S-DRILLS, FUNDIES, BASIC 5 - ITS ALL DIR TERMINOLOGY and nowhere to be found in the PADI or BSAC dictionary. With a reputation for elitism and the assumption that if youre not Doing it Right, youre Doing it Wrong, is it any wonder that recreational divers look on DIR as being apart from the diving community
But it would appear that Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), the training agency behind DIR, now wants to become a part of that diving community. The annual DIR X gig held at Stoney Cove in Leicestershire is just one of the ways in which it intends to achieve this.
Several years ago I took a rather irreverent look at DIR (Life On A DIR Planet, DIVER, August 2001). This was the last time I showed any interest in the subject, until I happened to dive with a DIR devotee who, after seeing my attempt to deploy a new delayed SMB (snagged reel, DSMB flying to the surface minus me), amazed me by deploying his own in a systematic and refined manner while remaining perfectly stationary in the water column. It was underwater magic.

SO I PUT MY STEREOTYPING and misapprehensions behind me and joined this years DIR X event with about 60 beginners, experts and a handful of individuals who just wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.
My first workshop, Introduction to DIR, was run by Rich Walker, one of the GUE instructors and an expert in DIR myth-busting.
Rich started with the origins of DIR and how George Irvine, the director of a cave exploration project in Florida, had coined the phrase after dismissing the equipment and skills adopted by recreational and technical divers.
Not one for subtlety, in 1998 Irvine started off a promotional video with: Rule Number One, dive with strokes [non-DIR divers] and youre going to need a bodybag, dive on a boat with strokes, youll need to carry a bodybag.
Despite his extreme views, Irvine did make some positive comments on the streamlining of kit, maintenance of dive fitness and regular practice of skills, all of which would lead to divers having more fun. Then hed go and spoil his attempt at marketing with more of his peculiar brand of diplomacy: If its not clean and simple... its not right. If youre not doing it right, dont do it at all!
Is it any surprise that this dogmatic approach resulted in several years worth of DIR fanatics

RICH CONTINUED BY ASKING EVERYONE what they hoped to achieve from DIR. Father and son Mark and Alex had about 30 dives under their belt and felt attracted to DIR as it appears to be a safe way of diving, and importantly, my other son will be able to dive with us - its the only agency to promote diving in a team of three.
Meanwhile, Jenny and Phil had been diving for two years and felt ready for training that will allow us to dive on sites we only hear people talking about.
They were also interested in getting our heads round the kit configuration, which is what we did next.
Rich introduced us to the minimalist approach. For example, carry only as many D-rings as are required, each one having a specific purpose. Its all about keeping the rig as simple as possible, reducing the need for convoluted arrangements and ensuring that everything is accessible.
I asked Rich if he would critique my gear. Critique is too harsh, he replied, but he did agree to go through the differences between a DIR configuration and my recreational kit. I had feared an evangelical attack on my equipment, but the experience was exactly the opposite. We examined its pros and cons and how it would cope in an emergency.
The main issue was the length of hose on my octopus, the suggestion being that it wouldnt realistically enable me to manage an out-of-air situation.
Rich may well have a point. In the pool it does the job, but when a panicking OOA diver needs to breathe Im sure he would go for the one in my mouth, the one we both know is working rather than the octopus that could be full of sand and grit.
Rich went on to demonstrate how an out-of-air situation would work with a DIR set-up, where the primary regulator is passed to the OOA diver and the back-up, positioned only inches from the donating divers mouth, is used to breathe from. As the primary regulator has 7ft of hose, any issues of being too close to each other to manoeuvre are minimised.
For the next session it was time to get wet, and following on from my mini-disaster I decided to join the DSMB workshop run by another GUE instructor, John Kendall.
We started by examining my DSMB, and it soon became clear why and where it had snagged: too much line, and a gap between the handle, reel and ratchet teeth. The DIR version is simpler, although its deployment in the water turned out to be quite a challenge.
John demonstrated the technique under water, where he made it seem undemanding, as he remained perfectly horizontal and stationary in the water column. This was our aim too.
However, Neil, my buddy, instantly went into task saturation, and having put too much air in the SMB found himself floating up to the surface.
I didnt fare any better. I couldnt get the DSMB clip back on the D-ring, which soon became a mini obsession.
John came over to assist and in this brief moment the holistic DIR approach all started to make sense.
Its not just about the kit configuration, its about my experience, my competence, buoyancy control, air-management and, perhaps most importantly, the unified team approach.
Under water again, but this time with a DIR rig, Rich took me through some of the basic drills, the foundations of the team approach: leg-kicks, neutral buoyancy, valve-closures and the S-drill (gas-sharing). As we performed the S-drill, three DIR divers flew past with their scooters - very slick.

