Tech Diving is FUN!!!
Από το τελευταίο Diver:
30 ways in which tech diving can boost your fun!
John Kean gets to grips with some basic buoyancy work.
John Kean is passionate about technical diving, and wants more of us to enjoy its benefits. Trouble is, he says, the Technical Prevention Officers are putting us off
John Kean is a technical and recreational diving instructor based in Sharm el Sheikh, where he has certified more than 1000 students over the past 10 years. He is also the author of SS Thistlegorm, The True Story of the Red Sea's Greatest Shipwreck, and sits on the board of the South Sinai Diving & Marine Association.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A PUB and noticed an unusual breed of dog sitting by its owner and attracting the attention of customers? One by one, people walk up and say: "What is it?"
Over the past few years, I've been running decompression diving courses in the Red Sea, often on recreational dive-boats. My gear and that of my students is usually in close proximity to the recreational divers, so it has attracted comments both positive, negative and just plain inquisitive.
My "dog" is nothing more than theirs, insomuch as we all have BCs, tanks and regulators, and a couple of buttons to inflate and deflate. Yet people steer around my twin-set as if it's a foreign landmine or sleeping Rottweiler that might go off or attack at any minute.
Some just watch, inching closer to show that they're not afraid, a bit like standing next to the yellow line on a platform as the train whistles by.
I've been curious for many years as to where this attitude stems from. "It won't bite. You can pat it, if you like!" I say.
"What's all that about, then?' they usually ask.
What I say next will make the difference between driving a wedge between them and my products and services, and opening up a world of aquatic riches beyond their comprehension.
They are already mildly excited and curious about the equipment on the floor, but also slightly apprehensive.
Against me is the widely held belief that technical diving represents something of the dark side. For this I can thank the misrepresentation of my sport by its self-appointed gatekeepers. Their marketing methods cause potential students to run for an exit door faster than the audience from a stadium in which the opening event is a tsunami.
In an attempt to get to the root cause of the economically suicidal pastime
I call TP (Tech Prevention), I undertook some light research work over a period of many months.
It seems that TP originates soon after birth, is highly contagious, and among the few known cures is Armageddon.
Should adoption or long periods of solitary confinement have interrupted the cycle, rest assured that brief exposure to a Tech Prevention Officer (TPO) will have you heading either for an exit or for a dictionary.
The problem extends from top to bottom, involving not only TP instructors but TP agencies and dive centres too.
A QUICK GLANCE IN THE DICTIONARY at the definition of my wonderful branch of sport reveals the following:
Technical / 'teknIk(_)l/ adj. 1 of or involving the mechanical arts and applied sciences.
Great! Where were Saatchi & Saatchi when someone came up with that little industry-destroying gem? At least Gerald Ratner got a few years of profit in before annihilating his own jewellery empire, when he pointed out that you could buy a gem for the price of a prawn sandwich - and a crap one at that!
The term "technical diving" seems to have come into being because, years ago, someone decided that the practice of engaging in decompression diving with additional equipment should have its own name.
In fact it was no more than scuba evolving beyond the defined limits of recreational sport diving. "No! We need a name now - gotta have one!"
All the training agencies offer tech training at least to some degree, but are they selling the methods ahead of the outcomes?
Multiple-cylinder configurations are there when you need them...
but even a twin-set can allow you to explore previously forbidden parts of the planet.
Preparing a twinset.
Other Related Items
This also occurred at a time when the practitioners and pioneers were largely ex-military, explorers or private individuals. Their objectives were far different to those
of today's instructors who, seeking a living by teaching the sport, would prefer it to have a more enticing and open image.
So, like children who dislike the name bestowed on them by their parents, today's technical-diving instructors may also feel like changing theirs by deed poll to something more appealing.
This would avoid wasting countless, apologetic hours in undoing the image created by our tech ancestors. However, given that the term "technical diving" is here to stay (changing the name of Windscale to Sellafield didn't do much good in PR terms!), its practitioners should really be more welcoming to anyone who shows interest in our sport.
Sometimes people ask how deep I go with "all that equipment", immediately associating depth with gear.
