DIR- GUE Reflections on Fundamentals

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DiveDay

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Introduction

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. As a novice diver (~3 years, ~100 dives) I am hardly an expert on anything, in fact much of what I’ve learned came from this forum, but there are so many things I wish someone had explained to me earlier about GUE and Fundamentals in particular. In the hope that this knowledge helps others I am finally putting the thoughts in writing. For some time I wanted to write a class report, in fact two, since I had the (perhaps shameful) honour of taking Fundamentals twice on separate occasions. In both instances I had too much emotion by the end, and now, a year or two later my memory is too stale to do a play-by-play hour-by-hour report, but I’ll still reference back to those experiences. Alright, here goes!

The Road to Fundamentals

I am unlikely scuba diver. As a sports-shy and nervous child I dropped out of swim classes at an early age. Decades later as I closed in on 30 a group of friends invited me on a scuba trip to the Caribbean. At first I declined, after all it was in water and I did not do well with water. But they were persistent over months and months, so I signed up for some swim classes (more on that later) and to save precious vacation time a local Open Water course here in Canada. I didn’t know anything about agencies or shops so I simply did a Google search for “scuba training” and signed up at the closest shop.

By chance I landed in an SSI class. I won’t harp on that too long - the eLearning component seemed pretty good but my most distinctive memory was of my last certification dive at the local quarry. I had no functional depth gauge (the computer/console was in a weird mode and I did not know how to configure it), the water felt very cold (I was wearing an ill fitting 7mm rental wetsuit + a 7mm vest), and visibility was a few feet at most. At one point my buddy bolted and I was left alone - before I knew what was happening I was ascending to the surface and popped up like a balloon. The instructor mentioned we needed to reach at least 15 minutes of bottom time for the dive to count towards certification, so he took me back down. I held on to his arm and a few dazed minutes later emerged back a certified autonomous diver (let that sink in for a minute). His parting words of encouragement were that I would find diving down south so much easier, but to be safe I should just ask to be paired with someone more experienced when I go on my first dives.

I ended up going to Curacao with my friends, and it was a wonderful experience with a kind and experienced local guide. But an “autonomous” diver I was not.

Not all training is equal

Back in Canada I decided I needed more training to become comfortable. So I signed up with a different shop, this time under the PADI banner, and took as many courses as I could. Among others I became Nitrox certified, took an AOW class, got first aid certified and even completed the much touted “Rescue” diver class. I enjoyed the course packs and materials, and some of the experience dives were really fun but it felt like a guided tour. When non-divers asked me what classes I was taking I would say “Rescue Diver” followed by a hurried explanation before their brows furrowed explaining that it’s really about self-rescue and stress management, lest they picture Kevin Costner in “The Guardian” or some sort of Navy Seal training. The more money and time I poured in the more I realized that I wasn’t really improving. I took Peak Performance Buoyancy on another vacation, but my buoyancy did not improve, and I even bought a dry suit and received some pool instruction on it plus a short open water dive so I could dive longer in the local season. I had a stack of C-cards at this point and I still felt uncomfortable in the water. Virtually all my dives were training dives, but more training wasn’t doing it … or maybe I was taking the wrong kind of training?

I can’t recall exactly where I found out about GUE but I was immediately intrigued. The more I read about Fundamentals, the more it seemed like the holy grail of diving. So I started searching for an instructor. My first contact with a GUE instructor was a phone call with Bob Sherwood. At the time I didn’t know who he was at all, but now knowing how celebrated he is in the community I must emphasize his kindness and willingness to talk to a complete newbie and share wisdom. Since he was in upstate New York and I was in Canada, I decided to simplify logistics and ended up signing up with a Canadian instructor instead for a split weekend Fundies class in early summer of 2019.

Early Frustrations or “Evaluation versus Education”

I’m going to fast forward. My first class was rough, quite rough. Prior to the course the instructor was polite but offered minimal pre-class support and no in-person consultation. I had to buy all new everything - my brand new Scubapro Hydros BCD was not appropriate, and my fins were no good either. I must admit my first reaction was frustration and downright anger - why do I need to buy wet notes to learn about buoyancy? It all seemed like ridiculous hoops to jump through, but I was wiling to do it to get access to this much vaunted world class instruction. Through watching classifieds like a hawk I managed to score a set of gently used doubles and long hose regulators but I was told trying to learn how to use them at the same time as my drysuit would be too difficult. (This was, in fact, very much correct.)

