Anatomy of a Fundamentals Class

Divers are attracted to GUE training for a variety of reasons, some of which may be a desire to increase their level of comfort and safety in the water, to continue their diving education with world class instructors, dissatisfaction with previous training, or to begin their training in technical or cave diving. The reasons are as varied as the individual.  For most divers who are already open water certified, the first step in the GUE training ladder is the GUE Fundamentals course. So, what is a Fundamentals class? What should you expect from the class? What actually happens in this class?

Fundamentals is a four-day class that includes a minimum of 30 hours of instruction. The class includes 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. 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, however in the case of Fundamentals instruction, you should expect a standard of instruction that is superior to what you have been exposed to in your previous diving instruction. If you are not already certified to dive Nitrox, you will also come away with a Nitrox certification that certifies you to dive 32% Nitrox.

Someone once explained to me that the GUE Fundamentals instruction was best summarized as “simple things done precisely”. Nothing about Fundamentals is complicated, however, you will be expected to achieve a particular objective standard of performance before you will achieve a passing grade in this class. This objective performance standard is spelled out clearly in GUE Standards and your instructor will go over this with you very thoroughly at the beginning of your class. 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) Failing the class
b) Receiving a Provisional pass (which is essentially his or her advice to “practice and be reevaluated later”)
c) Achieve a Recreational pass
d) Receive a Technical pass, which allows you to continue your GUE training in either Technical or Cave diving.

None of the performance criteria are complicated in and of themselves. For example, maintaining neutral buoyancy throughout the water column is not a complicated task, however you will be expected to maintain a “buoyancy window” that is either 3’ or 5’, depending on whether you are looking for a “Tech” pass, or a “Rec” pass. A “Tech” pass is necessary to proceed further up the GUE training ladder to either Technical training or cave diving training and the standards for this pass are substantially higher than those required for a “Rec” pass. The standards are clearly spelled out on the GUE website and I strongly encourage anyone planning on taking any GUE course to read them. They are very straight forward and clearly spell out the requirements of the course.

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 be expected to demonstrate a series of drills in the water while maintaining buoyancy and trim. This part sounds simple but is probably the most difficult part of the course. It is amazing how much a little bit of task loading can complicate an otherwise reasonable demonstration of buoyancy and trim.

One of the central tenants of GUE instruction is the importance of the team in diving. Thus, your course will begin with a substantial introduction of all your team-mates and your GUE instructor. You will have the chance to get to know your GUE instructor and learn about his or her background. 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 chance spend some time introducing GUE as an agency.

GUE students are expected to come to GUE classes with the required equipment specified in the course outline for that course.  During the first part of your class, your instructor will go over all your diving gear in a thorough fashion. He or she will provide a critical review of your equipment and offer suggestions on its appropriateness and fit. Now is the opportunity for you to start asking questions: GUE divers are thinking divers and we do not adopt a particular piece of equipment or gear configuration for a less than optimal reason. If you have a question about the “why” of something, by all means 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 as to the “why” for something, he or she will find it for you.

The rest of your course will consist of both classroom lectures and open water diving where you will practice and demonstrate your skills. These water sessions will be somewhat different that what you experienced in your previous diving training. This is not a case of “follow me” diving but adult education where you are expected to organize, lead, and run your own dives. A team captain for each dive will be appointed and they will be “in charge” much as a team captain of a hockey team or a football quarterback marshals the team 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. It is amazing the power a video replay! You will be able to see, in glorious HD, how you are progressing. It takes the “he said, she said” completely out of the equation and provides some very useful information for your instructor to assist in helping correct mistakes or reinforce existing good skills.

I should also mention that you will most likely have at least one pool session where you will be expected to complete your swim test and your breath-hold swim test. If you feel that your swimming may not be up to Olympic caliber, not to worry. Pacing yourself is far more important than blasting out of the gates with the next world record 25-meter time, only to flounder at the 30-meter mark. Slow and steady will always cross the finish line. If you feel this may be a problem, I would strongly suggest you get a few lessons and work on your swim technique. Consider that as a diver you are in the ocean or a lake or a river 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 be able to demonstrate a moderate ability to swim! Get a couple of lessons and hit the pool. It will take the stress off the swim test and let you concentrate on more challenging tasks.

You should expect spending a lot of time in the water. I suggest you make sure your exposure protection is sufficient for this. 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 a suspense date. However, there are several things that you can do to make the most of your time in the water.

First, I would strongly suggest that you come to class prepared by having done all the required reading and pre-class exercises. As I mentioned above, this is adult education and don’t expect your instructor to slow the class down or repeat sections because you “didn’t do your homework”. 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 course to receive less value for their training because you did not do the preparatory work. Due to the intensity of the course, you will be tired at the end of each day, and as some classes can go into the evening, don’t expect to be able to catch up if you start from a deficit position. Instead, prepare yourself to the best of your ability and according to the instructions provided by your instructor and on the GUE website. Do not assume that any of your previous training will make up for not having done the required reading.

Second, if you are unsure about the equipment requirements, contact your instructor for advice. These requirements are very specific and not open to debate. You will understand why once you start the course. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to dive with or socialize with GUE trained divers, quiz them about their gear arrangement. Moreover, I would strongly suggest that if you decide to take the class in double cylinders, that you get some experience with them before hand. A Fundamentals class is the place to bring out your “A game” and not the place to experiment for the first time with a new drysuit or a new set of doubles. You will have enough on your plate with the class to want to purposefully add to your task loading by managing new equipment.

Third, as previously mentioned, if swimming is not your thing, hit the pool. For some reason 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!  Hit the pool and remove this variable from the equation. Three times a week for a month will make the swim test a sure thing and allow you to concentrate on other things.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, find some GUE divers in your area and dive with them. They have all “been there, done that” and 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 prepared to help a “newbie” with advice and most likely be prepared to jump in the water to help with skill development. One word of caution here; remember you are coming to the class to learn from a trained instructor and it is often much harder to “unlearn” bad habits than it is to learn new ones from scratch. I have watched divers train together until they had thoroughly learned a new skill……..completely incorrectly! In that case, we caught this before their Fundamentals class, or they would have had to “unlearn” that skill while they were learning the correct one: that is tough to do under the pressure of the class. Your instructor doesn’t expect, and neither should you, that he or she will see demonstration quality Fundamental skills during the first dive of the course.  Better that you come prepared with an open mind and a desire to learn. Keep this in mind as you prepare for your course.

GUE Fundamentals is all about simple things done precisely. I have yet to meet someone who came away from the class without the feeling that he or she received good value for his or her dollar. Remember that while beginning a journey requires the knowledge of where you want to go, it also requires an understanding of where you are when you start 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 and standardized frame of reference. You will also have a very clear picture of where you are in relation to what is required to be competent in the water. 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 both show you exactly where you are on that learning curve and substantially move you along it in four days!

By Guy Shockey