NACD has roughly what, five hundred members?
Yes, and the other major organization, the cave diving section of the National Speleological Society has about 500 or 600 members. And there’s an overlap. A lot of divers are members of both. It’s a very small percentage of all recreational divers. It will always be that way. Most divers don’t really have an interest in cave diving. Most people regard us as a bunch of crazy nuts. That’s what it boils down to. Cave divers are a different breed.
Why is that?
The unique thing about cave diving is the commitment. It’s a commitment because of the expense, the equipment involved, the effort you have to put into it, the preparation, thought, planning, the execution; and it’s a commitment because of the time involved. If you’re going to spend the time required, you have to really love it.
How difficult was it in the early days of NACD? Was it a struggle developing standards?
Politically yes. It’s been a struggle particularly in creating standards and guidelines. The difficulty is that we have a variety of personalities, viewpoints and opinions. Some people are satisfied with one set of standards, and then other people feel they must be stronger, or have more quality control, which is fine. That’s honorable.
A balance between individual freedom and the need for a consistent group standard?
That’s been the struggle. One person could say, “We’ll do it this way,” which is pretty simple and to the point. Then another person will demand that we have a much stronger standard. From one viewpoint, that’s great, it’s better. But when you deal with the general population, it discourages them from doing it at all. They’ll just say, “screw that.” They won’t even bother with the standards; they just go ahead and do whatever they want anyway. That’s just human nature and you can’t control that.
As an industry, I think, there needs to be a lot more cooperation for diving to progress in a positive direction.
The recreational dive training agencies stress safety and education, but to some degree their approach has been to set limits: “Thou shalt not dive below 130 feet, “ and so on. That’s one way of dealing with safety. The cave diving community has taken a different approach. How’s has it worked?
There has to be a distinction made when you talk about recreational scuba diving. Though cave diving is recreational in some sense, it’s more advanced. It’s a much more advanced form of scuba diving as far as knowledge and the techniques. There are limits, but for the most part they’re defined by a diver’s experience and equipment as opposed to an industry mandate.
We don’t preach not to dive below 130 feet, or say that you’re not smart enough to dive below that depth on compressed air. It’s gray area where, yeah, a lot of people will take that risk a go a little bit deeper and do it. I’m not going to say do it “safely”, but obviously they do it successfully because they’re still around.