I ended up taking the class in a single tank and a wetsuit. I had never dived with a backplate and wing before. My newly met classmates were both trying doubles in wetsuits fo the first time, and neither had their equipment in order. In the water we were disastrous. Between the doubles divers face planting into the bottom and my inability to float still for even a few seconds any hopes of passing quickly faded away. One of my classmates was so frustrated they dropped out of the course after the first weekend. I tried to do a practice dive or two in between the two parts but it didn’t do much good. The instructor sat us down around the third day and calmly explained that realistically given our skills we could not finish the curriculum, so we had to decide what we wanted to get out of the class. Both of us remaining students grimly accepted, and tried to keep a somewhat upbeat attitude for the last few dives. I think in the four days we completed roughly half of fundamentals, stopping with the gas sharing exercise. My remaining classmate had ordered an expensive custom-made drysuit and had already put a deposit on a Cave 1 class - their expectation had been to walk away with a Tech pass on first try. All three students failed the class, myself included. As far as I know the other two did not come back to GUE. I was enormously frustrated but became more determined. The instructor and the instructor trainee during my class had such control in the water, I wanted to prove to myself I too could dive like that. I wanted to dive with buddies like that.

(continued)
 
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DiveDay

DiveDay

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Lesson #1: You need support

A few months ago I was told by a GUE instructor something to the effect of “If you show up to a Tech 1 class and don’t know how to handle a stage you will fail”. I think this sort of lesson applies very much to Fundies level as well. If you do not come with an existing buddy team (often spouse or a close friend) you will have a very hard time practicing sufficiently before, during, or after the course. The best performing GUE fundies students I met all came in with a tight buddy pair and practiced extensively. Unless you are extremely gifted or already an experienced (possibly tech) diver I do not think it’s possible to acquire the necessary skills in the four days allotted to a fundamentals class.

What you have to understand is that each of the 6 or so dives must add a new skill, If you get stuck at one stage you cannot complete the course. There isn't time for remedial learning during the class, but there are ways around this problem:
  • Take the class as a split weekend and practice in between, or even sign up for Part 1 only
  • Make friends with an instructor and have them coach you (or pay for it)
  • Most important of all, come with a buddy pair and practice with them as much as possible.
I met people who got Tech passes on first try - they weren’t super human, they had a very tight buddy pair and put in many hours in the quarry together.

You will often read debates about whether GUE classes are education or evaluation - I believe this distinction is not a conspiracy by despotic instructors but simply the reality that you can tune-up some skills in class, but there is no time for sufficient repetition during the length of a single fundies class if you are truly starting from scratch and have to learn each skill from zero. I eventually learned that historically the type of diver showing up to a Fundamentals class was quite experienced, but that the current average profile has changed significantly and there are a lot more brand new divers like me trying to take the class very early in their diving career. I think if I had taken a Rec 1 course instead perhaps I could have learned the skills a bit better, but I’m not sure even those added days would’ve been enough to actually achieve a passing performance. It simply takes time to learn, plan accordingly.

Lesson #2: It’s all about Equipment

DIR equipment is an exercise in frustration for a new diver, especially one that already owns recreational gear. Unfortunately you have to accept that you must let go of your existing gear. I think this factor alone is a huge filter, not for skill, but perhaps in part for financial ability and definitely for mindset. I was recently describing the logic behind he GUE equipment configuration to a diving friend, and he was having none of it and became quite defensive. To me standardization appeals - I work in information technology and engineering, and reuse of common components is a hugely desirable thing, even if this approach forces some compromises in boundary conditions. I love the idea of “one correct way” to do something, so GUE’s philosophy appeals to me. It may not appeal to you.

Here is my semi-educated take:

GUE is at its heart a technical diving agency. The addition of a “recreational” level qualification is a relatively new thing, and somewhat of an afterthought. In my mind the ultimate goal of GUE training is to produce technical (and/or cave) divers. The entire equipment philosophy is centred around this goal. As it happens, the equipment configuration for these tasks is also pretty damn good for recreational open water diving. This fact is really by coincidence rather than deliberate design. In fundamentals you will be asked to carry equipment that you will not use (you may write down dive plans in your wet notes, but you will not be pulling them out during the dive). If you’re in a technical configuration, you will be asked to carry two alkaline powered backup lights. Not once during the class will you deploy them. These facts seem at odds with the idea of a “minimal configuration” - but I think they speak to the true goal of Fundies: to prepare you for a technical diving class. One of the more complex exercises you will do is a valve drill - but you are never told how to use that skill to troubleshoot or stop an equipment failure as a Fundamentals diver. Instead, you are taught to abort the dive and surface with your team. Fundamentals is not the full story, it’s simply an entry point into a system that is really meant for technical diving. If you stop at the Fundamentals level you will be performing certain tasks as rituals, without truly understanding why they are done or perhaps even needing to do them. But I digress, back to equipment.

