By Victoria Brown
All photos courtesy of WDHOF
For 20 years, Women’s Diving Hall of Fame, WDHOF, has been championing women divers who make outstanding contributions to the dive industry through the exploration, understanding, safety, and enjoyment of our underwater world. The Hall has honored the expertise and experience of 244 inspiring women hailing from 21 countries all across the planet.
The organization has evolved from humble beginnings into a force within the diving world, and has become one of the most impactful organizations in the industry. They have a reputation for promoting opportunities in diving through scholarships, training grants, mentorship opportunities, and access to a worldwide network of industry contacts.
It All Started with a Good Idea
This year marks the 20-year anniversary of this iconic movement. The organization is celebrating the many years of philanthropic work and dedication, including reaching the milestone of $500,000 in fundraising since their incorporation. This money has helped to fund past scholarships, including the 63 scholarships and grants that the organization has pledged this year. They are not stopping there. The sisterhood has launched a new initiative they have creatively called 20 for 20, which will see 20 grants of $1000 awarded to women of all ages to complete their open water course in 2020. This is a truly international affair with inductees coming from across the globe, showing that the international reach of the WDHOF is growing.
The idea behind the organization was born in New Jersey in 1999 when Armand “Zig” Zigahn, President of Beneath the Sea Inc. (BTS), was planning a big celebration for the close of the millennium. As we moved into a new century he wanted to mark the occasion by celebrating the greatest women divers at the time with a one-time celebration. This was a tall task, as there were so many high-achieving women divers, so a committee was selected to draw up a shortlist. The original six included Dr. Hillary Viders, an award winning writer, speaker, and educator; Patty Mortara, co-founder of Women Underwater; Carol Rose, President of The Underwater Society of America (USOA); Jennifer King, President of the Women’s Scuba Association; Ray Tucker, Chief Financial Officer; and Zig Zigahn. They set to task, and The Women Divers Executive Committee was born. It was also known by those on the ground as Mission: Greatest Women Divers of the 20th Century.
The response was overwhelming: so many women were held in high regard by their peers, even at a time in the industry when there were comparatively fewer women in diving.
Advertisements were placed in dive magazines calling for people to send in nominations of women whom they felt were excelling in their chosen diving fields. The response was overwhelming: so many women were held in high regard by their peers, even at a time in the industry when there were comparatively fewer women in diving. It was then the job of the committee to track down all of the divers on the list, many of whom were nominated without contact details, and with some working so far underwater that they were nearly impossible to reach.
After the lengthy hunt for each nominee, the committee had gathered their treasure: a photo and bio from each of the nominated divers, and a collection of 76 outstanding women who made the inaugural roster that would become the of WDHOF. It was a grand and momentous affair; Norma Wellington, a jewellery designer, created a gold pin with a temporary logo, and Patty Mortara designed the certificate for the award. Bios and accompanying photographs were arranged on the wall of the Meadowlands Expo Center throughout the WDHOF Member luncheon at Beneath the Sea Expo weekend, stoking a mini-media frenzy.
With the success and popularity of the campaign, the committee could see great value in the mission and decided that this was to be more than just a one-time celebration. They proceeded to formalize the organization, creating a new name and a logo inspired by Zighan, who had exclaimed about one of the committee, “That lady really looks like she means business, not like a girly girl… she looks strong enough to wrestle me to the ground.” And so the WDHOF Hall of Fame was born.
In 2001, the WDHOF incorporated as a non-profit and quickly set about fundraising, with Kathy Weydig honoured as the first President-Treasurer of WDHOF. Five years later, Weydig was awarded founder status, recognizing her central role in these early years. During the 2001 BTS show, another 36 women were inducted, and it was the first year the sisterhood added the DEMA Show to the calendar to welcome the inductees who couldn’t make the BTS show in New Jersey. They have featured at both shows ever since. The philanthropic mission of the organization was decided upon shortly after its inception, with four scholarships offered in 2002, the year in which another 16 women were admitted into the Hall.
The early success of the WDHOF can be attributed to their fundraising efforts, which have also fuelled their continued growth. Every March, during its 20-year history, the committee plans the WDHOF luncheon during the BTS expo; items are auctioned on behalf of WDHOF during the traditional BTS Fish & Famous Gala. In 2003, Weydig expanded upon these traditions and produced the highly lucrative Duck Derby fundraising event held at DEMA, which featured Cathy Church as the “Duck Mistress” and a celebrity guest host. Fast forward a decade, to the celebration of their ten year anniversary: Fundraising efforts were doubled, and a year-round program of events kicked off at the BTS show with a cruise on the Hudson River.
