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Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class

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!”

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By Guy Shockey
Header image by Julian Mühlenhaus.

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Divers are attracted to GUE training for a variety of reasons, some of which may include a desire to increase their level of comfort and safety in the water and continue their diving education with world class instructors. Some divers might be experiencing dissatisfaction with their previous training, or they might simply want to begin their training in technical or cave diving. The reasons are as varied as the individuals. For most divers who are already open-water certified, the first step in the GUE training ladder is the GUE Fundamentals course. So, let’s talk about what a Fundamentals course is, what you should expect, and what actually happens in the class.

Fundamentals is a four-day course that includes a minimum of 30 hours of instruction. The course consists of both academic class work, out-of-water drills, and instruction in the water. You will most likely also participate in a pool session as well, where you will be expected to complete your swim test and your breath-hold swim test. 

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus.

During your classroom work, you will cover several subjects including but not limited to buoyancy and trim, streamlining and equipment configuration, propulsion techniques, situational awareness, communication, breathing gas overview and dive planning, and gas management. Many of these subjects will be familiar to you from previous diving courses, but in the case of Fundamentals course, you should expect a superior standard of instruction compared to what you have received previously. Note also that the diving portion of the class is conducted using nitrox 32, GUE’s basic standard breathing gas.  If you are not already certified to dive nitrox, you will also come away with a nitrox certification.

One of the central tenants of GUE instruction is the importance of the team in diving. Consequently,  your course will begin with an introduction of all your teammates as well as your GUE instructor. GUE instructors are experienced divers and educators and truly enjoy sharing their experiences with their students. In many cases, you may not be familiar with your course mates, and this introduction serves to begin the team-building process. Your instructor will also take this opportunity  to spend some time introducing GUE as an agency.  

Simple Things Done Precisely

It has been said that the GUE Fundamentals instruction can be best summarized as “simple things done precisely.” While nothing about Fundamentals is complicated, you will still be expected to achieve a particular objective standard of performance before you earn a passing grade in this class. 

This objective performance standard is spelled out clearly in GUE Standards. Even though your instructor will go over this with you very thoroughly at the beginning of your class, you should review it for yourself on the GUE website. For the majority of divers, this will be the first time in their diving education that they will have been exposed to an objective performance standard. There is no subjectivity here: you either meet the performance standard or you don’t. 

On this basis, your instructor will then decide if you have met the performance standard criteria for:

a) Receiving a Technical pass, the standards of which are quite high, and which is necessary for you to continue your GUE training in either technical or cave diving 

b) Achieving a Recreational pass for those who plan to continue rec diving

c)  Receiving a Provisional pass, requiring that you practice and return later for re-evaluation 

d) Failing the class

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus.

As was mentioned, the performance criteria are not complicated in and of themselves. For example, maintaining neutral buoyancy throughout the water column is not a difficult task, but you will be expected to maintain a “buoyancy window” that is either 1 m/3 ft or 1.5 m/5 ft depending on whether you are looking for a “Tech” pass or a “Rec” pass. 

You will be expected to demonstrate advanced propulsion techniques such as the frog kick, the modified frog kick, the flutter kick, the modified flutter kick, and the back kick. Again, these propulsion techniques are not difficult, but they will require some practice. You will also be expected to maintain a certain standard of “trim” in the water. Trim refers to your ability to demonstrate a horizontal attitude in the water. You will also need to demonstrate a series of drills in the water while maintaining buoyancy and trim. This sounds simple, but it is probably the most difficult part of the course since a little task loading can complicate an otherwise reasonable demonstration of buoyancy and trim. 



Creating Thinking Divers

GUE students are expected to come to GUE classes with the required equipment as specified in the course outline.  During the first part of your class, your instructor will go over all your diving gear thoroughly, will provide a critical review of your equipment, and will offer suggestions on its appropriateness and fit. 

That’s when you can start asking questions: GUE divers are thinking divers and do not adopt a particular piece of equipment or gear configuration for a less-than-optimal reason. If you want to know the “why” of something, ask. There are no “because” answers in GUE: each question has probably been addressed somewhere by someone, and if your instructor does not have a logical and concise answer, they will find it for you. 

The rest of your course will consist of both classroom lectures as well as  open-water diving, where you will practice and demonstrate your skills. These water sessions will be somewhat different than what you may have experienced in your previous diving training. This is not a case of “follow-me” diving but hands-on education where you are expected to organize, lead, and run your own dives.

Getting Wet

 A team captain will be appointed for each dive, and they will be expected to lead the divers in the water as much as a sports team captain marshals the players on the field. This role will be rotated throughout the team, and everyone will get multiple opportunities to lead dives. Your instructor will evaluate your progress and provide you with meaningful feedback and concrete suggestions. 

