Dive Training, Mentors and New Challenges

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Tina and I have been diving a lot, but also it’s been a whirlwind of training the past 4 years.  Much of my desire to get more training has to do with being confident to take on bigger dives,  utilizing more gear,  and wanting to see new things.  Also the way that most GUE classes are structured,   is that most of that training is cross-functional.  So In other words, getting tech 1 training has improved my confidence in a cave and vice versa.  But for at least the next little while, the training is over and we are now in the phase where we just need to dive.

I was updating my log book this evening and looking at the statistics of how many types of dives I’ve done in different environments.  Unfortunately I’ve not been perfect about keeping up with my log, but I have  rough idea of where I’m at.  Counting the number of dives for me is irrelevant.  The number means nothing in my opinion.  Maybe a better statistic is number of hours under water in certain environments.  For example: I’m far more comfortable in a cave than I am in open ocean, and I’m far more comfortable in a cave,  on a cave 1, dive than I am in a cave on a Tech 1/Cave 2 dive or a cave DPV dive. Naturally, the amount of hours that I logged in each of these environments, directly correlates to my level of comfortably, if you look at pure hours under water in each of those situations. We have far more cave 1 dives than any other type of diving. In fact, I almost have twice as many hours in a cave than even open water (shallow lakes and ocean combined).  So to be a better diver, my  goal is to dive the environments that I’m not good at and  get  the hours.  Obviously that takes time.

The picture above was from 2013 in the Blue Lagoon in Huntsville Texas. I have been diving since 2009 and at the end of 2013,  I had accumulated a total of 40 hours under water.  Just 5 years later I only have a little more than 350 total hours.

Since discovering GUE in 2014, we have taking at least 1 GUE class per year.  Tina and I took Fundamentals in July 2015, Cave 1 in December 2016, Cave 2 in December 2017,  GUE DPV 1 in the spring of 2018, Tech 1 in July 2018,  and Finally Cave DPV in September 2018.  I have a license to get myself into really sticky situations if I’m not careful.  I if I told you that the total number of dives in my log book is only around 450, would you think I’m not very experienced or not a very good diver?  Or would you think I’m moving too fast?  Or would you not care about numbers and just go diving with me?  I’d like to think the latter would be your answer, but the truth of what these numbers mean is that I’m still really new to cave and tech and in reality diving in general. I’m still a student and will be for quite some time.  I will be the first to admit that not a single dive goes by that I don’t make some small mistake.

There is a saying in tech and cave diving about “Going too far too fast”  And I’ve been cautious to try take my time,  and learn the skills needed to progress at a reasonable pace to keep those small mistakes that I make every dive from becoming big mistakes.   So this raises the question: “How much time should a person wait between taking the next level class?” Well that’s not a black and white answer for me at least.  GUE has a minimum number of dives that they require between the next subsequent level of class, which I believe is 25.  For me I didn’t feel comfortable until the 50 dives post class range.   But there is something to be said about having relatively short intervals between training as long as you dive a lot at your highest level in between those classes.   One class per year has been good for us, and it’s been like our annual checkup with GUE.   The development of bad habits and decay of skills can happen rather quickly and we have noticed quite a few times that we forgot something that we were shown, only to be reminded in a class that we were doing it wrong. For example:   I just recently did a dive where I ended  up looking like an underwater circus because I forgot to stow the light  when trying to do a bottle switch.  It happens. 

So, what now?  We are nowhere near ready for tech 2 until we  have a bunch of dives in the ocean from a boat, doing drifting deco and all that entails with that. There is no reason for a rebreather, regardless of the price of helium and the cool factor.   So for a little while we will just be diving.  And diving with anyone and everyone we can (that dives in a safe manner).  Furthermore, we have been seeking out mentors left and right, and not just GUE mentors.

Last year at the GUE conference Tina and I had a conversation with some of the KUR explorers, Andy Pitkin, Charlie Roberson, and Jon Bernot. They  told us that at some point the lines become blurred from what can be taught in a class and what needs to be taught in the form of a mentorship,  and just gaining the experience.  This is a theme we have heard from other people as well.  The reality of the mentoring aspect of diving is that it has been happening for quite a while, mostly with GUE instructors such as Mer, Mark, Kyle, Kirill, and Doug. However the focus has been on taking classes to get the basic skills down.

I have come to realize that there is a time in tech and cave diving that having good mentors is may be more important than just pounding out classes.  We have been lucky to get to know some of the exploration teams in the area and even been asked to come out and do some support work with not only KUR but also the WKPP.  This experience naturally challenges us to develop as higher capacity divers managing gear, and broadening our horizons for real world diving.  This is a huge opportunity to learn and grow.   So the goal for this next year or two is for us to challenge ourselves just a little bit more on each dive.  Continue to get more proficient in those areas that I feel are my weak spots.

Currently our biggest weakness is boat diving, tech and recreational levels.  And I guess you could say cold water diving with dry gloves because to really explore the ocean, we will need both of those skills to be sharp. We also  need to travel more and get experience with the logistics of diving in different countries, traveling with gear, seeking out local fixers and all that goes along with dive travel.   As far as cave diving goes, we need to get more experience with being comfortable lower visibility, managing the DPV, and generally just planning and setting up bigger dives.  We have a lot to learn and my motivation is to see what’s around the corner or explore that thing that only a few people on the planet get to see.

Bigger dives require more gear. We had to get a cap for the truck to haul it.

So here we are, at this exciting time where I finally feel like we have all the tools needed to see so many amazing things.  Now we just need to put it all together and dive.