Technical Diving from Florida to Cyberspace

Cristian Pittaro is a diver, but if you are picturing a guy with gear on his back diving the sunlit open waters of the ocean, then you have it all wrong. Pittaro is a technical diver, the kind of diver that should inspire awe in us mere humans. His diving destinations include shipwrecks and underwater caves, some of them at depths that require helium in the breathing gas and decompression stops on the way back up. A new Internet-only video channel has been launched called the “Technical Diving Channel” that includes video captured by Pittaro during several of his dives.

Started by an Internet host that specializes in providing services for diving websites, the Technical Diving Channel can be found on Shoutcast TV, through the Winamp audio and video player. Shoutcast itself is free server software that brings television distribution to the masses and a number of early adopters are broadcasting everything from anime to adult material to pirated television series over the Internet. A healthy number of legal and interesting specialty channels have begun to appear, including the Technical Diving Channel.

Claustrophobic caves and ghostly shipwrecks emerging from murky depths might not have the same impact over the Internet that they do during the actual dive, but the diving videos on the Technical Diving Channel allow the audience to experience the thrill of ocean exploration, led by the enthusiasts that head there regularly. The videos on the channel are provided by Pittaro and a growing number of other technical divers.

Pittaro taught diving for several years in a local dive club in the city of Rio Tercero in the province of Cordoba in Argentina before becoming a professional diving instructor for an international agency. He moved to Florida in the United States and began technical diving around 2001. After his move, he created the “Neptuno’s World” website about caves and shipwrecks for divers and non-divers alike. The site also included GPS positioning information of interesting locations for other divers.

“Then I joined a technical diving forum called The Deco Stop,” says Pittaro, “and they started hosting websites to help support the forum. [.] I had a good deal from them, [with] plenty of bandwidth to show my photos and videos and space to store them, so I took it and [that] is how neptunoworld.com [was] born in 2003.”

When Robert Mayer, a student of Pittaro’s wife (who is a diving instructor and also a fellow technical diver) asked if he could use their diving videos for a 24/7 channel on Winamp, Pittaro thought it was an excellent idea. “Lots of people now [are] porting their videos to Robert’s project. [H]opefully [the channel] is going to be a place with tons of different videos that will keep people stuck there all day [while] amusing others that for any reason can’t dive.” Pittaro hopes that it will let the audience’s “imagination fly a bit.”

Technical diving, according to Wikipedia, is “a form of SCUBA diving that exceeds the scope of recreational diving. Technical divers require advanced training, extensive experience, and specialized equipment.” Technical diving also requires the diver to pay attention to a lot of different things, even before adding a video camera to the mix. Pittaro says that “in tech diving or cave diving you need to be very focused, you are already very over-tasked looking at your time, your depth, the current, your buddy, your gas, drysuit, you have lots of gear, deco bottles, flashlight, scooter, and [the list] goes on and on.” Trying to film a dive requires even more care. “[Y]ou can’t be making a video and kicking the silt in your back that could be fatal for you or somebody else if the water inside the cave turns [into] a ball of mud.”

While some may consider this activity dangerous, to Pittaro danger is relative. “I can’t work in a nuclear reactor if I don’t know anything about it,” he explains, “because [it] is more likely I’ll make it blow away and kill myself and put others in danger or even kill them. Cave diving is about the same, there are some levels risks on it, like silt, no direct access to the surface, no light, very complex tunnels systems and many others, but that is why we get trained [.] and get the best gear we can get, because all that is going to be what keeps us alive in there.”

“Cave diving isn’t dangerous,” he continues, “if you have the appropriate level of training for the dive you want to do. [.] You need to build up experience progressing from simple dives to more complex. [Y]ou can’t just do a dive 3000 feet inside the cave after your first cave certification; you need maybe several years of cave diving to go there safely.”

Cave diving provides an interesting perspective on these little-explored environments. “Caves are very special in every point of view,” says Pittaro. “They are [.] very fragile environment[s] that need a lot of care. Diving them, taking videos and pictures help me and hopefully others to understand them and to see how fragile and nice they are and how to preserve them.”

While cave diving is mostly about exploring and appreciating new environments, shipwreck diving is a unique way to explore history while paying respect to those who may have lost their lives during a battle or an accident. Sometimes technical divers discover something about a shipwreck that corrects the history books. The ship might have found its final resting place somewhere other than recorded, or sometimes it “is easy to tell that the wreck didn’t sink in the way the history said; for example one that [was] supposed to be broken in half and when you go and see it, [you] find it all intact and [in] one piece.”

Technical divers can be a close-knit group of enthusiasts. Pittaro met his future wife Lesley soon after they both started technical diving. They kept running into each other, became friends, and “we teamed up often when going out diving.” Pittaro says about their marriage: “If I can trust my life [to] her on a dive I thought it would be safe to marry her.” Neptunoworld includes a section that chronicles their several honeymoons together exploring new destinations, some of them actually out of water.

As the Internet continues to mature as the major distribution network for entertainment and educational content, expect new specialty channels to emerge. Content like the Technical Diving Channel allows the world to share in the sights and sounds of frontier destinations, captured by real explorers. Pittaro plans to continue documenting his dives with images and videos and make them available over the Internet.

What happens if Pittaro becomes too old to dive?

“I can [sit on the] couch with my wife and watch our own life on TV, [.] remember all those incredible places we had been, [and] maybe share it with new family members.”

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.