Sign up for our monthly newsletter so you never miss the latest from InDepth!
What Drives Quest’s Eclectic New Editor-in-Chief, Jesper Kjøller
Veteran dive magazine editor/designer and tech instructor Jesper Kjøller has recently taken over the production of GUE’s quarterly membership magazine QUEST
Interview by Michael Menduno
Header Image: J. Kjøller in his element by Dimitris Fifis. Other images courtesy of Jesper Kjøller
Veteran dive magazine editor/designer and tech instructor Jesper Kjøller has recently taken over the production of GUE’s quarterly membership magazine QUEST and hopes to transform the 22-year old journal-esque publication into a stunning digital dive juggernaut. Here, InDepth chief Michael Menduno explores what motivates the Danish techmeister.
This month, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is debuting its newly re-envisioned, quarterly membership magazine, Quest, founded in 1999 when the organization was just getting started. The new design and format are the creative work of 57-year old Danish editor, writer, and designer Jesper Kjøller, who took over when founding editor Panos Alexakos retired earlier this year.
In addition to extensive publishing experience, Kjøller was the editor-in-chief of DYK magazine for nearly 15 years as well as founded and served as editor-in-chief of Dive the World. Kjøller, who is a GUE tech instructor and a recreational instructor trainer, brings a fresh perspective to the magazine and was instrumental in transforming Quest to an all-digital format, which is a bittersweet move on his part. The 25-year diving industry stalwart and musician laments the coming end times of print magazines and vinyl records.
We caught up with Kjøller on the week of the opening of the world’s deepest pool at Deep Dive Dubai, where he enjoys his role as senior marketing supervisor, in conjunction with his new position as Quest’s editor-in-chief. Here’s what he had to say.
InDepth: Jesper, you wear a lot of hats, err hoods. You’re a musician, a diver, a dive instructor, an instructor trainer, and an explorer. You’ve been an editor, a writer, a photographer. You do graphics design. You’ve organized diving conferences. You’re the marketing manager for Deep Dive Dubai, which just opened, and you’re now the new editor-in-chief of QUEST. Tell me, how do you think of yourself? How do you self-identify?
Jesper Kjøller: How do I identify with all this? I think the core of it all is storytelling. I’m curious, and I like to tell stories and refine information. I mean, being an editor—and you know this as well—is about taking things that are a little bit unorganized and refining them, putting them together and presenting them to the world. That’s a process that I always enjoyed.
And to be honest, it’s totally a coincidence that it ended up being about diving as a subject matter. It could’ve been anything. As I said, I really like the process of refining and presenting information and deciding what is important and what is less important and suggesting, how about this? Do you like this? That’s what an editor does.
I mean it was pure coincidence that I ended up being in charge of a dive magazine. It’s never something that I envisioned myself doing. I was the right man at the right place at the right time. I had no journalistic background. I had no photography skills and no designing skills at all. I simply learned by doing.
Yeah, simply, yeah. My background, before I started diving, was as a musician and teaching music. The common denominator in all this is teaching. I have a knack for finding ways of explaining things. And if people don’t understand, then I can always find another way of explaining whatever to them.
I love that process, and I love seeing people understanding after my third try of explaining something. That’s what thrills me, and it’s something that I grew up with because both of my parents were musicians and teachers. So, I had this from my childhood. As I said, it was a coincidence that it ended up being centered around diving. I was just lucky.
Lucky indeed! You’ve been a dive professional for more than 25 years. That’s significant. What is it about diving that keeps you coming back?
First of all, I think it’s super cool. There’s just something about the equipment and the whole world surrounding diving that has always appealed to me. I mean, I’m old enough to have seen Jacques Cousteau in the middle of the 70s when I was just a kid. We had a black and white television in our living room and there was a German TV channel that had Jacques Cousteau’s weekly French TV show. And it was so cool.
Many years later, when I did my first open water course, I immediately decided—this is what I want to do. This is so cool. I want to be an instructor. I want to be involved in this professionally; I want to teach people how to dive.
I also enjoy the combination of the technology and the knowledge that we are able to apply to survive in a hostile environment. We’re not supposed to be able to breathe underwater or to be able to dive down to the Britannic. To be able to combine knowledge, technology, practice, and skills to do something that’s out of reach of most people is very appealing to me.