That same year, Julianne Ziefle collated the sold-out WDHOF Diver’s Palate Cookbook, illustrated by Bonnie Toth, the “resident graphic genius.” Meanwhile, Darlene Iskra led another committee in the development and publication of the ten-year anniversary WDHOF commemorative book, wherein members collected the signatures of their peers, showing the ever growing strength and momentum of what was becoming an established movement. This was cemented when Evelyn Dudas led the first dive trip that year to Bonaire, staying at Captain Don’s Habitat, a resort that regulates its impact on the environment. The trip was such a success that it has been repeated every subsequent year with groups going on to visit destinations including Mexico, Grand Cayman, and the Florida Keys (to visit Sally Bauer’s History of Diving Museum). The profits from these trips contribute to the funding of scholarships.
By 2011, the ducks were all tuckered out, and the Derby became the Tropical Dreams and Paradise Sunsets party at trade show DEMA. Despite this risky move, it was another successful year. By 2015, the commemorative book was back again, only this time it was bigger and better. That year the WDHOF was over the moon to announce the scholarship program had to date awarded over $250,000, divided among well-deserving recipients. Fifteen years in, it was clear that fundraising was going well, diver trips were oversubscribed, and the organization was making waves in international waters. Despite these victories, the WDHOF made it clear that “The Women Divers Hall of Fame’s greatest asset remains its members: women of all ages, nationalities, races, religions, and fields of expertise. We are sisters bound by our love of the sea and commitment to excellence.”
“We are sisters bound by our love of the sea and commitment to excellence.”
For example, during 2015, Chantelle Taylor-Newman, who had been introduced to WDHOF in the previous year while on a course with mentor Andrea Zaferes, immediately recognized the power of the organization and made the revolutionary move to take a booth at the London International Dive Show as an associate member in order to spread the good word of the WDHOF. She went on to represent WDHOF at Dive Show Birmingham later that year and exhibited each year until 2018. She fondly reminisced in an interview, “In 2015 I was invited to Beneath the Sea with Andrea to meet the Women Divers Hall of Fame members. This was the 15-year anniversary of WDHOF and my introduction to a unity of powerful women.”
The same year, she was inducted into the organization for her unprecedented work in increasing diving safety awareness worldwide. Today she is still the only instructor accredited to teach the DAN Europe Recreational DMT course that she created. After Taylor-Newman joined the WDHOF, she was put in charge of the Global Outreach Committee with a view to expand into Europe and further afield in order to raise the international profile. She felt the organization was too American-centric, commenting, “There are so many worthy divers outside of the USA, there is great value in helping the name become more recognized,” she said. Taylor-Newman also puts her money where her mouth is: She awards a grant for a Diver Medic Technician course each year, and has done so since 2016.
A Truly International Affair
There were already a handful of inductees from around the world before Taylor-Newman’s induction, such as Jayne Jenkins (UK/Australia), Audrey Mestre (France), Marguerite St-Leger-Dowse (UK), Cristina Zenato (Italy), Vreni Roduner (Switzerland), Simone Melchior Cousteau (France) and Linda Pitkin (UK). However, in recent years there has been a noticeable increase in international members being inducted into WDHOF; for example, in 2018, technical dive journalist Sabine Kerkau was the first German to be admitted, alongside Belgian photographer Ellen Cuylaerts and Mexican non-profit founder, Dora Sandoval.
The previous year, the induction included marine conservationist and ocean advocate, Sharon Kwok Pong, from Hong Kong, China. This flurry of activity has been accredited to the work of Taylor-Newman in her role as the Global Outreach committee head. This year Parisian-born Hélène de Tayrac-Senik—founder of the Paris Dive Show—made the grade, further building on the international expansion of this innovative brand. Taylor-Newman encourages nominations by highlighting that the “WDHOF is a great conduit to get places and be recognized by people, as long as they are aware of the organization…to be in the WDHOF it is a phenomenal achievement, and all the members are out here supporting each other and other people. That is the way in. It’s about giving to the industry, not taking away.”
The organization also has an international reach in their fundraising efforts. As of 2020, WDHOF has awarded a total of over $500,000, to 421 individuals from all over the world.
