By James Sanderson
What was once out of reach to everyone but a select few is now part of the mainstream in many sports, and diving is no exception. Eager recreational divers who are prepared to invest in training and equipment can now visit caves and ocean depths that were, until recently, accessible only to experts with a lifetime of training
But the increased availability of this specialized training and equipment presents us with a double-edged sword. On one side are those who are prepared to make a long-term investment in both equipment and training to gain the right tools to safely enjoy diving in extreme locations, inaccessible to 99 percent of the diving community. One the other side are the divers seeking shortcut training, modeled on mainstream recreational courses. This often results in inadequate training, equipment and experience that can cause them to end up in situations and locations that they are ill prepared for.
In a series of three articles I’ll to explore the three key areas of training, equipment and knowledge (TEK) that a diver should carefully consider before progressing down this route.
How do you get the training?
1) Do your research. Who is doing the diving you want to do and how did they get trained?
I made a number of early decisions at the start of my technical diving career based on two areas of information. First, I read voraciously about the sorts of diving I wanted to do. Tales of the discovery of deep wrecks in the northeastern U.S. and north Florida caves in the 80s and 90s led me look at how these diving pioneers gained their experience and training. Fortunately by the time I started down this route in 2008, things were a little more organized than in the early days of deep wreck and cave diving. Today you can easily research divers, agencies and instructors and find out if their training appeals to you. There are plentiful online resources to get your gray matter going, but do be aware of polarized internet opinions, as they will hold you back.
2) Nail your basic dive skills. You need to be solid before building complex skills.
Knowing the baseline of your skills is vital before considering developing complex, new skills. You may think your basic skills such as trim, buoyancy control and propulsion are pretty good (We all do, right?) but the reality is that they probably fall short of the entry point for many technical or cave classes. During training you will be expected to remain in a flat, (trim) static position in mid-water, not kneeling, and this can prove difficult even for experienced divers. A technical diver will be able to maintain trim within a 15-degree window and buoyancy within a 1-meter (3-foot) window even when task loading by performing a gas switch, sharing gas or manipulating a valve. Have you ever wondered why the visibility behind you is so bad? You will also need a range of kicks so as not to disturb silt, and you must be able to maneuver in a confined space. Although these basic dive skills are desirable on a recreational dive, they are not absolute musts as they are on technical dives, so you really need an experienced technical dive instructor to give you structured feedback and develop your basic skills. You should consider a foundational course from an agency with an established technical curriculum such as GUE fundamentals before moving on.
3) Be prepared to pay and potentially not pass the class. If you see a “cheap” technical class with a 100 percent pass rate, run.
The sorts of classes you’re considering probably cost quite a bit more money and take longer than your basic dive classes. For example, most Normoxic trimix and basic cave classes are between 5 and 6 days and you will be presented with a gas bill at the end. You may even have to travel and pay for boat costs. It can quickly add up, and add to personal pressure to perform.
Your instructor will also fully understand the environment where they’re teaching you to dive and he or she will not accept second best. This means no matter how much you have spent, they simply will not pass you if you don’t make the grade.
4) Make sure your instructor is an active diver; you want real experience, not training slates.
I have already mentioned the cost of training at this level. You are, for the most part, paying for that instructor’s experience as much as you’re paying for their time. A good instructor should be diving above the level that they’re teaching, so they bring a huge amount of personal diving experience to your class. Many instructors only teach and this brings nothing to this type of diving. The best instructors I know work hard to maintain a balance between being active divers and educators.
In the next part of this series I will be looking at the ‘E’ of TEK, equipment. Do you know what’s required for technical and cave training? Be prepared to change your entire configuration, right down to your fins.