You got started in magazines with the Danish diving magazine DYK, where you served as editor-in-chief for nearly 15 years (199-2013). That was your first editor job, right? How did you get started at DYK?
Yeah. So, back in the day, DYK was owned by the German publishing house that produced TAUCHEN magazine. They owned the Scandinavian publishing company. And to save money, a lot of the articles that went into the magazine were translated from German.
In 1999, I became a PADI course director, and I started subscribing to the magazine. It’s a coincidence that—the same year—I got really, really annoyed with the quality of the translations. Because I was reading the magazine, and in some instances, by mistake, they published entire spreads in German. I mean it was so clumsy; it was awful.
So, I approached then editor Peter Symes, who later left and went on to found and publish X-Ray magazine. I told him, “I happen to be a PADI course director, but I’m just approaching you as one of the readers. Honestly, I think you can do better.” So, Peter said, “OK join us,” and offered me a job. I wrote a couple of articles for them as a freelancer first. Interestingly, they published them and didn’t change a word. At the time, I thought, okay, if they are not changing anything, the story must really be okay.
That was my verification that I could write, because I had no experience doing it. I was not a good writer in school. I kind of hated it, to be honest. But storytelling and my teaching experience saved me in a way. I discovered I could draft a story and a narrative and get some kind of an arc to it. It was a natural gift I had, and the rest was history. Of course, I was really interested in the subject matter and knew a lot about diving, so it was quite easy for me to write articles because I was just sharing what I knew.
Before we talk about your new role at Quest, I wanted to ask you about your GUE journey. You were an instructor and PADI course director at the time. What attracted you to GUE and how has that journey gone?
I have this metaphor for divers. Remember those mechanical toys with a spring that you wind up? The tighter the spring, the longer the toy would do something. I always thought of divers in that sense. You do your first course and just being underwater and breathing is exciting. Then after a while you need to do something new, so maybe you take a night diving course, or start learning underwater photography, or you decide to become an instructor or whatever.
Every time you add something new, the spring gets a little tighter and now you have a renewed passion and something new to do underwater. For me, the spring was never wound as tight as it was when I did my Fundamentals Course. It was a complete eye-opener!
I know many people who had that reaction. How did you find your way to “Fundies?”
I was already a technical diver. I had done decompression dives. I had done a bit of cave diving, trimix and everything, but to be honest, I never really liked it. I was always a little bit apprehensive. I didn’t trust my skills. I didn’t trust my dive buddies. I didn’t trust my equipment. And I didn’t trust my instructor. It was not an optimal way to dive, especially back in Denmark, and particularly not in winter, doing deep dives in dark water that’s close to freezing, wearing a dry suit and dry gloves. The truth is I didn’t really enjoy it. Of course, I was supposed to do that kind of diving as an editor.
Then I read about DIR (“Doing It Right”) and George Irvine and Jarrod Jablonski, and I already knew about the Lundgren brothers in Sweden. I kind of had a feeling that was the direction I wanted to go. I liked the simplicity. I liked the configuration, and I liked the standardization—all these things. As luck would have it, there were a couple of Danish DIR warriors that were very loud on the Internet, and I kind of liked the way they explained things. So, I more or less went in that direction, but I never received any training. I just kind of dabbled in DIR, and I thought I was a GUE-style diver. But then, when I did Fundamentals, everything fell into place.
Your tech diving epiphany?
That was the first time I actually understood how all the components were supposed to fit together. I can’t say that I immediately decided I wanted to become a GUE instructor, but I did decide from then on that all of my tech diving was going to be with the GUE configuration and approach. Funny, I was traveling for the magazine at that time, so I started bringing long hoses and back plates and wings, and people looked at me and didn’t understand. But I was like, “Okay, this is the way I dive. Take it or leave it.” It’s not uncommon anymore, but 10 to 15 years ago some people had never seen a long hose and they thought they would be strangled if you used it.
Ha!! Yes, there have always been misconceptions about tech in the recreational world.
