Edd is a cave explorer, instructor trainer and owner of Cave Adventurers based in Marianna, Florida. He is a modern day hero to many through his exploits in not only for body recoveries, but actually completing several water filled cave rescues, including that of British Cave Diving group (CDG) member Josh Bratchley. He is the Safety Director for the NSS-CDS and was awarded a Life Saving Award in 2013. In 2019, Edd received the NSS-CDS Lifetime Achievement Award, and the organization named an award after him, the “Edd Sorenson Life Saving Award.” He also received the first ever DAN Hero Award for his numerous cave rescues, the NAUI Albert Pierce medal for heroism, and was the first American to receive a Lifesaving Medal from the Royal Order of St. John. Working with the manufacturers, Edd was instrumental in the development of a number of open circuit sidemount systems.He is credited with much of the development work that went into the KISS Sidewinder mCCR and is one of the world’s leading Cave CCR instructors.
Interview by Michael Menduno
What is sidemount to you?
When I started sidemount in 1998, it was a means to an end. It was just considered a job-specific tool back then. There was no such thing as courses, there were very few people using it. For me was a way to get into some of the smaller caves. When I moved here in 2003, there was a whole bunch of sidemount caves all around my house. I would use sidemount for small caves exploration and back-mounted doubles for the big ones.
Back then I was much bigger. I had really big arms, big chest and the back plate would cut into my armpits. Also, the harness was so uncomfortable. I hated doubles since the first day I put them on. You had to build your own sidemount harnesses back then, there were no commercially-made harnesses. I turned mine into an “H” harness because it was much more comfortable.
So, it was love at first sight?
It was. I thought, there is absolutely nothing I can’t do in sidemount. So I started diving everywhere in sidemount. Then I started pushing it to all of my customers, and a friend of mine, Jeff Loflin, who actually created the very first PADI open water sidemount specialty course , which is what really made sidemount go worldwide. He used to tease me all the time. He called it, “Edd preaching on his soapbox again about sidemount.” As I would build sidemount harnesses for my customers.
They used it for exploration of little stuff, nobody ever was really concerned with buoyancy and trim. But when I started using it everywhere, obviously, I was very concerned with buoyancy and trim because with my reputation, you don’t want to be out of trim, and have somebody go, “Oh, did you see that? Edd Sorenson? He’s terrible.” So, we couldn’t have that.
The early systems didn’t include a wing, right?
When we would build our own, there were no wings for sidemount. They were all wings for doubles. But the physics were all wrong. The lift was in the wrong spot. They were designed to lift the tanks which are clear up by your ears; doubles are about 10″/25 cm higher than sidemount cylinders. So there was too much lift up high and not enough lift down low. I started using a shock cord to bungee the wings to force the gas down low. Then sidemount harnesses started coming out. The Armadillo, made by Brett Hemphill and Curt Bowen and the Nomad by Dive Rite were the first two commercially available systems. The Armadillo I think was slightly ahead of it. It was really a pretty darn good wing shape design.
You worked with some of the early brands?
Yes. With the Nomad, I was friends with Lamar [Lamar Hires] and we were diving a lot. So I chose the Nomad when he built that; it was easier to modify. It used a TransPac harness and back mounted wing, so the lift was on the wrong spot. So I started bungee-ing, i.e., shock cording the wing to force the gas down low, which made it work. It was all over the Internet. If you wanted trim in your Nomad, you had to have Edd’s mods. People would send them to me to modify them.
You were also involved in the Hollis system, right?
Unfortunately, nobody at Hollis knew anything about sidemount when they came out with their sidemount rig. It was called the SMS 100. Nick Hollis, who is a very good friend of mine, sent me one of these harnesses and asked me, “tell me what you think”. A couple weeks later, he calls me up and said, “Hey, did you dive it”? I said, yeah. He goes, what did you think? And I say, you made the common mistake and put the lift up too high. He goes, excuse me? I said, you heard me just fine. I built a bungee loop system for it, and at that point it was actually a good diving rig. Again it was all over the Internet. The conversations would go something like, “Oh, I got my SMS 100, it’s the greatest thing ever”. Some people would say,
“It’s terrible, mine’s terrible, I hate mine.”
“Well do you have the Edd mods?”
“Oh, well, you’ve got to have the Edd mods.” At one point, like the third year of the SMS 100, we put in 3000 hours just modifying SMS 100s that people sent to us from all over the world.
Wow! Hollis should have put you on payroll. Get your Edd mods!
Here was one. As I said I had big arms, big shoulders, big chest, big back and I couldn’t reach my arm up to dump the corrugated hose inflator, and I hated reaching back and trying to grab the wing dump because the tanks were in the way. So, I took the corrugated hose off the top, put it on the bottom, put the dump on the top and ran clear plastic tubing with cave line to it to a ball on the left shoulder. And everybody gave me shit about that. “Don’t listen to Edd, he’s dangerous, he’ll get you killed”. And now, almost every sidemount rig on the market has that. That was what I invented 20 years ago.
Nick called me up one day and he said, “Hey, we’ve got a lot of dealers that are really pissed off at you because somebody will buy an SMS 100 from them, they’ll end up sending it to you to get modified, and you treat the customers so well, they start buying all their shit from you. So that dealer hates you now.” Then Nick asked me, “Can you build us one that’s ready to go out of the box?” So basically, I designed the SMS 75, which was a modified SMS 100. That was the top-selling rig for years.
That’s when cave divers in Mexico started diving sidemount, right?
They were about eight years behind the curve. They thought that that was too much bulk and wanted a more simplistic design. That’s about the time Steve Bogaerts came out with the Razor and introduced the term “minimalist.” We’ve got to be minimalist. We want minimal stuff. Because we are wearing aluminum 80s. We are not diving those heavy steel tanks. We don’t need those big wings. We’re diving wetsuits, not dry suits. Nick also wanted to make a smaller, minimalist version. He asked me to help him.
