A Journey to Tech 1

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Studying for Tech 1

Technical and cave diving has always seemed to be such a distant goal for us.  I can remember the feeling I had when starting to discover Global Underwater Explorers  back in 2013 while living in Houston. I was in awe of the divers that I would watch in videos.  They just made it look so easy and fun. They had real adventures seeing historical wrecks and things I could only dream of.  Sure at the time  we could go see wrecks to a maximum depth of 100ft in our jacket BC’s with a single Aluminum 80 cf scuba tank, for a whopping 5 -10 minutes bottom time.  But we really weren’t proficient or comfortable doing so,  and we were honest with ourselves about it.

When we discovered GUE, we had less than 100 dives, mostly in fresh water, mostly in very shallow lakes and I couldn’t have held my position in the water column within a 15 foot window much less a 3 foot. The first step for us was GUE Fundamentals. It’s the gateway that we needed to go through if we ever wanted to see the cave or wrecks like these people on videos were seeing. I can remember being on GUE’s website, reading about all the classes they had to offer. I can remember reading the descriptions about what completing the classes would allow us to do after Fundamentals and after you receive what is known as a Tech pass or Tech upgrade. You have two main options:

GUE Cave 1   gives you the ability to use 1/3 of 2/3rds of the volume of gas in your tanks for penetration into a cave on the main line only.  With a maximum depth of 100 ‘. You use 32% (Nitrox) as your gas,  in a set of doubles without any decompression or stages. It’s plenty for a new cave diver

GUE Tech 1 gives you a max depth of 170’.  Use of of 32% or 30/30 (30% O2 and 30% He) for shallow tech dives down to 100′  and two new  trimix gasses  called 18/45 and 21/35 (O2/He) for the deeper dives.  You also have to learn to use a deco bottle.  Tech 1 is a larger jump from Fundamentals in my opinion.

Me in a Sherwood Jacket BC Circa 2013

In 2013, the idea of taking either of these classes was just so abstract to me.  I wanted to have the skills and equipment to do those types of dives I had been seeing on YouTube and  I’ve wanted to have the ability to actually explore wrecks, rather than just see them for a few minutes before heading back to the boat.   But it was just so far off my radar at that point.  Not only did we not have the skills; but none of the gear we owned was suitable for this type of diving and it would all have to be replaced.  Furthermore we weren’t in an area that made technical or cave diving easy to do.  So unless you have a ton of money (which we don’t)   and time to invest in the diving;  it takes a while to accumulate the required gear and experience to be ready for technical diving or cave. It was like staring at the North wall of the Eiger without any climbing or mountain experience and saying “I want to climb that.”  Neither Tina nor I ever really said we would be Tech or Cave divers. Our attitude was always if we feel ready for it then it will be something we will try.  We didn’t rule out the possibility but we also knew what it would require.

In 2013 we started a website called “Liquidblueexplorers.com”.  At first  it was just a way to document our diving adventures. Tina has had a blog about her research and nature for quite a while called http://www.wildliferesearch.org.  We took some of her blogs related to the ocean and water off of that site and put them on the new one.  I guess Liquid Blue  was something like a consolation for me to be able to feel like we were doing something cool,  even though I felt like an imposter while owning a website with “explorers” in the title. I was just a recreational diver, not an explorer and I didn’t even have the skills to begin to be an explorer.  I liken this to me living out a fantasy a bit. We shared blogs about ocean conservation and some stuff about diving around Houston.  However nobody really every visited the website.  We also had a go pro and started filming our dives around Texas.  I made YouTube videos as a way to mimic my heros.

We started writing about our experiences with learning to dive drysuits, Tina learning to swim, and sharing our struggles,  because I hadn’t seen much first hand information about someone going through the process that we were going through. I felt like I wanted to document it for my own sake and posterity.    Leading up to fundamentals and after, the blogs were more focused on  training with GUE.  We really had no idea that we would end up where we did and the intension of the blog was never to be what it is now.   I wanted to document our journey even if it never went anywhere,  and share it with anyone else out there  that was dreaming of diving and exploring, while potentially feeling the same way we did.   Friday nights after work, we would sit in our living room watching diving videos on the Apple TV and just be amazed, while feeling a little sad that we couldn’t do it ourselves. Then we would go the Blue Lagoon on Saturday to dive and film, and pretend we were in the ocean.

Fast forward 4 years and a lot has changed.  We took Fundamentals in a single tank and received a Rec pass (recreational pass) in June of 2015 while still living in Texas.  Tina and  I blogged about the whole experience with Fundamentals. Some of that was to capture the way I felt at the time. Really not knowing how it was affecting us and that it would for the most part change our lives in the very near future.

