Cave Diving, Cave Exploration and Cave Mapping in Yucatan, Mexico
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Interview with Steve Bogaerts: Part 2 of 3

In the second part of this three part series, Steve Bogaerts answers my questions and one of QuietDiver.com’s reader’s questions about preparing for training and Steve’s philosophy on sharing the

course’s skill sets ahead of time.

As a bonus feature, I have included two videos that Steve took of me while I was taking my Advanced Side Mount course with him.  When this video was shot, I had about 30 sidemount dives and we were on day two of the course.  These videos were particularly useful in helping me developed a complete mental picture of what I looked like in the water and how some of my bad/non-existent habits needed to be modified or developed.   During the  course  Steve shot an entire disc worth of video that we reviewed each evening during the debrief.   We discussed each item that needed to be improved whether it was gear or skill.  We also shared some laughs and some good memories of the cave we dove earlier in the day.

Today, I review that video occasionally and have had other people shot video of me to tune up my skills and gear.  Video can be an integral tool at any level of training to help the student visualize his mistakes and his successes.  Now lets get to the interview!

Anonymous reader asked, “Thanks for the interview with Steve, I have a question or 2 though if you are  interested. I would like to know specifically what skills he covers in the various classes?

Steve answered, “I do, of course, have skill sets for each level of training however I am slightly reluctant to list them for several reasons:

Training to do skills that you are going to learn in a class does not make a lot of sense since that is what the class is for.

The most important thing to do is go diving, practice the basics and come to class with a open mind ready to learn new skills.

Practicing skills incorrectly reinforces errors and bad habits that are harder for me to break later if/when a student does come for formal training.

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The reason to get training is to learn new skills in a supervised, structured, safe environment under the

expert and experienced eye of an Instructor who can make corrections and knows exactly what he/she is looking at.

I would far rather my students waited until class so that I can show them exactly how to perform each skill the right way and then they practice that.

“Practice makes permanent, only perfect practice makes perfect”

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Some people will assume that once they have a list of skills that they can teach themselves and have no need of structured, formal training.

At best they will be missing out on a great deal and at worst making serious mistakes and potentially endangering themselves through lack of knowledge.

Worse, they may try to teach other people; which is like the partially sighted leading the blind.”

Hans:  What would you like to see perspective students do to prepare for your courses?

Steve answered, “Go diving; time spent in the water is invaluable.  You cannot learn to dive from a book or on the internet you need to put the theory into practice and get wet. Also work on general all round fitness and watermanship abilities.

Work on the essential skills: buoyancy, trim, propulsion techniques and all round awareness. You cannot add more complex skills until the basics have been mastered.

If you can comfortably hold your position neutrally buoyant, trimmed horizontally, at any depth in the water column and can fine tune your position with precise fin movements and buoyancy control using lung volume then that will make everything else much easier…………including my job as your Instructor!

Q. What do you suggest divers who do not have regular access to caves do to remain prepared for cave diving?

Steve answered, “If you don’t have access to cave diving where you are then go open water diving. If you can’t dive in the open water due to the weather then dive in a pool. There is no substitute for time spent in the water. The most important thing is to get wet and practice the basics.

In fact as the cave environment is both unforgiving and fragile it is not really the best place to be learning and practicing new skills. New skills should be practiced and perfected in the open water before entering the cave environment to protect both the diver and the cave.   When learning or practicing skills keep it simple, just do one thing at a time.  Make sure you understand exactly what you are trying to achieve and break complex skills down into their component parts.  Mentally visualize what you want to do and all the steps required for completing each skill.  Make sure you have a clearly defined sequence or structure to work through and follow that each time you perform a skill in order to build up and reinforce muscle memory.

Do not try and rush your skill execution “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”. As you practice your execution will become smoother and more efficient, you will build up muscle memory and the speed will come.
Core skills must be mastered before more advanced skills can be.

When adding more advanced skills they should build on solid core skills in a logical, systematic fashion.
One important point to remember is that practice only makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect!  Make sure that you are practicing the skills correctly otherwise you are reinforcing errors.
This is the main reason for getting instruction from a qualified, experienced Instructor so that you learn the skills correctly in the first place.  Once you have that basic grounding then feedback while you practice independently is very valuable.

