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  • Zero-to-Hero… there are no winners in training shortcuts

    If all you can think of when you read the phrase “Zero to Hero” is a British post-punk band, hats off to yer! However, chances are that as a diver, the phrase has other connotations: far less entertaining.
    I really have no clue where and when the Zero-to-Hero epithet was first applied to diving. I heard it around the time that the whole concept of technical diving and especially technical diver training began to enter mainstream dive-community awareness, sometime in the early to mid 1990s. At that time, Zero-to-Hero was applied specifically divers who miraculously leapfrogged from newbie to expert seemingly overnight.

    It worked like this: a small core of instructors and dive shops started to advertize “boot camps” that promised punters some form of guaranteed certification at the end of a week or so of “intense training.”

    An example from that time was a seven-day “mega-course” that swept candidates – advanced open-water divers who carried no technical certifications or experience — to trimix certification by the time the circus wrapped up. (For the record, this meant guaranteed certification to conduct full decompression dives on helium mixes with exposure up to 60 metres deep.) I believe the prerequisites to sign-up for these programs included having a pulse, a checkbook, and a broad gullible streak.

    Gullibility? Well, at issue was the obvious. If one looked closely at some agency standards, it was just about possible to cram into a seven-day period, the required classroom, confined water and open water dives. Possible yes, but far from desirable… and certainly could not possibly carry any guarantee that participants would have earned their certifications at the end of it.

    From a training agency perspective, this type of course barely met the letter of the law, and certainly bent the spirit of it into the shape of a banana. What was missing from the equation was experience. The poor punter would find himself or herself dragged into progressively more complex dives day after day without any time to catch their breath or reflect on the lessons to be learned. They would be taken at lightning speed with little time to ask questions – or more importantly, discover answers – as they progressed rapidly from a normal dive plan that consisted of a quick “Let’s go diving…” to something that would help protect them and give them the tools to ascend from water deep enough to cover a 20-storey high-rise.

    At the end of their “intensive training” they would have completed a handful of staged decompression dives under the auspices of an instructor –and auspices is about as apt a term as possible to describe what would have been going on for seven days. Unfortunately, playing follow-the-leader on what was essentially a guided, trust-me dive does not constitute technical diver training.

    The certifying instructor’s crime – if functioning without a moral compass can be classified as such – was that when all was said and done, they handed out cards which stated the holders were capable of doing the same dives at some future date without the help of a baby-sitter.

    I worked on the Training Advisory Panel of a large agency at the time and, like many of my peers, felt there was something wrong with that. Apparently, we were not alone, and to my knowledge, the temptation to promote this sort of fast-track program for John and Jill Diver was pistol-shipped out of the rank and file tech instructors by many of the major, reputable tech agencies. In addition, the market, divers who were expected to buy-into the concept, quickly realized that Zero-to-Hero type training was not a sound investment. The practice has fallen out of favor in the tech arena: or has it?

    One of the companies for whom I do consulting work, makes rebreathers: the fully closed-circuit kind. The data suggests they are the market leader world-wide… or very close to it. Certainly their brand is well-known and highly visible in the technical market.

    Rebreathers are tech, correct?

    Well, the dive industry is nothing if not dynamic and that’s changing. Several manufacturers – including the one I work with – are in the middle of readying themselves for a minor market tremor that promises to open rebreather diving up to sport divers.

    Given a couple of provisos, I do not believe there is any real problem with that. Diving rebreathers is fun, and with real prerequisites met and enough time for practical work, a sport-diver CCR course will probably work. It will be hard work for everyone involved, but not impossible to organize and probably a whole lot of fun to deliver!

    Provisos met.

    The only thing that bothers me a little is that this new market opportunity – and that’s how it’s being billed within the professional segment of the dive industry – feels like an opening for the Zero-to-Hero can of worms to open up all over again. Only this time, it’s not the punters I worry about… it’s the instructors who will be delivering their training.

    Most CCR manufactures have a unique power when it comes to who teaches on their units. You might think of it as a special veto. An instructor candidate (regardless of if their agency believes them ready to teach) has to be given the OK to conduct training classes by the manufacturer of the unit he or she wishes to teach on. Part of the minimum prerequisites held to by the major rebreather companies is that the instructor candidate must have logged 100 hours on the unit.

    There is nothing magical about 100 hours experience flying a CCR; except it takes a while to accumulate. Also, although it does not guarantee much, it is highly likely that during the accumulation of AT LEAST 100 logged hours in the water, the majority of divers will have learned some important lessons about their unit and themselves.

