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Education, Enjoyment and Exploration…

Diving The Cave – NACD Journal 3rd Quarter, 2007

“What a gorgeous dive!” I find myself saying that more and more these days as the summer heat’s upon us. Of course, during the summer I teach less and fun dive more so maybe that has something to do with it! By the time you read this, hopefully it will have cooled down a little bit and the danger of heat exhaustion and hydration issues will have dropped off. Anyways, for the last couple of weeks I’d been diving with some friends from Japan and it was really nice just to be able to kick back and take pleasure in the cave diving. Seeing the expressions on their faces as we surfaced told me that we were having a great time, and being able to show accomplished cave divers new systems and/or new passage is one of the things I love to do. Last night I went diving with a former student, as I do every Friday, and while it wasn’t a “big dive” we both had an absolute blast. There’s nothing like a simple swim on back gas as a great cure all for a busy day at work!

While diving with my friends from Japan I was very impressed with their speed (or lack of it!) in the cave and the way they took note of different passages and really took the time to look around. A friend of mine who’s also a cave instructor wrote an article a while back about guiding people and what to expect both from the guide and the people being guided. He made some really good points, no trust me dives, visuals, everybody needs to be responsible for themselves etc. The nice thing about diving with this couple was that while I did a detailed dive briefing using maps, photos and other materials before every dive, they still took the time to “learn the cave” for themselves. This in itself made our diving together that much more fun because everything was nice and relaxed, and they weren’t just following me around the cave!

As you get more relaxed in your cave diving and gain more experience, you’ll come to find pleasure in even the routine stuff. I probably dive at Devil’s between two and three hundred times a year, but I’m always seeing something new. The water clarity last night was amazing and if you slow down and take the time to swim off the line a little bit and poke your head into some holes, you’ll find it to be really rewarding as you’ll come across lots of little swim throughs and neat looking formations. If you can remember back to your cave training, I’m sure your instructor talked about diving the cave, not the line. After all this is a visual sport for most of us.

Something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately is there always seems to be talk about which line is where and how it should be moved to here, but does it really matter? As long as we maintain our continuous guideline to the surface and avoid line traps does it really matter where the line is? You’ve all been taught how to do a lost line drill. As I tell my students, the lines are there in case of an inconvenience such as a loss of light or zero visibility due to sediment agitation and we need to quit relying on the lines for navigation and start visual referencing, looking for landmarks or my personal favorite “learning the cave”. Me, I like looking at the cave, not the line. As my cave instructor told me time and time again, line, light and cave, line, light and cave. Know where they are and keep your awareness of those three things sharp. That does not mean stay on the line and do not deviate! Now if you take the time and learn the systems that you dive slowly and thoroughly and some kind of mishap happens for whatever reason, your head will be in a lot better shape than if you were just following a line!

How many of you have taken the time to play and explore in the big room off to the left where the Peanut tunnel starts? Things are really untouched back there and there are some really nice formations. How many have seen both sides of the sidemount line connecting Waterhole and the Peanut tunnel? I get a lot of questions from people such as “where’s that line go?” and if I know I’ll usually tell them or warn them off! But you won’t know unless you go and see for yourself. How many people have jumped off onto the lines off the jump line heading to the Godzilla circuit? There is a lot of pretty cave out there, but unfortunately I see a lot of people swimming right past it.

To improve one’s cave diving skills you have to try and expand your horizons and not get caught in the rut of doing the same dive that you always do, because “it’s really pretty”. Believe me, there is a whole lot of really neat cave diving to be done, so next time you swim past a jump and think, “Hmm, I wonder where that line goes?” pull out a spool or reel and go have a look see! Please make sure you leave yourself an out though, just in case it turns out to be a “tightie” or something along those lines. By learning the cave slowly and on a progressive basis, you’ll acquire a mental map of the system in your head. The nice thing about this is you’ll know roughly where you’re at all times and your stress level will be much less if something unforeseen occurs……

As we all know cave diving is a mental sport and the better your head is, the better your dive will be. Stay away from “trust-me” dives (unless line protocols etc are followed) and don’t let others push you beyond what you’re comfortable doing. The caves aren’t going anywhere and there will always be another day to come back and push it a little bit further.

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my viewpoint, and please have fun out there, as always tempering that with safety. Go ahead and try some new passage, just please be sure to use baby steps and don’t bite off more than you can chew. 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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