One of the challenges you will find when setting up your GUE/DIR gear is that there is no actual Fundamentals manual. Instead, you’ll be given some slides and a reference copy of the Recreational Diver 1 manual. The latter is a fantastic textbook, but doesn’t quite make it easy to set up your gear by yourself. To this end I found the following resources enormously helpful:
  • Frog Kick Diving’s Regulator Setup Guide: Yes, it’s for UTD but it’s the exact same thing that GUE requires. I wish GUE had a similar colour coded easy to follow guide in their official manuals.
  • Piranha Dive Manufacturing: For those of us in Canada it can be relatively hard to get specialized gear locally, and DGX charges expensive international shipping. Piranha carries all sorts of generic equipment like bolt snaps and oddball length hoses and ships at a fair price internationally by USPS. Randy’s responsive and generally a great guy to deal with.
Lesson #2.1: Small equipment epiphanies that no one taught me
  1. Buy some Delrin wheelnuts for your backplate. During my first fundies class my STA/backplate kept coming loose with the Home Depot wingnuts and washers and it made diving miserable. Piranha has old-new stock of DeepSeaSupply delrin nuts, they’re fantastic.
  2. If diving doubles, figure our your V-Weights early. As an apartment dweller without the capacity to pour lead weights myself I found getting a V-Weight enormously frustrating. No local shop had them, and it seemed you needed to beg favours from friends-of-friends or some garage hobbyist welder to get one made. In Canada, COJO Diving in New Brunswick will gladly make you one and mail to you at a very reasonable price and they’re superb quality.
  3. Braided flex hoses: Tech divers may eschew them but with my regulator (Mk17) they were the only way to route my necklace hose appropriately without placing enormous strain and kinking the hoses.
  4. If diving with thick gloves in cold water replace your wing’s wimpy dump valve cord with a thick one that’s easy to manipulate. I think the newest Halcyon wings already have this mod, but my previously enjoyed wings did not. Once more, Piranha to the rescue: I managed to buy some DSS dump valves with extra thick cords despite the manufacturer having gone out of business years ago.
  5. Buy an o-ring and put it on your SPG D-Ring so it always rests at a perpendicular angle to your waist, it will make (un)clipping so much easier. This is the size you need: Buna O-rings #324-90D and they only cost a few cents.
Lesson #2.2: Just because it’s Halcyon doesn’t mean it’s okay

This is a small but important point. Though people frequently roll their eyes at how expensive Halcyon gear is or because GUE is affiliated with them, it turns out not everything they make is going to please your instructor. A padded harness or the dreaded “cinch” system would not fly with the instructors I had, even though they’re sort of DIR-Lite gear. Some Halcyon gear is great (I had to buy a new 3ft Halcyon SMB because my Scubapro one was terrible to inflate), but other gear not so much (the ACB weight pockets I have are way too large and weights can easily slip out of them - Halcyon’s fix was to include some plastic plates that stiffen the pockets, not a great design).

Lesson #2.3: Community Standards

I will end the equipment thoughts by saying that ultimately you will find equipment choices are quite regional. Here the local GUE community dives with drysuits in cold fresh water almost exclusively with AL80 doubles, which seem much maligned on Scubaboard. These tanks are ubiquitous, cheap to buy and maintain, and because they’re floaty they allow you to customize your trim with your weight placement. Showing up with other tanks to your class will make you the odd one out and gas planning with dissimilar equipment is frowned upon. In your neck of the woods things might be different, it’s best to align to your local community’s practices.

(continued)
 
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DiveDay

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Preparing for Fundies Again

Despite failing fundamentals in the “easiest" rec configuration I decided to try again. In the fall of 2019 I started diving with a primary light, doubles, and a drysuit. I had a fantastic recently certified GUE Fundies buddy who spent time with me practicing and diving. I gradually got better and decided to try the class again in early 2020.

Second Time’s a Charm

My second attempt at Fundies was a unique class - this time in February 2020 at Zero Gravity in Mexico. What made the class special was that it was an Instructor Examination. This meant that myself, my buddy, and our primary instructor were all being evaluated by Christophe Le Maillot. It also meant an instructor ratio of 1:1, this was unheard of in any diving class I’d taken before. The class was hard work, both my buddy and I gave everything we had, and in the end managed to obtain recreational passes, by the skin of our teeth, both in doubles with primary lights, him in a drysuit and me in a wetsuit. I can’t emphasize enough what a fantastic facility Zero Gravity is, it’s the nicest, best dive shop I have been to. Being around and occasionally being taught by Chris was also a unique experience. At this point in his career he rarely teaches entry level classes like Fundies, but his years of teaching experience and zen attitude shone through at every moment. I strongly doubt I’ll ever be a cave diver, but if I were to go down that route I would seek him out. He is a world class instructor at a world class facility.

