1) Doubts Most SCUBA instruction is easy to sign up for. All the people you deal with make it sound fun, and all are very friendly as well. You are pretty much made aware that once you pay your money, you'll have a pleasant experience at the end of which you'll have a nice new plastic card, which will allow you to dive, use nitrox, or whatever it is you signed up for. With GUE training, it's a bit different. Quite a few of the people you meet online will be less than friendly, to put it mildly. One guy told me "you're an idiot, stay out of the water". I then found out that this was one of my instructors dive buddies. In addition to this, the class does not promise to be easy, and at the end you do not get a nice card. The fact that the class wasn't going to be easy, was actually one of the main reasons I wanted to sign up. I'd had my share of classes that gave me a nice plastic card, and not much else. I wanted a class that would throw some stuff at me, and teach me how to deal with it. Not pat me on the back and say "well done", when in fact I've learned little or nothing. The reason I had some doubts about taking the class, is that I'm not interested in getting humiliated and yelled at by some drill sgt. who thinks he's God's gift to diving. No thanks! I want to learn, I want to be made aware of my limitations so that I can improve my skills, but I don't think that it's necessary to resort to those kind of tactics in order to achieve the results I'm looking for. In the end I signed up for the class because I figured that this was the only way I was going to get the kind of training I wanted. I figured it won't be delivered in a nice package, but what the heck! I wasn't taking this class to make friends, so I'd grit my teeth, take the abuse for 3 days and get as much out of the class as possible. Some of my apprehensions were taken care of when I saw who had signed up. These are really nice guys! I figured that even if the instructor is a total jerk, it will be an ok weekend. 2) Jumping in The class is to be one night of pool and lecture, one morning of lecture at Any Water, one afternoon of diving, and another full day of diving. I show up at the pool in San Jose, and meet up with Dan Shaar, the guy who put all this together. The instructor will be Andrew Georgitsis, who has a couple of shops up in Seattle. This is good, because he knows cold water and I'll be able to learn cold water techniques from him. He's also to course director for GUE, so he knows his stuff! He'll be assisted by Rick. I meet Andrew a few moments later at the entrance to the pool. Rumor has it that he is in a foul mood, as he has some problems with his trailer and his boat. Well, that sure alleviates most of my concerns.... We begin with some lecture. Andrew has us introduce ourselves, and as each one of us talks a little about the kind of dive experience we have, Andrew uses this opportunity to teach us some GUE fundamentals. Looks like this isn't going to be like a root canal after all. Andrew seems very professional, and incredibly knowledgeable. I'm very glad to be here. There are five of us taking the class, and the range is amazing. There is a woman who is a novice diver, a guy who's been diving and teaching for 16 years, and then there is Dan who's been diving doubles and getting into Tech. Another guy has been diving for a while, but has had some bad experiences with deeper dives, and Andrew uses his experience throughout the course to make some salient points about narcosis, CO2 build up and the dangers of deep air. Then there's me, 10 years of diving or so, and using doubles for a little while and getting into more technical stuff. After the lecture, we do some pool work. First we do the breath hold and swimming test outlined on the GUE web site http://www.gue.com . I'm surprised that it's on the honor system. Andrew demonstrates some techniques in the water. This guy can swim! He teaches us breath holding tricks, and he teaches us how to move under water. I'll give away a little here. The urge to breathe comes from CO2 build-up. In order to fool your body into thinking you are getting rid of some CO2, breathe out half the air in your lungs when the urge to breathe becomes too strong. Do it again with the other half, when you hit the wall the second time. On the movement side of the equation, Andrew tells us to move more slowly. Forget the distance, just concentrate on relaxing in the water. We do the underwater portion of the test again. Everybody improves their distance. Time to do some exercises with gear on in the pool. I didn't think to bring booties, and it's almost impossible to wear my fins with bare feet. The water is much too warm for my compressed neo. drysuit. After a while, Rick gives me his booties. Much better! Andrew teaches us how to stay horizontal in the water, how to kick, how to move backwards using a reverse frog kick, how to share air with the long hose, and how to remove and replace the mask. Think of it as an open water class on steroids. All the stuff you thought you new, only now you'll learn to do it right. We are left to our own devices to practice these skills, while Rick and Andrew swim around us and correct our mistakes. As I'm swimming around taking my mask off and putting it back on, Rick appears behind me, and switches masks with me. I'm having a blast. 