Imagine another world, one without mobile phones, laptops, emails, conversation, work... Imagine you could fly in this land, silently sail over exotic landscapes, parachute in slow motion, immerse yourself in swarms of wild but perfectly choreographed creatures going about their business – eating and trying not to be eaten – where the hierarchy is clear, where you and the other fish are always on the lookout for sharks. Imagine a place you can only observe, where you are the alien, where you need a wetsuit and an air tank to survive, where you never quite take the next breath for granted.
Imagine swimming, seeing nothing but featureless blue atop rippled sand, and then a wreck looms out of the shadows towards you like the ghost that it is, ominous, rusted, sharp, dangerous, its entire body tattooed with vibrant coral, its dark, open holds hiding schools of fish, enticing you inside if you dare…
Scuba diving allows you entry into this world. Several million people now dive all over the planet, some only once or twice in their lifetimes, perhaps during exotic holidays. Others become passionate, addicted. It doesn’t take long to become a diver if you’re in reasonable medical health – a few days course abroad or at home will teach you the basics, enough for your ‘bapteme’, and then, if you go again, you can soon get your diver certificate and start heading to far-off locations, taking on more challenging dives – diving deeper, into caves, into wrecks, drift diving in strong currents, encountering bigger and more awesome fish such as whalesharks or hammerheads.
Diving is a serious hobby – there are risks, from nitrogen narcosis to decompression sickness to running out of air – but with good training, proper equipment, a sensible attitude and some basic safety culture, it is safer than many sports. The rewards are endless – the underwater world is serene, magnificent, with ever-changing coral vistas. And because it is serious, because there is no language underwater besides a few hand signals, divers bond with each other, often becoming good friends. Your life may one day depend on your buddy, so you watch each other, and watch out for each other.
Some of the most intense moments in my life, when I have felt most alive, have occurred underwater – from encountering a whaleshark in the blackness and then riding it on the surface and then back down into the depths (Watamu, Kenya), to exploring pristine WWII wrecks in the Pacific (Truk Lagoon), to watching a dozen sharks hunting a school of over a thousand jack (Palau), to being pinned between two schools of hammerheads at depth (Sipidan, Borneo), to seeing a swordfish hunt fish less than a metre away (Seychelles), to diving fjords at night in Norway, to coming face to face with a penguin underwater (Galapagos), to chasing reef sharks in the Coral Sea outside the Great Barrier Reef.
These are highlights out of 650 dives worldwide. But almost any dive is a good dive. Just being underwater transports me to another type of perception. After all, try to imagine a world where there are no mobile phones, no laptops, no emails… a world where you can truly fly.