JOURNEY INTO TECHNICAL DIVING - 2/15/2000

For divers who wish to venture beyond scuba's recreational limits, it is very important to seriously consider what is involved in that choice. There is a type of diving for almost everyone, but not everyone is suited for every type of diving, and the consequences of the wrong choice affects not only the diver and his family, but the diving community as well. Safety must always take precedence. Safety and enjoyment in technical diving are achieved through proper training and the adherence to and practice of that training. Training will eliminate many unnecessary mistakes and teach the mechanical and organizational skills which are necessary to develop the awareness needed in these new environments.

The key to proper training is the instructor. Your instructor must be competent, knowledgeable, and also be a good teacher. There are plenty of "book smart" instructors out there, but many of them have limited personal experience in the water. There is an abundant amount of knowledge in technical diving that doesn't make it into the books.

It is very important that you research your instructor. After all, your life is literally in their hands, so don't be afraid to ask about their experience. Find out how long they have been actively involved in the area in which you are seeking instruction. Students benefit from taking courses with instructors who have extensive technical diving experience. This experience has a direct impact on the quality of training that can be provided to students. Experience, being the best teacher, also helps mold the best instructors. With this in mind, it is essential to research the background of perspective instructors and choose wisely.

An often asked question is, "What agency should I train with?". The answer relates back to the previous points of emphasis. The quality of the individual instructor has the highest priority. However, the instructor should represent a reputable agency because the ethics and training standards differ between agencies, making it important that you review the agency's standards and their history.

The decision to enter technical diving should be a personal one. Based on my own experience, I began as an open water diver and just couldn't get enough. Becoming an open water instructor sufficed briefly, but I still wanted something more. A friend introduced me to a cavern dive, and that led me to seek cave certification and my technical journey began.

A gradual progression to technical diving is recommended. Give yourself time to practice underwater skills and gain competence, and this will allow you to proceed to the next level if you choose. Curiosity will fuel your journey and accumulated experience will direct you down your desired path, while affording you safety and growth in confidence. Entering into technical diving with this attitude will help to ensure enjoyment and success in your endeavors.

Unfortunately, many enter the realm of technical diving on a whim or even because of peer or spousal pressure. Entering technical diving when its requirements exceed the comfort zone of the student is a recipe for disaster. There is no room for this as the sport can be very unforgiving. Not only do these people fail to enjoy the sport, they can experience unfortunate incidents up to, and, including death.

Students entering their technical training with the proper attitude and comfort level, will experience more of the great pleasures that technical diving has to offer. Refinement of skills and overall technique will generate enthusiasm and the desire to do more diving.

Once certification has been earned, training has not ended. You will have learned much in your classes, but you must now practice those skills and make them practical aspects of your diving protocol. You must develop and maintain consistency in your gear routine. It is important to maintain consistency in the techniques and configuration used for technical diving. The biggest mistakes occur when divers are inconsistent in the process of the things they do during their dive. Inconsistency is the root cause of many injuries and deaths of veteran divers.

Instinct cannot be taught, but repetitious practice can develop conditioned responses, which allow nearly instinctive appropriate employment of skills required in a given situation. Responding to situations in an instinctive-like manner can be learned.

Technical diving is now receiving much more positive attention than it did just a few years ago. Not long ago, when we all thought we could only be safe breathing compressed air and not diving below accepted sport diving limits. Today, many of the agencies who once called nitrox and other mixtures "devil gasses", now actively teach and certify students in their use.

Today's technical divers may use nitrox, heliox, trimix, rebreathers, and DPV's to safely attain individual and team goals. But as an entry-level technical diver, you must use caution not to try to advance too quickly. Although the media covers and promotes the "big events", trying to get there too rapidly is much more likely to get your name into a different part of the newspaper, specifically, the obituaries.

Don't "get in over your head" by diving beyond your training and comfort zone. There is more to wreck diving than descending to incredible depths in cold, dark water to discover virgin shipwrecks. There is also much more to see in a cave than simply reaching the end of the line. The first thousand feet of cave has plenty to offer, but since divers tend to journey by in such a hurry, they can often miss it. Taking time to develop your technique and to learn about your new environment is one of the satisfying aspects of the adventure.

You may decide to become a cave, wreck, or trimix diver, but evolve there the smart and safe way. Be patient, get adequate training, and safely increase your limits. Technical diving is a very broad sport and there are many "New Worlds" to be discovered between open water and extreme technical diving.

It is imperative that you always keep an open mind to learning and improving. Critique yourself, and encourage others to critique your performance also. We all should continue to learn and improve ourselves, and to communicate that knowledge to others. In this way, we can all contribute to, and continue to improve this great sport.