Long story short, I got very dissatisfied with what I was doing. I was a PADI instructor trainer also for PADI’s technical range, but they started simplifying and adding some really weird skills and stuff. I wasn’t happy with it and I couldn’t see myself teaching it. I realized that if I wanted to continue my passion teaching technical diving, then I needed to find a platform where I could really defend what I was talking about. So, I became a GUE instructor 10 years ago and never looked back.
As of this quarter, you’ve taken over as editor-in-chief of Quest from Panos Alexakos who just retired after producing the magazine for more than 20 years. What excites you about Quest and taking on this project?
I actually wrote an editor’s letter about that very question for my first issue. What excites me about Quest is that I’m always looking for ways of combining interests. If you can combine several interests in your work, then you have a very strong platform because you’re doing multiple things that you love.
I have three major passions in my life. One is storytelling. Another is GUE and then I just happen to love magazines. So, what could be better? I feel really, really well-prepared for taking on Quest because it combines three of my biggest passions. The only thing that’s missing is some kind of music, but I’ll find another way of doing that. So to answer your question, I am passionate about taking over Quest because it’s a perfect combination of three things that I really enjoy.
Do you see any specific challenges with Quest or membership magazines in general?
There are challenges, but I feel that I also have an advantage because I know exactly who the readers are. The challenge is that I have to find a balance. First of all, I need to give readers what they expect, but I also want to surprise them a little bit and maybe give them something that they didn’t know they wanted. So that could be a little bit challenging. But on the other hand, I do know who they are. I don’t have to guess. It’s a fairly well-defined demographic.
For me, being an editor in the Internet age is quite a bit different than it was 25 years ago, say before Google. Because today, everyone can readily find information. So, we need to be able to surprise them and be a little bit assertive sometimes and say, “Trust me, this is interesting. This is something that you will want to spend 10 minutes reading.” Otherwise, they might not do it and miss that information. For me, it’s about establishing a relationship with the reader so they begin to trust that I’m going to give them a mix of things that they are expecting, along with some surprises and material they didn’t know that they wanted.
What are some of the topics and issues that you think are important right now in diving that you hope to cover with Quest?
That’s an interesting and important question because that’s another and perhaps my biggest challenge. I’m pretty strong when it comes to the technical stuff, equipment, and also—as you’d expect—I’m pretty strong when it comes to education. But GUE, and therefore Quest, are also about community, and exploration and conservation. That’s where I’d say I’m weak because it’s not what I have focused on, and my network, or contacts within that field are not as strong. So my biggest challenges will be filling the pages of Quest with those subjects. Because I also think it’s the most important.
For me, the educational part is just a means to an end. And the end is exploration and conservation. Those are the most important parts of GUE.
So I need to focus a lot on getting content that’s related to exploration and conservation, because the rest of the stuff is relatively easy. Instructors are also a primary source for coming up with stories. So I need to broaden my network when it comes to exploration and conservation.
I think members are going to get excited when they see the new issue as well. You’ve taken the look and feel to a whole new level!
Between you and me, I hope that when people see the first new issue of Quest, they will want to be part of it! The magazine needed a facelift after 20 years. It was time. If I didn’t do it, someone else would have had to.
I also plan to be more collaborative and responsive, and spend time cultivating our freelancers. Our writers tend to be amateurs so I want them to feel appreciated. I plan to give them feedback, and help them to do an even better job next time. Again, it’s about building relationships.
In addition to the new look, I understand that Quest is also changing to an all-digital format.
That’s right. It’s something that’s been on my mind a lot lately because with this new issue, Quest is now going forward as an electronic magazine. It’s my first time publishing something that is not printed. And that’s a loss, I think.
I still miss vinyl records with covers that you could browse through. To me, a magazine is still something that you should be able to hold in your hands and feel. I even like the smell of a newly printed magazine. That’s one of the biggest differences for me; physically printed magazines are more or less history. Of course, we can talk about the carbon footprint and cost savings and all the good reasons for digital distribution, which makes sense on so many levels, but I’m still going to miss a physical magazine.
And you’re moving it to a new platform, unlike the old PDF format.
We are using a platform that provides a screen experience that kind of resembles a magazine where you can flip pages. It also works on handheld devices like iPhones and tablets, but it’s best presented on a larger screen like a laptop or desktop. Actually, an iPad may give the best reading experience.