3) Questions I have some questions, but I'm still a bit hesitant to ask them. I've asked some of these online, but instead of getting an answer, I've been insulted. What the heck, I paid for this class, I might as well get the most out of it. I have a few bones to pick with the DIR system. Not that I don't think it's excellent, it's the only way to dive as far as I'm concerned, but there are a few minor things that bug me, that 1% where I just can't agree, and can't seem to get a reasonable discussion of why I should change what I'm doing. Specifically, I'm talking about using HP tanks, dive computers for recreational diving, and tank boots. I ask my questions, and I explain why I'm doing what I'm doing. Andrew listens, points out potential problems, and even agrees with me on some of this stuff. I'm blown away. Not only does this guy know his stuff, he's also friendly, approachable, reasonable, and open minded. Obviously his knowledge far exceeds mine, that's why I'm taking the class, but he's open enough to agree that some of this makes sense for this kind of diving. Not only that, but instead of just saying "only a stroke would do ABC", he points out the exact reasons why you should do what he recommends. Armed with this knowledge, you can make your own decision. Dive like a stroke, or do it right! (*just kidding*). Knowing what the problems are, you can decide where to spend your money, and when. You know what kind of diving your gear will support, and by staying within those limitations, you'll be safer. This is exactly what had been missing from some of my discussions on the net. Reasonable, intelligent arguments, without a lot of hyperbole and name calling, so that you can make a decision for yourself. You get what you pay for! 4) Gear Saturday Morning, Any Water Sports. Time to do some more lecture, and to configure our gear. I'm continually blown away by the amount of knowledge this guy has and is willing to share, and his ability to bring it down to the level where it can be easily understood. Just an example here, to give you a taste. This is from one of the most technical and difficult to understand sections. Usually Andrew doesn't get into this, but the more tech oriented among us pushed him in that direction. I'm referring to the oxygen window, or gradient. It's a pretty complicated theory, that explains why you should use 100% oxygen to decompress rather than something like 80% oxygen. Andrew makes it really simple. Imagine a milk truck. The truck holds 10 bottles of milk, full or empty. When you use 80%, the truck has to cart around 2 empty bottles to your house, and can only deliver 8 full bottles, and take away 8 empty ones. When you use 100%, each time the truck comes, you get 10 full bottles, and get rid of 10 empty ones. Obviously this is extremely simplified, but it gets the point across nicely. After a few hours of lecture, we take a break and start working on our gear, with Andrews help. Throughout this process I'm reluctant to change things. More than once, I am thinking in the back of my mind that after this class is over I'll just put it back the way I like it. In retrospect this is downright funny. Andrew makes me change the length of some of the hoses, basically telling me to use hoses so short that I'm convinced I won't be able to function under water. No problem, I still have the old ones, I'll change them back later...yeah right! Andrew also shows me a new way to rig up my Argon bottle. I really like this! I will try to take some pictures and put them on a web site soon, but for now, here's how it's done. A small piece of webbing is made into a loop, and bolted to the side of the backplate. It's juts big enough so that the Argon bottle can slide into it, valve down. At the bottom of the backplate, a piece of shock cord is slipped around the tank valve. 5) Monterey Eat, drive, meet at the Breakwater. More gear configuration. Andrew helps us adjust our harness. Crotch strap looser than I thought, shoulders tighter. I'll change it back later, this feels way too tight. Now it's time to learn one more thing about using a dry suit. Andrew makes it clear that what provides insulation in a suit is not a bunch of gas in the suit, but a proper undergarment. The right way to dive dry, is to dive with as little gas as possible in the suit. Andrew makes us get in the water with just the suit on, letting all the air out of suit using hydrostatic pressure (the pressure of the water). We get out of the water. Man this is tight! Andrew explains that this it the baseline, this is how the suit should feel. Down to 30 fsw or so, we do not need to add any air to the suit. Since that's how deep we'll be diving, he instructs us to leave the inflator disconnected! We get back up to the breakwater, to gear up, keeping all valves and zippers closed so the suit stays snug....and snug it is! I gear up, putting on my doubles, my 16 pound weight belt, grab my fins, and get ready to suffer across the sand until the water takes that load off my back. We swim out, and we start doing some exercises in the water. Andrew tells us that we should be able to operate all our valves, be it on a single tank or on a double tank. We practice this, as well as staying horizontal in the water at all times, and we do some drills involving removal of the mask and air sharing. Andrew and Rick point out some problems, if we haven't spotted them already. I'm teamed up with Dan Shaar, since we have a similar setup. We are trained to keep an eye on our buddy. Team awareness is paramount. I'm having a great time. Andrew comes down hard on me a couple of times, but I can take it. He's right on with his comments, and instead of making me feel bad, it makes me correct my mistakes. I feel like every minute I'm spending here I'm learning something. We exit the water, talk some more, dive some more. It's hard to separate what I've learned on which dive. I suddenly realize that I'm having no problem with the shorter hoses, that the harness fits perfectly, and that the suit