Pursuing Advanced Training
by Guy Shockey
As we move into spring and interest in advanced diving classes starts to ramp up, I have been responding to several inquiries about preparation for Fundamentals tech passes and then Tech 1. I thought that rather than continue to reply individually, I would write something that was accessible to all. My motivation to do this is not just because I don't want to continue writing the same thing several times, but because when I pass on the information to the person who enquires, there is an important part of the equation being left out of that discussion: the divers team. Hopefully I can both communicate to those asking questions and ALSO to the team members in this more open forum.
There are two things we look for when we evaluate a student's performance in a Fundamentals class and whether they should be awarded a "tech pass": 1) Have they met the performance requirements for that class standard? And, 2) Do they have a likely chance of success at either Tech 1 or Cave one IF THEY STARTED THAT CLASS THE NEXT DAY. This latter part is quite a bit more subjective than the first part and calls on the instructor doing the evaluating to do an overall assessment based on their experience. Given that the first phone call made by a Tech 1 instructor when they are presented with a student demonstrating sub-par performance will probably be to the original certifying instructor…that subjective evaluation tends to be pretty solid. As Monty Python said, "no one expects the Spanish Inquisition" and for some reason a phone call from a more senior instructor tends to get everyone excited. I recall that I was on pins and needles when my first fundamentals certified students went to their Cave 1 class. Also remember that there is no experience requirement between a Fundamentals tech pass and Tech 1 or Cave 1 so they could really step out of the class with a fundamentals tech pass and start either of those classes the next day.
What this means is that if you were awarded a tech pass you should know that in that instructor's opinion, you should have a good chance of success at the next level class. This is important because when you ask me "what do I need to do to prepare?", you already know the answer: Be proficient in those skills you demonstrated and were evaluated on during Fundamentals. Remember that Tech 1 is a class and it basically starts where Fundamentals left off. We will work on "skill refinement" during the course but you will be expected to hit the ground running with your existing knowledge behind you. If it has been a while since that last level of training, then it behooves you to brush up on your fundamental skills as you demonstrated them in Fundamentals. This means buoyancy, trim, propulsion, situational awareness and the specific skills like s-drills and valve drills etc. I would add one thing and that is that you should feel comfortable doing all the above things on a line out of visual reference of the bottom. For us as technical divers, our home is in the water column so if we are comfortable there we can dive anywhere. Deploy an SMB, move up 10' (3m) and practice s drills or valve drills etc. This will serve you in good standing for Tech 1.
If Fundamentals was like sipping from a drinking fountain, Tech 1 is like drinking from a fire hose. There is a lot of knowledge transfer in Tech 1 and it is probably the most "intense" of all our GUE classes. I say this not to intimidate anyone, but to help prepare you and point out that if you have to spend time working on fundamental skills, then you are immediately behind the power curve for tech 1.
You may not realize it but by the time you walk into a tech 1 class you are a very different diver with a much higher level of capacity to learn than you started Fundamentals. This means the step between classes is logical and while large, is totally within your capacity. You learn faster at this point. This is one of the coolest things about teaching the various levels of class. I get to see students accomplish things they never thought themselves capable of doing and it brings a great deal of satisfaction to us as instructors. We love to give "A's" and when we don't we look back at our own performance and often wonder how we as instructors failed our students. I would add one thing and that is that you should feel comfortable doing all the above things on a line out of visual reference of the bottom.
So, getting back to one of my original points, what I have written above I have forwarded to multiple students already this year. But what I didn't get the chance to do is talk to their team mates. So now I am. "Team mates, your performance is critical to the success of your friends". In fact, you can easily help them succeed or set them up for failure. We approach diving as a team sport and when any member of our team is not prepared or not paying attention, they contribute equally to the team's overall performance. You aren't there just as a place holder: you are a critical part of the diver's performance just as you were part of their performance during their fundamentals class. You need to be alert and watchful for SOP issues, and things like allowing your team mate to proceed with a drill without having done all the steps correctly. Clipping off the long hose during an S-drill, failing to switch back to the long hose during a valve drill, not unclipping a double ender during an SMB deployment, etc. These are all common failures on the part of the team, not just the diver doing the drill. I will catch them all in T1 but that is the wrong time to bring them up. You as team mates need to be watchful and careful that your buddies are doing things correctly and safely. I want to emphasize this with a story.
I was sitting in as the third diver in a Cave 1 class to give the two other students an opportunity to see what a team of three was like. (Mark M said I have done more Cave 1 classes than anyone he knows and said I probably needed it…I thought I was just being helpful ) During one of the exits I had a failed right valve and was breathing from my necklace. As we got closer to the exit Mark decided now would be a good time to fail my other valve. Before anything else happened, my team mate was telling me to switch regulators. I knew that wasn't going to be a good idea as I was aware the other regulator was dead. He told me repeatedly to switch (ignoring my OOG signal) and then finally started to shut my left valve down for me… Super helpful buddy, right? Thank you for shutting off all my gas "buddy… I reached back and opened it again and let's just say the surface debrief was interesting. The point I am trying to make is that my team mates, both of them, allowed something to happen that was, shall we say, "suboptimal". They had either lost the plot or were not paying attention. Their role in this event was just as important as mine. The moral of the story is that buddies have to be as switched on as the diver doing the drill. If I had a dollar for every time I watched someone do a valve drill without switching back to their long hose or do an s drill and continue on with their necklace in their mouth after the drill I would have pretty high up in the double digits of dollars. It is very easy for this to happen and in fact as an instructor, I expect it to. I sit forward on the horse at various stages of drills when I know there are opportunities for failure to sneak in. I heighten my level of alertness and am expecting failure, so I will not be surprised. Teammates, you need to do this also. You need to be alert and not wondering about the next season of Game of Thrones or what's for lunch when your teammate is doing a drill. I often tell my students that "if the diver doing the drill makes a mistake and you let them, you will be the one doing pushups!". Call this a left over from my military life but the point is clear. You are equally as responsible for errors and mistakes as the diver who made the mistake.
This sort of approach to team work binds our teams more closely together and is what separates us from the rest of the world as divers. We are responsible for our team and our team's actions. It's what gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when I do go diving with fellow GUE divers.
Sorry for the long post but it was either that or talk to Jeremy about deco on a slope.
Safe diving and good luck in your safe preparation for further GUE classes!Guy