Mark Culwick's Journey into Technical diving

Mark Culwick talks about his journey into technical diving and why he enjoys teaching it…

Lots of people fly but very few are fast jet pilots. Many people dive but again, very few venture into the world of technical diving. Whether your want is deep wreck diving, cave/cavern or mine diving, open circuit or closed circuit, invariably depth will become a consideration and the associated planning needed to undertake this type of diving.

Here at ScubaQuest our approach to Technical Diving Courses is one where we schedule courses to fit with the requirements of the student. In technical diving the learning experience is greatly enhanced when a team of students can be coordinated. Taking this into account there is always a discussion with our students to ensure there is a good fit with their own schedule and getting the most from the course. ScubaQuest would endeavour to schedule 2-4 Introduction to Technical, Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures/ Helitrox, Trimix courses over our 12 month calendar. We also run bespoke closed-circuit courses on a variety of rebreathers.

Mark Culwick - Learn to Scuba Dive

Why did you progress from recreational diving into technical diving?

The ‘Dark Side’ is a term that is sometimes used to describe technical diving in a way that makes it seem forbidden and illusive. On the other hand, the Dark Side can also be a very apt description for technical diving.

Many people see technical diving as deep diving and there is an element of truth in that. However, divers primarily start and continue with their technical diving education to explore wrecks, caverns, caves and mines.

So, when people say come over to the dark side, it is not a journey to the Imperialist Empire, it is akin to joining a like-minded group of people in their love of exploration, an informal alliance if you will.

Mark Scuba Diving Inside Plane

What made you want to become a technical instructor?

I enjoyed the process of teaching recreational diving and spent many years training on a variety of open circuit equipment and a plethora of rebreathers in my pursuit of deep military wreck diving, which is still my diving passion.

I met, dived and trained with some of the best instructors in the field, Rich Stevenson, Dennis Vessey, my good friend, Ian Mills and of course my primary tech mentor, Mark Powell.

It was a natural progression for me, I had instructed since I was a young man in signals and gunnery and passing on your own and the experience and expertise of others is a thrill.

Mark Culwick

What do you enjoy most about teaching Technical Diving?

The process of development. In all the courses I have run not everyone has got it first time, in fact only a few do. There is no FAIL, just further work to achieve the standard. If you think you are paying for a pass, then you have found the wrong instructor. Certification is earned not given. My personal highlight is guiding people to where they want to be. I often say to students when they say thank me for everything, ‘I just helped you along the way, you did the hard work’, and it’s true.

What would be the typical development path for a technical diver?

Diving either open circuit or closed circuit, most divers start on Advanced Nitrox and Decompression Procedures.

The next step would be mixed gas training. This utilises helium in the breathing mix, hence Trimix, to mitigate against gas density and narcosis.

Lastly, there is advanced mixed gas or hypoxic trimix. This is the deepest level of training.

Depth sorted, you can then do specialist courses such as advanced wreck and a plethora of over- head training courses in caverns, caves and mines.

It is often the case that people want to progress at pace. I prefer that time is taken to consolidate at each level before advancing rather than chasing the next course having barely met the standard at the current level of certification.

What experience level is required for a student to be ready for an introductory Technical Course?

All training agencies have standards which set out the course pre-requisites. Obviously, a diver who has just completed an open water course is not in a position to undertake technical training. After a period of time and a set number of dives they can try an Intro to Tech course and get a chance to dive twinsets.

A diver who is proficient at Advanced Open Water level can start down the technical path, though the learning curve is extremely steep. My recommendation would be to complete the Intro to Tech course, go away, refine your own equipment and basic skills before starting on decompression training.

What typically are the main areas which require improvement when you assess a student’s readiness for Technical Diving?

That is both an easy and difficult question! There are the obvious answers, such as buoyancy, trim and their equipment configuration. Changing old habits and learned behaviour is easier said than done.

Video analysis, when used properly, can be a tremendous improvement tool, and also dry training. Visualisation has its place, though if a diver believes they are in trim, it is very difficult to convince them otherwise until they see it on a screen.

What is not so easy to assess, quickly anyway, is their mindset, discipline and their willingness to learn and then practice. Technical diving is not about certificates. If you are chasing badges, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. Technical diving is about achieving goals built around a mission, that is planned and successfully executed. Take note - the plan NEVER overrides safety.

What advice would you give students when selecting the kit required for technical diving?

Ask any diver what is the best bit of kit and they will invariably recommend their own. Why wouldn’t they, having spent a small fortune on it! There is no one perfect solution, its horses for courses. My three bits of advice are:

  1. Ask an instructor who actively does the type of diving you do. Do your own due diligence on the advice given and validate with other people who do that type of diving. Do this face to face, forums are great for some diving related applications. Kit is not one of them.
  2. Future proof yourself, it will save you an awful lot of heartache and money. Buy where you want to be not where you are now. The deeper and longer you dive being familiar with your kit will likely reduce the stressors that can lead to anxiety.
  3. Test dive the kit if you can. Ask yourself; does it meet your needs, does it fit, does it feel right?

Get advice, do your research, test it. And then go to the shop!

Diving is a beautiful endeavour. I feel privileged to have seen the things I have seen and met the people I have met. My best friends are divers. I have met world-renowned divers and enthusiastic open water divers. They are all the same to me as we all love the same thing. Go out there and fight for our oceans and marine life, now more than ever, they need our help.

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Scuba Diving International (SDI)
TDI (Technical Diving International)
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