So it will work on a smartphone, yes? I know at InDepth, 60-65% of readers access the mag via mobile.
On the big screen, you can read it one-to-one in size. On a small screen, you’ll have to zoom in. Maybe you read one column and then you will have to navigate a little bit. It’s not as responsive as a web blog, but I like the fact that it still resembles a magazine. It’s an experiment, to be honest. We may eventually go in another direction, but we are trying this for now.
What about the archives? Will members still have access to all of the old issues of Quest?
Members will still have access to all of the old issues, in addition to the new issues. There’s still 20 years’ worth of excellent information in all the old Quests. We don’t want to throw that out. That’s still one of the value points of a GUE membership. You’ll not only get this new fantastic magazine, but you’ll also have access to the archive of the old ones.
Ha! Sell, sell, sell! I am guessing that your day job as the marketing manager for Deep Dive Dubai is about to ramp up big time now that the new aquatic facility—the deepest pool in the world—has just opened. How will your day job inform your work at Quest? How do you see them working together?
First of all, it’s again a coincidence that the launch of the new Quest and launch of Deep Dive Dubai happens within the same month. I’ve been working at the aquatic center for six years now, and to be honest, we’ve been quite busy lately with the opening.
I’ll bet. So Quest is your night job then?
That’s right. I’m moonlighting as the editor of Quest. I am going to spend weekends and evenings doing it. However, it’s a quarterly publication and it’s only 48-60 pages. So, it’s not that big of a job. The biggest part of the job is not actually making the magazine, it’s all the communication with contributors, emails back and forth, and of course, editing and proofreading and workflow management. Designing the magazine is easy; that’s the fun part, where the creativity and the playfulness come in.
Well, I can’t wait to read the new issue. Thank you Jesper. We wish you and your team great success!
InDepth: Deep Dive Dubai—The Deepest Pool In The World Is Not A Pool by Jesper Kjøller
InDepth: Diving Into “Ghost Ships of the Baltic Sea” by Jesper Kjøller
GUE.TV: GUE History with Panos Alexakos
Michael Menduno/M2 is InDepth’s editor-in-chief and an award-winning journalist and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for more than 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving” (1990-1996), helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving, and he produced the first tek.Conferences and Rebreather Forums 1.0 & 2.0. In addition to InDepth, Menduno serves as an editor/reporter for DAN Europe’s Alert Diver magazine, a contributing editor for X-Ray mag, and writes for DeeperBlue.com. He is on the board of the Historical Diving Society (USA), and a member of the Rebreather
Categories: New, Community, Latest Feature, GUE history
Tags: Quest, GUE history,
Andy Torbet: The Swiss Army Knife of the Diving Community
In this era of heightened stress, dive engineer and content producer, Carlos Lander thought it useful to speak to someone who manages prolonged stress in extreme situations. That man is Andy Torbet, a former British special forces officer, cave diver, freediver, rock climber, sky diver, BBC host and producer and DAN Europe Ambassador. Oh did I mention he’s Daniel Craig’s stunt double in the new 007 movie, “No Time to Die.” Here’s what Torbet advised.
by Carlos Lander. Photos courtesy of Andy Torbet
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new stressful situations that have raised our awareness of the impact of stress on our mental and physical health. I was, therefore, enthusiastic to talk with Andy Torbet, someone who has—in the past and present—successfully managed prolonged, extreme stress in survival situations.
In his former life, 45-year old Andy Torbet was a bomb disposal officer and maritime counter-terrorism agent for the British Army. When he made the leap to civilian life, he remained within the realm of extreme adventures, becoming one of the finest Briton underwater explorers; he’s a professional cave diver, skydiver, free diver, climber, TV presenter, and filmmaker. His most notable programs include BBC’s The One Show, Coast, Operation Iceberg, Operation Cloud Lab, Britain’s Ancient Capital, The People Remembered.
He co-produced the children’s BBC series Beyond Bionic, which was adapted into a computer game: “Beyond Bionic—Extreme Encounters.” Torbet’s first book, Extreme Adventures, was published in 2015, and he became a host on Fully Charged in April 2020. More recently, he can be seen in the new James Bond film, No Time to Die. He’s obviously a guy who excels in many fields, so he’s familiar with stress and has some ideas about how to cope with it.
