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Cave Explorer Matt Mandziuk retrieving line in a Florida Cave

How Did I Get Into Cave Diving?

A Look Back at how I Helped Re-Shape Dive Training in Canada
by
Matthew Mandziuk

A lot of people ask me how I got into cave diving, and the truth is that it wasn’t on purpose. It was once upon a time when I was in Mexico doing some instructor updates for TDI. I was looking for a trainer that could teach me more than the people I had met or worked with in North America. 

The Internet was relatively new to me…well most of us 20 years ago, but I had found a few trainers who kept coming up on WebCrawler and whatever other search engines I used…I think AOL. What drew me to Mexico was that the Instructor was seemingly offering something different in concept. His emails were more detailed even though English wasn’t his first language and the pictures looked like the gear was a lot tidier than my setup, which in those days was a very old school New Jersey Wreck Diving configuration, so I took a chance, hopped on a plane and went to Mexico.

We reconfigured my gear, as I was fascinated by how much cleaner and more streamlined the setup we were training new students on was and I embraced it all 100%. It was knowledge that made sense and it made the diving so much more functional. (See the example of how my gear may or may not have looked at one point further down the post).

One day we were out in the ocean boat diving in 14′ waves, when I got thrown from the boat by with all my gear on. Here was as good of a spot as any to drop on the wall, so we decided to drop right were I did and we conducted a nice 300’ trimix dive. As we entered the decompression phase of the dive shallower, the surge was very strong and I started getting a little queasy. After the stops were clear, we got tossed back onto the boat by the waves and we powered back to shore, I crawled tanks and all up the sandy beach on all 4’s and and kissed that unmoving ground. I likely even told it I loved it. When my face wasn’t green anymore my Trainer started thinking about other less windy options and one of the ideas that popped into his mind was to do a deep sink hole, something I’d never seen before. I was in.

I remember the site well, Cenote Angelita. We drove into the jungle and parked a car, walked down a dirt pathway through the jungle of beautiful big trees, and we happened upon what looked like a tropical oasis in paradise. There were some tree roots we could use to walk down to the water way a little more safety and you could see down quite a ways into the water as the sun was peaking high in the sky just before noon.

When discussing the dive plan, we were briefed on the site and I got to discuss the dive with the dives I was diving with.  

We walked our decompression cylinders down to the water and tied a line off a series of strangler fig tree roots to clip the tanks to so they didn’t slip off the ledge down to over 200’.

We put our suits and double tanks on and on the surface we conducted our s-drill and bubble checks, clipped our additional cylinders on and away we went.

I remember looking into the air clear water and I could see all the way down to the bottom at 90’ where there was a hydrogen sulphur cloud and a beautiful reddish coloured rock in spots around the basin. We explored the sink which was very reminiscent of Yoda’s planet Dagobah with the steam on the surface unearthing the trees sticking through the cloud, except this was now happening underwater and was one of the most mind-blowing and interesting things I’d ever seen in my life.

After taking in my new favourite site above the cloud, we decided to go in through the cloud. As we descended through the hydrogen sulphur cloud, I could actually taste through my regulator a flavour of sulphuric “rotten egg” which is a flavour everyone talks about. As I descended, I came into the darkness 40’ deeper and into a night dive like environment environment. HID Lights were just starting to come onto the market and it was my first time seeing a Halcyon 18w HID light in action. the blue light was so amazing. I was still using a 2 section car battery pack powering a 50w Halogen lamp, so my beam was yellow.

As I took the time to take in this new environment, I noticed a lot of branches, roots, a massive hour glass shaped debris cone, just like I’d read about in the many books I’d read on the Yucatan Peninsula and the water was even clearer below the cloud that above, which we could easily see the entire length of the basin above and below over 300’ of clarity on this day.

We kept following the debris cone downward towards the bottom which I could see getting closer and closer and we stopped at a cavern entrance with a beautiful speleothem hanging and all of the divers lit up the entrance with their high tech HID lights and my halogen lamp.

I was mind blown and the entire dive had eclipsed all of my best dives in quality, uniqueness, clarity of water, cool things to see. I’d gone from never diving a sink hole to never seeing spelotherms, to being thrown into a new world of let’s discover what else is out here and a trip that was only supposed to be 1-2 weeks lasted a month, as I so excitedly and enthusiastically ascended after our decompression ended and smiling ear to ear they asked how I liked that site!? My reply was that it was the best dive ever. They later replied, if you like that we have some even bigger and better treats for you “Farmer” (in response to being seasick and kissing the sand the day before).

We did a second dive at Angelita was just as good, but a bit shallower as we broke 200′ of depth on the first dive. We had even more time to swim around and play in and out of the hydrogen sulphur cloud. It was very memorable.

