My GUE Fundamentals Class

My involvement with GUE (Global Underwater Explorers) began in February, 2013. I asked Guy Shockey if he would show me how to do some bottle rotations. He said “yes, but first you have to take Fundamentals”. To this I replied that I was already a CCR Advanced Trimix diver and technical instructor with over 3,000 dives in cold water; why did I have to take an entry level recreational class again? He simply stated “after Fundamentals, you will understand”.

Still unconvinced, I enrolled in a Fundamentals class. I was fairly certain that GUE was not going to be for me. For starters, I was a passionate rebreather diver and, at the time, there was no GUE CCR curriculum. I was also concerned that the strict standardization I had heard about would limit me from being able to continue to dive with members of a very active dive community that I’d worked very hard to develop. Given my experience level and prior training, I really didn’t think a recreational dive class would teach me very much. However, I firmly believe that until you’ve tried something, you have no right to pass judgement; so, my 27th birthday present to myself, was GUE Fundamentals.

My 4 day Fundamentals class was broken up over 2 weekends. After each weekend, I posted a review of the class on a local dive forum so members of my dive community could follow my progress through the class. Below is my review broken up into 2 parts. I have not edited or modified these reviews since I wrote them in 2013.

Don and I have completed our first weekend of GUE Fundamentals. Don, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I can speak for both of us when I say we are both learning a lot and having a great time.

Having received training from several different training agencies and many different instructors over my past 6 years of diving I was excited to experience GUE training. The first day we spent covering classroom, land drills and equipment tweaking. My first impression of GUE training was that it is very structured. One of the things I liked about my PADI Instructor training and one of the things I continue to enjoy about teaching PADI courses is that the teaching material is professional and, the open water course at least, is structured. GUE is very similar this aspect.

Asides from a few GUE specific terms and concepts, the knowledge development section of the Fundamentals course is consistent with the knowledge development of other entry level technical courses. However, it is important to note that Fundamentals is NOT a technical course yet it covers some subjects that other agencies do not touch upon until technical training. Divers are regularly completing advanced dives (single tank or not) without having any idea of SAC/SCR/RMV. The materials which are conveyed to divers in Fundamentals are tools to arm a diver with the knowledge to properly plan a dive, something that would benefit divers who may not necessarily be conducting technical dives but dive close to NDLs on single tanks. Planning to begin an ascent at 500PSI is not always the prudent dive plan on a single tank dive to 100ft.

Time was also spent during class sizing up our backplates and positioning D-rings. GUE has some very specific equipment configurations. However, many people often dive with backplates which are improperly sized, usually too big and sitting too low. Truthfully, I think that when a dive shop sells a wing and backplate system, they should spend some time with the customer sizing it up. This means having the customer don their undergarments and dry suit and have them put the harness and backplate on and show them how it should fit. If the customer chooses to modify it thereafter, then so be it but someone buying a wing and backplate for the first time will have absolutely no idea how to properly size it and should at least be given a starting point.

In the water on Sunday, focus was primarily on fining. Video play back in this regard is an invaluable tool. I have frog kicked forever, but there are little things that I saw in the video where I can see how I can perfect it to make it more efficient. I never flutter kick and that is quite apparent. The other focus is being able to remain stationary in the water column while conducting a task. Looking at this from an instructor point of view, I wonder how much more smoothly my deco procedures courses would go and how much more time we would have to focus on other skills if all students took some form of Fundamentals/Intro course beforehand and came into the course with proficient fining and the ability to remain in the water column while conducting a task. When students go into Tech 1, an instructor is confident that they do not have to review these things as Fundamentals is a prerequisite to Tech 1 and mastery of these skills are required to complete Fundamentals. While it may seem “strict” and/or “unfair” this resolves the issue of ending up with classes where one student is very strong in the water and the other, questionably ready to conduct more advanced dives. It ensures a forward, rather than backwards, motion along the learning process.

Another huge focus of the course is team work. “GUE divers pride themselves in being excellent buddies” and they are, from entering the water together, to gas mixes, to gas management to positioning themselves in the water so their buddy doesn’t have to corkscrew to keep track of them, to conducting drills in such a way that they do not blast each other in the eyes with their lights. Many of their methods which other divers crinkle their noses at, are actually with a view to accomplish this goal. Many of these methods actually simplify the diving process. It’s something that gives you confidence in the people which you are diving with and makes you give your concept of “team” some consideration. Everyone has more fun when they do not have to constantly look around for their buddy or wonder if their buddy is going to do something unpredictable. Unity is something that is important, however, there is recognition that some things effect the team and that others do not.