compression isn't bothering me on all but the deepest parts of the dive. I also realize that all these changes have made diving that much easier. Less air in the suit means less buoyancy shift as you move through the water column. We get back out there, and this time Andrew will help us adjust our weight. I've been diving for over 10 years, and I've actually done this quite a few times. Andrew will probably take a couple of pounds off me, but I'll have a hard time staying down, so I'll put them back later. Ok, let's go waste some time. We go out to the float, get to the bottom, and hover near the bottom, horizontal. Andrew comes over to me and has me empty my BC completely. I'm in 20 fsw, and this is standard procedure. You empty all the air, then you take one pound off at a time, until you start to ascend a little. I'm wondering how he's going to take off 1 pound off my belt. Andrew reaches for my belt, and opens the buckle. He yanks it off me completely. And I'm thinking "good thing I'm only in 20 fsw, because it's going to be like the song...elevator goooooing up!". Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I'm still stuck on the bottom. In fact, I have to put a bit of air in my BC just to get off the bottom. I can't believe it. 16 pounds off my back, just like that. And I thought I knew what I was doing. Damn! It sure feels nice to dive without that anchor around my body. That alone was worth the price of the class! I'm heading back to the car, to take my gear off, and I'm tempted to just throw that belt in the trash! What a day! I find the motel, and we all meet up for some good Thai food. We learn more while we eat dinner, and we spend some nice time socializing. 6) Last day We mess with our gear some more at the breakwater, and do some more diving. Andrew has us practice more skills, and we are getting better at it. Two days is not enough time to master any of this, but that isn't the point of the class. The point of the class is to teach us how to do it, and show us what we are doing wrong. The practicing will have to be done on our own time. We learn to deal with problems, out of air, mask problems, etc. After the exercises Andrew points out what we did wrong and tells us how to improve our skills. As we progress Andrew is throwing more and more stuff at us. For the last dive, Andrew, tells Dan and I to swim out to the float, drop to the bottom, do our valve drills and start a fun dive. He'll be along at some point and will simulate problems for us to deal with. Dan and I head to the float, and I see Andrew still talking to people on the breakwater, his suit hanging around his waist. The visibility is about 10 ft, and I'm thinking that if we drop down, Andrew will never find us. We drop down, do our valve drills, and start on a dive. Suddenly Andrew appears out of nowhere, and signals I'm out of air. To simulate out of air I immediately spit out my regulator. I do not take a breath first, or anything like that. I give Dan the OOA sign, and he hands me his long hose. I'm sinking to the bottom. I get vertical and start to kick up. OOA is OOA, I can't inflate my wing. Andrew is obviously not happy about me not being horizontal, but you can't kick up if you're horizontal. We ascend, and I realize I should simply have orally inflated my wing. File that away under "you're always a little stupider than you think". I wont make that mistake next time. We descend, and continue our dive. Suddenly I realize that Dan doesn't have a mask on, and I'm out of air.... Well, I think I won't give all of Andrews secrets away. Suffice it to say, that we have a lot of problems under water, and we make a lot of silly mistakes. It teaches us that we have a long way to go. It also teaches us that mastering one skill at a time is not enough. Knowing how to do a safety stop, dealing with a lost mask or dealing with an OOA situation is one thing (well, ok so it's three things). Dealing with a combination of problems, is another skill all together. 7) More fun This brings us back to the beginning, in a strange way. The first night at the pool, Andrew pointed out that having fun in the water was paramount. If you are not having fun, why do it? Knowing that, how do we make diving more fun? By making it easier and safer. All the DIR techniques are designed to do just that, and so is this class. Knowing your limitations, you are more likely to dive within them, and you are less likely to have an experience that will scare your pants off. You are also free of any nagging doubts in the back of your head. For example, a lot of us do recreational dives where we feel that a safety stop is more a necessity than an option. Is it really reasonable to do such a dive, if you have no idea whether or not you'll be able to do the safety stop without a mask? While sharing air? I suspect quite a few people are doing deco dives, dives where a stop is not even remotely optional, without having even tried sharing air for the length of a stop. GUE training is all about making a clean sweep. I have absolutely no doubt that it's the best training you can get. The only problem is that once you've dived with GUE trained people, you'll have a hard time diving with non-GUE trained buddies. You'll feel like you're solo diving. Well, I've completed the class, I had a great time, and I feel like I've gotten down on my knees and scrubbed all the nitty gritty passages of my dive experience. A lot of it washed away in the process, but I know what to train, and I know what class I want to take next. If you've been thinking about taking this class, stop thinking and do it. You'll get more than you thought possible for your money, I sure did! -- Paul B.