Despite its outstanding pedigree, DIR (‘Doing It Right’) is a term that’s frequently misinterpreted by the diving community at large.
A holistic approach to diving – one that puts equal emphasis on fitness, experience, attitude, teamwork, training and safety – DIR is a snappy phrase whose origins are embedded in the equipment configurations, techniques and training of the Florida-based, Woodville Karst Plains Project (WKPP); a team of talented cave diving explorers intent on expanding our knowledge of the underwater world.
Popularised by the WKPP’s Project Director, George Irvine and Training Director, Jarrod Jablonski, (holders of dual records for the longest and deepest cave diving penetrations, a staggering underwater distance of 18,000 feet at a depth of 300 feet established in 1998) ‘Doing It Right’ received an added boost with the establishment of Global Underwater Explorers (GUE); an organisation founded by Jarrod Jablonski and dedicated to education, research and exploration.
Offering formalised DIR cave and technical diving programmes, it became evident to GUE that many of the applicants (regardless of their qualifications and years of diving experience) seeking training lacked a sufficient mastery of the basic fundamentals; skill levels that form one of the foundation stones on which DIR is built.
Hence the introduction, by GUE, of a programme that teaches the fundamentals of better diving; one that has relevance to all divers, regardless of their underwater interests and that promotes confidence in one’s ability by finely honing and polishing the essential skills and teaching the importance of proper equipment configuration.
All of which is a necessary prelude to talking about the DIR Fundamentals course: an intensive three-day programme recently* conducted in Sydney by GUE President and Founder, Jarrod Jablonski and Training Director, Andrew Georgitsis.
*(this article was written in November 2002 at the conclusion of the course)
Back to basics
As somebody who firmly believes that experience is a measure of how much a person has managed to learn, (as much about themselves as anything else) rather than the length of time that they’ve been diving, I like to think that I’ve kept on open mind about DIR.
As an interested observer in its development, I have, (at various times over the years) been sometimes astounded and often amused by the ferocity of debate taking place on the internet diving forums about DIR; its defenders remaining unrelenting in their views and its detractors maintaining that their DIR proponents exhibit all of the characteristics of born-again zealots, and that the austere approach adopted by them is ill-suited to all forms of diving.
(Given the technical and more extreme nature of the diving practiced by the leading protagonists in these debates, it’s sometimes easy to believe that DIR is an esoteric concept exclusively reserved for advanced exploration divers. Nothing could be further from the truth.)
Nevertheless, DIR has, for me, remained an ideal having – like military and commercial diving systems’ that seldom, if ever, attract opposition – its basis in common sense. In that regard, I have been slow to realise all of its benefits.
Which is why I jumped at the chance to join Billly Williams and Steve Blim, from Sydney; Dean Laffan, from Melbourne; Craig James, from Western Australia; Dr Jeff Swan, from Darwin, in the Northern Territory; and Simon Hartley and Kay Dimmock, both from Lismore, in the northern part of New South Wales, on the three-day programme.
At this point, I really ought to point out that, over the course of many years involvement in military, commercial and recreational diving, (and, in the process, acquiring a thick skin through being insulted beyond belief by experts) I believed that I had a reasonable understanding of the basic skills and techniques appropriate to the activity. I even appreciated – and always have done – the fact that one is never too old to learn.
What I was not prepared for was the non-partisan approach to equipment brands; the care that both Andrew and JJ took in helping each of us configure the equipment properly; their non-confrontational attitude; the willingness to answer questions and offer detailed explanations of just why X approach was better than Y – and the relevance of that approach to diving safety and enjoyment.
More particularly, however, I was unprepared for the quiet, courteous and outstandingly friendly regard that they displayed towards all of us; an attitude refreshingly different from the one that usually exists between an instructor and their students.
Neither was I ready for the sudden realisation that I had much to learn about trim and buoyancy; ways of maintaining a constant depth while swimming without a face mask and air-sharing; the benefits of a 7ft hose over that of the 6ft hose, (that I used to use.); the advantages of shortening the hose on the back-up regulator; how to position the back-plate harness properly; the use of various finning techniques to improve propulsion, (OK. I’m still struggling with swimming backwards.); the various gas management techniques; decompression procedures, and much, much more.
I could, of course, go into lengthy details about the programme itself – but I won’t. Not because it’s not worth describing in absolute detail, but rather because it’s an active programme that is best explained more properly by people of the calibre of J.J. and Andrew – and more importantly because it’s something that everybody who dives really should experience for themselves.
Oh. and Rule #6? During the introduction to the Fundamentals programme, we were asked if any of us knew what, in diving, Rule #6 was? None of us did. “Rule #6”, it was explained, “is to always, ‘Look Good’ when underwater.”
An interview with me.
So, having completed the programme – and interviewing myself for a change:
Q. Do I believe that I am now a DIR diver?
“Not yet. But – having come to a realisation of its enormous benefits – it is something that I can aspire to.”
Q. Have I become a DIR zealot?
“No. But it has reinforced my view that health, fitness, training, competence, teamwork, attitude – and a standardised system of equipment configuration based on the minimalist principle of, ‘carry with you only what you need’ – are essential elements to safe diving practice.
“On the other hand, I do tend to regard those who claim to be DIR based on the sole fact that they use a back-plate, harness and long-hose, with a degree of scepticism unless they also embrace the concept in its entirety.”
Q. What are my overall impressions of the programme?
“It is the most informative – the most humbling – and, at the same time, the most enjoyable diving course that I have undertaken.”
Q. Why do I say, “most humbling”?
“As a person with many years experience in different facets of diving, I was conceited enough to believe that I had a reasonable understanding of the basic techniques. During the Fundamentals programme, I quickly discovered that what little I did know was woefully inadequate when compared with the seemingly effortless performance of those skills by Andrew and JJ. That, all by itself, can be humbling. It’s made more so when it’s realised that these are regarded by them as ‘basic’ diving skills.”
Q. Do I regard the Fundamentals programme as only for would-be technical divers?
“Certainly not. Although I have every respect for people who want to wriggle their bodies through narrow, water-filled holes beneath the earth, it’s not a prospect that fills me with joy. My idea of diving heaven, is a shallow, tropical reef, one where the visibility would stretch into infinity were it not for all the colourful fish life in between.
“In that regard, the DIR Fundamentals programme is one that offers very distinct benefits and advantages to everybody who dives – regardless of the type of diving that appeals to them most. DIR is, after all, a philosophical concept with relevance to the broad spread of diving interests and one that’s based on a proven system of safe diving practice.”
Q. What benefits have I gained from the course?
“I have certainly become far more aware of the advantages of proper trim and how the correct approach to equipment configuration will assist. It has also become far more apparent to me that proper buoyancy control – and I do emphasise ‘proper’ – is an essential skill that many of us only think that we’ve mastered.
“It also has to be said that the techniques that I learned during the course are ones that I have since been practicing constantly; mainly in the hope of gaining at least a modest proficiency in their use. And all of that is leaving to one side the theoretical aspects of the programme as far as gas management and decompression techniques are concerned.”
Q. And my thoughts on Rule #6?
“Everybody should set themselves goals; things that they want to achieve rather than those that they know they can. For me, ‘looking good’ underwater might be the impossible dream. But I can carry with me the hope that when I eventually master the techniques learned during the DIR Fundamentals programme, then – at the very least – the quality of my diving will have improved enormously and I will be a safer and more conscientious diver; one who is better prepared to handle the unexpected.
The above article was first published in the on-line ‘Nekton Magazine’ in December 2002