Lesson #3: The dreaded swim test

The swim test is either a complete non-issue or terrifies some people. As someone who learned to swim as an adult I took it quite seriously and practiced weekly at my local pool in the months ahead of my second fundies class. In particular, the breath hold part requires 15m / 50 ft, but I made sure I could do 20m / 65 feet on command, repeatedly. This practice came in extremely handy in my second class. The swim test was not in a pool, but in open water and the instructors eyeballed the distance required, with some conservative margin I think not in the student's favour. I performed the breath hold without a problem, but my buddy had to take several attempts and his possibility of passing the class was briefly endangered because he hadn’t thought to practice this particular skill at all prior to the class. He did manage to pull it off on the second day and went on to train as a Tech 1 diver this year, but why risk your expensive class on such a simple thing to practice for?

Lesson #4: The Road Ahead: Is GUE a Recreational training agency?

By the time I had successfully passed fundamentals at the recreational level I had invested nearly a year of my life into it, thousands of dollars in equipment, course tuition, and travel, and countless hours of research. None of it came easy to me. I felt enormously proud, but also wondered: “What next? How can I use these skills and training?

What I did not immediately realize was that by going down the GUE route I was taking a niche hobby (diving in Canada) and picking an even smaller fraction of it as my chosen community. I’ve learned that diving is an incredibly fractured sport. Each shop seems to have its crowd and chosen training agency and there isn’t much intermingling. I am absolutely committed to the GUE system, but it is a team based system. It cannot work if your buddies are not GUE trained and at the very last using the same procedures. I am lucky enough to live near two GUE instructors who are working hard to (re)build the local community, but I have come to realize that within the small hobby of Canadian diving there is an even smaller group of GUE divers, and within it there is a smaller yet group of recreational divers. The ultimate goal of our local instructors is to produce more technical divers, which makes perfect sense. GUE training can take so much dedication and effort that it’s almost natural to progress to technical training once past fundamentals, after all even the class’s curriculum is set up to encourage that direction. I think GUE training absolutely has a place in recreational diving, but that it’s very much a secondary goal - as a result I must admit it can get lonely being a recreational diver in this organization. As we hopefully head into the end of the COVID crisis sometime in 2022 I will try hard to find more buddies, do more dives, and build up more skills. I would love to take a Recreational 2 or perhaps a DPV course sometime in the future, but it’s ultimately contingent on finding a few long-term local buddies with similar skills and goals.

I hope some of this was helpful or interesting and I wish you much luck in your own diving journey!
 

rddvet

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Niice write up, but I disagree that you need to have a tight buddy pair to do well. I knew no one in my class and that was intentional. My wife and I have been cave diving for 10 years together and are each others' primary buddies. We specifically took fundiies separately in order to get more out of it. We were at the point in our diving where we knew what the other one was doing before they did it. The problem with that is it leads to less and less communication on the dive. Obviously we communicated, but we know each well enough that certain things that would be communicated to another team member, we often didn't have to communicate. By doing fundies separately it took us away from our familiarity and allowed us to focus on communicating with others in a team we didn't know, which we than brought back to our diving together. The other thing about gue divers is we're all pretty much equal and know what to expect from each other as teammates. Going into class not knowing the other people can help to reinforce that idea. If I were to go do a dive with a similarly trained gue diver, I know what they expect from me and I of them, and I know what they're going to look like in the water and how they will handle certain issues.
Doing it with buddies is great, but your statement about needing a buddy team is a little too strong
 

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Thank you for taking the time to write your detailed report @DiveDay . It was very useful to read and understand how things work.
 

Lorenzoid

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Some great observations. The frustrations remind me of my own Fundies course report, which you may have read (it's posted in this forum somewhere). I agree that those who do best in Fundies have steady teammates to practice with, and a tech pass is all but impossible without a lot (I spent years) of practice. Recreational doubles is indeed a niche. I know it's not uncommon in Canada, the UK and maybe other places. I myself hauled my doubles up to Tobermory to see the wrecks and vowed to return when I had the training to be able to do dives that were long enough and with the right gas to get a better look at them. I knew Fundies would only be the foundation for me. But it wasn't that way in the beginning. I did Fundies in a single tank and wetsuit and had no plans at the time to do more than single-tank rec diving. I liked your observation that when you take Fundies in doubles, you are taught a valve drill but not how to resolve failure scenarios; rather, you treat your doubles essentially like one big tank and, if there is a failure, you call the dive the same way you would on a single-tank rec dive. If you are saying you believe Fundies does not really fit double-tank rec diving very well, I agree. I felt it was fantastic for my single-tank diving, though.