The organization also has an international reach in their fundraising efforts. As of 2020, WDHOF has awarded a total of over $500,000, to 421 individuals from all over the world. This year, 63 individuals will draw from a pot of $79,000. The programs are so popular that some grants or scholarships are seeing up to 40 to 50 applicants, which helps to raise awareness of the organization. As Bonnie Toth noted, “Marine Science grants are always popular.” Although the scholarships are competitive, they are not unachievable; WDHOF creates a grant for every ten eligible applicants, making sure the funding follows where the demand is.
A number of the sponsors are also members themselves. Margo Peyton founded Kids Sea Camp in 2000 and disperses four to five training grants per year, each valued at $500. And this year, with the 20 for 20 initiative, the board was able to boast that “No one else in the industry is doing anything else of this magnitude.” Recipients of the scholarships and grants submit a report with photos for the WDHOF newsletter, so members can see the positive outcomes for people taking this training and the amazing benefits of these funding streams.
WDHOF: An Agent of Change
These reports will of course be added to the large library of good news stories that the organization rightfully holds dear. In 2018, ten-year-old Lorelei Short found herself enamoured by ocean exploration after completing the PADI Bubblemaker experience. Her dream of learning to dive was realized that year when she was awarded a learn-to-dive scholarship by Ocean Wishes Foundation & Kids Sea Camp, which enabled her to plunge into her open water course. She plans to complete her qualifying dives when the weather warms up. Her enthusiasm is infectious. “This is an incredible experience and I want to thank you for making it possible by granting me the funds to participate. This is an experience that most people don’t have. It was amazing to go underwater and take those first breaths! This would not have happened if I had not received the grant; so, thank you so much,” she reported!
“It was amazing to go underwater and take those first breaths! This would not have happened if I had not received the grant; so, thank you so much.”
A year earlier, experienced diver Chelsea Bennice, Ph.D., was the winner of the Elizabeth Greenhalgh Memorial Scholarship in Journalism, Graphic Arts, and Photography sponsored by WDHOF Member Deb Greenhalgh Lubas. The funds allowed Bennice to take an underwater photography workshop to sharpen her skills, and since then she has used her photographs as a community outreach tool. Bennice has more than doubled her online following and increased engagement with her community, consequently drawing greater attention to her invaluable scientific research.
More recently, Reanna Jeanes was the recipient of the 2019 Undergraduate Marine Conservation Scholarship, sponsored by Blue World & Oceanic Research Group and WDHOF Member Christine Bird. Jeanes’s research focused on whether macroalgal species out-compete coral colonies, making them susceptible and vulnerable to outside influences. She had this to say about her research: “In September 2017, Hurricane Irma scoured much of the macroalgae in the Florida Keys, presenting the unique opportunity to observe macroalgal succession on coral reefs. We surveyed ten reef sites quarterly in the year following Hurricane Irma, focusing on regions with varying abundances of initial Dictyota and Halimeda species.”
The same year, marine biologist and keen scientific diver Aurelia Reichardt was awarded the 2019 Recreational/Public Safety Diver Medical Education Grant (UK & Europe) sponsored by The Diver Medic (owned by Chantelle Taylor-Newman) and DAN Europe. She completed the DAN Recreational Dive Medical Technician (DMT) training, an advanced first aid course aimed at recreational divers. Looking back on her experience Reichardt commented, “As a result of the WDHOF scholarship, I was able to make professional connections with other divers as well as with Chantelle Newman, the Diver Medic and DAN Europe. I am keen to continue my Diver Medic education and look forward to participating in the DAN Diving Emergency Medical Responder (DEMR) course in the future.”
Band of Sisters
The support offered by this dynamic organization is not always financial;a large part of its work is the peer-to-peer support and mentoring. Canadian explorer-in-residence, Jill Heinerth, has been a member since the beginning, and she, along with Patty Mortana (founding member) produced a magazine called Women Underwater‘ which connected the pioneering women tech divers scattered around the globe.
For Heinerth, the WDHOF has provided personal support, and offered an opportunity to be a part of a network for younger women in the industry. Heinerth focuses her mentoring efforts within her field of cave diving, and has helped women break through the ice ceilings they encounter in their careers. When interviewed, she asserted that “For many women, there have been gatekeepers, biases, and financial issues that stood in their way. I want to remove those issues and help them to achieve what I know they are capable of.”