“Hey, can you help us fix this?” I said, “Yes.” We started all over and made the Katana 2 which is now one of the two top-selling sidemount rigs on the market. Anyway, that’s how I feel about it. It’s been my life for 20 years. All I do is preach sidemount, talk sidemount, dive sidemount. I haven’t had doubles on my back since 2003.
I understand that you are also responsible for getting GUE founder and president Jarrod Jablonski in sidemount back around 2010/2011 and were working with Halcyon. It took a while but GUE eventually came out with their own Sidemount program in 2018.
Jarrod and I have been friends for well over 20 years and I used to tease him all the time, “When are you going to dump those friggin doubles and we’ll go do some real diving?” Then I had my golden moment, when I actually got JJ into sidemount and took him on a dive in Hole-in-the Wall. JJ pulls me aside just before we are going to get in the water and he goes, “Now Edd, don’t go in there and just get me stuck just to prove you can!” I said, ”I would never do that; you know me better than that.” And he said, “You always used to tease me and say that there’s a big beautiful cave but I’ll never see it because I can’t get doubles through the restriction. That’s what I want to see.” And I said, “Well, you’re in luck, that’s where I’m taking you.” So I took him on a dive. My golden moment: get JJ in sidemount.
I know that you worked with Ken Charlesworth at Halcyon as well. You are definitely a poster child for sidemount diving!!
People used to tell me all the time all the things I couldn’t do in sidemount and still do. “You can’t dive off a boat, you can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t scooter, you can’t double stage, you can’t quad.” Bullshit. And I would tell everybody the same thing. “There’s absolutely nothing I can’t do in sidemount that you can do in doubles, and there are a shit ton of things that I can do in sidemount that you can’t do in doubles.”
Edd, I have no doubt about that! Thank you!
Return to: The Who’s Who of Sidemount
Speaking Sidemount: E029 – Cave Rescues & Recoveries with Edd Sorenson
Speaking Sidemount: E040 – Edd Sorenson on KISS Sidewinder CCR Training
Divesoft Talks: Edd Sorenson – Who do cave divers call when lost in a cave?
GUE 25 Anniversary Conference Round Up
Global Underwater Explorers held a conference to commemorate the organization’s 25th anniversary. Held at GUE headquarters in High Springs, Florida, where it was founded by a group of cave divers founded in 1998, the organization convened instructors and divers from all over the world to recall the people and diving technologies that shaped GUE, how they’ve changed over time, and how they’ll evolve in the future.
In addition to celebrating the occasion, GUE convened speakers to present on topics related to its three biggest priorities: Exploration, Education, Conservation.
Shipwreck explorer Mario Arena, for example, gave a presentation on the “Battle of Convoys in the Mediterranean,” his 16-year project discovering and documenting dozens of shipwrecks left behind by the three-year-long battle during World War II and how his team is bringing the wrecks back to life using new technologies.
Cave explorers Fred Devos, Julien Fortin, and Sam Meacham gave a presentation on their efforts to document Ox Bel Ha, the largest underwater cave system in Mexico, a project which is concurrently celebrating its 25th anniversary. The project started out with, as Meacham called it, “two chainsaws, a compressor, and a horse,” and has begun to resurvey 144 square miles of caves with advances in diving equipment. Advances as simple as upgrades to lightbulbs and batteries, for example, enable the explorers to see through new passages.
Bill Stone, a cave explorer and head of Stone Aerospace, discussed “Recent Advances in Machine Exploration,” chronically how he’s used machines to explore underwater caves farther than any human. Stone’s autonomous drone, called Sunfish, uses sonar mapping to produce 3D maps and models deeper than photogrammetry divers can dive.
Ulrik Juul Christensen, a founder and chairman of Bonaire’s Area9 Mastery Diving Research Center, is developing an adaptive learning education platform for GUE and has spent about as much time as the organization has been in existence building education technologies. Christensen’s talk, “Learning That Matters,” focused on how to create new systems to help educate learners at their own pace so that knowledge, and not speed, is the priority.
In a complementary presentation, Sean Talamas, a managing partner and executive coach at leadership development consulting firm, discussed “The Depth of Character: Cultivating Grit, and a Growth Mindset.” The presentation focused on research by Angela Duckworth suggesting success is not achieved through talent, but a combination of passion and persistence she called “grit.”
GUE Instructor Trainer Andrea Marassich gave a presentation on “Building Capacity for Extreme Explorations” about the Sa Conca e Locoli Cave Project in Sardinia, Italy. Learning, he suggested, happens when you go out of your comfort zone, but not all the way to what he called the “panic zone,” where you are overwhelmed to the point that you don’t learn but instead shut down and it becomes extremely dangerous.” “You need a mentor,” Marassich said. “Someone who knows you enough to push you when you need to be pushed and pull back when you need to pull back.”
These were just a few of the education- and exploration-focused presentations. Speakers also included Blue Green Expeditions Managing Partner Faith Ortins on how divers can support environmentally conscious destinations, Peter Gaertner on citizen science conducted in the Caves of Gulf of Orosei project, Daniel Ortego on the Marine Genome Project, and Neal W. Pollock on the physiological limitations of technology in diving.
Max Deco & Bubble Trouble entertained conference attendees at the Friday night social with a pre-dive playlist of classic rock. Band members: John Kendall vocals, Gary Franklin vocals, Bill Stone lead guitar, Andrew Dow guitar, Francesco Cameli bass, Michael Menduno bass, Jason Cook drums.
You can find the full conference photo album here.