For those of you non divers who may not have heard of GUE, it's worth having a look at their website and seeing what they are about.
GUE really are world leaders in diving and Exploration and their training and skills are of the highest degree.
They are also leading the way in conservation, Project Baseline and Ghost Fishing to name but two.
So naturally their dive courses are very tough and demanding.
Have a look at what they are about below.
So I just thought I should clear that up before we go any further on this road...
Pay your money do your course get the plastic and hopefully get some skills and or training on the way.
This was until I first did a trip to the Poor Knights Islands of New Zealand.
Now for some of you who haven't heard of the "Knights" - you had better check it out as dive legend himself Jacques-Yves Cousteau rated it as one of the world's top dive locations,and I can tell you first hand it is magnificent.
Anyway, I was struggling my way through Blue Maomao Arch when I saw a guy below me drifting through flat in the water and cycling his legs through the water like a Frog in a pond. He had no BCD just an old style harness and wing.
He looked completely effortless and so relaxed tthat I was immediately interested as to what sort of magic or training was afoot here.
As soon as I was on the boat, I had a spy at Andy's gear and thought.. "Wow, this is the old style"
Andy Connor was happy to explain to me why he dove this style and what a Backplate and wing was and its benefits.
This was the first time I had heard the letters GUE.
I had seen the Halcyon Dive Systems gear in the dive shop where I was working at the time,but I was a hard core AQUALUNG/ U.S Divers fan and was not going to be swayed... However I was intrigued..
"Was it the gear or was it the training or was it both..?" - my mind was in motion and I knew that I wanted some of those skills.
Andy and I grew to be friends and I signed on to a Wreck course on the Waikato with him and another instructor whose name I had heard mentioned a few times.. Jamie.
I did the course on the HMNZ Waikato up at Tutukaka and I was loving it, Jamie took me out for the last dive of the day and I knew from that moment that this guy was something very different. He weaved me through the doorways and decks of the ship and I was in dive heaven.. soon after I was signing up for my GUE Fundamentals course with New Zealand's freshly certified GUE instructor Jamie Obern.
Now Fundies, as its called, was something that took me by complete surprise. The first thing that surprised me was that you could actually FAIL the course.
I signed up to do the course the hard way and do it in twin 12l tanks for the magical "Tech Pass" - boy was I in for a shock.
That was 17/07/ 2009 and it was the toughest course in Diving that I had ever done.
(That was before my next Jamie class...! )
Now here's where the similarities start to gel. As a 22 year oId, was graded to Sho-Dan or black belt in the art I was studying with the late great Michael Gent. He handed me my belt as I sat battered and bruised aside Mr Hinemoa, who was the solidly built Maori chap who had been throwing me about for the past 20mins.
Sensei Gent leaned in with his typical one eye closed squint and said "I am giving you this grade as I know you don't deserve it quite yet but I know you will work your ass off to keep it.." He smiled, and I felt tears well, with the pride of finally achieving something I had waited for all my life and I did,from that day, work my ass off to be the best I could be..
His lesson has stuck with me in everything I do.. and daily I draw on the skills I have learned through the Bujinkan Dojo..
And diving was the same.. I had been diving for years, I was qualified Open Water in 1987, and possibly thought I knew all there was to know about diving.
The day after my Fundies course, I felt a very similar sense of achievement and I knew that I had just been given my first grade in the art of GUE in the shape of a REC pass (Recreational Pass) and I was absolutely stoked to have passed. I had given the course 150% and it busted me good and proper. (That TECH pass was another 6 months away)
On my course, I had two solid divers who had done a lot of much more serious dives and were used to diving together and in twin tanks. GUE day one was my 2nd twinset dive.
Tom Crisp and Mike Batey were the two absolute best team members I could have got. Their sheer strength carried me well beyond what I had thought I was even remotely capable of doing,and their's and Jamie's encouragement during that course is something I will never forget.
This was my first real taste of team diving.