    CCRs work just fine… at least the two I dive seem to… but all rebreathers are unforgiving of sloppy procedure and short-cuts. Most divers will experience one – sometimes more than one – “come to Jesus” moment during 100 hours of operation. The most essential lesson they will learn is not that their unit malfunctioned, but that they dropped a stitch and the culprit is HUMAN ERROR. They will develop a visceral understanding that they were at fault.

    You can read all about human error and lack of situational awareness in a book – damn, I’ve written about it myself – but the words tend to leap out of your memory and grab you around the throat when you are at 60 metres and recall that you did not do a thorough pre-dive check: and that gurgling sound is not because the rebreather was designed incorrectly. Operator error is a great teacher, and a very fine learning tool.

    So, what’s the problem? Simple, really. We can expect a lot of interest in rebreather training during the next few years as this whole Sport Diver Rebreather thing hits the market, and there is going to be a temptation for instructors to “get in on the action.” I have already heard instructors selling the concept to their students. However, few of them have any experience diving rebreathers, and more to the point, do not seem to comprehend that a rebreather is unlike any piece of open-circuit kit and no amount of time on open-circuit translates to running a CCR life-support system. My fear is that some instructors may fudge their logbooks in order to attain instructor status in the shortest time possible. There are some checks and balances in place, but there are ways to cheat them too.

    I may be alarmist and all this concern may be unfounded. But please, if you or someone you care for is thinking about making the switch to a rebreather, be very, very careful that you avoid any whiff of Zero-to-Hero in your instructor: regardless of the agency they teach for or the unit they teach on.


    __________

    This essay was first published at decodoppler.wordpress.com
    ianr33, Quero, cerich and 4 others like this.
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. tstormdiver's Avatar
      tstormdiver -
      I couldn't agree more. It took me 2 yrs to attain my Adv. Nitrox/ DP certification. The first night in the pool, I realized I was nowhere near ready to do the OW portion, even with over 150 dives under my belt. The step from recreational to technical diving is huge,... & needs to be. It rquires the utmost seriousness & motivation. During that 2 yrs, I was introduced to diving in double cylinder (for me, was like lerning to dive all over again). It worked on the needed skills, until I felt reasonably sure of myself. When I finally went through the OW portion, I was able to do the required skills, though not pretty, I did them,... including handling a real life free flowing regulator incident with calm & composure. When I went through my Cave diving training, it took me another 2 yrs to go from Intro level to Full Cave. I failed the Full Cave portion no less than 4 times. Each time I failed, I took the lessons learned home & practiced & perfected the necessary skills, each time I attempted the course, I got a little closer. My instructor was very hard on me, but by doing so, it taught me the awareness, skills & respect a diver should have for that kind of environment. Looking back, it was tough, heart wrenching & frustrating at times. I'm so very glad I had to go through that. It prepared & toughened me mentally for what is needed to survive in a cave environment. Since becoming an OW Instructor, I even understand that concept even more. I NEED to know my students can handle themselves, once they out from under my wings in the great wide world. My technical instructor was just doing the same thing for me in a much bigger realm.
    1. Taliena's Avatar
      Taliena -
      I disagree in some cases. Why? Nobody had a problem with a zero-to-hero driving license course. But thats the same. After getting you driving license, you will have to learn driving a car. And that's accepted.
      It all depends on the person himself. I'm an autodidact. I learned diving myself en got in 8 months (120 dives) ow-aow-rescue-DM. Now I'm following a advanced nitrox/decompression diving course, 'on the slow' way. It's horrible for me. It takes 5 months at the moment and all it's depending on the instructor. I dived 100+ dives in 5 months and train serious (but I never dive alone), to test some things, I use the pool of my club. Most people forget that there are serious divers who want to train to improve their skills very fast. I dive 2-3 times a week, so I can go faster than someone who dives only 1-2 times a month. But instuctors forget these difference. And if I dive, I allways try to do some skills. The problem is again in the diving world that everybody has a finger to say: 'you are going to fast, you only use doubles for only a couple of months, etc'. but they all forget that no person is the same (diving doubles is not rocket science, it's the same as diving a single tank for me). I know I'm more serious than most other divers, if I want something, I will go and fight for it.
      So: For some people a zero-to-hero course is not a good idea, but for some people it is the best way.
    1. Ben Prusinski's Avatar
      Ben Prusinski -
      I agree that time, experience and proper training are critical to move from rec diving to tech level. In fact, once I complete my advanced PADI courses and reach Dive Master level even after 300 dives, I will take the GUE training courses and patience to learn rebreathers safely and correctly. I read the DAN magazine and see a lot of even experienced tech divers who get DCS and live to write about how painful it is all caused by even these seasoned tech divers making stupid mistakes.
    1. Ste Wart's Avatar
      Ste Wart -
      A Course Director (on Koh Tao) signed off a colleague of mine to teach the Dolphin Rebreather Specialty a few years back. At the time my colleague had all of 3 dives on the unit (one of those dive he bailed out). I fear the push for rebreathers will only intensify this problem.
    1. Jax's Avatar
      Jax -
      The problem is not with zero-to-hero training per se, but with the student that runs right out and dives dives that are far beyond the 'experience' part of 'training and experience'.

