification dive) when she asked me if the sharks we were about to swim with were dangerous ("no, these sharks are vegetarians - nothing to worry about!  She believed me! ;D ).

I enjoyed your travelogue and will view the pictures next.  The tiedown line looks complete agian with the little broomtail back in place at the end.
Thanks - it's great to have the airplane back online, ready to fly when I can get out there.
David Herman
N6170T - 1965 Cessna 150E
Boeing Field, Seattle, WA

davidh

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2007, 10:24:57 PM »
Those are great photos. It looks like a lot of fun!

It is.  I highly recommend it.  I think almost anyone with a sense of adventure would appreciate it, and especially pilots.  Folks, if you ever get the chance to go diving, give it a try!

Only problem is, it's one more expensive hobby competing for money that could otherwise go into flying.  ::)
David Herman
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Boeing Field, Seattle, WA

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2007, 11:29:06 AM »
Personally, anybody who willingly goes under water with the fishes is totally insane.  There are things down there that bite!

However, if I were to loose my marbles and partake in such a certain-to-be-doomed activity, I suppose there are some interesting things down below the surface of our waters here in the Northwest.

A conversation over the weekend got me to do a little Googling about airplane wreaks in Lake Washington.  I came across this interesting website:

http://www.nwrain.com/~newtsuit/recoveries/lkwash/lkwash.htm
John Smutny

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davidh

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2007, 01:44:54 PM »
Personally, anybody who willingly goes under water with the fishes is totally insane.

You know, I think I may have heard similar things said about climbing into some flimsy-looking tube-and-fabric contraption and going up in the sky in it.   ::)

FWIW, I've heard many rumors about a variety of aircraft sitting in Lake Washington - a squadron of WWII-era Navy aircraft from Sand Point, for example.  But that water's COLD and murky....I prefer the clear, warm, tropical stuff.
David Herman
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smutny

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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2007, 02:35:38 PM »
You know, I think I may have heard similar things said about climbing into some flimsy-looking tube-and-fabric contraption and going up in the sky in it.   ::)

Yeah, I heard that too.  But at least nothing up there bites!   ;)
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Re: How scuba diving is like flying
« Reply #10 on: October 23, 2007, 05:54:56 PM »

You know, I think I may have heard similar things said about climbing into some flimsy-looking tube-and-fabric contraption and going up in the sky in it.   ::)


Yeah, I heard that too.  But at least nothing up there bites!   ;)

On the contrary.  If you let the airspeed dive, the earth will swim up and bite you! ;D

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