Just as martial arts has its kata or repetition of patterns to develop 'muscle memory' or the body reacting in a way that its almost in auto-pilot, GUE instils the same ideas.( The Japanese call this Mu-Shin 無心 or 'no mind' )
Clipping off regs and gauges as the norm and practising out of gas drills so that in times of extreme stress you can still function,or focusing on Kamae or posture to create a streamlined profile in the water, just as the arts use Kamae or stances to create a solid foundation for fluid and balance movement.
Protecting the marine environment and using less breathing gas are just two off the tip of the iceberg.
I always remember when we went to the first Australian held "Tai Kai" where the instructors came from Japan to teach us here in Australasia.
Hatsumi Soke (The Grandmaster featured in image)
via his translator told us all we must work on the Kamae (Postures). All the high grades were horrified and groans and moans came through the ranks until he explained why.. "All of your Kamae is poor" - I did chuckle then and still find it amusing as Kamae is something I always held high and important.
He explained: "There is no point teaching us how to walk when we cannot stand" - I was in heaven..
For a great deal of the day, we focused on how to stand and how and why we use posture in defending and attacking. It all made perfect sense and really improved my own skills.
This was very first time I had ever seen my own instructor Sensei Gent getting thrown about by the Japanese, I was humbled by the way he trained as a student side by side with myself and the others.
No ego, just a thirst to learn and understand.
Environments which include caves and similar overheads, and also deep dives on Trimix (Helium,Nitrogen,Oxygen) and also the likes of shipwrecks.
Shipwrecks and caves are two classic examples of where trim and buoyancy skills are imperative as poor finning technique and buoyancy can lead to what's called a "Silt out" ( when mud or sand or rust creates zero or poor visibility ).
Deep diving is also an important one as the deeper you go, the more in water decompression you will require,so sitting mid water as your tissues off gas loaded nitrogen from the breathing gas for long periods of time become life threateningly important.
Doing your Deco in a trimmed position can allow the tissue compartments to off gas at the same level and being able to maintain good buoyancy and trim so not to blow those mandatory stops as you ascend from depth is obviously critically important.
To list a few.. hand sculling, kneeling on the sea floor ,vertical dive position, poor balance and trim are always common.
The recent course was an especially good one as we did have a lot of experienced divers to work with,who really worked their skills and pushed themselves to get in trim and manage themselves as a team.
Teamwork is one of the true cornerstones of the GUE divers skill-set.
Everybody undertaking a GUE course will find out that working as a team can be difficult and that's without any external variables such as current and surge or waves to disrupt team dynamics.
Even basic decompression stops on the first few dives were proving to be difficult..
Huge thanks to Dive Wellington and VUCEL and Dive & Ski HQ for their help during the GUE-F course.
Just because its been tested in some of the harshest diving conditions.. why bother..?
Well, a great example was straight after my GUE Fundies course when I went away and practised and not long after through the GUE network I discovered that there was a GUE instructor in Tokyo where I was headed on holiday.
So yeah, no guesses what I thought might go down well while I was there- some training.
This time it was with JUE obviously a branch of GUE, Japan Underwater Explorers.
JUE boss, Thomas Jonsson welcomed me in a message when I simply enquired about some training and within a few days we had scheduled a GUE DPV 1 course. I was soon to find out that these were not your average dive scooters. They were a very fast and very expensive bit of kit and huge amounts of fun.. hell the Cuda 550s even had gears..!
I had never met or known any of these people before and we just moulded together as a team and went straight to work.
I struggled skills wise as I always do but I persevered and finally started to get the hang of the Cuda thanks to Thomas's incredible patience.
The graduation dive was just incredible. I just re-read my dive log entry before and I was buzzing at the time .It really was an amazing experience to literally scooter out of the bay and back again.
The DPV or Diver Propulsion Vehicle was my new best friend and it has never been far from my mind since this course in Japan.