An Example of full columns in a Cave Photo by Matt Mandziuk

Upon feeling renewed and excited, we did a bunch of other fun dives in the area and all these big deep sink holes just made me more curious about what else was inside them.

One day I was asked to teach a decompression lecture for a bunch of cave students and was convinced to join on the open water skills dive on day 1 of these students working on their cavern skills. It was pitched to me that I could learn how to use a reel better and it would help make the best wreck diving class in the world.

The day we did the class, then we started working on dry land drills and having never actually been taught to run line and only reading from the old NSS-CDS and NACD cave books, I was excited to see how they did things, so I sat and watched and when the students were done, I too had a chance to play with the reels and line following and then I joined the group during the simulated air sharing while blindfolded and communicating during “touch contact” and I thoroughly enjoyed being blind and feeling the way the line in my hands moved left and right and up and down and how I could use the sense of touch to feel the plastic navigational markers as a way of knowing roughly where I was and what direction was out.

I was done all of my TDI Technical Instructor upgrades and lectures by this point and it was time to immerse myself into something new. Cavern Diver Training!

My first cavern training dive was in 20’ of open water at a cent called Car Wash. It was the most intense dive of my life because I was taking everything so seriously. We have a great Cave 2 Skills Video summary of some of the skills online if you’re interested CLICK HERE.

For those who know me, I’m a pretty OCD and very thorough person when it comes to diving. I’m hypersensitive to things and usually very very aware and I liked this because it was challenging me in a new and different way.

For those who have done a Wreck Penetration, Intro to Tech, Cavern or Cave class with me, I’m sure you’ll remember our 20-30’ dives too. The shallow skills development dives set the bar for things to come.

On my Cavern Training it was not different. We spent 1.5 hours in 20’ of water doing air shares with and without visibility, with and without a buddy, we simulated a lost guideline deploying a safety/backup reel and had to relocate the line, tie-off our safety line and follow the mainline until we found an arrow marking our exit and make an exit in the proper direction. 

DDS Divers Working on Line Handling and Awareness

While many people find a dive like this to be intense or intimidating, it just made me want more. As a matter of fact, I took the next dives so seriously that it took me 20 minutes to even realize we were in a cavern because I was so focussed on the team, the communication, the line placements and etiquette, among the other pre-dive rituals we had ahead of the penetration into the cavern.

Once we tied into the main guideline I was able to break a sigh of relief that we found it and then I was able to stop and take it all in and this cavern became something that allowed my body and mind to slow down and take it all in as the stillness was enhanced, my breathing rate lower than the last 20 minutes had been and and I heard every heart beat, the sound of every breath flowing through my long hose towards my mouth and the lights all cascading a beautiful array of light patterns around this magical limestone paradise that were created millions of years ago.

As the divers began to signal the turn and exit and somehow one at a time had “equipment failures” with masks being removed, primary lights failing, people running out of gas, etc., I was watching and waiting for my time to exit and don’t really remember if/what the problems I would’ve encountered were, but again after sorting our gear back out when the scenarios were over, and our safety stop completed, we ascended into another monumental emotional diving bliss moment as we were all smiles and ready for the next challenges.

The thing I loved most about the cave diving training were the beautiful caves we were training in. Seeing the ice-age looking formations that resemble the frozen icicles at a waterfall were hypnotic, as were the stalactites and full columns (once I was able to start enjoying them and paying less attention to the main guideline or the equipment that I knew was going to “fail” on the exit).

The skills that we had to do on the class were addictive and I even “died” on my lost line drill, which is a survival skill we do as we simulate losing the primary line and having to tie off our safety spool on a rock and blindly feeling for the primary line, hoping to hook it with our reel, or even our equipment or body. 

Skills that like were very sobering and they drove home the importance of paying attention to the team and surroundings at all times.

Learning to navigate a jump from one line to another cave line was another wonderful skill too, as it extended our range into these cave passages.

What I loved most about cave diving were the rules and how organized cave diving made me feel. I used to always say Wreck Divers used brawn and Cave Divers used brains. I’m a big advocate of diving smarter, not harder and Cave Diving was something that just made sense.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Mexican cave sites was the haloclines, a phenomena of waters of different density and temperature that can create a visual disturbance like mixing fresh water into a glass of saltwater resembling how a road shimmers in the hot summer heat.
Here you’ll notice the fresh water layer on top pushing, mixed water in the middle with the salt layer along the bottom.

Halocline Formation in a Mexican Cave During NAUI Cave 2 Class

A thermocline can get more brackish as your pass through the layer and it creates a greater mix of the salt and fresh water which can obscure view of the main guideline. Learning how to dive in Halocline Formation is important.