Torbet’s prolific diving career memorably includes the Britannic expedition in 2016 for a BBC documentary. He was also involved in “The MV Shoal Fisher—The Mystery Shipwreck,” about a wrecked World War II merchant ship in the English Channel. Andy himself admits his solo exploration of The Cave of Skulls, Scotland’s deepest pot hole system, was “probably the most hardcore” of his adventures. That dive involved crawling through tight and flooded passages, getting stuck, and finally releasing his breath hold just enough to squeeze out of trouble. His book vividly details the harrowing dive and takes readers on a spine chilling adventure, as it did me.
When thinking about Torbet, a Swiss Army Knife comes to mind—an instrument designed to be useful in many situations. Another analogy might be Tony Stark without the Iron Man suit. Or, perhaps, a modern-day Sir David Attenborough. When presented with these options, he happily chose the knife comparison. Mr. Torbet has a compelling set of tools to call upon: He’s a loyal family man, has a sense of purpose, is resourceful and righteous, a teacher, and a risk management expert who can compartmentalize, communicate, and be playful. Oh, and he’s humble.
Torbet began his journey in the beautiful Scottish highlands. Born in 1976, he was an outdoor kid, climbing trees and playing in the lochs with his brother, who has joined him in many adventures over the years. At 20 having finished his university degree in zoology, Torbet joined the Army, inspired by his brother who had enlisted when he was 16. Torbet also admitted that joining the military was a way to see the world—it appealed to his desire for adventure—and to “make some decent money.” According to Torbet:
“Anyone can have a desire for exploration, but desire won’t get you there; action will. That doesn’t mean being reckless. It means taking the time to build discipline and to acquire the skills and knowledge you need to do whatever you do safely, also balancing the risk with sometimes needing to say, ‘Fuck it, here I come!”
The Torbet Method for Managing Stress
Mr. Torbet has three favorite sports: diving, skydiving, and “Esoteric Climbing” (where the bedrock is likely to be loose, fragile, and crumbling). Andy explained that, while climbing, he does not need to look down, because he knows how much distance he’s covered. “Even in this type of climbing, when I’m not or I don’t feel entirely in control, I don’t look down,” he said. “It won’t do any good.”
Why? Sometimes we can’t change an external situation, and that shouldn’t affect our emotions. What is important is how we react and how we reframe it. As Torbet put it:
“What we choose to do and how we choose to act is what counts, and this is all within our power to influence. In fact, sometimes when injuries are crippling us, time is against us, the weather is beating us back, and our kit is failing. Our attitude—the mindset we hold as we walk through the world—is the only thing we can control.”
Although Torbet has been in many military incursions, he prefers cave diving as an example of managing stress since, in his opinion, underwater caves are the most hazardous environments available to us. “[Underwater caves are] an alien world here on earth, and from a psychological point of view, very oppressive,” he explained. “It’s dark, isolated, cold, and claustrophobic. Therefore, we must deal with those realities long before we enter the cave.”
There are a few things that Torbet believes we should do to manage stress. First, evaluate the “what if” scenarios familiar to the diving community. Second, gain and maintain proficiency in the skills needed to manage those situations. Third, have the proper equipment and make sure it has been tested. And last, we must be mindful of what we are doing at all times. He also posits that, in an emergency, having fewer choices is better than having many; it reduces the time needed to choose a plan of action and allows us to more easily draw on our training and preparation. Not all situations can be foreseen. As Torbet explained,
“Do not lose yourself in emotions. Be present. I could be a mile from the cave exit; it does not matter. My concern is with the moment. I know that because I prepared myself, I have a proper plan for contingencies. Something random that I did not expect may occur, but I remain calm, focused on making my way out. I do not succumb to emotions, and I am focused because I prepared myself mentally and physically for this. You don’t save your life at that moment, you save your life in the days, months, and years before that.”
In this way cave diving is reduced to managing a sustainable level of pressure during prolonged periods of time, while maintaining concentration on techniques.
A Team of One?
Solo diving is a reality of exploring caves in the U.K. Paths are often so narrow that sometimes divers need to crawl, and more than one person will not fit. In tight spots, you’re on your own to handle difficult situations.
