Brett Hemphill has been exploring since he can remember. Having moved 5 times before the age of 12, including a year in the country of Japan, his desire to investigate his ever-changing childhood surroundings is what certainly molded him into the person he is today. Climbing everything that was climbable, searching every creek to its source, there never seemed to be enough to satisfy his curiosity.
At the age of 14 he attended a youth dry cave excursion. While the others slept, Brett and two trip counselors managed to find a yet undiscovered section of the cave. This discovery, small as it may have been, stayed with Brett for many years. During the early nineties, many cave certified divers throughout the state of Florida believed undiscovered caves were all but a thing of the past. Using redundant no-mount and side-mount techniques Brett began to probe and explore every small spring and tidal vent within a fifty-mile radius of his home in central Florida. After the discovery of several significant under water caves, Brett formed HYDRO GEO Environmental Research in 1994. This group studied explored and documented several coastal under water caves in central Florida throughout the nineties bringing a new appreciation and awareness for central Florida underwater caves. Realizing small under water caves could lead to large discoveries Brett adapted pre-existing early side mount designs and created a very holistic side-mount configuration known as the ARMIDILLO. Brett has filmed and assisted in the filming and production of multiple underwater cave documentaries and related documentaries.
For over 24 years with the support and companionship of family, friends and team members, Brett Hemphill has assisted in exploring, mapping, and documenting many of the most unique and deepest underwater cave systems in the United States. In 2008 KUR team broke the United States deep underwater cave record at Weeki Wachee Springs in the state of Florida. Then 5 years later once again the record was set in Texas at Phantom Springs at just over 465’ deep nearly 8000’ feet back in the cave. In October of 2014 Team Karst additionally made the deepest connection between two under water caves in the United States when Weeki Wachee and Twin Dees caves were connected 7,500’ feet back at 330’ deep. Filming occurred in 2016 at 8500’ back at a depth of 400’ deep. Additional exploration and research locations includes; Florida coast, Missouri, Bahamas, Cay Sal Banks, Dominican Republic & Yucatan Peninsula.
Andrew Pitkin learned to dive in 1992 in the cold murky waters of the United Kingdom and started cave and technical diving in 1994. His first exposure to exploration was in 1995 when he was one of a team of divers who were the first to reach the bottom of the Great Blue Hole of Belize at 408 fsw (123 msw). Subsequently he has been involved in numerous cave exploration projects in Belize, Mexico and Florida.
From 1996-2000 he was employed at the Royal Navy’s Institute of Naval Medicine, running a hyperbaric facility, treating decompression illness, participating in research into outcome after decompression illness, submarine escape and testing of new military underwater breathing systems. He is one of a handful of civilians to be trained by the Royal Navy as a diving medical officer.
He moved to Florida in 2007 and is currently on the faculty of the College of Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. With KUR he has participated in numerous underwater cave exploration and filming projects. Like many explorers, he spends much of his spare time developing and building innovative equipment for exploration purposes.
Charlie learned to dive in 1991 while serving in the US Navy. His checkout dives were conducted in the springs of N.Central Florida, where he got his first glimpse of cave divers entering the cave. Shortly thereafter, Charlie was shipped off to Guam where he spent the next two years diving the wrecks and deep walls of the Western Pacific.
After returning to the states, Charlie moved to Gainesville, Florida to pursue his dream of cave diving. He was fortunate to have great mentors during his formative years of cave diving. Years later, Charlie is still cave diving and, along with his regular dive buddy, Jon Bernot, currently holds the world record for penetration in an underwater cave at 26,930 ft / 8,208 m.
Charlie is a Director of Karst Underwater Research (KUR). He has participated in KUR exploration and survey projects at Weeki Wachee/Twin Dees, Manatee Springs, M2 Blue, Suwannee Spring, Phantom Springs, Falmouth-Cathedral, and Lineater.
Matt Vinzant has been infatuated with springs and caves his entire life. In 1998 at the age of 12 he became open water certified and toured the state of Florida diving with his family.
In 1999 he became cavern certified then continue on to full cave, he has been learning ever since.
Matt has a BS in Environmental Science from the University of South Florida and works for the South West Florida Water Management District.
Matt is passionate about caves, both flooded and dry. He enjoys all aspects of caving; sidemount, no mount, deep, long range, siphons, silty, sumps, vertical and survey. He has actively participated in cave exploration throughout the southeastern United States for the last 15 years.
If Matt is not underground, underwater, or ridge walking he is modifying or building equipment to overcome the challenges of cave exploration.
