An Interview with Jarrod Jablonski
By David Strike
Widely regarded as one of the world's most capable
and talented exploration divers - and a person only too willing to share
his knowledge with others - Jarrod Jablonski continues to exercise a profound
influence over the direction taken by technical diving in recent years.
As Project Leader and Dive Leader for numerous domestic
and international research assignments, (with several thousand dives focusing
on long range, deep exploration activities) he has performed many hundreds
of extreme exposures utilising mixed gases, stage decompression, rebreathers,
and underwater propulsion vehicles, and holds the dual records for the
world's longest and deepest cave diving penetrations, a staggering underwater
distance of 18,000 feet at a depth of 300 feet, established in 1998 together
with, WKPP Project Director, George Irvine.
An articulate and leading proponent of a system
that is gradually revolutionising the attitude that many have towards
diving, Jarrod Jablonski - or JJ as he is most often called - is credited
with helping to formulate and popularise DIR ("Doing It Right");
a philosophical approach to diving that is attracting considerable attention
- and one whose purpose is frequently misunderstood.
Standing at the cutting edge of extreme exploration,
Jarrod Jablonski, is a graduate of the University of Florida with
degrees in English and Geology; the President and C.E.O. of dive
equipment companies, Halcyon Manufacturing and Extreme Exposure;
and the President and founder of, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE),
a non-profit research, exploration and education organisation whose
technical diver training programmes - from entry level through to
advanced exploration - are setting new standards of proficiency.
Better known, perhaps, in his role as Training
Director for the Woodville Karst Plain Project, (an on-going exploration
of the limestone cave systems that lie beneath the water-table in
South Florida), Jarrod has also served as the Training Director
for the National Association of Cave Diving; been a Board Member
for both the NACD and NSS-CDS; and sits on the Training Committee
for the National Speleological Society - Cave Diving Section.
- photo by Anthony Rue
Q. How did your career in diving begin?
I have always had an interest in water. As one of
those 'water babies', I could swim before I learned to walk and swam regularly
for years. Growing up around the beaches in South Florida, I first became
certified, together with my Dad, while I was in High School. Later, when
I went to college, I found that teaching diving allowed me to pay for
my schooling while doing something that I loved.
Photo shows JJ (on the right) and buddy in
Cayman cavern - Photo by David Rhea
At that time cave diving was less formal and
in some ways easier to stumble into than it is today. It was something
that intrigued me enormously. It was then that I took up technical
diving and the rest, as they say, is history - or becoming so at
an alarming rate!
After graduating with my degree in Geology,
the choice that I had to make was either to pursue diving by putting
as much effort into that goal as was possible, or to move on to
a 'real' career! I decided to give diving my all for two years,
at the end of which time I'd evaluate where I was. I have never
Q. Which people have influenced you most in diving?
The main focus of these expeditions evolved around
one in which technology and complexity was tolerated only in so far as
they facilitate any particular mission. Fellow cave explorer, Bill Gavin,
used to say that things would break only when you REALLY needed them to
work!) Therefore one should keep equipment and techniques as simple as
possible. This gave rise to the one sentence rule: If it cannot be relayed
in one sentence or less then it will not work underwater! All of these
concepts seemed natural to me and not at all controversial. Boy, was I
in for a surprise!
As an early cave diver and instructor, it really
took me by surprise when resistance to these ideas started to mount. George
Irvine and I took what seemed natural and that was supported by safe and
successful exploration. We unified the principles, rounded out the concepts,
and worked hard to focus attention on the true risks that can occur while
In the initial stages, I would say that Cousteau
was my first major influence. I saw all of the great adventures
that he was experiencing and the impact that he had on peoples'
awareness of the underwater world. I started to realise that I really
wanted to be part of merging a cutting age version of Cousteau's
expeditions with a high quality educational organisation.
These thoughts were at the heart of my interest
in the WKPP and my eventual formation of GUE. I later found that
the initial group of WKPP divers shared various parts of this vision
and together we started to expand upon a basic platform of simplicity.
JJ with Halcyon RB-80 rebreather
- Photo by Anthony Rue
Q. You are universally recognised for your diving achievements
with the WKPP. What, for you, is the attraction of cave diving?