      Having / getting the knowledge is just that - having it. One must then carefully practice the skills and gain the experience with those well experienced. To go through the apprentice, journeyman, and master levels, if you will.

      One might say, "You don't know what you don't know." A dive well beyond one's experience level is a supremely stupid place to find out.
    1. Jxh2297's Avatar
      Jxh2297 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Taliena View Post
      I disagree in some cases. Why? Nobody had a problem with a zero-to-hero driving license course. But thats the same. After getting you driving license, you will have to learn driving a car. And that's accepted.
      It all depends on the person himself. I'm an autodidact. I learned diving myself en got in 8 months (120 dives) ow-aow-rescue-DM. Now I'm following a advanced nitrox/decompression diving course, 'on the slow' way. It's horrible for me. It takes 5 months at the moment and all it's depending on the instructor. I dived 100+ dives in 5 months and train serious (but I never dive alone), to test some things, I use the pool of my club. Most people forget that there are serious divers who want to train to improve their skills very fast. I dive 2-3 times a week, so I can go faster than someone who dives only 1-2 times a month. But instuctors forget these difference. And if I dive, I allways try to do some skills. The problem is again in the diving world that everybody has a finger to say: 'you are going to fast, you only use doubles for only a couple of months, etc'. but they all forget that no person is the same (diving doubles is not rocket science, it's the same as diving a single tank for me). I know I'm more serious than most other divers, if I want something, I will go and fight for it.
      So: For some people a zero-to-hero course is not a good idea, but for some people it is the best way.


      I agree, it all depends on how much you practice and the learning curve is different for each person. I obtained full cave in a little over a year after I started open water and my instructor claims that I have better buoyancy than the other guy in our class that has been diving for 6 years. So why wait years just to say you have been diving a longtime.
    1. Wookie's Avatar
      Wookie -
      Because with 150 dives or a "whole year" <snicker> of diving you have no clue what you don't know. Modern equipment makes it really easy to get yourself in a situation where only the muscle memory and instincts of thousands of dives and years of diving will get you out. The kinds of diving the big boys do over and over successfully is based on the hundreds of hours spent in the water diving. Not in the pool doing s-drills and practicing line handling skills, but diving. Being in real situations where diaphragms blow out of regulators and hoses rupture, necessitating post shutdowns and when real roll offs happen and you run out of gas 1000 feet back.

      Don't take my word for it, go ahead and justify your thoughts and diving skills by telling yourself it won't happen to you. Don't take the word of us folks with thousands of dives and hundreds of students who have dragged more than one stinking dead body up on the shore or on the swim step. We obviously don't realize how special you all are, and how different you are. We're too stupid to understand how you all are so much smarter than we were. You might ask some of the grieving mothers, wives, buddies, and children, though. Maybe you'll listen to them.
    1. Doppler's Avatar
      Doppler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Taliena View Post
      I disagree in some cases. Why? Nobody had a problem with a zero-to-hero driving license course. But thats the same...
      I must be a piss-poor writer since you seem to have become defensive about something I did not mention. The essay is not about a driver, but -- to continue your analogy -- the people who issue driver's licenses.

      Let me frame this in the simplest terms I can... given that we accept that rebreathers, while offering many options to the trained, prepared user in the event of something going pear-shaped, are totally unforgiving of people who make mistakes.

      So here's the question: Would you want someone you care about to be trained to dive a CCR by someone who has bent the rules somehow and shortcut his or her way to instructor status?

      If your answer is yes, then OK.

      Quote Originally Posted by Jxh2297 View Post
      I agree, it all depends on how much you practice and the learning curve is different for each person. I obtained full cave in a little over a year after I started open water...
      Good for you. However, your buoyancy control is not the issue... I really don't give a rat's ass about punters who move "up the experience ladder" faster than the norm... whatever that may be. Some people work harder and apply themselves more completely.

      The issue and what I wrote about is not divers... not you... not your mate who is full trimix certified after a couple of months diving... it's about CCR instructors.
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