This feedback will also be supplemented by your instructor’s secret weapon: video review. Each dive session will be recorded on video to assist in the debriefing. The power of a video replay is extremely effective! You will be able to see, in glorious HD, how you are progressing. It takes the subjectivity completely out of the equation and provides useful information for your instructor to assist in helping you to correct mistakes as well as allowing you to reinforce existing good skills.

As mentioned, you will be expected to complete your swim test and your breath-hold swim test. Ironically the swim test seems to be one of the most dreaded parts of the course, yet it is also the part of the course which you can easily prepare for and practice beforehand!  

Consider that, as a diver, you are in open water, and the only thing keeping you from drowning is your life support equipment or your ability to float or swim. It only stands to reason that you would be able to demonstrate a moderate ability to swim! If you feel this may be a problem, I would strongly suggest taking a few lessons beforehand and work on your swim technique. 

You should expect to spend a lot of time in the water and need to make sure your exposure protection is sufficient. Make no mistake: this course is intense and comes fast and furious. Your instructor will allow as much time as possible for you to practice or repeat your skills during the course, but the course does have an expiration date. That said, there are several things you can do to make the most of your time in the water. 

Be Prepared

To recap, it’s important to come to class prepared by having done all the required reading and pre-class exercises. You and your teammates are investing a good deal of time and money in this training, and it is not fair to expect the rest of the class to receive less value for their training because you did not do the preparatory work. Also, keep in mind  that the course is intense and often goes into the evening. You will be tired and perhaps want to skip the required reading. Don’t make that mistake. None of your previous training will make up for not being prepared. 

Next, if you are unsure about the equipment requirements, contact your instructor for advice. These requirements are very specific and are there for your benefit. You will understand why once you start the course. If you are fortunate to have the opportunity to dive or socialize with GUE trained divers, ask them about their gear arrangement. Moreover, if you decide to take the class in double cylinders, get some experience with them beforehand. A Fundamentals class is not the place to experiment for the first time with a new drysuit or a new set of doubles. Don’t add to your task loading by having to manage new equipment. 

Photo by Julian Mühlenhaus.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, find some GUE divers in your area and dive with them. They can be a useful resource regarding your upcoming course. Mentorship is a very important part of GUE diving, and I don’t know a single GUE diver who wouldn’t be willing to help a newbie with advice, and most likely be inclined to jump in the water to help with skill development. 

GUE Fundamentals is all about simple things done precisely. Students  consistently come away from the class feeling that they received good value for their dollar. Remember,  when beginning a journey, the knowledge of where you want to go is essential. Also necessary is an understanding of where you are when you begin your journey. At the completion of the GUE Fundamentals course, you will have a very clear picture of where you are in terms of your diving. The nature of the course provides everyone with an objective, standardized frame of reference. 

You will also have a very clear picture of where you are in relation to the baseline for diving competency. Remember that it doesn’t matter where you are in this learning curve so much as it matters that you know where you are. Many problems and incidents in diving come from unprepared divers encountering unexpected circumstances. The real value of the Fundamentals class is that it will show you exactly where you are on that learning curve, and it will substantially move you along it in just four days! 

Dive Deeper:

InDepth: Back to Fundamentals: An Introduction to GUE’s Most Popular Diving Course by Rich Walker

InDepth: Never Too Late: Veteran Sports Diver Tackles GUE Fundamentals by Sue Crowe

GUE: GUE Diver Training


Guy Shockey is a GUE instructor and trainer who is actively involved in mentoring the next generation of GUE divers. He started diving in 1982 in a cold mountain lake in Alberta, Canada. Since then he has logged somewhere close to 8,000 dives in most of the oceans of the world. He is a passionate technical diver with a particular interest in deeper ocean wreck diving. He is a former military officer and professional hunter with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science. He is also an entrepreneur with several successful startup companies to his credit.

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Risk-Takers, Thrill-Seekers, Sensation-Seekers, and … You?

It’s likely that many in our community no longer think of tech diving as a risky activity, or perhaps even appreciate how important taking risks may be to one’s personal health—let alone that of our species. Fortunately, InDEPTH’s copy editing manager Pat Jablonski dived deep into the origins, meaning, and benefits of regularly taking risks, and even offers a thrill-seeking quiz for your edgy edification. What have you got to lose?

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by Pat Jablonski. Title photo courtesy of Katelyn Compton Escott.

“Life without risk is not worth living.” – Charles Lindbergh

What defines a risk? What is involved in taking a risk?

Difficult questions to answer, because something that feels risky to one person might be yawn-worthy to another. Risk taking, unscientifically, is something you do that gets your blood up, raises your heartbeat, awakens your senses, and makes you hyper-aware of your surroundings.

Surely we can agree that the Covid pandemic has added an unexpected level of risk to everyday life. Add poor drivers, mass shootings, contentious politics, global climate change, and many are left believing that meeting each day is risky enough. But that’s not true for people who identify as risk-takers or thrill-seekers.

