If you’ve seen some guys sweating in the tropics wearing dry suits and talking about bottom time and gradient factors, then you probably have already bumped into a bunch of technical divers. Within the diving community, technical diving is often jokingly referred to as the “dark side” since most of the divers seem to be dedicated and are doing dives that go against most advice given during recreational training. So what is the deal with technical diving, and why do they need all those tanks and equipment to do one dive?
Today’s technical diving draws its heritage from cave diving in the US and Europe in the 1960s; at the time pioneers were developing new techniques and procedures to be able to push their exploration deeper and further into cave systems. Many of these techniques and procedures are still in use today and are considered the industry standard for technical divers. There was another jump during the 1980’s that propelled technical diving forward and took it to depths that could only be dreamed off by the recreational diving community. This was the adoption of using helium and trimix for deep diving, this eliminated the depth restrictions placed on divers by using air, and opened up the underwater world for further exploration.
Types of technical diving
There are fundamentally 2 types of technical diving, one that focuses primarily on the difficulties and challenges of deep diving, and one that is primarily focused on the challenges and skills required to perform dives in an overhead environment.
The main focus of the initial technical courses is depth. The aim is to be able to plan and execute dives to greater depths than recreational limits, and to develop the operational skills and expertise associated with being in deep water. There is a strong emphasis on dive planning, equipment and schedule execution, as well as efficient and proper decompression. Divers learn how to operate and function safely beyond traditional depth limits.
The other side of technical diving is overhead environment training, which brings with it a slew of challenges and difficulties. Most of these courses emphasize on proper gas planning and management and learning to function in a reduced visibility environment if not zero visibility. There is a strong emphasis on procedures to safely navigate caves and wrecks as well as how to deal with multiple types of emergencies such as losing the main guide line, and light failures.
Well, this can vary depending on the person, but generally technical diving attracts divers who want to push their limits and experiences even further beyond the traditional recreational diving limits. To put it simply, if you have ever looked at your dive table and wanted to experience and know what happens after the numbers end, then technical diving is probably for you. Alternatively, if when diving a wall, you are always wondering what is below you and are drawn to dive deeper to see what lies down there, then technical diving is probably also for you.
Technical diving is much more physically demanding than recreational diving, there is much more equipment involved and you are carrying heavier loads. Coupled with greater depths and heavier workloads, it is imperative that technical divers are in good shape. Whilst they do not have to be Olympic athletes to enjoy the dives, being fitter than the average couch potato goes a long way to making technical diving safe and enjoyable.
Your psychological makeup is a key component to being a competent technical diver. Most diving gurus will tell you that the super deep dives in excess of 120 m etc. are 70% psychology and 30% skills and equipment. The right psychology for a technical diver is someone who is calm under pressure, methodical and disciplined, and with no claustrophobic tendencies. Needless to say, your comfort underwater should be second to none.
Unlike recreational diving which is much more dive centre led, technical diving is much more instructor led. When prospective students look to book a recreational diving course, they seek out to find a dive centre they know or one with an excellent reputation and book through them. The assumption is that excellent dive centres will perform the quality control on their instructors.
With technical diving it is very different, since it is a highly specialised area of dive training. You need to search and research the best instructor in the area you want to learn in. This is vital since the difference between a great instructor and below average instructor is not just a matter of how much enjoyment you will have on the course – it can be the difference between life and death on later dives.