I learned some valuable lessons on the cave class as well and helped reconfigure my equipment, as I maybe had some “wreck diving” equipment, but not stuff gear that was as streamlined or as functional as the gear I ultimately embraced. Even a little think like the importance of a good pair of fins. I was an advocate of Mares Quattro’s for years, they were a fantastic pair of fins, but couldn’t figure out why I was having to kick to keep up with some of the other divers, given I was running 5 km’s/day, my friend Nick said to me straight up “it’s your fins. They’re too big, bulk and too inefficient”. I switched to Jet fins after I got to try them minutes later and never looked back.

Technical Diving at DDS Looked Reminiscent of this in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Lots of Gear and Task Loading with hoses ,tanks and gauges galore. Be Blessed You’re Learning the Right Way from Open Water On. This is Why Divers Come From All Over North America to Train with DDS.

The importance of the right equipment that suits the team’s mission and members best is very important and another favourite aspect of cave diving, as those team members can help with the line tension, retrieving arrows or cookies if asked, while having their gear rigged the same way in the same location always.

I remember on one of my first cave trips back to Mexico, I got to dive in one of my favourite Mexican cave, where we navigated through 3 different cave systems on 1 dive! Now of course each cave once it’s connected becomes part of the biggest cave system, but once upon a time they were 3 separate cave systems.

With proper dive planning, great gas consumption and the right safety gear, cave diving can be one of the most enjoyable and stimulating styles of diving ever.

Cave Diving is Not Dangerous. Breaking the rules, exceeding your level of training or experience is. The caves have been here for thousands and millions of years before divers started exploring them, they’re not the hazard, human error is.

In Cave Diving they use the expression “There are Old Cave Divers and There are Bold Cave Divers, but No Old Bold Cave Divers”. Having lost friends diving, it’s not fun, but at some point a rule was broken or a training limitation in the majority of the losses I’ve had to endure. Thinking of your friends and family first will act as insurance in wanting to return home safely, so that you don’t make unnecessary risks and you can keep your mind in the game.

Don’t Make Unnecessary Risks, it’s not worth it.

Diving at the Cenote El Pat (The Pit) a Deep Sinkhole with several
caves including one over 300′ deep we were diving in 2015.
Sun lit Jungle in Mexico on the trail topside to the world's largest underwater cave system. Sun light beaming like subtle lasers through the tree branches
The Sun light beams gently kiss the jungle as we make our way to the dive camp during the World’s Longest Underwater Cave Expedition in Mexico.

From Student to Teacher and Explorer

My cave training opened me up to a lot of amazing adventures, but the faster approach to the training was something I wasn’t as keen on. 

Many divers do a “zero to hero” cave class in certain places, it’s not to say it can’t be done, I did it, however, I was the only diver who knew how to frog kick, turn or fin backwards along with 2 students who’d done open water and advanced with the same instructor in a backplate/wing, but reverse frog wasn’t a required skill, nor was any previous experience in doubles and this is still the case in a lot of the more mainstream agencies.

I really felt like the other students could’ve benefited from a foundational skills class which really was just starting to become a thing 20 years ago. It was rare that divers would have learned the foundational skills and have proper horizontal trim. A Cave Instructor in Florida one day told me they are there to teach a student as much as they can in a week so they don’t die in a cave. Many have never worn doubles, been horizontal or frog kicked, so they do the best they can and they offer them the opportunity to re-take the course within 6-12 months of they practice and get the diving in, but what they really should do is teach them the foundational skills first and then focus on the cave skills/training next. On my cave class the others were new to all the gear and techniques and the open water dives we had done prior to the cavern dives were designed to try and teach them the basics of modern diving.

Cave diving was a lot more mental for me than physical, having to think of the procedures to lay a clothes pin (now we use cookies) or when to arrow and where, as I felt we were hit with a series of navigational decisions and there was a lot of additional gear thrown in like stages and so on.

Complex Navigation involves multiple navigational decisions, entering and exiting in different places, doing circuits, T’s, traverses, set-up and clean-up dives to execute the dive properly.

It wasn’t until I got out on my own exploring new caves, some known, some undiscovered cave sites that I started to gain or retain the knowledge and apply it. I had the skills, I could do the drills, but putting them to practical use was really what made me feel like a cave diver and made me a better diver.

Many divers are quite content just following the main guideline in and out, it’s enough for some people and definitely how you’d want to start off if you haven’t done a cave dive for a while. Ease yourself into the dives doing easy navigation or what I often call diving like a “pedestrian cave diver”, as the simple tour is a nice way to reacquaint yourself with the caves and running the reel and tying into the main guideline, you can assess the conditions and note the navigational jumps or places of interest for future dives.

When it came time for me to be teaching Cavern Diving, I had no interest in teaching Cave Diving. I had a few friends in Florida and Mexico who I’d send friends to dive with and train and that was good enough, but none of them really stuck with it and my local divers were getting more and more keen to go to see these amazing springs and cenotes.