Perhaps they think I'm off to inspect the tectonic plates on the seabed of the Marianas Trench, or to recover oil drums from the Amoco Cadiz.
"Ten metres," I reply. They never say it, but their facial expression suggests that I'm the latest victim of an over-zealous dive-shop salesman, and that perhaps my attire is a little excessive for depths that you could snorkel over generous periods of time.
"We're doing a decompression course today. My student this week will get used to the equipment in the shallows and practice new skills first." The facial expression doesn't change. They don't say it, but I know they're thinking: "But I thought tech divers were big and macho and went to 100m immediately, without any training at all."
I WAS AT A PARTY IN LONDON some years ago when a woman pointed out a guest standing across the room. "He's an airline pilot, you know," she said. Clearly impressed, she went on to to say that he had just qualified to fly 747s.
"And what do you do?" she asked me, to which I replied that I was a decompression scuba diving instructor - a relatively prosaic description of my industry-dubbed rating of mixed-gas trimix instructor, the very mention of which would have had her yawning and inching closer to the oven door.
When pressed about depth,I conceded that I had dived to more than 100m. "That's so dangerous," she said, and then continued to talk about her recent holiday in Thailand, which, no doubt, involved stepping onto a Boeing 747 along with 400 other people and climbing to a near-space altitude of 35,000ft - the same measured distance as to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the world's deepest undersea feature.
So there you have it: tech divers going to 100m on mixed gas are dangerous, but airline pilots taking hundreds of fare-paying passengers to 10,000m (100 times the distance) walk with the gods.
Again, the perception of the sport is a poor one, and usually founded on misconceptions generated by Tech Prevention Officers.
Many new divers are simply projecting their current experiences and levels onto deeper depths and environments, which is, of course, a scary prospect.
Tech Prevention goes all the way to the top. Until recent years, my own recreational training agency didn't have a technical-diving section.
When I learned to dive, we were simply told not to go deep, and that if we exceeded our NDL by five minutes we had to do an "emergency" deco stop, for eight minutes.
If we missed it by more than five minutes, we had to stop for 15 minutes, not dive for 24 hours and have our licences incinerated while we watched.
Then we were sentenced to death, hung by the neck until pronounced dead and buried within the confines of the dive centre, where some nice man dressed in black would request the Lord's mercy on our miserable souls.
I know things have changed, but there is a lost generation that still believes that decompression diving is akin to aquatic suicide. When a mighty global training empire that certifies nearly a million new divers a year states, in print, that decompression is still an "emergency", what kind of perception will new divers have of my sport?
The misrepresentation of tech diving has more sinister consequences than simply the economic subordination of the industry. Safety of the very divers who avoid the subject is at stake in the recreational world.
Recently, on a Red Sea safari, a woman with more than 50 dives surfaced from a wreck with four minutes of decompression showing on her computer. When asked what happened, she said that she had got distracted, and then saw that she had a stop showing on her computer.
She hadn't seen this before, didn't know what to do, and so made for the surface with considerable anxiety.
Reading the instruction manual beforehand might have helped, as would carrying out a lengthy stop at 5m, as advised during her beginner course.
Still, the stigma and danger attached to the word "decompression" was firmly rooted in her belief system, and she was going to distance herself from it even at the expense of her own health and safety.
I've also seen grown recreational instructors emerge from dives in tears, because they had slipped into deco while tying lines, and barely made it out with the remaining air supply they were carrying.
SUCH IS THE PREVALENCE OF TECH PREVENTION in some quarters that the practice is pushing recreational divers to their deaths.
In one incident, a diver died at a depth of 40m inside a shipwreck. He was wearing a single tank and became lost in low visibility as a result of several divers disturbing silt.
The printed word says that, so far as his qualifications went, he was doing nothing wrong. The limit of recreational diving is 40m, he was a qualified wreck diver and, until he went missing, had no decompression obligation.
Still, he had reached the absolute limit of depth, gas supply, bail-out options, navigation and self. Add to that an equipment failure and bad luck, and it's all over.
