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Dark Thoughts

The hand reaches back, takes mine and puts it on the line. I can’t see anything in the pitch black, although I’m able to feel the constant flow of the water, but I know what he wants me to do. I adjust my buoyancy slightly and cross over the line, continuing on down the tunnel. I love this, a senseless, black abyss with only our breathing echoing in the still silence, feeling a line arrow slide through my hand, the void closing around us as we pursue our quest for the daylight. I grasp a primary, give it a quick feel to make sure it’s ours and we start ascending towards the cave entrance. The darkness gives way to a dusky gloom and then the ambient light comes into view. As always, a myriad of emotions plays on my mind, I hate to leave this all encompassing liquid world, but the sunlight beckons irresistibly, creating beautiful glimmers and reflections through the holes in the duckweed.

We complete our decompression uneventfully and I look over at my buddy and watch him knock out some valve drills, his trim is good, shutdowns are economical and thorough and I’m very happy with it all. After he finishes the manipulation, he looks over and realizes I have no gas. He gives me the long hose, sticks his backup in his mouth, and after eyeing me sternly, reaches back and rolls his left post back on, weird how that happens, huh! I return the long hose and take some line off a safety reel to tie his manifold up, then back fin quickly to observe. Reaching back, he unhooks himself from the man made entanglement and slowly we ascend together, breaking the surface on a beautifully calm summer afternoon. I congratulate him and watch relief cloud his eyes briefly, before he breaks out with an ear to ear grin.

After debriefing we head over to the local BBQ joint to grab a late lunch, finish up paperwork and talk about the wonderful world of cave diving! We chat all through lunch and eventually get down to the nitty gritty of it all. Looking across the table at this young man, who has the potential to be a world class cave diver, I sign off on his Full Cave certification and have this moment of wanting to reach across the table and tell him to be very careful out there! Of course I don’t and simply offer him some words of praise, warning and advice.

I’m often asked for my opinion about paths of progression in cave diving, should I take …., am I ready for …. I usually just offer simple words such as don’t dive above your head and to me this is the crux of it all. How comfortable are you? Are you having fun? Everyone’s comfort level is a little bit different and you should know yours! I think that the more comfortable you are in the water, when you decide to take an additional step in your training or mentoring, the more you will benefit from it since time will not have to be spent on what should already be known.

We’ve had a number of accidents lately and maybe that is why I’m thinking more about new cave divers and invincibility hats, I’m not sure. We have the toys and equipment to get us into a lot of trouble very quickly, but they are just tools for us to enjoy our beautiful caves. What causes people to go “too far, too fast”? Is it the instruction or lack of it? Is it a reflection of our society’s “want it now” syndrome? More and more these days, I hear stories of cave instructors failing or holding back a student. Unfortunately, with the new found proliferation of “cave instructors”, instead of going and working on their skills to become a better diver and then completing their course, they choose to go to one of the “giveaway” instructors who’ll pass them because they want everybody to be friends with them, get more students, increase their profits etc. Would you want to dive with someone who did that? Unless there was a serious personality conflict or a gear configuration disagreement, if I was failed by an instructor I’d want to go out and work on whatever it was that caused me to fail and then go back to the same person, rather than seeking the easy way to get a “cave card”. Does nobody want to be challenged anymore?

I just had a wonderful ten days of diving with my friend from Japan who comes over every year. He took an informal scooter course from me while he was here and of course this really opened up some new cave for him. He’s been diving a long time and is extremely comfortable in the water, so to him a scooter was just a tool to go and see some new cave and I was able to challenge him on the scooter during class as he as really rock solid on the basic skills. Who doesn’t want to do a graduation dive to 2900’ and then swim to the end of Mainland! Plus as a bonus, it was an absolute pleasure to teach him! Far different from attempting to teach those divers who barely meet the prerequisites, are just interested in going to the Hinkel because their friends are, cannot perform a simple S drill and are simply not ready for scooter instruction.

Anyways, enough of these dark thoughts already! To all the newer cave divers out there, take your time and have fun and just go diving. Don’t be in a hurry, you can’t purchase experience and in water time. If you cave dive frequently and work on making yourself a better diver, the cards will come. If you are in pursuit of a card and don’t care about your cave diving, I’d recommend taking up golf, since hooking a shot into the woods ‘cause you haven’t worked on your swing lately isn’t going to kill either you or your golf partner!

Well, thanks for taking the time to read my viewpoint and have a great time out there in our glorious aquifer. Just dive your heart out and enjoy the experience, it’ll pay off in the future as you start pushing further into the blue holes we love so much. 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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