The biggest and most unexpected thing I learned in technical dive training

By Iris van der Zwan

I recently fulfilled my long time wish to become a technical diver. Being a dive instructor, becoming a tech diver had been on my bucket list for ages. However, it just never happened, either because of a lack of time, or money, or both. My motivation for wanting to become a tech diver was two-sided. On one hand, I’ve been fascinated by decompression theory and going deeper ever since I found out it was a thing. But, on the other hand, I also felt like I had come to a halt ever since becoming an instructor. Although I love to teach and coach others to become better divers, I felt like my own progress had completely stopped.

On to bigger and better things

So, I was beyond excited to finally take the TDI Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures courses about a month ago. Unsurprisingly I learned a great deal during my training. Basically, all my learning objectives were realized, but there was one thing that I didn’t see coming: a lesson in humility.

A slice of humble pie

As a dive instructor, I was fairly confident about my dive skills – as you may expect. I pride myself on consistently delivering competent and responsible divers through my courses, and I love helping more experienced divers improve their own dive skills. Although I certainly didn’t underestimate technical dive training – improving my dive skills was one of the main reasons I wanted to become a technical diver in the first place – I wasn’t too worried about whether or not I’d pass the course.

However, in my first skills practice session, it became painfully clear to me that my dive skills were not as great as I thought they were. My finning techniques, for example, were not something I considered to be up for improvement. Things I normally did effortlessly, such as a reverse kick, suddenly were frustratingly difficult with two extra tanks! I was completely surprised and frankly, a little embarrassed. I don’t think I’ve ever groaned as much underwater (or in general) as in those first sessions with 3 tanks.

Another thing that I considered myself to be great at was situational awareness. I mean, as an instructor, this is a pretty essential ‘skill’ to master. You need to be constantly focused on your students and quick to respond to problems. It had never been a problem for me, but with a bit of task loading and gas narcosis added to the mix, my mind was suddenly a blank slate. I had no problem focusing on basic and singular tasks like maintaining depth and checking my air, but any additional issue my instructor threw my way I failed miserably. Had these issues really happened, I’d have killed him multiple times.

The big question

After the 6 mandatory dives of the combined ANDP courses, my instructor asked me if I’d feel comfortable diving with myself as a buddy. I could only give him one heartfelt answer: NO! I was fully aware and willing to admit that I was not ready to go out there independently. Disappointing? Sure. Bad for my instructor ego? Absolutely! Saying this out loud doesn’t mean that I was a bad diver when starting the course, but maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Something I often recognize in dive professionals is that we think we know it all and that there is nothing left to learn. But we couldn’t be more wrong. Even if you have no interest in diving caves, wrecks, or even going deeper, I strongly encourage you to take a technical dive course. I’ve had so many eye-opening moments that have changed the way I dive and teach for the better.

My takeaways

Even after completing (yes, I did pass after a bit more practice) the ANDP courses, I’m still far from being an expert. I realize more than ever that I’m still such a newbie to all of this, and that’s ok! Admitting that doesn’t make me any less of an instructor. In fact, it probably makes me better.

My biggest takeaway from the ANDP courses isn’t that it improved my dive skills tremendously (even though it did!) The biggest lesson is that it humbled me as a diver. I learned that I’m not untouchable in the ocean. I understand that I still have a lot to learn about decompression. I realize that I still need to work on my situational awareness. I’m aware of my own limitations more than ever. More than anything else, that is exactly what makes me a better diver than I was a month ago!

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