THAT EVENING I JOINED THE GROUP for the event dinner. There were presentations, talks about cave and wreck expeditions and discussions about the future of DIR. Rich emphasised the need to quash the mythical status of DIR - we need to explain it to the wider diving community.
Perhaps the entry-level course being developed by GUE will assist But there will be more classroom sessions and twice as many open-water dives as other agencies require before qualifying.
Rich explained that this course was designed not to produce super-divers but to remove the negative ambassadors for diving, those who do the PADI Open Water and who are scared stiff of going diving because theyre just not ready.
My expectation of the weekend was of individuals evangelising over their equipment and techniques, and dismissing me as a stroke. But DIR has bred a new generation of divers like Clare Gledhill, who described this old attitude as offensive and said that: It is possible to dive safely with non-compliant kit... DIR has moved on.
I can vouch for that. I spent 24 hours with a group of welcoming, non-judgmental and highly skilled divers.
If only George Irvine had come up with a different phrase to describe DIR: HAD (Holistic Approach to Diving) or UTD (Unified Team Diving) or some other name that does not set its exponents on a pedestal.
My guess is that many of the principles will trickle into mainstream diving. When I learnt to dive, the only way of achieving buoyancy was through a Fenzy horse-collar and a small air cylinder for inflation. My next purchase was a horse-collar with direct feed, and eventually a modern BC.
Air-sharing meant using your only regulator, later replaced by a back-up reg on the BC low-pressure hose (almost a DIR approach, as my primary regulator would be handed to an OOA diver). Now its been replaced with an octopus.
In my first club, skills development meant that on every dive you practised at least one skill. That has been replaced by the purchase of another course.
So where will DIR take us My prediction is that within five years most of us will be diving in uncomplicated wings, with more standardised, streamlined and simplified equipment. There will be long hoses on primary regulators, and the practice of skills will become the norm again.
The old elitist DIR approach is in the past, as Jarrod Jablonski, President of GUE claims: DIR is a diving philosophy... making it safer and more enjoyable for everyone who chooses to embrace it... GUE wants to share this system with the public and thereby promote inwater safety, efficiency and enjoyment.
With this approach as opposed to dont dive with strokes, GUE and DIR may just succeed in their aims.

  • Find out more at www.direxplorers.com

  • Rich
    Rich Walker explains the DIR rig to students Jenny, Phil, Alex and Mark.
    DIR divers get excited about a DPV.
    Trying out the scooter in the Cove.
    Now thats what we call a long hose!
    The end-of-event dinner included a video message from DIR guru Jarrod Jablonski.
    • Balanced Rig: Correct weighting that allows divers to swim up their set should a wing failure occur
    • Basic 5: Skills needed to form an S-Drill (below)
    • Deco on the Fly: Deco swiming at a fixed depth rather than formal stops
    • Fundies: The GUE Fundamentals course
    • Minimum Gas: Amount needed to get a buddy pair to the surface from maximum depth or penetration
    • Ratio Deco: Patterns that can allow divers to calculate their deco obligations
    • S-Drill: Safety drill
    • Situational Awareness: Managing kit, environment and team to forestall problems.