Guy Shockey is an exceptional instructor. He is a master at breaking things down and explaining them. I am learning very many things from the course. I was told that it would just be relearning a bunch of skills that I already know how to do but there is much more to it than that. I am also able to take things away from it that will make me a more effective instructor. Another preconceived notion I have often heard is that the GUE courses are just exams of your skills; this is VERY far from the truth. Throughout two ten hour days, Guy has explained step by step how and why he would like to see things done and given us constructive criticism and advice along the way, from how to accomplish a frog kick, to the basic 5, to tying a cave knot to even showing Don how to efficiently remove his tightened up harness. I have never once felt like I was being evaluated but rather being efficiently guided towards accomplishing my goals.

Anyone, regardless of experience and skill level, who has not taken a GUE course will benefit from this course in some way or another. It doesn’t mean you have to come out of it and commit 100% to GUE diving but taking Fundamentals will make you a better diver, dive buddy and, if applicable, instructor. I have asked a lot of questions and always received an answer. The important thing is to actually listen and process the answer. Attitude is very important.

Don and I have another fun filled weekend coming up and in the meantime, it’s off to Henderson Point tonight for us to practice what we learned this past weekend.

This past weekend Don and I conducted four more dives with Guy and completed our GUE Fundamentals course. We spent much more time in the water this week than the previous week as Guy structured the course in such a way that we were able to get through a majority of the classroom work the previous weekend. Throughout this course, our learning and improvement never stopped.

On Saturday, we moved on from the Basic 5 to complete S-drills and valve drills, all the while perfecting our fining techniques. Both drills were to be done in a very specific order and manner. We walked through each step by step on the surface, actually wearing our backplates and regs. This was extremely useful for as although our S-drills in the water were far from perfect, they would been much more muddled had we not dirt dove them and began to develop the muscle memory in advance. One of the things that I quite like about about GUE training is that everything skill is walked through step by step in a very specific order so that when you piece it together, everything flows quite nicely and without any hiccups (long hose trapped by light cord during an S-drill or breathing off of a shut off regulator during a valve drill). Again, no examining or evaluation here, just learning. There is no expectation in this course that you have ever done any of these drills before, in fact, if you have never done them before, you have an advantage as you do not need to undo developed muscle memory if you were doing them in a different manner previously. The day concluded with a bit more classroom and more video review, which I cannot express how incredibly valuable this is. Not only are we able to critique ourselves but we’re also able to see our improvement from the previous weekend.

The focus of our final day of Fundies was SMB deployment, more S-drills and valve drills all combined. As you would expect, there is a specific step by step process in which to successfully deploy an SMB. Our final challenge was to perform an S-drill, deploy an SMB and ascend on the SMB while sharing air, all the while maintaining good buoyancy and trim. This tested not only our individual skills but also our ability to work together as a team. Don and I were very fortunate to have dove together in the past prior to the course and to also be able to practice together in between weekends so working together as a team fell into place naturally (thank-you Mrs. Don for allowing Don to come practice with me on Valentines Day).

To conclude the course, it was off to the pool for the fitness test, a timed 250m swim and an untimed underwater breath hold swim approximately half the pool length. Anyone who has read my fitness and diving write up probably knows that I think this is an absolutely fabulous requirement. The time requirement does not require you to be a super athlete, someone with reasonable cardiovascular fitness would meet the times easily even if they lack the best swimming techniques. Another appealing thing about GUE, which is a topic I mention in my fitness and diving article, is that GUE instructors are required to complete an annual swim test to confirm their physical fitness.

Guy let us know all along the way how we were doing as far as meeting the requirements for the evaluation; however, it was always clear that the objective of each dive was to demonstrate continuous improvement, not to be evaluated. At the end of the day I received a technical pass and can now move on to Tech 1; most importantly however, I could write a long list of things that I learned and goals that I accomplished throughout the course. I certainly did not breeze through with ease, I worked my butt off for it and promptly passed out on the couch at 8:30 pm on Sunday night as a result of a busy couple of weeks and weekends of hard work. Continuous improvement was ever present for both myself and Don, and teamwork essential, even though we both came into the course at different levels and with different objectives. My skills are significantly more polished as a result of this course.