All of the years I spent in Florida and Mexico started mounting up, I started seeing the masses who were cave diving and they were destroying the fragile stalactites in Mexico or breaking the limestone features of the Florida caves.  My favourite decoration in Ginnie Springs got destroyed last year I named it “Scooby Doo” Rock and one day someone decapitated Scooby likely with Doubles or a Run Away Scooter.

scooby-doo-rock
Scooby-Doo Rock before some ass decapitated him. Below is the after math of a beheaded Scooby

As more years went by, I started seeing people flutter kicking even in a no flow cave in Split Fins destroying the visibility, hand swimming and vertical diving habits, along with people pulling hard on the cave guidelines which should never be pulled or heaved on, and only held with caution letting the line slip effortlessly through your fist as you grip it in a touch contact hand position. Most divers didn’t know how to run line properly or at all, while some people were just running a single long line for 200’ into the caves and tying in to the main line with no regard for the other lines, divers, teams or anything.

During those days, it was our Divers loved ones who were telling me that they didn’t trust anyone random person to train their loved one’s and they insisted when their loved one was ready to step it to the next level that I’d be teaching them because if I was the only one they trusted 100%, which was flattering and I accepted eventually, which turned out to be a great move.

For the last 13 years I’ve enjoyed teaching caverns and caves, but finding a cave agency I could relate to and enjoy working with was a serious decision too. I teach for 5 different agencies, but what I wanted out of an agency was a brand that suggested divers get more diving in between each level, much like I had wished I’d done vs the “Zero to Hero” approach, so I looked at all the agency standards and all of the prerequisites that each agency insisted on and none of them were requiring experience in doubles, or a foundational skills series of skills such as fin kicks or horizontal trim, posture, buoyancy, which is why I looked at NAUI as my preferred Cave Diving agency. Seeing the NAUI Standards was a game changer for me.

NAUI allowed divers to dive a 1/3 of their gas in, out and exiting with 1/3 for reserve, while the majority were doing 1/6th in/out and 2/3 let for exit. No jumps off the mainline, or 1 at best. Being able to participate in multiple navigational decisions was also a great offering, as was the depth limit of 100’ max, no stop limits and insisting certified Cave 1 Divers had to log 20 logged Cave 1 dives after their certification above and beyond their cave training dives, obtain a technical certification before engaging in Cave 2.

There were gaps left in my basic cave training that I saw as a bit of a short coming with some of my dive buddies on my cave class not knowing how to fin using a modified frog kick, not having experience in doubles, trim, reel handling or line awareness prior to a NAUI Intro to Tech Class, no experience with stage/deco/ bottles prior to being handed them in a cavern/cave setting, lack of familiarity with canister lights and back-up lights, rescue diving scenarios dealing with oxygen toxicity and more.

Cave Diving has given our Divers another way to keep their skills sharp during the winter months and while most divers fade in and out of the recreational diving spectrum, I do find that those who commit to an Intro to Tech/Cavern course and actually pass, never stop diving, as Cave 1 and Cave 2 become their next classes and then as it’s been now 11 years later many of those Cave 1 and 2 divers are still joining us on our trips today.

Cave Diving offers some amazing exploration opportunities, some great personal challenges and some different opportunities for photography and other offerings too.

Cave Diving Explorers Nick and Matt Mandziuk assemble a decompression habitat on a deep cave diving expedition on Cenote el Pat in Mexico
Setting up a decompression habitat as part of a cave diving expedition project in Mexico

Avoid Trying to Rush Through Training and Into The Trendy Toys

There is never a substitute for experience.  Getting your skills in place and your hours up are the only true way to become a proficient diver.  It doesn’t happen easily or overnight.

Surround yourself with a group of Divers you can learn from.  We use a mentorship mentality that helps prepare new DDS Divers who aren’t trained in the DDS philosophies and we encourage our “home grown” Divers to stay as active as they can and to get involved as much as they can.

We are trend setters and people that were responsible for helping establish many of the protocols and procedures now taken as the bible of diving.

We innovated the most modern Sidemount Configuration before anyone started diving long hoses and embraced the most modern CCR Rebreather Configuration with back mounted diluent and off-board O2 before it was the norm.

A lot of divers jump into certain concepts because the wrong people are promoting the wrong progressions, maybe it’s because they themselves couldn’t dive the right gear for a physical reason like shoulder surgery or bad back, but nothing is better off a boat or driving a scooter than doubles.

Sidemount is a tool to get you into a place you can’t fit on singles or doubles or for shore diving. It is better suited after Cave 2 when the divers have extensive cave experience, the ability or desire to do tighter passages or “no mount” passages even. Sometimes caves are not accessible on doubles, so Sidemount is the Correct Tool Here.

There are many caves that are simply too tight to get into with doubles, so once you’re familiar with all the cave diving has to offer, Sidemount becomes another tool you can use for expeditions where you don’t know if the cave will widen or narrow further.

