Education, Enjoyment and Exploration…

Perception of Experience – NACD Journal 4th Quarter, 2005

A few weeks back, we were swimming in a narrow, low tunnel way back in a system, just having jumped into a very tight passage. I’m enjoying the remoteness of it; the rusty black colored goethite coating the walls and ceiling, the beauty of the silt smothered rocks off to the side in tiny domes, the ripples in the clay, when suddenly we turn a corner and come across a very nasty little restriction. It happens to be our first time here and of course, the line’s running straight along the ceiling, meaning the danger of entangling my manifold is very real. I’m probably also going to “wedge out” proceeding through, but things are progressing well on the dive. We make a quick pressure check and everything looks good, so we make the conscious decision to push into it. Al, being the skinny one, is out in front and makes it through just about cleanly. For a second I stop, pinned, enclosed on all four sides, give a desperate wiggle, then I’m through and the thought creeps into my head “Should I be back here?” It was just a brief moment in time, then I got back into my usual mind set, but I remember it quite distinctly.

One of the things I find myself learning is that every once in a while you have to step back, evaluate your skills and ask yourself if you’re progressing. Dare I ask if you’re getting complacent? Are you content with your cave diving skills? When I mention progressing, I’m not talking about diving new tunnels or systems; we are all well aware how awesome that can be! What I mean is, are your buoyancy skills improving? Is your SAC rate dropping? Is the overall enjoyment you’re getting from your cave diving on the increase? If you’ve reached a certain level, why remain there? Take the time to challenge yourself to be better! These days, I find myself doing back gas swims to places I only used to be able to stage to, tunnels I used to have difficulty with are now swam without a second thought. On the other hand, you have to balance this desire to improve with a sensible mind set. You want to make sure that you’re not pushing things too fast, or diving over your head.

Unfortunately, for all the training that we receive and all the classes available for continuing education there is no substitute for experience.  For the newer cave divers among us, it’s a very common thought that having your Full Cave certification makes you a cave diver. To the more experienced among us, this is somewhat silly. I know, I know, you worked hard for that cave certification. Everyone in our little community has been where you’re at, experienced the frustrations of class, felt that moment of bliss when you finally earned your cave card. But you can also look at it another way. A cave instructor has basically told you only this, that in their opinion you are able to penetrate into the underwater cave environment using at most, a third of your available gas, and survive the experience.

Don’t let yourself get talked into dives that you’re not comfortable with. If you think you’re diving above your head, you probably are! Obviously we’re all influenced by others, but when you’re planning a cave dive take a moment to consider that just because you’re comfy with that dive, somebody else maybe not be. Don’t be afraid to dive with diver’s who have less experience than you; it’s a great chance to work on the basics. If you’re an experienced cave diver, remember that you’re an example to the rest of us. One of the most infuriating things, at least in my book, is when I ask people if they’d like to dive with me after work and they reply something along the lines of “Well, are you sure? I don’t want to hold you back”. The sad thing is that it’s not that person’s fault at all, but really the community’s, as we need to be more receptive to diving with people that have lesser skills and experience than us. My answer is usually “Hold me back from what? Having fun? Fat chance!”

Hopefully you’ll come to find out that there can be just as much satisfaction found by laying a good line into Orange Grove, as can be had marveling at the clay banks in the Harper Tunnel, if you take the time to appreciate and take pride in what you’re doing. For me, it’s a great feeling to return to your primary on a busy day in a popular system and still be able to follow the line out, noting that all your placements are still there, your line is taut, hasn’t fallen into any line traps and that if needed, you could easily follow your line out with an encircled thumb and forefinger in zero visibility.

If you’re in the habit of diving with the same group of people, try not to let the same person always lead, run the lines or make the dive plan. Be a leader, not a follower! If you watch the more experienced cave divers among us, you’ll notice their grace in the water, the effortlessness of their movement, the solidarity of their tie offs and security of their guideline. What you won’t see is them pulling and gliding through the Eye at the speed of light, leaving loose line behind them, ignoring placements, all so that they can tie into the guideline as fast as possible to extend their penetration.

I’m lucky enough to be able to dive with a wide range of people, be it exploring the Catacombs with an Intro diver or riding to the Last Room with friends, but the one common denominator is that every dive is only going to be as much fun as you make it. Cave diving should be fun, and what makes it so, at least for me, is the repetition of skills, the satisfaction found in improving one’s buoyancy, the ability to hover effortlessly while laying a jump. A simple pleasure can be found by working on these basic things and trying to become the best cave diver you can be. At what point does a dive stop being fun? Fun, in itself, can mean a lot of different things to people. For some folks it’s squirming through small sumps, for others it’s motoring in big tunnel. I find that if you set out with simple objectives and start taking pleasure in accomplishing the small things well, then you’re heading in the right direction.

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my viewpoint, please take the time to refine your skills, don’t push too hard and keep a close eye on your head! As always try to slow down and think a little bit before you act, keep your cave diving safe and please take good care of our underwater cathedrals.

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