“For many women, there have been gatekeepers, biases, and financial issues that stood in their way. I want to remove those issues and help them to achieve what I know they are capable of.”
The collegial nature of the organization is palpable. In an example of admiration between members, Bonnie Toth was thrilled to meet marine biologist Eugenie Clark at one of the last BTS shows she attended. Toth had even brought along her old dog-eared copy of The Lady and the Sharks (1969), not missing the opportunity to get it signed; upon seeing the book, Clark exclaimed, “I can’t believe you still have this book!” Dottie Fraizer, the first scuba instructor in the USA—now ninety-eight years old—says she is still having a great time. Although she’s not teaching scuba for Los Angeles County anymore, she values being a part of this thriving community. Evelyn Dudas, also a member since the first induction, has been an active participant in the industry since 1962 and holds the title for the first woman to dive the ill-fated Andrea Doria wreck. She’s also responsible for the 1980s-era expansion of Dudas’ Diving Duds into a full-service dive facility for recreational and technical divers, all while raising her children on her own.
Dudas talks about how she was initially hesitant to be a part of a woman-only movement, recollecting, “I was not a big supporter of women’s movements. You did your job and you got credit for what you did… [but] I was impressed with the idea of the scholarship(s).” In spite of her hesitancy, Dudas’s induction in 2000 to the WDHOF turned out to be a positive experience and highlights the value of their philanthropic work. She has been an active member since its creation. Jill Heinerth seconds that sentiment, commenting, “I’m extremely proud of the outreach and support that WDHOF offers to our community. Scholarships, grants, and recognition can be life-changing for younger women. I hope that one day we won’t feel that there is a need to have an organization that specifically recognizes women, but right now it’s very important!” Her comments illustrate the progressive attitude of the members and the organization as a whole. These margins are too narrow to mention all of the women that have propelled the WDHOF forward over the years. It is evident this is a collective effort of like-minded and generous women who are experts in collaboration.
To the Future and Beyond
“It is the ‘sisterhood’ that binds us together. Many of us are still diving. Many of us are not.”
President Mary Connelly and Chairman Bobbie Scholley have announced that the 20th anniversary awards will take place at the Beneath the Sea show. While the show was originally scheduled for this spring, it has been postponed until October 2020 due to COVID-19. Although this is a hurdle of sorts, this network of inspiring women is well versed in overcoming adversity, and the members have a rich history of supporting each other and the underwater community. In their 20th year, there is a real sense that the Women’s Hall of Fame is an integral and permanent part of the dive industry landscape. The picture behind the scenes is as impressive as the standing of the brand. This is an organization that truly cares and that acts on that compassion. This sentiment comes through even in their internal communications, with a recent newsletter reading: “It is the ‘sisterhood’ that binds us together. Many of us are still diving. Many of us are not. But we do not want to lose touch or contact with a single one of you. You matter to us. Plus, we need to remember that, in the water or out, our ocean planet needs us to be the voice of responsibility and compassion.” We look forward to watching how this dynamic and impactful organization goes about this mission, and hopefully many of us will contribute to their growth in whatever way we can.
“In the water or out, our ocean planet needs us to be the voice of responsibility and compassion.”
If you would like to be involved with this historic organization, the best way to show support is to become an Associate. Being an Associate allows you access to opportunities to socialize and network one-on-one with WDHOF officers, trustees, and members at dive shows, entry to seminars and special events, a stylish associate lapel pin, and listing in and admission to the online special of the newsletter.
Above all, your dues go toward the outstanding contributions that allow WDHOF to grow the organization’s outreach and support the next generation of future divers.
- More about the WDHOF
- How to honor an outstanding woman
- Donate hard cash, sponsor a scholarship or buy a cool tee
- Scholarship and Grant Details http://www.wdhof.org/wdhof-scholarshipDesc.aspx
- Become an associate member
- Member Roster
- Associate Roster
- Member Publications
- Useful WDHOF Links
Avidly exploring the underworld since she was twelve, Victoria has been a professional diver for sixteen years and is now based back in the UK following many years touring the snowiest peaks and deepest green seas. From safety diving on media projects to creating content for the coolest brands in the diving industry, she has diving written all over her.