Sidemount is a horrible choice when diving off a boat, especially if people are diving an unrefined Sidemount configuration which is typically what we see locally from most shops/instructors/divers who are not cave divers.

Sidemount is for places where doubles aren’t available for rent, doubles don’t fit, doubles, or for those who medically can’t reach their valves due to spinal or shoulder injuries.

Rebreathers with small little 2-3 litre cylinders are also an issue we have. Most Cave Divers Do Not Carry Enough Bailout Gas. A Cave Level 1 Dive = 140ft3 bailout minimum. A Cave Level 2 Dive = 225ft3 bailout Minimum. This means said Cave Diver Needs to be excellent with multiple Decompression Cylinders. In NAUI Cave 2 Divers Learn to use 3-4 additional bottles plus doubles.

Get Good on Stages and Doubles Before Venturing into Sidemount or Rebreather. Once you’re proficient in those styles of diving You can do DPV Overhead/Cave Course which may be safer on a CCR for gas time and efficiency as you’re travelling further back in the cave, but you should always swim it first on Open Circuit First and See how many cylinders it takes for if/when the DPV fails and you may swim on out of it for real.

Taking the right training, buying the right gear, putting in the right amount of time practicing is essential for any divers success. Don’t Rush into caves, technical diving, rebreathers, sidemount diving.  Don’t Take Shortcuts in Your Training.

There are so many amazing dives sites at every depth level and ever training level you succeed at. There is always a next deepest, and next best as well.

Don’t even attempt to dive a Rebreather in a Cave unless you can hover motionless for 5 minutes no skulling horizontally, Knees Up, Fins Up, Arms Out in Trim and complete all the Foundational Skills with 2 Stage Bottles On. I say this because several people have been unsuccessful in Intro to Tech with us and jumped into a Rebreather and somehow got Normoxic Trimix certified standing and kneeling on the bottom, ascending holding the anchor mooring lines and flutter kicking silting out the ships just like their Instructors do.

Your Best Option for a Rebreather is Manual not electronic, so you’re in charge of your PO2 and can control your ascents easier without the set point screaming at your as the PO2 reduces on an automatic unit as it goes shallower while still trying to achieve it’s constant PO2. Run it at a .6 PO2 on ascent or manually. On Deep Cave Exploration a constant mass flow valve or needle valve modified from the original KISS Rebreather design is another great option.

Matt Cave Diving in Mexico with the White Arrow Explorer CCR Rebreather
Matt after a CCR Cave Dive in Taj Ma Ha Puerto Adventuras, MX

Cave Diving is for Divers Who Have Elite Skills and Discipline and a Desire to be the Most Polished Divers They Can Be.

Spending a lot of time in Florida, Dominican, Mexico and enjoying the recreational and exploration aspects of cave diving have been very fulfilling. I throughly enjoy expedition style diving, having been featured in magazines, YouTube videos, agency and personal expedition projects, including helping friends map the largest cave system in the world, just a couple of years ago, in a land so far away from this Covid pandemic are what keep me motivated and keep me going forward.

If Cave Diving Interests You, Do it Right. Take a Foundational Skills Class with DDS. If you’re curious about doubles, take a NAUI NTEC Doubles Workshop with Us, which will start you down the right path in equipment configuration basic foundational skills, while our NAUI Intro to Tech Course is the best Foundational Skills Class there is. It offers the right skills, information and adventure. Intro to Tech dovetails seamlessly into Cavern/Cave 1 too, so do it right and take the best training path. Don’t leave gaps in your training. Don’t Rush and Never Accept a Certification Card You Yourself Do Not Feel You Earned.

Our Cave, Wreck, Overhead and Technical Diving Courses are The Best in the industry! No other training agency offers a more through and complete Cave Diving Education and having such a small number of Cave Instructors keeps the quality high and the demand high.

Going from a Left Post Breathing Hose Stuffer to one of the First DIR Based Diving Instructors was the best move we made as a shop. Divers come for the best training offerings from around the Canada, the USA and other countries. I’ve been a Top Certifying Technical Diving Instructor over the last 20+ years and with your help will continue to offer the Highest Calibre of Recreational, Cave, Technical, Sidemount and Rebreather Training Possible.

Seeing the benefits of Divers learning in backplate/wing from open water, encouraging continuity in gear configuration, improving team diving communication and functionality and being able to up the game whenever possible are just some of the ways we’ve helped set the standard higher.

I am frequently involved in cave and shipwreck and other random dive expeditions of known and unknown entities and we continue to challenge myself and others through new environments and equipment whenever possible.

empty_spools_of_cave_line
There is nothing more fulfilling than running new line through a virgin cave emptying your spools Sistema Sac Aktun Expedition 2017

If You Want to Learn More About our Modern and Progressive Training Offerings, CLICK HERE

Thanks For Reading, Let’s Go Diving Soon!

