2000-10 The Extreme Sporter and Tek Diving

By Karl Shreeves

If we remember the 1990s for one significant change in diving, it’s the rise of diving’s “extreme sport”—tek. It was first brought to the diving public’s attention and legitimized with the label “technical diving” by the now-defunct aquaCorps and its publisher/editor Michael Menduno in 1990. Tekking emerged as a recognized new form of diving, using technology and methodology for exceeding the recreational diving limits. No longer the stuff of madmen and maniacs, tek diving gained a quick following, a niche of dedicated—if somewhat fanatical—extreme underwater explorers.

A decade later, tek diving has grown but remains a highly visible, sometimes influential, minority of the dive community. We’ve learned a lot about tek diving, but even after 10 years, the same question remains: Who is it for? Who transitions from rec to tek?

You’ll find a rainforest worth of paper about tek diver qualification. Skip that—we’re not talking about dives logged or prerequisite training. Assume all of it, but ask what personality makes a suitable tek diver?

Easier to Say Ain’t

In many respects, it’s simpler to define who is not a tek diver than who is. So let’s do that.

First, tek isn’t something that all divers should aspire to any more than everyone who exercises should aspire to the Arnold Classic Bodybuilding Competition, or that everyone who bicycles should strive for the Tour de France. It’s not for everyone or even for the majority of divers.

Second, tek diving isn’t for those simply looking for something new to try. You can dive your whole life without ever descending below 60 feet, without ever breathing anything but air and without more than one tank on your back. Yet, you’ll never run out of new adventures, new challenges and new places to see. If you can’t find these rec diving, you won’t find them in tek either.

Third, tek diving isn’t for those unwilling to pay the price. It costs money for gear and training (a good bit more than recreational diving). It costs time to gain prerequisite experience. It costs these again and again, with each tek dive, to dive safely. Those lacking the resources, patience and self-discipline required show up in the accident statistics.

Common Thread

Those divers who excel in tek may differ so much that any two may appear to have little in common. Among the leading echelon you find ego and humility, dogma and open-mindedness, extroversion and introversion, artists and engineers, and so on. But look closely and you will find several unifying traits:

1. Tolerance for high risk activities: Tek divers tend to be individuals dissatisfied by the routine. They thrive on facing and conquering adversity, and they’re more interested in the next adventure than the last.

2. High risk tolerance: Psychologists say that the human mind needs exposure to risk. Most people get what they need by watching others face risk, but some must experience it. Tek divers fall in the latter group, seeking adversity with higher-than-normal potential personal risk. For these individuals, running through danger’s fingers and eluding its grasp fulfills some internal need.

3. Curiosity and a thirst for purpose: Tek divers frequently discover and map wrecks, caves, deep reefs and other sites few or no people have seen before. Tek diving is often a vehicle for geology, speleology, archaeology, biology, hydrology and other sciences. For many tekkers (but not all), this is the primary drive—but it’s an important dimension even for those driven primarily by the challenge and adventure. In any case, it sets tek diving apart from other extreme sports that simply pump adrenaline.

4. A solid grasp of mathematics, physics and physiology: Tek divers don’t necessarily love these disciplines for their own sake, but they recognize that meeting tek’s challenges goes hand-in-hand with mastering these. Tek diving is as much—or more—an intellectual challenge as a physical challenge.

5. Self-discipline in diving: Although their self-discipline varies significantly in other areas, in tek, accomplished divers don’t cut corners and don’t disregard the rules. They don’t hesitate to call a dive, and they’re the first to say, “we can always try again a better way.” They don’t attempt a dive until they’re ready for it mentally and physically, and until they’ve broadened their personal limits. They know the safety envelope is thin in tek diving, and most have lost friends in its pursuit, so they don’t push.

6. Brutal self-honesty and strong self-esteem: Tek divers never lie to themselves about their abilities, motivations and dive readiness. They can’t be pushed into doing something that they’re not ready for because they are not afraid to say, “I’m not up to it,” even after spending thousands of dollars and weeks preparing. And it doesn’t phase them when someone else says, “I’m not up to it,” because they recognize that that’s as valid a reason to call a dive as a pending hurricane.

Are You?

Reading the above, most people who are honest with themselves will probably say, “that’s not me.” A few of you, though, will say, “that’s me.” But then again, you already knew.

Karl Shreeves is PADI and DSAT’s vice president of technical development.