Twenty-five Years in the Pursuit of Excellence – The Evolution and Future of GUE
Founder and president Jarrod Jablonski describes his more than a quarter of a century long quest to promote excellence in technical diving.
by Jarrod Jablonski. Images courtesy of J. Jablonski and GUE unless noted.
The most difficult challenges we confront in our lives are the most formative and are instrumental in shaping the person we become. When I founded Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), the younger version of myself could not have foreseen all the challenges I would face, but equally true is that he would not have known the joy, the cherished relationships, the sense of purpose, the rich adventures, the humbling expressions of appreciation from those impacted, or the satisfaction of seeing the organization evolve and reshape our industry. Many kindred souls and extraordinary events have shaped these last 25 years, and an annotated chronology of GUE is included in this issue of InDEPTH. This timeline, however, will fail to capture the heart behind the creation of GUE, it will miss the passionate determination currently directing GUE, or the committed dedication ready to guide the next 25 years.
I don’t remember a time that I was not in, around, and under the water. Having learned to swim before I could walk, my mother helped infuse a deep connection to the aquatic world. I was scuba certified in South Florida with my father, and promptly took all our gear to North Florida where I became a dive instructor at the University of Florida. It was then that I began my infatuation with cave diving. I was in the perfect place for it, and my insatiable curiosity was multiplied while exploring new environments. I found myself with a strong desire to visit unique and hard-to-reach places, be they far inside a cave or deep within the ocean.
My enthusiasm for learning was pressed into service as an educator, and I became enamored with sharing these special environments. Along with this desire to share the beauty and uniqueness of underwater caves was a focused wish to assist people in acquiring the skills I could see they needed to support their personal diving goals. It could be said that these early experiences were the seeds that would germinate, grow, mature, and bloom into the organizing principles for GUE.
The Pre-GUE Years
Before jumping into the formational days of GUE, allow me to help you visualize the environment that was the incubator for the idea that became GUE’s reality. By the mid-1990s, I was deeply involved in a variety of exploration activities and had been striving to refine my own teaching capacity alongside this growing obsession for exploratory diving. While teaching my open water students, I was in the habit of practicing to refine my own trim and buoyancy, noticing that the students quickly progressed and were mostly able to copy my position in the water. Rather than jump immediately into the skills that were prescribed, I started to take more time to refine their comfort and general competency. This subtle shift made a world of difference in the training outcomes, creating impressive divers with only slightly more time and a shift in focus. In fact, the local dive boats would often stare in disbelief when told these divers were freshly certified, saying they looked better than most open water instructors!
By this point in my career, I could see the problems I was confronting were more systemic and less individualistic. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that key principles had been missing in both my recreational and technical education, not to mention the instructor training I received. The lack of basic skill refinement seemed to occur at all levels of training, from the beginner to the advanced diver. Core skills like buoyancy or in-water control were mainly left for divers to figure out on their own and almost nobody had a meaningful emphasis on efficient movement in the water. It was nearly unheard of to fail people in scuba diving, and even delaying certification for people with weak skills was very unusual. This remains all too common to this day, but I believe GUE has shifted the focus in important ways, encouraging people to think of certification more as a process and less as a right granted to them because they paid for training.
The weakness in skill refinement during dive training was further amplified by little-to-no training in how to handle problems when they developed while diving, as they always do. In those days, even technical/cave training had very little in the way of realistic training in problem resolution. The rare practice of failures was deeply disconnected from reality. For example, there was almost no realistic scenario training for things like a failed regulator or light. What little practice there was wasn’t integrated into the actual dive and seemed largely useless in preparing for real problems. I began testing some of my students with mock equipment failures, and I was shocked at how poorly even the best students performed. They were able to quickly develop the needed skills, but seeing how badly most handled their first attempts left me troubled about the response of most certified divers should they experience problems while diving, as they inevitably would.
Meanwhile, I was surrounded by a continual progression of diving fatalities, and most appeared entirely preventable. The loss of dear friends and close associates had a deep impact on my view of dive training and especially on the procedures being emphasized at that time within the community. The industry, in those early days, was wholly focused on deep air and solo diving. However, alarmingly lacking were clear bottle marking or gas switching protocols. It seemed to me to be no coincidence that diver after diver lost their lives simply because they breathed the wrong bottle at depth. Many others died mysteriously during solo dives or while deep diving with air.