“Everyone has a ‘risk muscle’. You keep in shape by trying new things. If you don’t, it atrophies. Make a point of using it once a day.” – Roger Von Tech

There are many activities that go to the trouble of defining the level of risk involved with a specific activity, and while that’s not the purpose of this article, you should know that scuba diving ranks fairly high on the risky behavior scale–higher than skydiving and rappelling. And, cave/wreck diving or freediving isn’t on any risk scale we could locate. We can assume it’s up there—near or at the top.

Fock A. Analysis of recreational closed-circuit rebreather deaths 1998–2010 Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine. 2013 Volume 43, No. 2. With the caveat that they are “best guess numbers,” Fock concluded that rebreather diving is likely 5-10x as risky as open circuit scuba diving, accounting for about 4-5 deaths per 100,000 dives, compared to about 0.4 to 0.5 deaths per 100k dives for open circuit scuba. This makes rebreather diving more risky than skydiving at .99/100k, but far less risky than base-jumping at 43 deaths/100k. The current belief is that rebreather diving has gotten safer.

Divers are a fairly small niche group for many reasons. One of them could involve the degree of danger associated with the sport. Answer this: Do dry land people ever ask you why you would want to take such a chance with your life in order to go where you weren’t meant to go? 

It’s a reasonable question, albeit a hard one to answer.

Photo courtesy of Glen Kwan

“A life without risk is a life unlived, my friend.” – Big Time Rush

Kevin Costner’s Waterworld aside, humans have (yet) to be born with gills or webbed toes. Still, there you are. You’ve spent unmentionable amounts of money. You’ve carved out a whole day, or maybe weeks, away from your to-do list. You’re suited up and look like an alien. You’re on a quest to explore the aquatic world where you’re able to breathe only with a cumbersome apparatus. You’re planning to explore inner space! You’re going to delve into that amazing realm that’s off limits to most people. 

You may look all matter-of-fact, cool as a cucumber, another day at the office, but it’s a thrill, isn’t it? Inside, you’re a kid with butterflies in your tummy who’s getting away with something big and exciting. Okay, it’s true–you and your team are highly trained, your equipment is top-notch, every box is checked off, and you are behaving responsibly. However, you’d have to be in a coma to not realize that what you’re about to do is taking a risk. Who doesn’t know that people have died doing what you’re doing? Answer honestly: How much more exhilarating is the experience when you know it’s not a walk in the park? Our own Michael Menduno admitted that “the feeling of being more alive lasted for days” after a dive.

So, you’re a diver. Does that mean you’re a risk taker? A thrill seeker? A sensation seeker?

Let’s dive into that subject, first by taking a little quiz, shall we? 

Photo courtesy of SJ Alice Bennett

From A Death Wish to Life Is Precious

In the past, too many mental health professionals treated risky behavior like a disease in need of a cure, focusing on the negative side of risk, even using government funding to address risky behavior and stamp it out. 

Before that, Sigmund Freud might have even believed that thrill seekers had a death wish; in fact, it’s what was believed for many years. 

Modern-day science doesn’t support either theory.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – TS Elliot

For our purposes, we’re focusing on the positive aspects of taking chances, pushing boundaries, and seeking experiences that make life feel . . . more alive. Richer. Fuller. We want to examine what goes into the psyche of a person (like you?) who is enthusiastically willing to engage in an activity already identified as dangerous, possibly even by the people who are engaging in it, and hear what some experts on the subject have to say about such people.

Photo courtesy of Jen MacKinnon

The University of Michigan’s Daniel Kruger proposes that taking chances is a fundamental part of human nature going all the way back to our ancient ancestors—prehistoric humans who had to constantly put their safety on the line in their fight for survival. Think fighting off a wooly mammoth with a stick. Kruger believes we have consequently retained many of those same instincts today, and he believes that it’s a good thing. 

This writer, who is related to a major risk-taker, has always believed that heart-quickening experiences are essential for a well-lived life. I’m convinced and have long proposed that those pulse-pounding moments are often accompanied by a deepened understanding of and appreciation for one’s life—perhaps all life. And I’m happy to report that current science confirms that belief.

“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” – Jim Rohn

Dr. Kruger is one of the scientists who proposes that taking risks means “seeking that moment when life feels most precious.

This should not be news for you diving adventurers out there.

Nature vs. Nurture: Born That Way or Learned To Love Adventure

Another scientist, Marvin Zuckerberg, affirms the theory that risk taking is in our DNA. “Certain people have high sensation-seeking personalities that demand challenges and seek out environments that most people’s brains are geared to avoid.” I’ll go out on a limb and say that underwater caves or shipwrecks would qualify as environments most would avoid.

