Recreational diving is how most people enter the world of scuba. Whether you get certified randomly during an international vacation or take a well-planned course at your neighborhood pool, the allure of exploring the underwater world converts many of us into life-long divers.
But for every diver, there comes a day when you want to go a little bit deeper or further, or stay down just a few minutes longer. Most Open Water courses train at a maximum depth of 60 feet and almost always err on the side of caution, which for beginners, is a great thing. But tech diving, at its core, is all about going further, deeper and longer.
Once you’ve passed through your Open Water beginner and advanced courses, you have the choice to pursue what type of diving you want to practice. Recreational divers tend to emphasize follow-up education in wreck diving and fish identification while the tech route entails courses in trimix, sidemount and rebreather specialization.
If you’re on the fence about making the transition, ask yourself: How committed are you to the prep phase? Rec divers have the luxury of being able to lean heavily on purpose-built dive computers that take much of the mental gymnastics out of dive prep. But tech diving puts the onus of preparation squarely on your shoulders.
If all you want to do is set your computer and have it feed you instructions pertaining to dive time and decompression, then perhaps a lifetime of rec diving is perfectly appropriate. On the flipside, if prepping mechanical systems and dialing in your own gas mixes doesn’t sound intimidating—and you rejoice in the physics of it all—then you might have the heart (and mind) of a tech diver.
For those of you who are ready to make the switch, there are definitely some things to keep in mind as you transition from rec to tech.
TIP #1) FIND THE RIGHT TEACHER
During her gradual and semi-accidental transition into tech diving, Duck Diver President Megan Ehrenberg was at first hesitant about wreck diving. Overhead enclosures initially frightened her, but after gentle prodding from her now husband, Howard, she was able to slowly gain confidence and her skillset in wreck-diving environments.
“I was not a fan of overhead environments,” she writes in a Duck Diver blog post. “What if I got lost, or stuck, or lost and stuck?! However, Howard was kind, knowledgeable and patient. He encouraged me to go inside the wreck without pushing me. Soon, my fear subsided and I was charging headfirst into wrecks.”
Soon Megan had the opportunity to take tech courses from “legend” dive instructor, John Chatterton, where her love of wreck diving deepened and she continued to progress. Zoom forward to today, and Megan now has Advanced Wreck Diver, Advanced Nitrox, Deco Diver, Extended Range/Deep Air, Trimix and Advanced Trimix certifications. But it all started with having a supportive teacher (or two) that she both trusted and respected.
TIP #2) LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE BOAT/BEACH
Part of Ehrenberg’s education in tech diving involved overcoming fear and expectation. During her Advanced Trimix course, on the eve of a particularly intimidating 200-foot + dive, Ehrenberg’s anxiety rose to the surface.
“I toyed with the notion of calling it off all the way up until the night before,” she writes. “Then I received a call from John. He knew about my anxiety. … I’ve heard some call John ‘crazy’ or ‘Rambo’ because of the diving he does, but actually, he sees no room for ego in Technical Diving.”
“He made it very clear that while he was confident in my abilities in diving this deep,” she continues, “it was my call to make at any moment. If I was too afraid/nervous/anxious/preoccupied about the dive, I should cancel it. He relayed a story about one of the ‘best diver’s he ever knew’ who would arrive at the boat, pay the boat captain and go home because something just didn’t ‘feel right.’”
The moral of the story? Always trust your gut and never let a preconceived expectation for a dive undermine your personal safety.
TIP #3) TAKE IT SLOW, BUT INVEST IN YOUR TECH FUTURE
Author, explorer and elite tech diver Jill Heinerth has spent her career training people to tech dive. Despite pioneering and mapping some of the most remote and hard-to-reach places on the planet, Heinerth is intimately in touch with the struggles of her students and can easily recall her time learning how to go on technical dives.
“I like to urge folks to take it slow and just take training in small bites with time for experience in between,” she writes in an email. “That said, when it comes time to buy equipment, I think divers should ‘look ahead’ and consider the type of diving you might want to do in a few years. You can ‘buy it for life’ if you make good choices. High-performance regulators are worth the investment. If you service them annually, they will last a lifetime.”
TIP #4) REFINE AND TWEAK YOUR GEAR
Similar to the point above, Heinerth is a big believer in owning your own gear so you can tweak, refine and modify your kit to your desired specifications. Every diver is a little different, so she insists that it’s nearly impossible to develop a kit if you’re using a rental/borrowed rig during the entirety of your training.
“At the technical level,” she writes, “it is important to invest in all your own gear [perhaps with the exception of tanks if your living situation makes that tough]. You should own everything else. When you take tech classes, a lot of time is spent refining the details of your gear for good trim. You cannot achieve the highest levels of refinement if you are borrowing or renting someone else’s equipment. Once your tech kit is well fitted, then you will have a much easier time with all the skills and drills.”