One of the more impactful fatalities was Bob McGuire, who was a drill sergeant, friend, and occasional dive buddy. He was normally very careful and focused. One day a small problem with one regulator caused him to switch regulators before getting in the water. He was using a system that used color-coded regulators to identify the gas breathed. When switching the broken regulator, he either did not remember or did not have an appropriately colored regulator. This small mistake cost him his life. I clearly remember turning that one around in my head quite a bit. Something that trivial should not result in the loss of a life.
Also disturbing was the double fatality of good friends, Chris and Chrissy Rouse, who lost their lives while diving a German U-boat in 70 m/230 ft of water off the coast of New Jersey. I remember, as if the conversation with Chris were yesterday, asking him not to use air and even offering to support the cost as a counter to his argument about the cost of helium. And the tragedies continued: The loss of one of my closest friends Sherwood Schille, the death of my friend Steve Berman who lived next to me and with whom I had dived hundreds of times, the shock of losing pioneering explorer Sheck Exley, the regular stream of tech divers, and the half dozen body recoveries I made over only a couple years, which not only saddened me greatly, but also made me angry. Clearly, a radically different approach was needed.
Learning to Explore
Meanwhile, my own exploration activities were expanding rapidly. Our teams were seeking every opportunity to grow their capability while reducing unnecessary risk. To that end, we ceased deep air diving and instituted a series of common protocols with standardized equipment configurations, both of which showed great promise in expanding safety, efficiency, and comfort. We got a lot of things wrong and experienced enough near misses to keep us sharp and in search of continual improvement.
But we looked carefully at every aspect of our diving, seeking ways to advance safety, efficiency, and all-around competency while focusing plenty of attention into the uncommon practice of large-scale, team diving, utilizing setup dives, safety divers, and inwater support. We developed diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) towing techniques, which is something that had not been done previously. We mostly ignored and then rewrote CNS oxygen toxicity calculations, developed novel strategies for calculating decompression time, and created and refined standard procedures for everything from bottle switching to equipment configurations. Many of these developments arose from simple necessity. There were no available decompression programs and no decompression tables available for the dives we were doing. Commonly used calculations designed to reduce the risk of oxygen toxicity were useless to our teams, because even our more casual dives were 10, 20, or even 30 times the allowable limit. The industry today takes most of this for granted, but in the early days of technical diving, we had very few tools, save a deep motivation to go where no one had gone before.
Many of these adventures included friends in the Woodville Karst Plain Project (WKPP), where I refined policies within the team and most directly with longtime dive buddy George Irvine. This “Doing it Right” (DIR) approach sought to create a more expansive system than Hogarthian diving, which itself had been born in the early years of the WKPP and was named after William Hogarth Main, a friend and frequent dive buddy of the time. By this point, I had been writing about and expanding upon Hogarthian diving for many years. More and more of the ideas we wanted to develop were not Bill Main’s priorities and lumping them into his namesake became impractical, especially given all the debate within the community over what was and was not Hogarthian.
A similar move from DIR occurred some years later when GUE stepped away from the circular debates that sought to explain DIR and embraced a GUE configuration with standard protocols, something entirely within our scope to define.
These accumulating events reached critical mass in 1998. I had experienced strong resistance to any form of standardization, even having been asked to join a special meeting of the board of directors (BOD) for a prominent cave diving agency. Their intention was to discourage me from using any form of standard configuration, claiming that students should be allowed to do whatever they “felt’ was best. It was disconcerting for me, as a young instructor, to be challenged by pioneers in the sport; nevertheless, I couldn’t agree with the edict that someone who was doing something for the first time should be tasked with determining how it should be done.
This sort of discussion was common, but the final straw occurred when I was approached by the head of a technical diving agency, an organization for which I had taught for many years. I was informed that he considered it a violation of standards not to teach air to a depth of at least 57 m/190 ft. This same individual told me that I had to stop using MOD bottle markings and fall in line with the other practices endorsed by his agency. Push had finally come to shove, and I set out to legitimize the training methods and dive protocols that had been incubating in my mind and refined with our teams over the previous decade. Years of trial and many errors while operating in dynamic and challenging environments were helping us to identify what practices were most successful in support of excellence, safety, and enjoyment.