Matt Mandziuk

Follow Me On Instagram @divesith and @dansdiveshop

 

DDS Divers Swimming Over the Reef in Roatan

Challenges Will Reward Your Longterm Scuba Diving Goals

Challenges Will Reward Your Longterm Scuba Diving Goals
by
Matthew Mandziuk 

In life nothing good comes easy without a fight or working to earn it, unless you win the lottery.  The same can be true moving through a more Progressive Scuba Diving training philosophy where the divers are taught a higher level of knowledge, skills and techniques. Your Personal Challenges will reward your longterm scuba diving goals.

At DDS we pride ourselves on staying ahead of market trends and instead we lead the charge forward towards better diving.  For nearly 20 years we’ve taught our open water divers about the benefits of learning and buying the right gear and the right skills and techniques after over 20 years of doing it the old school way.

We pride ourselves on teaching divers a different (better) way to do things at the open water level where they can move forward with better skills, finesse and discipline allowing them to struggle less, maintain the visibility of even the siltiest environments or most fragile coral reefs, while continuing forward progressing successfully into deeper, more advanced courses, environments and experiences with more comfort and efficiency as they challenge themselves with training that is more exciting, more disciplined, more regimented and more rewarding than some of the “more traditional”  courses which have become stale or outdated as we power ahead into a new age of diving.

As human beings we can always learn more and the same is true in scuba diving, except most dive training has become outdated and boring.  All divers should be more aware of their dive profiles, gas requirements with proper gas reserves built in, no stop time limits and what is happening within their bodies as they spend more time underwater and as they ascend or descend.

Many of these common concepts are lost on the masses because theory is passed over quickly as we tend to suffer from a condition that demands “instant gratification” and dive shops that depend more so now on eLearning doing the work of the instructor for the shops and instructors, so the personal element of sharing stories and experiences with the students is lessened (or in some cases completely lost as there is no classroom sessions), so the students don’t create an emotional bond with their instructors, classmates or Divemasters.

Bad Diver Lots of Silt
A poorly trained diver in silts out the bottom as they have no buoyancy, trim, awareness or cares in the world. Don’t Be Like This Diver.

 

Train Hard

If divers took more time to learn about dive planning, gas calculations, gas consumption, decompression theory and dive sciences, they would be much more ready to take diving to the next level.  This knowledge can help us not just in diving, but also in every day life.

Divers who are taught to manage stresses underwater are more able to handle the every day curveballs life throws at you on a daily basis, as well as how to focus better on challenging tasks, yet the number of divers who progress through Advanced and Rescue diver courses drops as students seem less engaged in some graphic regions than before.

Where a diver can go training wise and the training opportunities available to them make or break the likelyhood of creating a “Lifetime Diver”.  If a diver only dives once a year or 3, they’re better off just doing Discover Scuba Diving Experiences.

A certified diver who goes from Advanced, Nitrox, Drysuit  to Rescue is doing things better, but the key is to find a trainer who can teach you what you need to really know.  If as a diver they tell you it’s okay to be standing, kneeling on the bottom, to rely on holding onto an ascent line and be vertical on an ascent or safety stop as you take up 6-7′ minimum of line with your fins dangling down kicking the divers below you, that’s okay to overweight yourself so you sink or that violating thirds (your gas rule you should be ascending at), that it’s okay to flutter kick and silt out the bottom, wear flimsy floaty plastic fins, split or hinge fins and have stuff dangling off you like a Christmas Tree, it’s time to find a new instructor.

A diver who progresses towards more foundational skills classes like our NAUI Intro to Tech program will have the chance to perfect themselves better than any recreational diver, regardless of if they ever become a tech diver or not, as Foundational Skills Development courses like “Intro” offer the most through and engaging training possible with a combination of dry land drills, confined water drills and open water dives.

Divers who learn the foundational skills to make themselves a better diver and put the time in to become proficient in all aspects of their diving often become a much safer, more aware diver with superior team diving skills, refined buoyancy, flawless horizontal trim, proper ascents and descents, better fin techniques (utilizing a modified frog as their primary kick, modified flutter, ability to turn 360 degrees and do a reverse frog kick to go backwards) rather than flutter kicks, and exceptional problem solving skills.  You even master surface marker deployment, rescue techniques, valve or regulator failures and more.

Your biggest assets in diving are TIME IN THE WATER and BUOYANCY, BUOYANCY, BUOYANCY.

DON’T try and fast track your way through training.  Learn the foundational skills, start diving in the proper gear, train and dive with divers who are better than you are.

NAUI offers the highest standards of any training agency in foundational, technical, cave and overhead training, which is the reason they’re our primary agency for those courses, but we offer training from several other agencies too.

