Still learning to fail better


There is a lot of opinion within the diving industry, some believe like gladiators they challenge the depths of the ocean. Others believe in the philosophy of team support in accomplishing greater goals. No matter where you sit you know the value of real training and my question is how is one better trained to insulate from risk, build experience and operate a safe culture in which to pursue this sport?

Those of you who know me, also know that I am firm believer in team approach, self reliant stuff kinda makes me laugh now and as a GUE instructor how could I have ever contemplated anything other right? Well, It may be a surprise but before GUE I undertook extensive training with many different instructors in many different styles, configurations and philosophies. My posts usually round off with there are many ways to skin a cat, but this article is something I believe firmly about and I intend to give an opinion and the reasons for it.

So lets set the scene, I started tech diving in 2010 and clamored for wisdom and information, I had numerous mentors over the years and did some awesome exploratory diving in Asia, Mexico and the UK. Over this time most of it was all on deep air and the experiences were often blurred by narcosis and my limited experience as a diver with decompression obligations.

During this time I was left by instructors on my classes during my decompression, encouraged to test my personal oxygen PPO2 tolerances and resist others trying to engage with me as they had not done the same build up in a very authentic and old school mentality. I had to carry heaps of gas that often would not be needed as I would essentially be on my own for the dive and this mind set is one of a lot of guys who operated in historically due to the naissance and complications of deeper diving.

On the other side I was encouraged to follow team protocols and work together to achieve the dive, I benefited from others experiences, was made to believe in my own skills and was trained up into a reasonably proficient “Tech diver” Two very conflicting sides of the argument I know…

It was not until 2012 that I trained as a cave diver and again was surrounded by many different points of view, I was fortunate enough to find other good mentors during this period but it was always in one isolated vein or approach. I was lucky enough to do dives that many will never have the opportunity to do but it was always a difficult logistical arrangement with little margin for error.

I found GUE after a lot of training with other agencies, and from a lot of amazing people! I even attained technical instructor levels with other agencies but always found that there was such a variation on skill level and quality of class when I scratched the surface as a professional that it was impossible to differentiate between what I wanted to deliver and what the cost cut classes others were prepared to teach.

To solidify here, I have the upmost respect for those I trained and gained with, many of these divers and Instructors have great personal achievements and deserve recognition but sometimes the lines are blurred between a navigation of we could just do this… rather than we can do it safely.

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As I have migrated through GUE training one thing remains constant, the TEAM! They are the backup brain that no solo diver can carry and if teamwork is promoted properly from the outset of training then your diving buddies will all have your back! When we do drills team members take an active role in the resolution of the issue, not just independently tackling a problem like a gladiator.

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I have tried to descend on the wrong gas mix, the team caught it! I have swum past navigational changes in a cave and guess what, the team caught it! None of us are invincible although many of us think we are. This strikes me as a cultural thing and something that needs a guided approach to resolve if we are to enjoy this sport together, safer and more enjoyably.

The title of this post is about failing, and safely doing so. I think outside of GUE’s training methods the single most important thing I have done to change my approach to diving is Gareth Lock’s Human Factors in Diving program.

This intensive program deals with complex ideas around personal communication and soft skills, ideas like the dunning-Kruger effect and above all a change in culture and human operations within and without this niche sporting area.

When you understand that humans fundamentally fail and can openly debrief your own errors it is greatly liberating. You realise that you are not the strongest person there, but more so the strength is in the importance of building a team or community who can support the greater ambitions that you all have.

The message is there, we all fail but let’s build an environment that we can fail and be supported. Fail, fail again but this time you can fail better perhaps?


The last message I wanted to leave this on was Dunning-Kruger, “You don’t know what you don’t know!” Sounds straight forward to read but the message behind it is that in some people a cognitive bias is created in which individuals of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. To me, if you rest on your laurels and personal accomplishments too long you are in danger of moving into an environment you are not supported in. It takes humility accountability and honesty to insulate from risk. We have all seen too many accidents from those who are left unchecked in SCUBA diving and I would like to see this change.

Sorry, but the gladiators died with the Roman empire people…..

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“What you want in a mentor is someone who truly cares for you and who will look after your interests and not just their own. When you do come across the right person to mentor you, start by showing them that the time they spend with you is worthwhile”

Vivek Wadhwa

Russell Hughes