My passion for cave diving was almost an accident.
College placed me in an area that had no great access to the ocean
and so I took a peek. I loved the quiet, serene beauty of the environment
and the unique challenges particular to cave diving. When talking
about cave diving, I often tell people to imagine levitating through
fabulous places like the Grand Canyon or the Alps: Awe inspiring
scenery mixed with unique challenges; great diving toys; and the
opportunity to educate people, conduct valuable research and protect
a fragile environment that happens to house an invaluable supply
of fresh water. What is there not to love?
My love of cave diving is not, however, a
love that transcends other environments. The ocean still offers
some of my favourite diving, in particular reef walls. Wrecks are
also awesome. But in truth I just love to be under the water and
exploring some of the world's most unique scenery.
Q. What are the objectives of the WKPP? And how is the information
gleaned from the diving exploration of the Woodville Karst used?
is principally a non-profit exploration organisation that principally
supports research by a wide variety of private and government organizations.
We work with state, local, and federal governments as well as universities.
The use of our information varies from formation mechanics and water
flow dynamics to water conservation and responsible land use.
On most occasions we facilitate the research
of others, and on other occasions we initiate research projects.
GUE takes this well-established platform and expands it to the international
front. We are now working on several research and exploration projects
while striving to bring these issues to the forefront.
JJ rigged for single-cylinder diving in the
- Photo by David Rea
Q. What sort of logistics and support do you have for your dives with
the WKPP? And what sort of profile is usual for the extreme penetration
The level of support varies greatly according to
the dive. Wakulla usually relies on about twenty-five people. It can be
done with about ten, but it then becomes pretty tiring and not as efficient.
Some of the short-range dives are done with only the main divers. The
extreme dives involve in-cave time of about seven hours at 300' with about
15 hours of deco.
Q. There would be few, if any, other organizations whose influence on
technical diving has been quite so profound as that of the WKPP Why is
The WKPP takes individual capacity, greatly extends
it with a strong emphasis on team diving and then supplies the means to
bring both together with procedures that, taken as a whole, focus on fitness,
training, education, equipment and equipment configuration: the only system
in the diving industry to do so. (Halcyon's unique understanding about
how to manufacture equipment that facilitated this is a huge advantage
and the reason that Halcyon equipment has become so tremendously popular.)
Systems like this can be immensely empowering. Especially
when used with forethought.
The whole idea of not understanding what my buddy
is doing, how they will respond, where they maintain their focus of attention
and so on, is surprisingly distracting. Even on a reef at a depth of twenty-feet,
separation from my very capable buddy becomes a constant distraction in
the back of my mind, one that reduces my capacity, endangers us both,
and impacts on the fun quotient at every turn. It's the sort of situation
that's magnified for divers with less skill, or when performing more aggressive
dives. The degree to which these simple facts are discounted consistently
amazes me! Divers would find their diving so much safer, efficient, and
more fun with a proper emphasis on fundamental skills.
Q. You are credited with being one of the originators of, 'D.I.R.',
How did the D.I.R. system originate? And what is its underlying philosophy?
DIR ("Doing It Right") was born from the
knowledge that even seemingly simple diving can get pretty complicated.
The easier and more systematized the procedures become the less room there
is for confusion, mistakes, and unnecessary risk. Think of any operation,
group, activity, or process and try to imagine how it could be as efficient
or safe were each member to do their own thing rather than working under
a common platform?
The idea of standardized procedures and the benefit
they provide are hardly new concepts. SCUBA is one of the few activities
in which the established infrastructure is so resistant to the idea of
DIR does not inhibit the individual. Quite the contrary,
it empowers them. If I know how your equipment is placed, how you share
air, how your equipment works, then I can be a much better dive buddy.
If I understand what you will do in a situation, how you will share air,
that you will not intentionally leave me alone, how you will get my attention,
what sort of gas and diving limitations you follow, etc., then I understand
all of the key components of our dive.