During Fundamentals, we fell in love with the beautiful Florida springs and decided we had to move closer to them. Maybe it was a pipe dream I thought, but I was  motivated by watching people have adventures in diving and exploring caves and wrecks on YouTube,  and If I wanted to have the chance to do the same, we would have to make some changes in our lives. It was the beginning of a crazy idea.

My first set of doubles

At the end of 2015 we starting diving in doubles and learning to dive our drysuits better.  One day while getting our doubles filled at a local shop in Houston, a guy named Zach (a tech and cave diver himself), who we had gotten to know very well,  was talking to us.  I was looking at some of the new jacket BC’s that were on a rack,  sort of reminiscing when a second employee approached and and began trying to tell me how great the BC was.  Zach chimed and said: “These guys are frog kickers. They don’t use that type of gear.”  I liked the idea of Frog Kickers and changed the Liquid Blue Explorers site into Frogkickers.com I also found a free vector image of a frog and made a cheesy logo (still feeling like an imposter but less of one because the name was more benign)  I could actually do a half decent frog kick so nobody could say I wasn’t actually a frog kicker.

We had tossed around the Idea of taking GUE Cave 1 in 2016 but logistically it was tough for us. It would be 6 days in Florida, cost a bunch of money, and this was at the same time that the Oil and Gas industry was laying off people left and right. I couldn’t justify spending that money when felt like I could be let go from my job at any point.

On New Years Eve 2016, Tina and I were having some wine alone, sitting in our house in Texas, probably watching cave or tech videos, and having a deep  “What are we going to do in life?” conversation.  We both came to the same conclusion that night,  and asked ourselves why we were obsessed with this idea of diving and why couldn’t we be there doing that same thing. So that night  we randomly starting applying for jobs in Florida.  We applied  in Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Orlando. The way we applied on New Years Eve  was the shotgun approach,  it was less strategic. But over the next week or two we began to focus  our efforts and research our prospective employers, while looking at areas that would be best for both of us.  We applied for more and more jobs.    At first we hadn’t really sold ourselves on the idea that it was possible. I had a hard time letting myself believe we would or could do it.  We spent the first half of 2016 waiting with anxiety to hear anything from employers that we had applied for jobs with.  We would tell each other that if it happens it happens. What’s the worst thing that could happen?  We stay in Texas?

Finally the news came that we both had interviews in Orlando. We flew to our interviews about a week apart.  Next was months of waiting for offers, taking other phone interviews and hoping something would work.  The job offers finally came and then we had had further months of fear and stress of  moving to a new state, selling a house, and finding a place to live in Florida.  It all happened really fast now that I think of it  but there were weeks and weeks of such high stress that that we both questioned our sanity.

The move went relatively smooth, we started diving a good bit in the springs. Getting better with buoyancy, and actually having depths greater than 25′ do do ascent work.  We were essentially in the mode of preparing for our tech upgrade, which would allow us to take a cave or tech class.   We continued to film and take pictures of the beautiful springs, sharing them on instagram and facebook.  We love the springs and want to conserve them. So sharing the beauty of this treasure became a major motivation.

After a few months of settling into Florida and diving a bunch, Tina and I finally attempted and received our Tech upgrade.  And the idea of cave or tech became more of  a reality.  Ever since beginning down the path with GUE, Tech 1 has always been the class I feared the most.  My weakness has been buoyancy on ascents with a  drysuit.  And if you you have read any of my other blogs you probably know how much I’ve struggled with that.  Before the tech upgrade and even after;  I was struggling with ascents from 30 feet, not always hitting stops at 20 and 10. I couldn’t even Imagine doing that from 170′.  So instead of taking Tech 1, Tina and I decided to do Cave 1.  Most people we talked to said that Cave 1 is easier than Tech 1, so we shelved the idea of Tech 1.

We took Cave 1 in December 2016 and Cave 2 in December 2017,  documenting the experience  as we did with Fundamentals. The style of the blog shifted from a “Play by play” to leaving a good bit of the self discovery for the reader to experience themselves when they went through the class.   The journey has been the adventure and I have learned that some things should be left unsaid. There are things about those classes and cave diving in general, that we experienced,  that are just for us.

Cave diving has really helped build our confidence,  but even after Cave 2, I was still pretty scared of Tech 1.  Certainly having the experience of high flow caves, holding 10 foot stops in the ear at Ginnie with out holding onto the rocks with three bottles on my side, has gone a long way to build that confidence,  but none the less I was pretty unsure of myself.   Furthermore we have met and dove with amazing divers who have mentored us and shown us tricks for various things which we are forever grateful.

I guess it was time. I guess it was time to finally do Tech 1. Maybe we were ready or maybe we weren’t.  But 6 months after taking Cave 2, we found ourselves planning the logistics and finding places to stay in South Florida to take take Tech 1 with Kirill Egorov.  Ready or not, we were doing it.