A Properly Trained Diver with Good TrimA properly trained DDS Diver working on trim and buoyancy during a NAUI Cavern/NAUI Intro to Tech Foundational Skills course.

Fitness in Diving

Some new divers complain that lead weights and tanks are heavy, while more Technicall Advanced Divers dive with sidemount or back-mounted double tanks.  Diving with a drysuit also creates more buoyancy, drag and resistance while swimming through the water, so there is an element of fitness required to dive.  Carrying tanks to the water, stage bottles, rebreathers, camera systems, scooters, all these things have weight to them.  Its part of diving, so get fit and get ready to handle the gear you’ll be using.

To get more comfortable handling these items a strength building program to strengthen arms, legs and abs are very beneficial.  30 push-up’s a day, 100 ab crunches and a light jog even 1-2km a couple of days a week will help make a difference in your strength and overall well being, while also improving cardiovascular health.

Swimming will help give the body a resistance free total body workout too and if you can’t take the impact from running or rowing, may be a better option for you and its fun!

Some dive courses require a specific distance to be swam before a specific time, don’t lose out on some great diving because you can’t make the cut.  It IS worth it and it WILL take time.

How Did We Get Here?  It Wasn’t Over Night

Dan’s has become the go to shop for recreational, advanced, technical diving education over the last 20+ years. DDS was established in 1974.  We are Canada’s Oldest PADI Dive Shop and 2nd oldest worldwide currently.

 With the help of a Canadian Diving Pioneer John Reekie (passed away several years ago) we helped introduce the Canadian Diving Market to Technical Diving and Cave Diving gear and procedures as early as 1986!  We were one of the first North American Dive Stores to offer Nitrox as an alternative breathing gas in 1992 when the traditional agencies were anti-nitrox and causing riots at dive shows because they honestly believed Nitrox to be Voodoo Satan Gas!  True Story!

By the mid 1990’s we were offering old-school technical diving and rebreather courses.  By 2000 we were introduced to more progressive diving and upgraded our training, which allowed us to see a different side of diving, one that was less limiting and more progressive.

DDS Divers enjoy a cleaner, more streamlined gear body, gear configuration and ability to share air more effectively than traditional short hose divers

We began offering Progressive Doing it Right based (DIR Diving) training and equipment, including the offering of backplates to new open water sport divers a part of basic training and introducing recreational divers to the long hose/short hose regulator configuration or the Hogarthian method of diving.

In 2007 we began offering more modern and progressive Sidemount training.  We are happy to be offering training on several different rebreather configurations, especially the modular and most vesatile machine on the market, White Arrow Explorer Rebreather System, capable of any configuration.

Every recreational diver can benefit from our experience, the new skills that we offer and every day diving techniques that we introduce from basic open water programs. Horizontal Trim, Buoyancy, Team Awareness, S-Drills, Bubble Checks, SMB Deployments, Air Sharing horizontally in neutral buoyancy with a long hose regulator, Team Diving Protocols and more.

backwards frog kick intro to tech
Learning your foundational kicks without fins or gear on is the first step to perfecting your forward, turn and backwards kicks during an Intro to Tech Course

While not every diver is introduced to this from every instructor around the world, we also offer Foundational training to start experienced divers off right as well, as many of the concepts we teach aren’t taught elsewhere unless the divers have been taught by a certified cave or technical instructor. At the end of the day we want everyone to learn to be better and dive with more confidence, comfort and awareness, so we offer workshops like NTEC which is a great way to prime yourself to learn the foundational skills you should know in a class and pool setting showing you a better way to do things in the right gear.  This also prepares you for a glimpse into your diving future should you want to progress towards Wreck Diving, Cavern or Cave, Ice, Technical and more.

Our experience in expeditions and exploration projects have also helped shape our divers into the best divers in the water.

Get More Technically Correct

When a diver starts to get more “technical” it helps them become a more complete diver.  It doesn’t mean they have to aspire to achieve a new super deep world record sort of depth where they hang for hours on decompression stops, however, it does break through the misconceptions, boundaries of conventional training and opens you up to a lifetime sport with the ability to go anywhere with your diving.

We believe Technical Diving is simply extending your range both with respect to knowledge, but also extending the scope of your abilities beyond what is known and offering new challenges along the way.

Our NAUI Intro to Tech Course has been called the “Best Dive Course” by nearly everyone who’s taken this amazing foundational skills class.  Regardless of whether a student completes the course successfully the first time or not, “Intro” is where better diving begins.

Our Intro course begins with the tightening up of the divers buoyancy and trim, cleaning up and streamlining the entire equipment configuration, introducing new surface protocols and pre-dive regiments like safety drills, SADD checks, Bubble Checks and Heat to Toe checks which improve safety and awareness.

