During an extensive stay in Mexico’s Riviera Maya I was introduced to technical diving or cave diving and conducted hundreds of hours in the Cenotes, as the cave systems in Mexico are commonly referred to. It was the fascination of these unique and ancient underground systems that motivated the urge for future exploration and an insatiable willingness to learn, which resulted in me spending many hours gaining knowledge and training as a qualified cave diver and the subsequent hours exploring some of these systems on my own.
The extensive labyrinth of these cave systems meant that many portions of these systems have been explored and surveyed by some of the greatest cave explorers of our time, most of which was can only be conducted using side mount equipment and in this community I came to embrace and became skilled in the use of side mount equipment, having heard all the hype and technical arguments supporting its use given the environment. This was possibly one of the best, yet challenging decisions I have made in diving; (1) as it changed my view as to the ease of accessibility and comfort in the water and, (2) the fact that I could now enter previously inaccessible areas of the caves safely whether as part of a team or solo.
National Geographic Explorers of the Year, Steve Bogaerts and Robbie Schmittner, as well as many primary explorers have all spent countless hours in these narrow passages charting and connecting these expansive passageways, often having to completely remove their gear to fit and continue their exploration. Many adapted their gear and equipment configuration accordingly. A good friend, dive buddy and IANTD Cave Instructor and owner of a technical training center, Patrick Widman, once told me; “make no more than one change to your equipment per day” keeping to his advice many subsequent dives were spent “fine tuning” my gear and confidence.
A brief look back in history tells us that Side Mount was first developed and used in the 1970’s by sump divers in
, their use of this configuration made it easier to transport gear between submerged sections of a cave system, making exploration less testing and dangerous. For the past forty-years Side Mount has been used in the exploration of submerged cave systems that are considered as too small or restrictive for the traditional and more commonly dived back mount configuration England
I have been fortunate to have joined many teams and to have had the opportunity to dive with and meet various explorers and pioneers in person, which added to the learning curve. There is no substitute for good instruction and have found myself learning in five dives what I would have overseen on perhaps fifty solo excursions.
Against this background I am happy to see that many equipment manufacturers have now introduced a range Side Mount equipment as standard for recreational diving, which puts paid to changes and adaptations to standard equipment but also because side mount equipment in my experience is a comfortable and eloquent solution to the issue of cumbersome equipment. Many active divers and instructors today have heard of what some would describe as the ‘newest dive craze in the industry” commonly referred to as Side Mount scuba diving. It’s what nitrox was fifteen years ago.
Until recently Side Mount gear was not commonly available or for that matter mass produced, with many systems being developed utilizing existing scuba systems but having to be highly modified, which on occasion can lead to these being unreliable and perhaps considered by some as dangerous. Those experiments and modifications to the tried and tested techniques were often accompanied with many ‘in the field changes’. Thankfully with ongoing need and demand for development and innovation Side Mount equipment has been developed and is being produced by reputable equipment manufacturers and marketed appropriately by professionals and relative training agencies.
Side mounted equipment has emerged as a very practical and versatile configuration of Scuba diving, used at all levels, from recreation and technical diving while having the ability to dive with one or multiple tanks mounted on the sides of the body, which of course has various advantages.
Some benefits of Side Mounted equipment include ease of transportation, easier donning and doffing cylinders and the ability to monitor air supply and valves more closely. All of these, and many more help in making Side Mount more desirable for use in recreational training agencies and instructors worldwide.
With the introduction of such equipment from mainstream manufacturers, it will not take long before Side Mount Scuba diving is hitting shores near you and once tried, divers should find that this equipment configuration is ergonomically well designed and thought out, all of which adds to the diving experience .
Are you ready for a new lease on diving in what could possibly be the most versatile, comfortable and reliable configuration in the seas.