Sometimes a diver will ask me, "Am I ready for tek diving?" I usually answer profoundly, "That's like asking if you're in love."
"If you have to ask, you're not."
I hope to get a thoughtful nod as the diver strolls away contemplating my sage advice. But, usually, I get something that suggests the need for more elaboration. This leads to a series of questions to help the diver decide.
Question 1: Why?
To me, the reason a diver is interested in technical diving conveys the most fundamental readiness. A lot of reasons aren't reasons at all, such as "I want to go deep." I hate this one and usually follow up with, "Why?" If I get an answer that suggests a diver is pursuing thrills and life-on-the-edge, I usually suggest many, many more dives and several more years of experience. The answer indicates lack of maturity and experience.
"Because it's the next step in my growth as a diver," is also not a reason because it's not true. Saying that recreational diving necessarily leads to technical diving is like saying pleasure bicycling leads to the Tour de France. The truth is you can make thousands of dives for decades without venturing beyond the recreational diving envelope and never lack rewarding experiences and challenges. Tek diving is one option but not the only one, nor is it something you ought to do; and it's not necessarily the next step.
"I want to see (or do) such-and-such like I do in recreational diving, but this is outside recreational limits." I'll buy this. Onto Question 2. "I'm interested in the challenge, personal growth and discipline." This differs markedly from the thrill seeker; it manifests itself with an internal orientation.
Will You Accept the Risk?
"What risk?" Don't let anyone tell you there's no more risk in technical diving than in recreational diving. There absolutely is and the more extreme the diving, the more risk there is. Period. Technical divers learn to manage this risk, but it's always there, with a much thinner margin for error than you enjoy in recreational diving. You enter a realm of diving where there's a higher chance of leaving a widower or widow, if that applies to you. Something to think about.
Can You Afford It?
Technical diving requires a lot of equipment. For example, a typical trimix cave dive will require each diver to have four to six regulators and cylinders. Just filling the tanks may cost more than $100. Plus, it takes a lot of time and money to gain the experience you need. If you can't afford this, tek diving isn't for you.
Are You Self-Disciplined?
After spending $2,500 to prep for a dive and reach the site, can you blow it off just because you didn't sleep well and feel like crap? Or just because it doesn't feel right? How about if you miss the dive just because your teammate doesn't feel up to it? This is a yes or no answer. There's no room for cutting corners in tek diving. You have to be able to emotionlessly walk away from a dive that's not working. Either this is you-or it's not.
Not sure? Try this: With your physician's approval, do as many push-ups as you physically can, once a day, for three weeks. No excuses and no days off no matter what. It's not about the exercise, it's about whether you can make yourself do it. If you skip a day for anything other than a life threatening injury or illness, maybe you need to work on self-discipline before taking up tek diving.
What's Your Experience?
Surprised this comes so far down on the list? Experience is moot if your motivation, risk acceptance, bankroll and discipline don't measure up. Technical diving relies on a solid experience base for problem solving, maturity and familiarity with a variety of underwater situations. Don't let anyone tell you training will give you everything you need-not only won't it, but it can't. People ask for a number and I usually throw out 100 as a minimum number of dives in a variety of environments. But you need broader experience if all your dives have been in similar environments and you need more experience if your 100 dives were done in, say, 10 years.
If The Answer Is "Yes"
If after all this you think technical diving is for you, go slowly-at your pace, not someone else's. You need to develop a whole new set of skills, ranging from complex dive planning to flying doubles to slinging stage bottles. Build your skills so new skills become automatic under controlled conditions and so you can handle existing skills with new tasks automatically. You shouldn't have to think about controlling your buoyancy when you're switching gases on a "big" dive-you should just do it. Practice in controlled conditions until you do it automatically before making dives that rely on it. And above all, be honest with yourself about your motivations, about the potential hazard and about your ability to make each dive. It's your choice and responsibility because, if things go wrong, it's you who suffers the consequences.