In discussion with a Erin from Ogden Point about this course it struck me that many people relate GUE diving to being strictly for technical diving, which is yet another misconception. She had no idea that Fundamental is actually a recreational course. One of the goals of the Fundamentals course is to create a diver who is an excellent buddy. After taking this course, I truly believe that any divers conducting advanced dives should put Fundamentals on their list of courses to take. They will become a safer, more confident diver because they will have a solid foundation of fundamental skills to build upon as their diving progresses, even if they have no aspiration to get into technical diving. Like the mentality behind their equipment configuration, GUE training is also modular, in that someone with GUE Fundamentals under his or her belt will make a great photographer, great CCR diver, great technical diver, great wreck diver, great Dive Master or simply a diver that other people enjoy diving with because they are capable and dialed in in the water. However a diver chooses to progress, his or her success will always circle back to those basic fundamental skills.

GUE gets a lot of flack about their specific equipment requirements but this standardization is one of the things that enables them to produce solid divers in a matter of weekends. Standardization is actually something we stack on our side when teaching Open Water courses. I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult it would be to teach an Open Water class if every student had a mishmash of jacket BC’s, wings & BPs, Air2’s, octopuses, etc. This method of standardization is effective at a beginner diver level so it should be no surprise that it would also be effective at an beginner technical level. There is no “okay so with your lift bag this is how you will deploy it and now with yours you’re going to deploy your SMB like this”. To me, none of the equipment requirements were unreasonable. Safety was the most important consideration, followed by function as it relates to enabling you to complete the skills consistently. For example, my light canister sits quite high up on my back and sometimes the cord ends up over my shoulder, which was all good and fine until it interfered with my shoulder D-ring and caused me to almost make a colossal mess out of an SMB deployment when I clipped my light off to its own light cord. My light will now be getting moved down so the cord will route out of the way because if this can happen once, it can and will happen again, next time it could be when it really counts and when I can’t afford any delays. I’d be happy to answer any questions about GUE equipment configuration that people may have as I am fairly certain there are some misconceptions floating around out there in this regard as well, or perhaps things that were and are now no more. Isn’t banana phone great? 🙂

Overall, I am extremely grateful to have taken this course. I went into the course a little burnt out and run down from diving but being challenged as I was rejuvenated my motivation and has me looking forward to putting what I learned into practice. I am looking forward to diving my rebreather again and applying some of these skills to that aspect of my diving. However, that being said, these skills are perishable and in the interest of maintaining the value of the training I received, I will be dedicated a certain number of dives per month to keeping my skills on double tanks current and not just slapping them on whenever I’m teaching a course.

As far as my future with GUE goes, I do believe that taking Tech 1 will improve and polish my technical diving (read: bottle work) so that is on my radar. GUE requires that you complete 25 dives between moving on to the next course; because I received a technical pass and will be moving on to a technical course, these 25 dives need to be done on doubles, so Tech 1 will not be something that happens right away for me as I will be dividing my time between teaching, my rebreather and accomplishing a couple other goals I have on the go for this year with the dive community.

Fundamentals is a course I will be encouraging my students to take. Particularly those who are interested in technical diving and even those who have taken a technical course with me and perhaps want to move onto other technical courses or get onto a rebreather. Whether you are my student or not, I would encourage everyone, despite your level, to take Fundamentals. Guy will find a way to make the course challenging for you, even if you already have thousands of dives and tones of experience. If you have taken GUE training in the past and had a bad experience, I would encourage you to consider giving it another shot as the curriculum has changed quite a bit over the years. Attitude is important, do not go into the course ready to argue about things you don’t agree with, go into it ready to ask questions and consider the answers, you will find the entire process much more rewarding. Have an open mind, let go of any preconceived notions you may have, and remember that the first part of Fundamentals is Fun.

Big thanks to Guy for hosting a phenomenal course and to Greg for catching all our bloopers on film, my personal favourite was my look of utter confusion when I finally nailed an effective frog kick and ended up completely further away from Don than I’d expected and looked back like “how did I end up way over here?”. And last but certainly not least, a massive thank you to Don for being my buddy and team-mate throughout the entire course and practicing in between, I had a great time working with you Don!

And after Fundamentals… I understood.