Mike Poucher is one of the most experienced underwater cave surveyors and cartographers in the USA, if not the world. He has led and contributed to numerous cave mapping projects, including Peacock Spring, Peacock III Siphon, Convict Spring, BathTub Spring, Suwannee Blue Spring, Old Bellamy Cave, Briland Blue Hole, Manatee Srpimg, Indian Spring, Sistema Camilo, Weeki Wachee, White Ring Blue Hole, M2 Blue and Phantom Spring. Mike has also taught many budding underwater cartographers in the numerous underwater cave survey workshops he has organized and taught at. He is the exploration and survey chair for both the NSS-CDS and the NACD.
Eric Deister, Operations Officer
Eric Deister was stationed in Germany back in 1992 when he learned to dive. He learned his technical diving skills in the NE as a wreck diver in the Great Lakes and up and down the East Coast of the U.S with the VBtech team. In the late 90s he started to travel to Florida and his cave diving career took off. Now living in Florida for the past 15 year he’s been active with just about every organization and exploration project he can help with, in one way or another, usually in the background.
Derek Ferguson started diving in 2002 at the age of 14. He continued gaining diving experience throughout High School and College doing recreational diving around the Caribbean. After graduating College, Derek decided to move to Key Largo and become a dive instructor; it was here that he truly feel in love with diving. After spending several years in the Keys Derek decided to take a cavern class; two weeks later he was taking cave classes and the decision was made to move up to North Central Florida.
His first taste of true exploration diving was with Brett Hemphill and Mike Poucher when they discovered the opening to the cave system at Suwannee Springs and laid about 900 feet of line at 140 ffw. He is currently involved with many projects with KUR. In his free time he spends entirely way too much time on Google Earth.
Ken's first dive was when he lived in Grand Cayman during fifth grade. After his family moved back to the states, he earned certification as a NAUI Junior Diver at "Scubacamp". He started cave diving in 1994, and volunteered his efforts throughout the late 90s with the NACD, first on the Science Committee and later as the Accident Analysis committee chair, and the WKPP. During that time he was involved with exploration projects in North Florida and Mexico.
After going back to school in 2001, Ken took a break from cave diving, but resumed in 2011. Since then he has been involved with exploration in Florida and Belize.
Although he plans to some day move to an island in the Caribbean, he currently works as the Director of Information Technology for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida.
He tries not to take himself too seriously.
Born and raised in South Florida, Kyle grew up fishing and diving in the Miami area. An outdoors enthusiast and Eagle Scout, Kyle began scuba diving at 12 years old and has enjoyed diving, hiking, camping, and climbing his entire life. Upon moving to Central Florida in 2012, he was drawn to the beautiful caverns and caves in the area and progressed into the world of technical diving, actively cave diving across the state. Travels have taken him to diving destinations in the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and the US west coast. After the opportunity to help support exploration projects and seeing the focused & team-oriented diving efforts of KUR, he joined the group and brings a passion for exploration and research to the team.
Kyle serves as the Webmaster and general IT-guru for the KUR team.
Adam Hughes received his Jr. Open Water certification at the age of 14, and had racked up over 1000 wreck dives before completing high school. After taking a 4 year break from diving to complete college in 2006, he picked back up where he left off: in the ocean. One weekend, on a whim, he decided to visit Ginnie Springs because a lingering storm in South Florida was keeping him out of the water. After seeing the ballroom for the first time, he was hooked and never set foot on a charter boat ever again. To him, there was no better dive in the world than that of an underwater cave.
Adam relocated to north Florida in 2014 to be closer to family, and as luck would have it, the caves. It was soon after when he began to pursue a better understanding of how caves function, and the science that goes into their creation.
As a newcomer to the cave exploration scene, he is very eager to learn and be a part of new projects. According to Adam, the use of a desktop computer is just as important to cave exploration as is the act of laying line, and it is this area where he finds the most joy. Among the areas that Adam contributes to KUR are data collection, compilation, and analysis, as well as helping out on the ground so the long distance guys can do what they do best: Collect more data!
Certified SCUBA since the age of 12, Bob Schulte loves the underwater life. As a teenager, Bob spent spent many summers at SeaCamp in the Florida Keys diving the beautiful reefs of the Caribbean. Once Bob discovered the caves of the Florida aquifer, cave diving became his new passion. Bob has been cave diving since 2006 and has experience as an explorer, surveyor, support diver, surface manager, and cave diving guide.
In his professional life, Bob is a licensed attorney in the State of Florida representing insurance carriers in litigated matters and claim investigations. An avid outdoorsman, Bob enjoys "dry caving" in the Southeastern United States, marksmanship sports, hiking, and canoeing.