In late 2003 – almost a year after the earlier interview with Jarrod Jablonski – I had the opportunity to again chat with him about technical diving. The following – edited piece – was first published in early 2004.
There would be few people of modern times whose influence on diving has been as profound as that of Jarrod Jablonski. Widely regarded as one of the world’s most capable and talented exploration divers – and playing an instrumental role in redefining the attitudes that we should all show towards the activity – the organisation that he founded, Global Underwater Explorers, is now justifiably regarded as a major force in diving.
A gifted thinker who leads by example, and one who encourages others to question and consider their beliefs about diving, his recent visit to Sydney provided the opportunity to catch up on all that’s been happening since our last meeting.
Q. In the year that’s passed since we last chatted, what developments have taken place as far as G.U.E.’s Training Programmes are concerned?
The two most notable developments within GUE’s training curriculum include an organizational change and the success of our Triox program.
At the organizational level, I have assumed the role as Director of Training. As our recreational programs evolve we will ultimately appoint a Recreational Training Director. This move keeps me intimately involved in our training programs while allowing each director to focus upon their area of expertise. It also means that, I can assist in maintaining consistency within each program without weighing down any one individual with too many responsibilities.
Our training programs and materials are designed with great attention to the synergy between them. GUE believes that the fundamental skills employed in diving are very similar across multiple environments; once the capacity to master these skills is attained, the individual should then be able to focus upon the variations present within a particular diving environment.
Meanwhile the Triox program has proven to be exceptionally successful. For GUE this represents an opportunity to school divers in solid diving practices used by divers in general, and in particular by those recreational divers interested in deeper depths.
Q. You – as well as key G.U.E. members – have spent considerable time travelling and teaching the G.U.E. Programmes. What level of acceptance are they receiving around the world?
The response to GUE courses has been phenomenal. Our only limitation is our ability to respond to the demand for training. We refuse to accelerate instructor training merely to meet this demand; something that we view as capitulating to market forces and that only encourages the erosion of quality.
Regarding GUE training, the plan has always been to set a previously unthinkable level of quality that would show the success of such a concept and to encourage others, (through competition and the realization of its possibility) to follow a similar route. It becomes much easier to follow an idea that shows traction.
The industry has largely assumed that people would not tolerate training that was thorough and challenging. When it is shown that people appreciate value, others are more likely to follow suit; this paradigm becomes more popular as desirability is created among the diving public. I never intended GUE to train the masses directly but, by association, I am confident that we can assist in raising the bar across the entire industry.
Q. One of the criticisms frequently levelled at D.I.R. – often indirectly – is that the standards are too high! How do you respond to such comments?
We believe that our standards reflect a sensible level of performance. This expected performance is adjusted in relation to the environment and the dive undertaken. People tend to expect very little from divers; this is because the industry has, historically, sought to accelerate diver training as a way of encouraging participation. All things being equal, individuals tend to prefer diver training with a limited time obligation and lengthy training courses will deter some participants.
However, those people prepared to invest longer time in properly absorbing the training are more capable, are safer, have more fun, and are more likely to continue in the activity.
By giving preference to speedy courses the industry encourages divers to imagine that this option is in their best interest. The diver is not aware that more training time actually allows for more fun; therefore, multiple forces place additional pressure on the trend toward faster training.
Over time those things that expand the time necessary for diver training are removed. For example, many agencies now require fewer skills (such as buddy breathing and proper buoyancy). Eventually the expected bar is lowered in relation to the potential capacity of a carefully trained diver.
Instead GUE believes that diving skills, such as reasonable proficiency in buoyancy control, are not optional. The length of a training program should be based around the time it takes a diver to gain solid capacity in all fundamental diving skills; training time should not be based upon a schedule that maximizes profit or diver participation. I appreciate that this is in no way a trivial request. Nonetheless, GUE offers an option for divers that appreciate this rationale.
Q. Halcyon diving equipment has become synonymous with D.I.R. As the CEO of Halcyon, do pragmatic business considerations ever oblige you to compromise on quality and functionality of the equipment that you make?
I am not inclined to compromise quality, because that is the ethos upon which Halcyon was founded. This identity is an integral part of our success and our commitment.
It is amazing how very small changes in expenditure ripple through a product, making it more expensive to the end user. However, these changes result in a product that can be of very high quality while not being unreasonably more expensive. Our customers are willing to pay slightly more for additional quality. Forsaking our customers, or our identity as a company, has never seemed a reasonable course of action.
Q. As an equipment item, rebreathers have exercised an enormous fascination among some sectors of the technical diving community. What are your personal views on rebreathers? The uses to which they’re put? And their role in the future of exploration diving?
Rebreathers are remarkable tools that far too many people confuse with a fun toy. I am uncommon in my belief that they will always be a small part of diving. If they exceed 25% representation, I will be amazed. Few divers have any real use for rebreathers and do not dive frequently enough to remain conversant in their peculiarities. People like new things and manufacturers always seek new revenue centres; however, the average recreational diver gets very little benefit from their use, and a notable increase in complexity that translates to additional risk.
However, frequent divers with a particular need for rebreathers will continue to benefit from the manufacturer’s race toward building a better rebreather.
Q. Has the RB-80 lived up to your expectations? And what sets it apart from more widely used and marketed machines?
Halcyon rebreathers arose from our basic mistrust of complexity. Our focus on simple but elegant solutions result in systems that provide great benefit with minimized risk. We do not actively promote the Halcyon rebreather because we just don’t see a need within the recreational community. However, experienced divers find that the RB80 is unique in both its capacity and its ease of use.
It is our belief that the complexity of most technical rebreathers creates disproportionate risk with very little practical gain. Likewise, the simplest of the “recreational” rebreathers (if there is such a thing?) create dangerous assumptions about how a dive is going to progress.
