Born in Paris, France Robin Cuesta is an avid cave explorer, cave, sidemount and rebreather instructor living in the town of Baubau, South-East Sulawesi, Indonesia. In 2019, he founded and owns Sulawesi Dive Trek, the first Indonesia-based dive center providing cave diving education. He is the first active technical cave diving instructor operating in Indonesia and has shaped many of the first Indonesian cave divers. When he is not teaching, he spends most of his free time exploring underwater caves beginning with Sulawesi and extending across the Indonesian archipelago. In addition, he is αn active advocate for Indonesian cave preservation and conservation and helps educate new divers to protect them. Robin will be part of the organization team for the upcoming Nixie Expeditions’ Buteng exploration campaign in what may be the longest underwater cave in south-east Asia.
What is sidemount to you?
What is sidemount to me? The answer is simple. Sidemount is the best tool for my job considering my location and the diving I do. I spend most of my time underwater exploring caves and teaching cave diving in a remote island in Indonesia. On land, I need to be able to carry the tanks in remote places, sometimes for quite a long distance. Using doubles would be a nightmare. Underwater, the versatility and streamlining of a properly configured sidemount rig is ideal for cave exploration. It allows me to penetrate tight tunnels while still offering the peace of mind of redundancy. Sidemount is the most versatile configuration for me and will work for almost all of the dives I do. But don’t get me wrong. Although it is ideal for me, it is a tool and may not be for everyone.
How can sidemount improve?
Thanks to numerous pioneers and explorers, sidemount is now a mature configuration. Things have been tried, rigs have evolved, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst. The setup most people use nowadays is very good and I can’t think of any major points to improve on the rig itself. The small adjustments and tuning every experienced sidemount diver does are a matter of personal preference.
The main improvement that needs to happen when I think about sidemount is training. Nowadays, any instructor can call themselves a “sidemount instructor.” They would teach this course like they would teach any specialty over two days or so, without understanding the “how” or the “why” of the configuration. Sidemount relies a lot on equipment setup and customization. As an instructor, not being able to explain how it actually works or why we set things up the way we do can only produce one thing: poor sidemount divers. In my opinion, training and instructor evaluation should be reevaluated by agencies. Learning sidemount is a major milestone in a diver’s career. It has to be treated that way.
What’s your fondest memory of sidemount?
Exactly the first minute of the first dive I did with a sidemount configuration back in the days in Thailand. I learned sidemount not so long after completing my first technical course in a twinset. I loved every moment of the course, but carrying this heavy thing on my back that was more than half my weight was just a pain! Being able to don my tanks in the water was such a blessing and the sensation of flying with nothing on your back while swimming underwater hooked me up instantly.
What is the future of sidemount?
Compared to the early days of Sidemount, I think we’re already in the future. As I said earlier, the rigs are mature and do the job properly. The future of sidemount lies in divers and explorers. We always find ways to improve our exploration tools and I am sure that someone, somewhere, someday will come up with a revolutionary idea. In the meantime, let’s build a better future for sidemount by raising the quality of training and the safety awareness amongst divers.
What are the pros and cons of sidemount for the traveling diver?
I travel A LOT, always for the sake of diving and cave exploration. I’ve traveled with basically every single configuration you can think of when it comes to technical diving, and sidemount in my opinion is by far the best option. Sidemount does not require any special equipment from the dive center. As long as you bring your Sidemount buoyancy compensating device with you, a pair of regs (maybe with a couple of DIN/yoke adapters) and your tank rigging, you’re good to go in every single dive center, even in the most remote parts of the world.
Sidemount gear can be adapted to any tank configuration with the correct knowledge and equipment. Twinset diving will require that the dive center actually has twinsets on hand, which can be mission impossible in some parts of the world. If weight is an issue, you could even make yourself a very lightweight sidemount rig with a few meters of webbing and some bits and pieces easily available online. I do not see any cons when it comes to traveling as a sidemount dive.
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Speaking Sidemount: E071 – Robin Cuesta – The Caves of Sulawesi
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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.