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Education, Enjoyment and Exploration…

Variety – NACD Journal 4th Quarter, 2007

It’s a crisp fall morning, the day after Thanksgiving and I’ve opened up the shop early to crank up the banks and get ready for a busy weekend. While putting a recent gear order out, a friend of mine shows up and we head outside to fill his tanks. Of course we’re chatting while his tanks are filling and talking about the usual stuff, how the doubles thing at Ginnie came up on the net again, the recent graffiti, the NACD seminar etc. As I remove a stage from the whip and switch banks, we get to talking about motivations. While we’re reminiscing, I suddenly realize that we have very similar thoughts on the matter so I decided to try to put down here what some of our thoughts were.

When I hear or read that divers will not dive a system because they find the flow intimidating or the visibility challenging I feel kind of bad. By sticking to no flow, good visibility cave, they’re cutting themselves off from so much. In my humble opinion, a cave diver should be able to hop into an underwater cave with decent conditions and enjoy their dive there. Let’s say we have two cave divers, one who dives the same passages because that’s where they’re most comfortable, the other seeks out new systems and passages to challenge themselves and improve their diving skill. Which one do you think will gain more skill and experience?

We all get caught in ruts at some point in our lives. What really counts is that we recognize it and do our best to fix the problem. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cave divers who dive the same tunnels again and again because that’s what they enjoy doing. Will that diver improve? Yes, of course they will because they’re gaining time and experience underwater, but it will be done slowly over a long period of time. Is that wrong? No, of course not, it just all depends on what you want out of your cave diving. If you want to improve consistently, you’re going to have to cave dive on a regular basis and in a variety of systems. Your skill level will almost certainly reflect the amount of time and effort you put into it and this is what a lot of new cave divers don’t realize. I know that after completing my formal cave training I thought I was done and finally a cave diver! In hindsight, I see how wrong I was, there is always more to learn…..

Of course, at that point in life I was running a catering business up north and I still remember the anticipation of cave diving trips, and the excitement when you arrived in cave country. Warm up for a few days at Peacock, and then head down to explore the Devil’s system. I always found Devil’s to be intimidating due to the flow and the depth, but it was such a gorgeous system that I just had to dive it. After a couple of years of doing this and exploring the other caves in the area, I was getting singularly frustrated as I’d get to a point at the end of the trip where everything was starting to come together and starting to click, and then we’d end up leaving and next time down I’d have to start up all over again! That, more than anything else, made me decide to move down here, so I could cave dive to my heart’s desire and not have to get my “cave head” back every few months. After spending some time here and doing nothing but cave diving pretty much daily, a friend of mine who I dove with on occasion said to me, “I wish you could have seen yourself when you first moved here and then again now”. Of course, I asked him why and he chuckled and replied that my skills had improved over the last few months. I didn’t understand it at the time, because I thought I was still diving the same way I always had, but I do understand what he meant now. I’d been spending a lot of time in the water and it showed.

My point is this, if you want to be the best you can be, you’re going to have to work at it and commit to it. For me, the new challenge is sidemount since this will open up a whole lot of new stuff, but I’m not going to attempt the new stuff until I have gained some level of proficiency! People ask me all the time, “do you sidemount” and invariably I grin and say, “Um, well I dive with tanks on my side, does that count?” but the real answer is no, because I have not yet reached any level that I would consider to be worthy of calling it sidemounting. Now of course, if all you want to do is swim around the no flow tunnels and enjoy the scenery, more power to you. Everybody has different motivations for doing what they do, but you have to be honest with yourself. If one day, you want to be hauling multiple scooters and stages in a deep cave somewhere, you need to be conscientious about your diving. Don’t make excuses, don’t settle for being satisfactory and don’t go for an easy swim in a passage you’ve done before if you have the opportunity to do something different. As it says in a number of old manuals, experience is the thing you get right after you really need it!

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my viewpoint and have a great time out there in our subsurface nirvana. Set some goals of where you’d like to be or what kind of diver you want to be in a few years, work towards that and don’t settle for second best. 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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