One has to understand that our focus is not on promoting the common use of rebreathers. Therefore, we are considered particularly conservative within the diving industry – and especially within the rebreather industry.
Q. Many of the techniques – particularly as regards decompression – that you have helped pioneer, are still questioned by certain pockets of the diving community. How do you respond to people critical of the procedures that you have successfully followed? And what are your views on the reliance that many divers place on dive computers?
The decompression schedules followed by most individuals are necessarily confining because they have to work for everyone. This is a bit like trying to make anything to a, “one-size-fits-all” standard. These efforts always succeed in the general, but fail in the specific.
Decompression works well in that it will keep the vast majority of divers safe in the vast majority of situations. However, decompression is an infinitely variable process and is probably not truly describable in any global way. By this I mean that there is an extreme variation between the ways that individuals respond to a particular dive.
There is also a notable variation in how one person will respond to the same dive over various exposures. Variables such as height, weight, fitness, genetics, physiology, previous injuries, ascent rate, gasses breathed, etc., all impact on the decompression schedule.
Many of these variations are important only if you are trying to maximize the time a diver spends diving, but reduce the time spent in decompression. Theoretically it may be possible to eventually get much closer in this regard for one individual. But with so many variables to consider it is likely to be impossible to generate any truly objective measure of a divers required decompression schedule.
This process results in dive schedules that are probably far too conservative for many divers, but barely conservative enough for some. I doubt that it is possible to have much impact on this reality. However, divers that have a compelling reason to push this limit may discover significant reductions in their decompression times, although some will experience significant and possibly deadly symptoms from this flirtation. From this dangerous trial process some global assumptions appear sensible.
We have never recommended that divers follow our schedules specifically, but that they advantage themselves from similar tools where useful. For most divers this amounts to greater conservation. For example, one might not be any less conservative but would ascend much more slowly, and slow this ascent starting at a deeper depth, (i.e. near the bottom).
Q. An increasing number of people claim to be D.I.R. – or D.I.R.-Like! – based purely on equipment choices and configuration. There is, obviously, much more to Doing It Right than that. What should they be considering if they really want to Do It Right? And why?
DIR is enigmatic in that it means different things to different people. In a global sense you are DIR if you seek excellence and strive for minimalism, safety, and cohesiveness. In practice, however, it is hard to understand these terms, (and, in fact, DIR itself) without having an objective measuring stick. People wrongly imagine that they can read about and mimic equipment configurations; they imagine that this will provide an appreciation of DIR.
First, it is just not possible to appreciate a holistic instrument, (such as DIR) by studying a single small component of what it represents in isolation. In other words, DIR is an entire system of equipment and procedures, carefully coordinated to reduce risk and increase efficiency, the end result of which is more fun.
Secondly, what little can be understood in isolation is tainted by the individual’s perspective. This, in turn, is coloured by their previous experience and their limited interaction with those conversant in DIR.
Simply put, it is not possible to really appreciate DIR without close association over time with those that are closest to the source. Namely GUE and the WKPP. Having said all of that, one can still make significant strides toward improving their diving by incorporating many DIR concepts into their own diving in a wide variety of arenas.
Q. What is the most difficult objection to D.I.R. that you have had to answer? And how have you answered it?
The name DIR implies that there is ONE way to do things and that those not pursuing this direction are, by default, doing it wrong! DIR was not crafted as an insult; yet, this identity of correctness motivates the continual effort toward perfection by creating an ethos of excellence.
Compounding this tension over nomenclature is the fact that several of DIR’s most vocal proponents are rigid and unflinching in their criticism of other diving practices. In many ways these issues do not exist because of one another, but one does feed the other. In other words, the majority of DIR divers are not particularly vocal and avoid any hint of diving politics.
Although these aspects are not an innate part of DIR, they sometimes generate considerable tension within the diving world. Personally, I see the confrontation between personalities on both sides of the DIR debate as reflecting the diversity present within the population as a whole. In other words, the world is filled with people of many different temperaments and their views vary accordingly.
The fact that DIR is the only identifiable “system” in diving adds to the sense that DIR is innately aggressive. This is because vocal individuals from the DIR group will be classed together, while the variety of aggressive personalities from miscellaneous diving groups will be considered as individual malcontents.
For example, I am one of the leading proponents of DIR and have never printed a single malicious comment. And yet the entire DIR community is judged by the representations of the vocal minority.
Q. What is the future for G.U.E. in terms of Training Programmes?
GUE will continue to solidify its current range of educational programs and expand the educational materials. In 2004 we are focusing considerable attention toward the training materials in order to bring these in line with our high standard of training. 2004 will also see the introduction of an open water diver program that will largely completing the GUE curriculum. GUE plans to maintain two recreational courses, three cave, and three tech programs.
Q. What projects – and challenges – still await you with the W.K.P.P.?
Two years of poor water conditions forced us to take a sabbatical from active exploration. These poor conditions seem to be coming near the end. We started diving again on January 15 and the conditions are improving rapidly.
Within the next couple of months we plan to start aggressive exploration in Wakulla and the rest of the Woodville Karst Plain. This entails a range of exploration projects, not the least of which is to return to the lead I discovered at 18,000 feet and see if the cave is feeling cooperative!
Q. What sort of diving appeals to you more than any other?
In some ways it depends a bit on what I have been doing lately and where I am diving. I love being underwater so, in truth, I love all diving. Caves, wrecks, and ocean are all appealing, but one of my favourites is wall diving. I don’t necessarily have to be deep on the wall, but there is something unique about being on the very edge of a deep chasm.
Come to think of it I also love peeking over the deck of a huge wreck or staring into the deep blackness of an unexplored cave. Maybe it is just the view from the edge that I like the most.