(Which I would highly recommend doing if you are even remotely interested)
Another amazing thing is that I still have contact with all of my team from my DPV 1 course and my Fundamentals course years later. In fact, I had a re-union with my original team on a Cave Exploration trip to Blue Creek early this year where I had the pleasure of diving again with Tom and Mike as they deftly set up the U/W habitat for the dive teams Deco.
Tom and Mike have both travelled to Mexico and have had some amazing skills with their new certifications in both Cave and Tech.
I also had an amazing dive into the Blue Creek with Mel Jeavons who is easily one of NZ's highest qualified Cave divers. Mel managed to lure me past the first bend of the cave and I was totally blown away by the entire experience.
"Does it really matter..?" ( I mean aside from the spectacular Caves and Wrecks )
I have had people joke to me in the past "Are you going out for another 4 hour hover in trim today Rob..?" Others ask why do I spend so long working skills in the pool or in the ocean?
This weekend was a classic example. I was told that my new Fourth Element Drysuit had arrived in Auckland at Auckland's premier dive shop Global Dive. ( Like that Andrew.. ?? ha ha ha )
So I snagged a ride straight up to Auckland with GUE NZ boss Jamie and we talked diving 90% of the way.
(Poor Jamie ha ha ha ha )
And after being spoiled by Mels cooking we were at Global Dive before I knew what was happening.
I have done a few trips with Kev now and trust his judgement as a skipper implicitly. His on board meals are pretty kick arse as well... especially his Chicken curry.
Below is a pic of the other diver hanging on as Kev quite happily swings the MV Mazurka around to head home after a great dive on the Waikato in conditions most wouldn't venture out in.
He runs dive trips to places most only ever dream of like Truk Lagoon and Bikini Attol.
I had spoken to Pete many times in the past and picked his brains on various occasions and subjects so I was very happy that the timing had allowed our paths to collide.
Pete's U/W photography in wrecks and similar is in a total league of its own He manages to take quality images at depths and in locations where many would fear to tread let alone to have the tenacity to compose images.
Check out Pete's amazing work via the below link.
Iin the shop, Pete came to me and said "Robbo, your images inspire me mate.." - to hear that from a photographer whom I feel is absolutely light years ahead of me was incredibly humbling.
One day I will get that U/W housing and get out to some of the magic locations Pete offer's.
We told Jamie this and he said it was entirely up to Colin as to how deep and how long would we dive with the scooters and if need be we would just play in the shallows.
He dropped in with twins and a load of new Halcyon kit for the second time he had ever dived twins and had a bit of coaching from Jamie.
Colin sank below the surface and started scootering about... and it just got better from there.
I was in heaven. All the training in the pool and with Thomas came together it was just adding a tool to do a job and it simply slotted in with no effort .It was diving at its best.
All the reasons we do things without trapping the long hose, why we dump gas from the buoyancy compensator in the manner we do.. it all falls into place..
Next thing you know we have embarked on a GUE NZ favourite which is a 360o loop of the entire Goat Island itself and with all the fish there it was thrilling, huge schools of fish and Stingrays and big Snapper.. ohh my!
I was chilled and relaxed and just completely enjoyed the dive as I drew in the 32% through my Scubapro G250V in style...
As I sat on Jamie's wing like a bomber crew heading for a target, I banked left and right and I knew then why we do it. There was no question about what was the point.. it was just magic .It was like all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place and, for an entry level GUE diver, I was loving it.
We did a complete loop for 100mins max depth 21m and four scooters,one spare and we cycled the scooters to optimise burn time... just magic..
As someone who aspired to be an Astronaut as a child, I was more than happy to have become an Aquanaut in inner space as we floated in zero gravity.... in this liquid world..
Now I don't regard myself as a black belt in GUE diving..
But in the immortal words of my old instructor Sensei Gent...
"I will work my ass off to get there"
Regards Rob Wilson ( GUE Fundies diver extraordinare )
Huge Thanks to Jamie Obern from Tech Dive NZ and his lovely wife Mel