Patrick is the co-owner of Protec Dive Centers in Mexico. A world class cave diver, instructor and explorer, Patrick is the inventor of the Stealth Sidemount System in collaboration with Piotr Czernik, CEO of XDEEP. In addition to numerous exploration projects in remote locations such as Madagascar, Patrick works at Protec Dive Centers to develop the next generation of cave instructors and explorers. He has recently become the Training Director for KISS Rebreathers and is heavily involved in the development of the KISS Sidewinder.
What is sidemount to you?
In short, sidemount is the way I dive. It started of as a pure tool for cave exploration but very soon after became my number one configuration no matter the environment or mission. The only exception was deeper cave diving, sub 50m/170ft where I would use back-mounted CCR technology, until May 2019 when I finally discovered the Kiss Sidewinder Rebreather.
The main problem in sidemount in my opinion is the lack of acceptance of other styles and methods. People spend too much time and energy arguing with each other on the internet about what cylinders or harnesses they use. I think people should do whatever makes them enjoy the sport as much as possible, as long as it’s done safely. Mutual respect for different styles and also understanding a bit where what comes from goes a long way I’d say.
Was there an epiphany moment for you with sidemount?
Throughout my long sidemount journey (started in 2005) there have been so many important moments, that it is hard to pick one. I’d say switching from homemade gear to something specifically designed to do the job was definitely a very defining moment. In my case, I switched to the X-Deep Stealth 2.0 which I designed together with the owner Piotr after a rather complicated first attempt with a different Polish equipment manufacturer. Especially how the Stealth changed teaching the course and turned it from being the most annoying class ever, into an incredibly stimulating and fun class. Before it took a massive amount off time to basically improvise a rig out of some old bits and pieces by cutting, burning and sawing them together to now suddenly being able to spend all this time in the water doing skills and drills.
Nowadays an experienced instructor can get a total beginner to feel super comfortable in a dedicated sidemount system within minutes of the first dive, something that before used to take several dives, and a lot of adjusting and readjusting of the homemade gear. Another mega highlight for sure was my first dive on the Kiss Sidewinder which was simply mind blowing. Feeling the same freedom of movement and weightlessness I was used to from diving open circuit sidemount, while now diving closed circuit but also having a buoyancy control and a stability and balance level that literally can’t be explained, but has to be experienced, was a truly life altering moment. . I never felt so much in tune with the underwater realm, and yes I know how corny that sounds.
What role does sidemount diving play in exploration?
For me, the main purpose of sidemount in exploration is first of all dealing with international travel: greatly reducing the amount of bags to carry and excess baggage I had to pay. Secondly, getting to the dive site: often getting to the starting point of an exploration dive involves a lot of hiking and transporting your equipment through difficult terrain, in my case be it the jungle of Mexico, the bush of Madagascar, dry cave sections in Brazil or the mountains of the Dominican Republic to name a few.
Of course also being able to pass through restricted areas in caves, being able to pass through very low ceiling areas or even to remove tanks and navigate through no mount restrictions where only the divers body can fit is a true advantage for a cave explorer, and of course it also greatly improves overall comfort and safety.
Return to: The Who’s Who of Sidemount
Speaking Sidemount: E013 – Madagascar Cave Exploration with Patrick Widmann
Speaking Sidemount: E084 Patrick Widmann – KISS Sidewinder 2
Protec Dive Centers: The El Toro Project: A Presentation By Patrick Widmann
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.