Cave Training at a Young Age… A Northeastern Girl’s Intro to Cave Diving Trip in South Florida
by Rachel Voeltzel:
I wasn’t sure what to expect my first time down in north Florida’s “Cave Country.” Being all of 16 years old, I had grown accustomed to the stares and voiced concerns of older, yet experienced, divers who judged me not by skill but by age and predetermined biases. To my surprise, I found none of that in Florida. I found instead a wonderful TDI instructor in Lamar Hires and a community of passionate divers who could not be more supportive and friendly. It was for this reason that I could not wait to continue my TDI Cavern and Intro to Cave training and venture back into the sunshine state after my 17th birthday.
Attempting to be a student, an athlete, and a devoted diver is difficult on the best of days. I constantly have to remind myself that gushing about my new dive toys to my friends at lunch will only be met with confused facial expressions, while discussing teenage gossip with a group of seasoned divers will have the same result. To avoid this awkward scenario, I quickly had to switch myself into “dive mode” and shake the rust off of my cave diving mindset.
My first dive of the week was at Little River and it quickly became one of my favorite spots. Although it flew by, I truly had a terrific week of cave diving with Lamar and improved my skills more than I ever thought possible. My mom even got in on the fun and had the opportunity to try sidemount for the first time, which she absolutely loved.
Throughout the week, I learned many crucial lessons that will impact the way I dive for the rest of my life. Lamar reiterated, “Technical diving is not how many cylinders can a diver carry on a dive. Technical diving is analyzing the dive and planning the right combination for the mission”. However, possibly the most lasting piece of advice that he shared with me is that you can always work on something whether it be laying line, breathing techniques, or even just analyzing the layout of the cave. As good as you think you are at something, you can always be better and that’s a lesson that holds true not just underwater but also in everyday “dry” life.
After a great week in north Florida, we decided to take a day trip down to the West Palm area. I was able to tour the TDI office and then dive the Blue Heron Bridge with Lauren Kieren; it was a great way to end the week.
Let’s be honest here. A large percentage of the diving community is comprised of older generations, so I was excited to get the chance to meet some divers who were younger and closer to my age than they were to my parent’s age. Lauren, her husband Jon, and the staff at TDI welcomed us with open arms as we got a glimpse into the lesser-seen side of the scuba diving industry. It’s reassuring to see that the people in charge of training and writing the course materials at TDI actually dive and teach at the professional level on a regular basis.
After our tour, we headed over to the Blue Heron Bridge for an unbelievable shore dive. Playful octopuses, starfish, parrot fish, puffer fish, frogfish, angelfish, sea snakes and tons of other colorful sea creatures bombarded us. We managed to stay under for 104 minutes, mostly because of the maximum depth of 5 metres/15feet. The Blue Heron Bridge is great for all divers regardless of skill level and honestly can’t get much better in terms of accessibility and marine life.
I want to thank Lamar Hires, Lauren Kieren, Harry Averill, DiveRite, and the entire team at TDI for making our trip extra special and for adding plenty of entertainment along the way.