Intro also begins to stress the team concept of diving, which is something talked about but rarely enforced in traditional recreational diving.  We introduce the benefit to 3 person buddy teams, which are often taboo in traditional training as well, as we believe a second set of hands to help and eyes to see are very important should a diver require assistance.

NAUI Intro to Tech Students Air Share
NAUI Intro to Tech Students working on trim and buoyancy while sharing air during their confined water session.

After classroom sessions are complete students are introduced to a combination of dry land surface drills that allow the instructor to demonstrate skills such as trim, fin kicks, flat horizontal body posture, air shares, valve shutdowns, diver rescues, lift bag deployments and many other skills topside as they can talk about each skill attribute and show it off before the students are expected to demonstrate it both on the surface and then the skills are executed by instructors and students under the water in a shallow pool or confined water area suitable for this sort of training.  Upon successful completion of the pool sessions candidates are then taken to open water and will complete all skills in a shallow open water environment where No Stop Times are not an issue.

During Intro to Tech a staff member will video record the students skills throughout the program so they can break down their progress frame by frame and discuss thoroughly throughout the course dives in debriefing sessions.

Students love the fact that this style of training is done intensively as repetition helps them improve and learn at a quicker rate, especially upon review of each dive during de-briefing when we break down all of the skills done that day with video review.

Through clear and concise de-briefings the students know exactly what it is they need to work on and how to improve as we take corrective action with them and continue to show them how to properly execute each skill breaking down the skills as clear and concise as possible.

Just the Beginning

Many divers love the challenge that Intro brings and those divers who work hard and succeed will enrol in their next challenge.

Divers will be using more equipment which creates a need for better fitness, stiffer fins, stronger dive abilities and confidence.

Imagine being perfectly neutrally buoyant without a bottom below you as you stare below into the abyss without any fear or concerns

Intro to Tech is a stepping stone to bring divers more safely into the realm of deeper diving or overhead environments as the foundational skills and trim learned here ensure that those divers are going to be able to perform the rudimentary skills like horizontal buoyancy, frog kick, modified frog kick and to be able to fin backwards for 10′ without hitting the bottom or silting out the dive site because Zero Impact Diving is such am important skill to possess as it saves the reef, fragile clay patterns, maintains the water clarity (especially in a wreck or cave where a diver will have to navigate safely back out of a zero visibility environment) and makes the diving more pleasurable for all.  The other important skill is something we teach at Open Water and again at Advanced Open Water and Intro to Tech, which is being able to deploy and send an SMB up to the surface ascending on a reel stopping every 10′ and then ascending to 15′, 12′, 9′, 6′, 3, surface many of those divers will engage in their next adventure.

Intro to Tech is simply the holy grail of recreational diving because you see what is lacking when you compare it to someone who’s been coaxed into taking a different more traditional Master Scuba Diver sort of approach.  Rather than being taught to dive properly, most divers are taught to pay for an instructors time, a paper manual and a plastic certification card.  While there are some phenomenal recreational specialty courses (Nitrox, Equipment Specialist, DPV, Cavern, Drysuit) most dive stores don’t have the talent or the ability to teach some of these more useful classes and favour a quick payout instead of committing their divers to more in-depth training.

The most popular courses Intro graduates challenge themselves next with range from Wreck Penetration to a Cavern/Cave 1 class, DPV class, Technical Decompression with Helitrox (Tech 1) Advanced Nitrox/Decompression Procedures.

Growing Your Experience

Regardless of the certification level a diver achieves it requires regular diving to maintain that level of proficiency and regular dives to that highest level of certification.  We usually recommend 20-25 dives annually at that level before moving to the next level.

At DDS, We are NOT a certification factory that tries to push our divers from Intro to Tech to Trimix Rebreather in a month.  It’s not about numbers, its about the quality of the diver and those divers that are making poor choices have no real world underwater dive skills and often lose buoyancy, panic or are a complete embarrassment to the sport.

DDS Divers are some of the highest trained divers in the country and they show a lot more finesse and discipline than most.  Those divers who choose to work hard and grow their diving abilities are often asked to join in on bigger, better dives, as well as for support projects both local and abroad.

Expedition projects are conducted yearly and its always great when new members can be integrated into the Divers Edge family, which is our training and exploration group.  We have partners worldwide through several organizations that we do international projects with for caves and shipwrecks.

Get Involved

Regardless of your goals the key in anything is to keep involved and dive with divers who share the same views and the same goals in training and equipment.

We have taught and continue to teach divers from around the world and are more than willing to put on a presentation for groups, clubs, other shops as we’ve been doing for decades.

If you’d like to get involved and benefit from better training, equipment configuration and future diving opportunities, reach out and let’s get you involved with DDS Today.

We have trips, charters, training year round. Your first step is to reach out and make contact, the rest comes easily from there.