top of page

Reordering Everything

What gets you to change your mind about things that are fundamental to your practices? Something really big, that you’ve raised your voice in anger over.

Something that you hold dear and sacrosanct? A process you may have gotten into long, perhaps headed debates with people over? A technique your instructor showed you and you had long conversations about?

Skills which, in some of our cases, we may have passed on, as instructors to students over and over again for years, having reminded them or even scolded them about a procedure; because it was the way we were taught to teach it and it’s important?

… what would it get to take you to change something like that?

Would it change slowly, over time, as a general cultural or philosophical shift happened?

Or are you more of a Eureka moment sort of a person?

For me, the other night, it was simply a conversation. A well-reasoned conversation with a friend and long-time instructor I hold in high regard. I walked into that conversation with very strong ideas on a thing… and walked out weighed down by the brand new burden of knowledge that I’d been training people wrong for closing in on 20 years.

To that end:

ALL MY EX-STUDENTS… pay fucking attention. Class is back in session.

Team of three divers. One diver is forced to share gas back to the exit. What is the team order?

1: Diver A - Unaffected diver

2: Diver B - Out Of Gas diver

3: Diver C - Donor


Sorry, I know that sounds stupid. Of course it’s right.

We can think of any loss of resources as something like a field stretcher: the person with the “injury” goes in the middle with supporting divers to “pick up the stretcher” and “carry the injured diver” to safety. And, obviously, since an OOG diver is in the lead of a donor-recipient pairing… we have our order: a diver with no gas sandwiched between two divers with plenty.

The diver with the least resources surrounded ond safe, bookended by people who can help them.

The question from my friend the other night: Are they?

Where, exactly, can we anticipate problems with a reordered team that is sharing gas? Especially when, they pointed out, that team is in touch contact.

Let’s do a brief inventory of what divers have to contribute, all other things being equal:

Diver A: 1 - Full gas supply

Diver B: 0 - Fuckall

Diver C: .5 - Split to OOG diver

And that looks like it should settle the matter, doesn’t it? The one with the 0 is in the middle and, therefore, to be carried out. Donor has to be in the back, so we have the unaffected diver up front like a cattle catcher for us, moving other teams out of our way and guiding the correct path past navigation decisions, ready to assist and switch the gas share if needed. Easy right?


We have the donor, in the back, down to half their own resources. And an - in all possibly freaked the fuck out - OOG diver, and a dwindling pressure gauge that is pretty nerve wracking, and they keep getting kicked by this person they’re leashed to, and and and and…

Do they really even have a .5 in terms of resources? Maybe more like a .4 or a .3

Really far away from the unaffected diver. As my friend pointed that out I started seeing where their point was leading us. We assume that we planned gas well enough that the donor and recipient have plenty so that’s the end of problems on the dive…. obviously nothing else could possibly happen during the exit. Why would the unaffected diver and the donor need to be near each other?

The person with the least resources is, currently, Diver B. The benefits of having a person in front of them are:

- proximity to another gas supply, though the usefulness of that proximity is dependent on attention by Diver A

- all they have to do is follow the lead diver, though the usefulness of simply following someone is dependent on their attention being on the cave in front of you and not you.

So… those benefits kinda cancel each other out.

If Diver A is reordered to the back, they can pay plenty of attention not only to the cave in front of the team, but they can actually even see, at all times, what is happening with both donor and recipient. Their attention doesn’t have to go back and forth between cave and team, but rather be aware of both for the entirety of the exit.

They may even be able to notice, for example, that it is time to stop the team an reorganise the gas switch because the donor’s gauge is getting low EVEN BEFORE the donor happens to notice. (Requiring them to wave their light for you to turn around and communicate if you were way up front.) To say nothing of their ability to share gas with Diver C in case… well… in case the unthinkable happened and Diver A had to decide which of their buddies they like better.

Another brief inventory, this time of psychological/emotional resources. Which is harder to put a number on, innit?

Diver A: ~1

Probably a little spooked and worried, but generally OK.

Diver B: ~0

Depending on how much they trust their team, it’s entirely possible Diver B is listing off all the things they wished they’d done with their life the entire swim home and that is all they are capable of thinking

Diver C: ~.5

Somewhere in the middle. They can see the pressure gauge, but that might mean they can see how fast the gauge is dropping, too. And they’ve got to get this no gas-monitoring motherfucker home, too. Hopes today winds up being just a scary big-fish story.

So we get the joint benefit of total awareness of the situation by giving up a little proximity and the inability to tell oncoming teams to get out of the way. Seems a bargain to me.

And that’s if you can see.

If you’re in touch contact on the line… when’s the last time you practiced touch contact in a team of 3? It’s a pain in the ass if any member of the team so much as bends their elbow 15 degrees. But even if everyone is perfect at it… it’s still a pain in the ass.

The diver in the front can’t kick. They, by necessity, are pushed into a weird angle and mostly get pushed along by the team behind them, they can’t kick or they’ll push the whole team at a weird angle. Plus they’ll kick the shit out of diver 2.

The diver in the middle can kick a little bit, but the weird angle and kicking the next diver thing is also at play.

The diver in the back is the locomotive, pushing the whole team through the shit viz and possibly all the way home.

So in the conventional arrangement we have

Diver A: the one with all the gas being pushed along like they’re on a tube on a lazy river

Diver B: the schmuck who didn’t monitor their gauges riding this whole shit-sandwich home

Diver C: trying to push everyone out of the cave… on half (or less) of their gas supply. Kicking, and breathing, and kicking, and huffing, and kicking, and puffing… and really, really far from the only person on the team who could donate THEM gas if the reg starts sucking hard… with someone else they would have to climb over - who recently ran out of gas, can’t see a pressure gauge, and noticed that the reg just started sucking hard - in between themselves and the person who could help.

Whereas if we reorder:

Diver B: There’s nothing much more that can be done with this diver. At this point they’re just a pair of lungs we need to get to the surface. Get them to breathe the least by just shoving them in front of you.

Diver C: The gas supply for the otherwise non-contributing Diver B. Maybe if we give that diver a little shove, then they won’t have to work so hard and breath through their own, already halved, gas supply quite so quickly.

Diver A: The one with as much gas for themselves as the other two are sharing… why don’t we make that parsimonious prick do some work for a change?

They’re no reason Diver A can’t guide from the back, seeing if Divers B or C are screwing up in any way without having to turn around constantly. The whole idea of sandwiching the diver with the least resources is to have an eye on them; what’s the point of having the diver with the most rapidly diminishing resources, without anyone watching THEIR back?

And if the team can’t see… well… what else can be done to help Diver B anyway? Gonna try to coordinate changing the gas share among the team on the line in the dark? No. No you’re not. So why not have the person in the best position to do the hardest job in the physical position to step immediately into that role?

As I pulled up in front of my friend’s house to drop them off, they asked, “So what do you think?”

“I think I have to write something to all my ex-students telling them that I’ve taught them all wrong for all these years.”

“You do that,” my friend said with a laugh, as they closed my truck door.

Because they know something else I haven’t figured out yet.

They know what usually changes people’s minds about their dearly held and defended beliefs:


Recent Posts

See All


Some people know how to fly fighter jets. Some people know how to cure diseases. Some know how to maintain hydroelectric dams. Some know how to grow food or build houses or run organizations that deli

When Zero to Hero is OK

I've done what I've said I won't do. What I don't ever do. For the first time ever I've taught a Zero to Hero cave class. Someone non-overhead trained all the way through Full Cave. When people even a


bottom of page