One of the most fun checkout dives that we did has to be our Peak Performance Buoyancy check. Having good buoyancy is really important when we start surveying as it means that you can safely manoeuvre yourself over and around the corals without breaking or damaging any of them. It’s alarmingly easy to destroy tens, if not hundreds, of years of coral growth with a misplaced kick. We descended down onto a sandy patch and Jenny demonstrated the first skill. We’d gone through all of them whilst at the surface during our dive briefing, but she repeated them underwater to show us what to do. The first one was called ‘The Skydiver’ where you have to hang suspended in the water with your belly parallel to the sea floor, your arms up by your head and your legs bent at the knee. If you were neutrally buoyant you would rise up a bit with every in breath and then sink down a bit with every out breath. We then all held onto each other’s shoulders in a circle to practice managing our own buoyancy in response to other people’s.
The next exercise required a small square dive weight being placed in the sand so that it ‘stood up’. You then had to exhale to sink to the sea floor, knock the weight over using the regulator in your mouth and then time your in breath so that you seamlessly glided up over the sand and didn’t face plant into it. Definitely easier said than done, but we all managed without too much sand in our mouths and faces so we considered it a success.
Then came the really fun one. This might be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done while scuba diving.
What you do is you start by emptying all of the weight out of your BCD so that you are as heavy as possible. Then you take off your fins and you can basically moonwalk across the sea floor. We had an absolute blast. We were all doing somersaults, back flips, splits in the air (I say ‘splits’ very generously) and running. The running was definitely a challenge as it was more like being on the moon so you were forced into more of a slow motion bounding leap. It was so. Much. Fun. You felt totally weightless without the ability to fall over and hurt yourself. My favourite trick to do was a back flip but instead of windmilling my arms around like I normally would, you instead just cycle your legs to slowly push yourself backwards. It was hysterical.
We were all very sad when Jenny motioned for us to put our fins back on and re-establish neutral buoyancy. Once we had finished our skills we practiced deploying our DSMBs (Delayed Surface Marker Buoy), also known as a safety sausage, which is basically a big float that you put up so that a boat driver can see where you are. It was with great reluctance that we surfaced and ended our hilarious dive.