When I started diving I had an instructor who was absolutely awesome at his job: he loved teaching and he had a passion for diving that very quickly carried over to his students. In fact, he had me so hooked by the end of the course that I ended up making SCUBA a career.
Once I had completed my NAUI SCUBA Diver certification I spent many hours researching which direction I should go with my diving. I didn’t necessarily want to make it a career path at that point, all I wanted was to know more about this alien environment and how to best explore it.
I found myself mostly being herded towards becoming a Divemaster and then Instructor. Most dive centres at the time had a rhythm of core courses and focused primarily on entry-level diver certification. There were small organisations such as IANTD who were offering some controversial stuff called ‘technical diving’, but according to most of the diving community that was black magic – and shouldn’t be touched.
For some reason, this IANTD message had me very interested. Unfortunately, at the time I was too young for the technical diving programs, and finding an instructor that taught this voodoo wasn’t an easy task. So I went with the normal method of gaining knowledge which was the professional route. I became a PADI Instructor when I was 18 and spent 2 years teaching full time: I brought diving to over 200 people, and many of those took it up as a career and spread the underwater word even further. It was awesome, I had some of the best times of my life doing this. But very quickly my focus on enriching other people’s experiences started clouding my focus on my own experiences. This is when I picked up my interest in technical diving again.
In December 2011 I decided to bite the bullet and take every penny of savings that I had, borrowed and stole the rest, and went for my first few technical diving ratings in Durban. I was Patrick Voorma’s first student – meaning I was lucky enough to have one of the biggest South African legends teach me what he loved. Soon thereafter, I did more than 150 decompression dives on twin cylinders all over the country. Rebreathers followed, and I fell in love with my Classic Inspiration. And most recently Paul Toomer from RAID brought sidemount to my attention.
This arsenal of disciplines has brought to light a few misconceptions about technical diving. The reason these misconceptions are passed down is due to the current system of teaching most training organisations conform to. It is of course in the best interest of companies such as PADI and SSI to market their professional level courses, this allows their products to be spread and their businesses to grow. Technical diving only recently has become very accessible, and only now these organisations are starting to consider marketing the programs. However, they aren’t given a fraction of the attention they deserve.
1 – Technical diving is only for very experienced divers
This is not true. Technical diving takes many forms and many of them are for individuals who are completely salted in SCUBA – these would include wreck diving, cave diving, trimix and very deep dives below 40m. However, there are programs where individuals with merely 30 dives can go ahead and explore. PADI, NAUI, IANTD and SSI all have advanced nitrox programs that allow individuals to learn about accelerated decompression. This is a relatively simple procedure where divers take their knowledge of nitrox and use it to even further prolong their bottom times. At Ollava we offer a program called PADI Tec 40, which is a great program for someone who has done 30 dives and now wants to further their knowledge on what is actually happening to their body when they decompress. This program also introduces individuals to gas management, SAC rates, rule of thirds and many other procedures that make them a much safer diver.
2 – Technical diving is all about going deep
Again, this is a complete misconception. Technical diving does have certain forms which allow for greater depths, but the true benefit comes in the form of decompression. Technical diving offers individuals a chance to customise their diving in situations where their recreational diving tables don’t allow them to get the most from their diving.
In a situation where a wreck or another point of interest lays at a depth greater than 40m, technical diving can be used to explore this. However, in most cases, divers want more time on sites that lay shallow enough to be visited by recreational divers, but just too deep to have enough time on them to fully explore the site. In Cape Town a perfect example of this is the Smitswinkel Wrecks site, which is only accessible by boat. There you’ll find 5 amazing wrecks at 35m scattered so close to each other that you can swim from one to the other. In fact, many people dive all 5 wrecks in one dive! But this cannot be achieved without technical diving. Once you qualify in even the lowest level of tech training, youll find dives like these are a dream: not only will you have a much greater knowledge on gas management, but you’ll also have accelerated decompression knowledge to execute the dive just the way you want to.
3 – Technical diving is for big strong men
While there are many configurations of equipment that require a strong individual to comfortably carry them, this is not the case most of the time. While twin sets and rebreathers can be heavy and clumsy devices on the surface, they are easily manageable by the tiniest of ladies once they are in the water. And while technical diving is currently dominated by large brutes, we are more than happy to help someone less capable on the surface!
But with the growing popularity of sidemount, ladies now have an amazing way to get in to technical diving without the hassle of carrying around clumsy equipment.
4 – There is nothing to see when you go deep
This statement goes around all the time, and generally is the first thing people say when you ask them if they would be interested in learning more about technical diving.
While there is a smaller diversity in life at depth, there are still many things to go out and explore. Technical divers all have one thing in common, and that’s our mission to learn more about the last unexplored wilderness of our planet: the ocean. While many technical divers go on missions to find rare marine life such as coelacanths, the majority go out to find old wrecks and contribute massively to patching up lost details in our history.
Telling a technical diver there is nothing to see at depth is the equivalent of telling an astronaut there is nothing to see in space.