Forming GUE as a non-profit company was intended to neutralize the profit motivations that appeared to plague other agencies. We hoped to remove the incentive to train—and certify—the greatest number of divers as quickly as possible because it seemed at odds with ensuring comfortable and capable divers. The absence of a profit motive complemented the aspirational plans that longtime friend Todd Kincaid and I had dreamed of. We imagined a global organization that would facilitate the efforts of underwater explorers while supporting scientific research and conservation initiatives.
I hoped to create an agency that placed most of the revenue in the hands of fully engaged and enthusiastic instructors, allowing them the chance to earn a good living and become professionals who might stay within the industry over many years. Of course, that required forgoing the personal benefit of ownership and reduced the revenue available to the agency, braking its growth and complicating expansion plans. This not only slowed growth but provided huge challenges in developing a proper support network while creating the agency I envisioned. There were years of stressful days and nights because of the need to forgo compensation and the deep dependance upon generous volunteers who had to fit GUE into their busy lives. If it were not for these individuals and our loyal members, we would likely never have been successful. Volunteer support and GUE membership have been and remain critical to the growing success of our agency. If you are now or have ever been a volunteer or GUE member, your contribution is a significant part of our success, and we thank you.
The challenges of the early years gave way to steady progress—always slower than desired, with ups and downs, but progress, nonetheless. Some challenges were not obvious at the outset. For example, many regions around the world were very poorly developed in technical diving. Agencies intent on growth seemed to ignore that problem, choosing whoever was available, and regardless of their experience in the discipline, they would soon be teaching.
This decision to promote people with limited experience became especially problematic when it came to Instructor Trainers. People with almost no experience in something like trimix diving were qualifying trimix instructors. Watching this play out in agency after agency, and on continent after continent, was a troubling affair. Conversely, it took many years for GUE to develop and train people of appropriate experience, especially when looking to critical roles, including high-level tech and instructor trainers. At the same time, GUE’s efforts shaped the industry in no small fashion as agencies began to model their programs after GUE’s training protocols. Initially, having insisted that nobody would take something like Fundamentals, every agency followed suit in developing their own version of these programs, usually taught by divers that had followed GUE training.
This evolving trend wasn’t without complexity but was largely a positive outcome. Agencies soon focused on fundamental skills, incorporated some form of problem-resolution training, adhered to GUE bottle and gas switching protocols, reduced insistence on deep air, and started talking more about developing skilled divers, among other changes. This evolution was significant when compared to the days of arguing about why a person could not learn to use trimix until they were good while diving deep on air.
To be sure, a good share of these changes was more about maintaining business relevance than making substantive improvements. The changes themselves were often more style than substance, lacking objective performance standards and the appropriate retraining of instructors. Despite these weaknesses, they remain positive developments. Talking about something is an important first step and, in all cases, it makes room for strong instructors in any given agency to practice what is being preached. In fact, these evolving trends have allowed GUE to now push further in the effort to create skilled and experienced divers, enhancing our ability to run progressively more elaborate projects with increasingly more sophisticated outcomes.
The Future of GUE
The coming decades of GUE’s future appear very bright. Slow but steady growth has now placed the organization in a position to make wise investments, ensuring a vibrant and integrated approach. Meanwhile, evolving technology and a broad global base place GUE in a unique and formidable position. Key structural and personnel adjustments complement a growing range of virtual tools, enabling our diverse communities and representatives to collaborate and advance projects in a way that, prior to now, was not possible. Strong local communities can be easily connected with coordinated global missions; these activities include ever-more- sophisticated underwater initiatives as well as structural changes within the GUE ecosystem. One such forward-thinking project leverages AI-enabled, adaptive learning platforms to enhance both the quality and efficiency of GUE education. Most agencies, including GUE, have been using some form of online training for years, but GUE is taking big steps to reinvent the quality and efficiency of this form of training. This is not to replace, but rather to extend and augment inwater and in-person learning outcomes. Related tools further improve the fluidity, allowing GUE to seamlessly connect previously distant communities, enabling technology, training, and passion to notably expand our ability to realize our broad, global mission.
Meanwhile, GUE and its range of global communities are utilizing evolving technologies to significantly expand the quality and scope of their project initiatives. Comparing the impressive capability of current GUE communities with those of our early years shows a radical and important shift, allowing results equal or even well beyond those possible when compared even with well-funded commercial projects. Coupled with GUE training and procedural support, these ongoing augmentations place our communities at the forefront of underwater research and conservation. This situation will only expand and be further enriched with the use of evolving technology and closely linked communities. Recent and planned expansions to our training programs present a host of important tools that will continue being refined in the years to come. Efforts to expand and improve upon the support provided to GUE projects with technology, people, and resources are now coming online and will undoubtedly be an important part of our evolving future.