One of the best feedback tools is video. Get a buddy to video tape you while you dive then review and critique the video.

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In a couple of days, I will post the 3 and final portion of this interview.  I am glad I have had the opprotunity to bring this information to you.  I know my heart got pumping as I edited tonights videos.  I look forward to your comments and questions.

If you want any clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact me!  I will get you the inforamation you are looking for.

11 comments

1 Dave Pratt { 06.08.09 at 7:22 am }

Hi Hans,

Looks like you were wearing an open water BC? How did that work out for you? lift etc, did the material on the front of the BC (pockets etc) get in the way?

Good diving with you back in Feb.

Thanks,
Dave

2 Jason { 06.08.09 at 7:30 am }

Hans,
Thank you for the info. Great idea.
With the best view for redundancy, shouldn’t cave diving be learned on sidemount?
If one is taking in new skills, why not learn the sm ones? Or have the Basic sm as a prerequisite for FullCave?
Thanks for your work, priceless

Jason

ps:see you saturday for MMA fights?? ;-))

3 Hans { 06.08.09 at 10:47 am }

Dave, good catch! I use a modified open water BC when sidemounting. I have about 150 sidemount dives with it and the pockets have never gotten in the way. The BC fits very close to my body and I eliminated almost all the bits that might get caught. The pockets have actually been very useful when cleaning out old line. And they have served to protect the air cell when I am really squeezing though a tight restriction.

What does get caught though is the shoulder dump. I was never able to get it off to replace with a simple elbow. Also the bottom dump gets caught.

I chose the OW BC for a couple of reasons:

1. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of having to orally inflate my bc all the time.

2. I am a BIG guy and use a 9MM wet suit. I need about 14lbs to sink. And when the suit compresses I get a big shift in buoyancy. So I need some extra buoyancy to compensate.

3. I didn’t have a camel back to spare when I started out and Steve wasn’t really pushing it yet. I started using his system relatively early on in its field testing days. I was one of the first students to be trained in it, so we didn’t have all the experience we have today.

The OW BC works great for me. It provides enough lift for 2 side mount tanks and two stages. It is low profile enough that I can get into some really small holes. I believe that with my level of comfort and skill today, I would feel more comfortable orally inflating my BC.

Thanks for reading and if you have any other questions, let me know…

4 Juan Cortes { 06.08.09 at 3:56 pm }

Hi Hans! great material you are publishing. Thanks. What you mean with a “camel back” as a reason of using a OW BC?
Thanks,
Juan

5 Hans { 06.08.09 at 4:18 pm }

Juan, Camelbaks are a bladder based hydration system sold in the US and internationally. You can find them here: http://www.camelbak.com/sports-recreation/hydration-packs.aspx. Steve is using the bladder as an orally inflatable buoyancy device.

In the third part of the interview, Steve talks about his buoyancy system at length and I believe that will explain my Camelbak reference more clearly.

Hans

6 Jason { 06.08.09 at 9:28 pm }

Hi Hans, its me again,
With the best view for redundancy, shouldn’t cave diving be learned on sidemount?
If one is taking in new skills, why not learn the sm ones? Or have the Basic sm as a prerequisite for FullCave?
I think thats a good question. And I speak as a ‘not yet sm diver’!
Cheers

7 Juan Cortes { 06.10.09 at 2:44 pm }

I didn’t know regular CamelBacks were used as a bouyancy device on side mounting! Actually I’m very new into cave diving last month I completed my cave diver course … so still there’s a lot of learning for me.

8 Hans { 06.16.09 at 7:34 am }

Jason…… No worries about not responding on your blog. Blogs are A LOT of work and need to be tended to regularly. That is a fantastic question and one that I think a lot of people are grappling with right now. I am going to forward the question onto Steve for a reply as he is the authority here.

9 TobyFish { 07.01.09 at 10:08 am }

Any news on part 3?

10 Matt { 07.03.09 at 6:52 am }

Hans

Just a quick note to say thank you for your blog. I visted Tulum last year an spent 3 days diving the cenotes and I absolutely fell in love with the experience. Your blog lets me relive the memories especially when I am at work trying to save the holiday time to get back over there and do some more! Cheers for the articles and pics.

11 rob { 10.01.10 at 11:06 am }

Great pictures