The same dive, conducted by a tech diver operating within his or her limits and experience, would usually yield a very different result. Even with multiple problems occurring at once, the diver would be well-placed to deal with them, and possibly with change to spare.
The mis-marketing of tech diving in the industry is rife and the belief that it is essentially a minority sport is only fuelled by those who attempt to sell it in such an abysmal way.
I have just glanced at a selection of dive-centre websites offering tech-diving products in the Red Sea. They offer zero descriptions of what tech diving involves, how it can benefit you and why you should do it.
This approach does no justice to the quality and attitude of many good tech instructors who rely on these places for work. Neither does it do justice to those good dive centres that have top-notch boats, logistics and tech equipment - all gathering dust! There is a clear game of "follow my loser" going on.
This is a typically uninspiring invitation to enroll on an Advanced Nitrox Course that "costs 350 euros, takes three days, allows you to utilise gases above 40% and then go on to take the decompression course".
Fantastic - I'll take six, please! I saw a more creative description for a box of drawing pins on eBay last week.
The "cut and paste" option is clearly in widespread use, with text ranged alongside a series of inappropriate photographs, invariably showing large gentlemen carrying more tanks than Rommel's Panzer division.
There's a time and a place to use these, and it isn't next to something headed "The Basic Nitrox Course".
Can you imagine a restaurant menu with pictures of knives, forks and plates instead of the actual products of food and beverage? No? Then why do we do it with technical diving?
The equipment is not the product. The product is the development of divers and the places they visit. Listing only features (price, duration etc) and not benefits would get you booted out of any sales-orientated company. It assumes that the customer already knows what the seller is talking about - instantly eliminating 99% of the potential new market.
PERHAPS TECH DIVERS ARE NOT MARKETEERS, and perhaps marketeers are not tech divers, but until this important gap is bridged, the sport will continue to languish on the dark side, like bodybuilding did before the film Pumping Iron and Arnold Schwarzenegger came along.
Remember the term "fitness freak"? It doesn't exist any more, because through awareness and education nearly everyone appreciates the benefits of the gym.
You may not want to enter the Mr Olympia competition or break any trimix records, but a light work-out or an understanding of deeper, longer diving may well help you live longer.
Dealing with Tech Prevention is like the journey of a hatchling overcoming obstacles in its path to reach the sea and survive to grow into a turtle. The panel below shows a list of the 30 goodies available through tech training that will transform your diving to a standard of which you may only have dreamed.
Is tech diving for everyone? No, and neither is scuba-diving, or cricket.
But at least for those with a modicum of interest in developing their underwater education in this rich and satisfying area, all I ask the TPOs is this - please let them through
Learn tech-diving - and you can...
1 Call a boat from under water
2 Stay three times longer on your favourite wreck and come up with 100 bar
3 Choose from six ways to deal with tank or regulator failures
4 Reach previously "forbidden" places
5 Have four ways to deal with a free-flow
6 Halve your deco-stop time - safely
7 Have two ways to use your ears as depth gauges
8 Achieve the buoyancy of a fish
9 Select from six ways to deploy an SMB
10 Master your underwater lighting equipment
11 Avoid featuring in "Where I Went Wrong" articles
12 Know more than the dive guide leading you
13 Read a computer without a mask
14 Improve your air consumption (tanks last longer!)
15 Reduce post-dive tiredness by using nitrox
16 Dive with two tanks
17 Learn proper finning and streamlining techniques
18 Find out how to double your dive sites in one course
19 Learn advanced and interesting theory "way outside the manual"
20 Know how to rescue a tech diver
21 Use deco training to make you 10 times better at recreational diving
22 Handle multiple tasks and procedures at depth and stay in control
23 Know how to escape from an entanglement wearing tech gear
24 Dive with air and nitrox on the same dive
25 Speak a new language under water, through advanced hand signalling
26 Discover all the secret tech sites around the Red Sea
27 Dive with 50 or 100% nitrox, safely
28 Achieve superior and professional-level underwater skill development
29 Plan your dives on a PC
30 Produce effective bail-out and redundancy plans
... Just like a pilot!
I never get narced, or pee in my wetsuit