Diving is the ultimate slackers’ sport. To conserve air, you absolutely must not get your heart rate up and you definitely should take it as easy as possible. Breathe all the way out, slowly. Don’t flail any of your limbs. “Be water, my friend.”
I’ve always thought deliberate exercise is a bit odd*, so scuba diving fits me like a 5mil medium neoprene suit. (*Why I can hike for days but last barely 20 minutes on a treadmill.)
The silence underwater is surreal. The calm, the cocoon, the vague awareness of all that pressure pounding down on you … Perhaps it reminds us of the safety and love of those nine months in the womb. Or maybe it’s a symbolic return to the primordial soup, basic but captivating in its appeal: A time before the crawling, climbing and clawing that eventually led to life as we know it. Could also be the closest most of us will ever get to floating in deep space, weightless.
Aquanauts aren’t that into analysing it, though. Underwater, you don’t have to explain anything to anyone. You communicate only by pointing to something awesome, via OK! signs and smiling eyes.
I was bitten by the bug while on an unforgettable holiday with my mom, sister and uncles in October 2011. I had what you’d call “a moment” in Malta’s Mediterranean waters. It was one of those moments that you remember for the rest of your life, a watershed realisation, a memory that haunts sleeping and waking dreams. And this was it: Scuba is my thing.
(Also around this time that I started taking packing up and leaving seriously. I made a list in my trip journal:
“Things I have one year to do:
- Learn Spanish
- Get scuba licence
- Find work in South America, Malta or Spain … or anywhere that isn’t Cape Town, South Africa”
The other items on this list are not fit for parental consumption.)
When I got back from Malta, I happened to mention to Two Oceans Aquarium Communications and Sustainability Manager Helen Lockhart that I was dead set on getting my diving qualification. She immediately offered to approach the aquarium’s dive master, Iain Robertson, to see if I could run classes with him in exchange for a few blog posts. Iain agreed to take me on board, and one of my oldest and bestest friends, Brendan, and I took the plunge. Really glad you and I got to share that, dude.
I started my Advanced Padi course as soon as I could after that. I’ve got one more dive to do before I get my qualification, the deep dive, and we’ll go to about 30m. The deepest I’ve gone is 18m. That was the first time I couldn’t see the bottom as I descended but I totally nailed that dive! Iain’s energy is something else, though – he is an incredible instructor.
There’s lots of emphasis on safety during training, but really it’s worst-case-scenario, preventative stuff. If you have a head on your shoulders and follow the rules (slow ascent, follow the dive tables, don’t touch that shark) you should be okay. I will never forget what Fishboy Phil (ah, miss you) said that day on the amazing seal dive with Animal Ocean: “I remember when diving was dangerous and sex was safe.” Ha! True. The gear has backups for backups; you have to be pretty stupid – or careless – to fuck it up.
Diving is as exhilarating as it is soothing, and the post-euphoria is one of the best highs I’ve ever experienced. I doubt it ever gets old. I’ll be sure to let you know if it does.
“Without the blue, there is no green”
Diving is a perfect inroad to ocean conservation. Somewhere (Twitter) someone said: “With divers, you never have to talk about environmentalism. It happens on its own.” From what I’ve seen, it’s a lot like birding: The hobby has a light footprint and it’s necessarily about not disturbing the surrounding environment.
“Her Deepness” Sylvia Earle is my idol. Girl’s got it going on. The big (big, scary) dream now is to be the next Buoyancy Baroness. She won the 2009 TED Prize (watch below) and there has been a remarkable uptake in popularity for the ocean’s cause since then.
Even Richard Branson is catching the wave.
Can you picture me sitting around a conference table with these two brainstorming action points for an MPA in Ecuador? Me too.
Diving South America
Naturally, I will be diving in South America.
In the short term, I’d like to come back with enough material to publish a guide book on diving the continent that also reads as a travel novel and offers a look at the challenges facing South American waters.
I’m going to play it by ear. It’s a pretty expensive hobby, so I hope to trade my skills (writing, surveying) in exchange for some opportunities on the coasts of Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.
Recreational diving info on Argentina and Chile is thin. Also, it’s damn cold out there. They dive in 7mil or dry suits. North of the equator, diving is popular, tropical and warm. But as someone who started out in Cape Town, I can attest to the particular wonders that colder climates offer. Just because it’s not Hawaii doesn’t mean it’s not spectacular. Rooting for the underdog.
I’d like to volunteer with NGOs and non-profits to build my diving experience and reach a better understanding of South America’s marine situation. Ideally, I’d like to be offered a job as a diver-cum-researcher-cum-writer-cum-activist (sorry Lawrence, but the A-word has stuck).
If you have any connections with organisations like these that could use me, or with divers or marine biologists, please let me know in the comment section or email me. What I lack in experience I make up for in enthusiasm. Trust me.
I’ll be writing a lot more about the sea as we progress. It’s top of mind in everything I do.