Dr. Cynthia Thompson, the researcher behind a 2014 study from the University of British Columbia, was early to look at the genetic factors that might make a person predisposed to participating in extreme sports, ones that are typically defined as activities where death is a real possibility. The results of her study revealed that risk-takers shared a similar genetic constitution, a genetic variant that influences how powerful feelings are during intense situations.

Photo courtesy of Steve Boisvert

Most scientists agree that personality is a complicated mix of genetic and environmental influences. The “nature vs. nurture” dilemma is alive and well. Dr. Thompson concluded that people who engaged in so-called high-risk sports were not impulsive at all, not reckless either. Instead, “they’re highly skilled masters of their discipline who take a very thoughtful approach to their sports.”

A study conducted in 2019 examined human boundaries, people who pushed them to their limits and beyond, and what made those people tick. Zuckerman labeled such people “sensation seekers” and defined them as “people who chase novel, complex, and intense sensations, who love experience for its own sake, and who may take risks to pursue those experiences.” Is that you?

“History is full of risk-takers. In fact, you could say that risk-takers are the ones who get to make history.” – Daniel Kruger

Other experts posit an alternate theory—one proposing that modern society in the age of seatbelts, guardrails, child-proof caps, safety precautions, laws, rules, and regulations has dulled the sense of survival. In other words, life has flattened out and no longer feels exciting, or risky. So, is one of the reasons we seek excitement because of boredom? 

Maslow’s Theory of Self-actualization

I don’t honestly know who was the first proponent of risk-taking being a positive thing, but the work of Abraham Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, was one of the first. Maslow became one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, and he developed a theory of human motivation that advocates for “peak experiences.” Peak experiences are not attained without risk.

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again” – A Maslow

He proposed that, in addition to meeting basic needs, all humans from birth seek fulfillment in terms of what he called self-actualization—finding their purpose/being authentic. Self-actualization involves peak experiences—those life-altering moments that take us outside ourselves, make us feel one with nature, and allow us to experience a sense of wonder and awe. Maslow also believed that those who were able to have such peak experiences tended to seek them out rather than waiting for the next random occurrence. Hence the anticipation of the next dive?

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Anonymous

Photo courtesy of Adam Haydock

Out of Your Comfort Zone Into A World of Wonder

Psychologist Eric Brymer from Queenstown University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, has spent years studying extreme athletes and has this to say: “They’re actually extremely well-prepared, careful, intelligent, and thoughtful athletes with high levels of self-awareness and a deep knowledge of the environment and of the activity.”

Recent research backs up what some extreme sports athletes have been saying for years, even if only to themselves.

“What participants get from extreme sports is deeply transformational, a sense of connecting with a deep sense of self and being authentic, a powerful relationship with the natural world, a sense of freedom,” says Brymer. “They get a strong sense of living life to its fullest as if touching their full potential.”

Brymer’s comments mirror what Maslow, the founder of humanistic psychology, said back in the 1940s.

We’re not advocating for taking stupid chances (such as diving without proper training, or necessary precautions) and we don’t believe anyone reading this article does that. We simply intended to focus on the scientific evidence that supports adventurers—people who get a thrill from an activity that offers—as a bonus; a chance to feel awakened from the mundane and thrust into a world of wonder. 

Risk-takers and sensation- or thrill-seekers chase unique experiences. Often, those experiences bring awareness of important issues or increase essential knowledge about the planet we share. Many people overanalyze and dither when faced with an unfamiliar situation; they shy away from unsettling circumstances. Risk-takers face the unknown and trust themselves to prevail. Learning to scuba dive, for example, pushes people out of their comfort zone, takes them into a realm foreign and mysterious. Diving forces divers to pay complete attention to a task, to focus with laser-like precision in order to conquer misgivings, and to attain a skill that few others have. Confidence comes with accomplishment. Leadership emerges. Fear is overcome. 

Sensation-seekers see potential stressors as challenges to be met rather than threats that might defeat them. With action, resilience develops. High sensation-seekers report lower perceived stress, more positive emotions, and greater life satisfaction. Engaging in extreme activities brings them peace. 

What does it bring you?

Dive Deeper

Bandolier: Risk of dying and sporting activities

National Geographic: What Makes Risk Takers Tempt Fate? Recent research suggests that genetic, environmental, and personal factors can make people take on risky—even potentially fatal—challenges.

Healthday: Taking Risks By Chris Woolston HealthDay Reporter


Pat Jablonski heads up the copy edit team for InDEPTH. She is a blogger, a writer of stories, a retired tutor, English writing teacher, and therapist. She’s a friend, a wife, a proud mother and grandmother. She is also a native of Florida, having spent most of her life in Palm Beach County. She has a B.A. in English from FAU in Boca Raton and an M.S.W. from Barry University in Miami. She learned to swim in the ocean, a place she thinks of as home, but she doesn’t dive.

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