Torbet’s experiences have taught him that, even during team dives, sometimes you need to focus on yourself without distraction and without accepting responsibility for others; Andy experienced this in his Cave of Skulls explorations. Everyone needs to make their own decisions, trust their own gut feelings, and be vocal when things aren’t okay.
In his case, the Army trained him to put fears aside and get on with the job at hand. Andy specifically wrote in his book that, in the armed forces, the only option is to man up. When his teammates experienced difficulties during the Cave of Skulls dive, he decided to continue his adventure alone. [Ed. note: Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) does not sanction solo diving.]
“In situations like these—that not only require technical skills but also are potentially dangerous—it is easier to just look after yourself. But, in the vast majority of dives, you’re better off having a teammate. Being alone isn’t just less fun, but it also requires resilience that only a select few—and highly-trained—divers have.”
After he reached the end of the cave, Andy felt a moment of quiet satisfaction and peace. But, of course, his adventuring didn’t stop there. Andy’s current project and focus? Becoming a stunt double.
Managing stress as a stuntman requires individual concentration while your safety is in the hands of others. Torbet’s a bit uncomfortable placing responsibility for his safety in a crew, but he is learning to accept it. He said that he has a great deal of respect for this community, and it was a wonderful opportunity to work on a variety of films. “My last project, James Bond as 007 in No Time to Die, was an incredible experience.” I asked him if he could elaborate, but he said he was under a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t say more.
Torbet is eager to keep doing these kinds of projects, and he explained that stunts in an action movie require a lot of rehearsal and coordination between different teams, performers, cameramen, and safety crews. It is all extremely streamlined, like a dance between crews. Any stunt person, whether in a blockbuster movie or a documentary, will report that planning is required in order to prevent life-threatening peril. Nothing is left to chance. For all these circumstances, preparedness is key (physically and mentally). Timing and self-confidence are paramount. And, like Torbet’s observation about diving, you save your life long before you start.
Why does he love being part of the stunt community?
“They are a real brotherhood, it’s a family atmosphere, and they look after each other. They are extremely motivated, talented, and self-disciplined people who want to get the most out of life. Although they are super adventurers, they also have the skills and bring their game up. On top of all that, everyone that I’ve met is a thoroughly decent human being.”
A Perspective on life
Torbet is constantly in motion, always growing. He recently got his master’s degree in Archaeology. His plan is to write his doctoral dissertation on studying caves. His diverse interests and activities are always driven by passion. He teaches that adventure is personal and that even by walking on the path others have taken, it is still possible to own your journey, to fill it with new experiences and feelings.
“Everyone is different, and what works for me does not necessarily work for you,” Torbet advised. For him, compartmentalizing is a way of dealing with his life experiences. What happened in the armed forces stayed there, and he doesn’t share it with his family or mix it up with his other activities.
I think Torbet’s secret is focusing on the moment. Taking pleasure from his job at hand, filling his time with projects and family. Teaching his kids about the pleasure of nature and freediving when he has spare time. As he told me on more than one occasion, “Your happiness is dictated by the people you surround yourself with.”
Fourth Element Wetnotes: My First Time-Andy Torbet
Read about Andy’s past adventures as well as his current projects at Andy TorbetProjects | Andy Torbet
Amazon: Extreme Adventures by Andy Torbet
Beyond Bionic Andy Tornet TOP 3: Andy Torbet from Beyond Bionic tells us his top 3, like his favourite foods, memorable moments and inspirational people!
Find Andy Torbet’s “close call” story in Close Calls by Stratis Kas.
I want to thank Andy for his openness and candor with me and the diving community. He was kind to me, letting me pick his brain. He is truly a gentleman. I really enjoyed our conversations. I hope we can drink a pint or two in an Irish pub in the future and go diving.
Carlos Lander—I’m a father, a husband, and a diver. I’m a self-taught amateur archaeologist, programmer, and statistician. I think that the amateur has a different mindset than the professional, and that this mindset can provide an advantage in the field. I studied economics at university. My website is Dive Immersion. You can sign up for my newsletter here.
Thank You to Our Sponsors
Top Tech Stories of 2021
We’d like to kick off the new year with a selection of 11 hand-curated stories from our deepening well of...