These items are no longer part of the variable aspect
of a given dive and free each diver to focus on the true risks and troubles
of each dive and the dynamic aspects more beyond our control, including:
wind, current, visibility, marine life, gas consumption, etc. It's truly
amazing just how much this focus enables divers to enjoy themselves and
to concentrate on the dive itself. This is proven every day in GUE's classes,
and by the massive interest and support surrounding DIR.
Q. As the founder and C.E.O. of Global Underwater Explorers, how does
G.U.E. differ from other technical and mainstream diver training organisations?
In terms of training, what sort of programmes does G.U.E. offer? And what
are the advantages of the G.U.E. programmes over those offered by other
Over the years we have seen that most of the problems
we encounter in training are the result of weak fundamental skills. This,
among other reasons, is why GUE focuses so much care in the training and
development of our instructors and students. Misrepresentations of even
basic concepts such as those in DIR can lead divers down a much less useful
JJ with doubles and RB-80
- Photo by David Rhea
Our approach, at GUE,
is a very focused effort to place quality over quantity and in-water
time over marketing convenience. As a non-profit organisation,
GUE is focused on the best in educational capacity rather than
on organisational growth. This is not to suggest that other groups
don't care about quality, but as profitable training-only organizations
their ethos is more focussed around increasing market share. One
must remember that GUE is one of the world's most active research
and exploration organizations and that training is a small component
(albeit, personally, very important) of what our organisation
strives to accomplish. It also places us in a moral position that
forces us to require more of the divers and instructors entering
However, GUE's focus on robust
training is not, in any way, overtly aggressive or mean spirited.
We often have to ask that divers commit to more training, but
our intentions are sincere and the individual's safety our primary
Q. As G.U.E. grows, do you foresee possible difficulties in maintaining
quality control over standards and Instructors teaching the programmes?
I am confident in our ability to handle this, but
I certainly expect that we will have to be diligent. We exercise great
care in the initial selection of our instructors, but we're also aware
that we must maintain equal care in the maintenance of our training programs.
We will have to be diligent in this regard.
I have recently appointed GUE's Vice-President to
spear head the establishment of a Quality Control department that will
aggressively seek out information about the conduct of our diver training
courses from all of our students, as opposed to the more sporadic efforts
that only rely on statistical sampling.
Q. Apart from the mechanics of diving, do you have a personal philosophy
or view of the activity?
I believe in a fundamental order and simplicity
in life and in diving. Chaos theory has brought many unique issues to
light over the years, a unique phenomenon that I will represent a bit
out of context here. The theory is called "sensitive dependence on
initial conditions", and it was originally formulated during studies
that sought to predict weather patterns. The theory basically relays that
many things are not as linear as we might imagine and that small changes
can actually have a massive impact upon a given system. In the weather
pattern studies very small changes were accidentally made to a theoretical
weather system simulator. The changes occurred because the researcher
did not account for variable parameters more than six digits past the
decimal point. However, what were thought to be insignificant changes
actually resulted in substantial and unanticipated changes to the simulated
Bringing this back to diving, consider that
every time a diver doubles their surface area, the drag that they
experience from equipment rises to the square, and the energy necessary
to overcome that drag rises to the cube. For my part, I see this
sensitive dependence phenomenon occur in life and diving on a regular
basis. The result is that we can make minor changes in a diver's
equipment and procedures and they experience a massive advantage
where one would normally expect a minimal benefit.
Here lies the heart of the DIR controversy.
Those who give it all of their effort and learn exactly what it's
about and how to apply the philosophy can't ever go back to diving
the old way. And yet divers that do not try or experience the full
modification remain understandably sceptical.
Andrew Georgitisis, Training Director G.U.E.
and J.J. at Brittanic Expedition presentation during ADEX 2002,
- Photo by David Strike.
Regardless of how obvious DIR advantages become, large numbers of people
continue to become passionate converts on a daily basis. Like me, I think
that a lot of people are tired of unnecessary complexity, and gadgets that
do little but look good on a show room floor. I like to keep things as simple
as possible because I find that things get very complicated on their own
with very little help from me. Life is complicated enough. I like to keep
simple and squeeze every bit of fun out of each endeavour that I pursue.
This article was first published on E-Nekton.com