You didn't ask for opinions, but I would suggest aiming for Tech 1, as I am, even if you consider yourself a recreational diver. As you said, find more buddies, build more skills. Keep in mind you don't need to use all the capacity you're taught. I don't plan to ever do really deep dives, but some of those amazing wrecks are just beyond the edge of rec depths. I'd say consider Rec 3 (GUE's version of "rec deep"), but ... I was tempted to try that route but ultimately decided it would only be a stopgap, and Tech 1 is where you get the full toolbox.
 

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Very much like my path into GUE :cheers: I recognize all the frustration, not being able to meet the standards, etc. It took me some more years after Fundies to really appreciate what I have learned from Fundies. In retrospect, I would not have missed one second of it. It increased my pleasure in diving in so many levels I don't even know where to begin.

Having said that, I have decided not to do any further GUE training. I want to get into rebreather diving and find GUE's path (Tech1 and then franken breather :rolleyes:) not to my liking. However, I am glad I did persevere with achieving Fundies Tech.
 

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Your report is quite recognisable, having been through almost the entire "GUE catalogue" I still thing fundies was the hardest class yet. However, I disagree on two of your points...

While having a pre set buddypair CAN be an advantage... it doesnt have to be. And it certainly isnt nessesary.
I have done Fundie, Tech1, Tech2, Cave 1, Cave 2 and Documentation with "instabuddies" and passed every class. CCR I did with one of my buddies from T2. I am absolutely not a special diver. I am an overweight girl with a neuromuscular disease from birth, with extra pain/balance/mobility issues.

I was surprised to hear that a GUEinstructor would say that you "Needed to know how to dive a stage to do T1". This is more or less the opposite of what my T1 instructor said. "I expect you to have a techpass in fundies. MY job is to teach you to dive and utilise the stage!"

Having a guecommunity is nice, but it isnt nessesary for "GUE diving". A team of two is still a team. A communicating, safe, thinking diver is all you need at rec level. Be a considerate buddy, talk about gear and differences, make a plan, be predictable, helpful and before you know it, maybe you are the one looking all Rule #6 (Always look good... :D ) and passing your knowledge and eagerness to learn to other new divers and potential new GUE buddies.

Good luck!
 

jale

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Thanks for your report.
I do agree with you about the evaluation vs education which unfortunately is not well perceived by some GUE instructors and others.
I did my Fundies long time before you have this split into rec and tec pass and I found it quite easy as I was diving for a long time already and knew what to expect.
Then, I went for a C1 class with Christ Le Maillot when he was still teaching outside Mexico and it was my first time in caves. Christ was a great teacher and I did learn a lot.
Not long after, I also did another class on another continent with another instructor which was quite good but you had to know how to do the skills requested. I was challenged but, beside some tricks, I didn't really learn much.
But few years later, I did another GUE class with another instructor and it was not really what I expected.
Indeed, the instructor was fustrated with the three of us (the other two were his level 1 students) and was just complaining about our poor level but wasn't telling us about remedial or giving any hints about what was wrong.
After two days of clueless dives, the 3 of us decided to ask him to explain what were the problems. He told us that we were weak in this and that and that we won't pass the class.
As I didn't care about passing the class because I came to improve my diving and learn more, I asked him to forget the class and use the remainding days to teach us what he though we should know. He just replied that he was not there to teach us skils we should know and that he had a program to follow and that would be what he was going to do.
All of this was done in a good atmosphere without any confrontation or tense relationship as the guy is fundamently a nice bloke and a really passionate good diver (yes he is quite famous :)).
The problem is that he is just an instructor and not an educator.
I found out that, in diving, a lot of people think that that they are teaching but teaching is not about instructing about this or that.
People take classes to learn and not to pass an exam (yes it not always that :)). Reading reports, it seems to me that a lot of GUE classes are mainly examination periods done for think-alike people who have learned the skills before the classes and are there to demonstrate that they are worth to have the card.
But the good thing is that now we are seeing more GUE/DIR oriented courses from differents instructors who are real educators and I have the feeling that the GUE label is not that it used to be anymore.
Anyway that my personal experience and I am sure plenty of people are going to disagree :) :)
 

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A little bit of clarification is needed; I think. I thought a student had 6 months to "pass" the rec or tec pass. From some of my friends who don't have a GUE instructor closely, this 6 month period is a real obstacle given the difficulty in passing the course on round 1.
 
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