You know how hard it is to unlearn something?
Think of the simplest thing you do every day of your life. Task at random: making coffee. You’re still bleary-eyed (because you haven’t had your coffee yet), but you can still drop in a filter, measure out grounds, hit the buttons, all without thinking about it. But then your coffee maker breaks. They don’t make that one anymore. So you buy a new one, a nicer one, it’s exciting. And the next morning is really aggravating, because the filter goes in differently; and you hit the wrong button without thinking about it. And the morning after that. And it gets easier, but every once in a while for a few months you still hit the wrong button accidentally because you forget this is a different coffee maker.
We’ve got two cars. I always seem to reach for the gear shift where it is in the car I’m not in.
I switch back and forth between backmount and sidemount constantly. About one in twenty times that I reach for my power inflator my hand goes looking for it in the wrong place.
A story I frequently reference:
Way back when I was a northeast wreck diver (in the beforetimes) I wore my light on my right hand. I needed my left hand free for all sorts of things, I reasoned, so the right hand was the correct place for it. That’s where the light always, always was. For more than 10 years.
Then I bought a DPV. As I was waiting for delivery of the scooter I realized I should change my light over to my left hand.
It broke my goddamn brain.
For a little more than a week everything looked wrong. The shadows behaved weird. I kept bumping into things with my right shoulder because my depth perception was affected.
Now, of course, used to switching hands I’m comfortable with light coming from wherever. But it was a steep unlearning curve.
This week I’ve been playing mock buddy for a friend’s DPV Cave class. And the importance of solid foundations keeps coming up over and over again.
Arguably DPV is the apogee of cave training. Mastery of all other cave skills up through multiple stage management should be assumed before the class, given this new tool can bring you a hell of a long way from home very quickly. And given that one is traveling three or more times as fast, everything that can go wrong on a cave dive can still go wrong… but three or more times as fast.
Which is why, when I’m teaching something like Intro to Tech or Intro to Cave we start with the idea that maybe - not certainly, but maybe - these students will one day be taking a Cave DPV course. And if that day comes, then there isn’t anything for them to have to unlearn.
Passive light communication, for example. Even when I have students who use wireless AI computers, I insist they use their SPG for the duration of the class. It has nothing to do with pressure; it’s about their light management, it’s so they become conscientious of how they’re moving their light beam around and how others in the team might interpret that light movement.
Because if, later on, they decide to wear two stages, a scooter, and a backup scooter, that is a lot of kit to manage. And it’s sometimes damn tricky to hold your light still. But if I’m wearing all that crap and I see flashing behind me that makes me think I need to turn around you better be out of gas. So starting at Intro we learn the critical importance of controlling your goddamn light.
Much better to learn it and train it right away than have to unlearn it later.
There’s already so much that needs to be unlearned in tech training. One of the things I find most frequently struggled with: going vertical to turn around.
Even when someone has a solid helicopter turn, when shit really hits the fan people revert to what they first learned in open water training. First learned is longest retained and all that. People go from perfectly horizontal, to perfectly vertical, turn around, then drop back into horizontal. A job well done and they almost never remember having done so during debrief.
Muscle memory is harder to shake than a bad dream. And it takes a LOT of exposure and practice to remediate.
The other day I posted that goofy picture of me perfectly vertical in the ocean? You know how weird and unnatural that pose felt for me? How hard it was to maintain for long enough for Rob to take that picture when my body and gear were all struggling to get back to an orientation that made sense?
Of course I started life as a diver vertical, too. Like 99% of us. Skills poorly performed on my knees in the sand. Of course as I started tech training it took a lot of practice to not fall back on that comfort zone.
It took a lot of unlearning to build a new muscle memory.
There is one tangential bit of unlearning during the transition from recreational to technical diving I find people frequently struggle with: curriculum.
I field the question often, “Why can’t I do Intro and Full cave together?” As if it’s Open Water and AOW. But it isn’t. The scope of difference between courses like that is substantial.
But all of us are trained to think about training by our first dive shops the same way. Take a class, then another, then another, then another, snd so on and then you’ll be a better diver. Buy more books. Buy more gear. You’ll be awesome!
I’m sure most of you know someone who got certified as an Open Water diver two years ago and is doing CCR Trimix cave dives on a DPV this year. That’s insane to me. And, in my opinion, the sort of thing that requires some fundamental unlearning about how to think about certifications.
Maybe, in a perfect world, every diver would start their dive career in an Open Water class taught over two weeks, all horizontal at neutral buoyancy and would be required to get a certain number of dives and dwell for a certain time period at each level before progressing. But we live in this world, where the Tide Pod challenge was a thing and tank bangers exist.
So the best we can do is keep on the lookout for best practices and constantly focus on practicing them to the point of conditioned response.