The coming decades will undoubtedly present challenges. But I have no doubt that together we will not only overcome those obstacles but we will continue to thrive. I believe that GUE’s trajectory remains overwhelmingly positive, for we are an organization that is continually evolving—driven by a spirit of adventure, encouraged by your heartwarming stories, and inspired by the satisfaction of overcoming complex problems. Twenty-five years ago, when I took the path less traveled, the vision I had for GUE was admittedly ambitious. The reality, however, has exceeded anything I could have imagined. I know that GUE will never reach a point when it is complete but that it will be an exciting lifelong journey, one that, for me, will define a life well lived. I look forward our mutual ongoing “Quest for Excellence.”
Jarrod is an avid explorer, researcher, author, and instructor who teaches and dives in oceans and caves around the world. Trained as a geologist, Jarrod is the founder and president of GUE and CEO of Halcyon and Extreme Exposure while remaining active in conservation, exploration, and filming projects worldwide. His explorations regularly place him in the most remote locations in the world, including numerous world record cave dives with total immersions near 30 hours. Jarrod is also an author with dozens of publications, including three books.
A Few GUE Fundamentals
Similar to military, commercial and public safety divers, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is a standards-based diving community, with specific protocols, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and tools. Here are selected InDEPTH stories on some of the key aspects of GUE diving, including a four-part series on the history and development of GUE decompression procedures by founder and president Jarod Jablonski.
GUE Instructor Examiner Guy Shockey explains the thought and details that goes into GUE’s most popular course, Fundamentals, aka “Fundies,” which has been taken by numerous industry luminaries. Why all the fanfare? Shockey characterizes the magic as “simple things done precisely!
Instructor evaluator Rich Walker attempts to answer the question, “why is Fundamentals GUE’s most popular diving course?” Along the way, he clarifies some of the myths and misconceptions about GUE training. Hint: there is no Kool-Aid.
As you’d expect, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) has a standardized approach to prepare your equipment for the dive, and its own pre-dive checklist: the GUE EDGE. Here explorer and filmmaker Dimitris Fifis preps you to take the plunge, GUE-style.
Instructor trainer Guy Shockey discusses the purpose, value, and yes, flexibility of standard operating procedures, or SOPs, in diving. Sound like an oxymoron? Shockey explains how SOPs can help offload some of our internal processing and situational awareness, so we can focus on the important part of the dive—having FUN!
Like the military and commercial diving communities before them, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) uses standardized breathing mixtures for various depth ranges and for decompression. Here British wrecker and instructor evaluator Rich Walker gets lyrical and presents the reasoning behind standard mixes and their advantages, compared with a “best mix” approach. Don’t worry, you won’t need your hymnal, though Walker may have you singing some blues.
Is it a secret algorithm developed by the WKPP to get you out of the water faster sans DCI, or an unsubstantiated decompression speculation promoted by Kool-Aid swilling quacks and charlatans? British tech instructor/instructor evaluator Rich Walker divulges the arcane mysteries behind GUE’s ratio decompression protocols in this first of a two part series.
Global Underwater Explorers is known for taking its own holistic approach to gear configuration. Here GUE board member and Instructor Trainer Richard Lundgren explains the reasoning behind its unique closed-circuit rebreather configuration. It’s all about the gas!
Though they were late to the party, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) is leaning forward on rebreathers, and members are following suit. So what’s to become of their open circuit-based TECH 2 course? InDepth’s Ashley Stewart has the deets.
Diving projects, or expeditions—think Bill Stone’s Wakulla Springs 1987 project, or the original explorations of the Woodville Karst Plain’s Project (WKPP)—helped give birth to technical diving, and today continue as an important focal point and organizing principle for communities like Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). The organization this year unveiled a new Project Diver program, intended to elevate “community-led project dives to an entirely new level of sophistication.” Here, authors Guy Shockey and Francesco Cameli discuss the power of projects and take us behind the scenes of the new program
Decompression, Deep Stops and the Pursuit of Precision in a Complex World In this first of a four-part series, Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) founder and president Jarrod Jablonski explores the historical development of GUE decompression protocols, with a focus on technical diving and the evolving trends in decompression research.