Category Archives: Diving

When The Traveler Goes To Art School: Sea Snaps

Something funny happens when you take a passionate traveler and force them to stay more or less tethered to one location for four years: they start to fascinate. Towards the end of my last semester at art school I ran into one of old professors who excitedly asked me “Are you still doing travel design?!” I had never thought of myself as a “travel designer” but as I began to put my portfolio together I realized I did have quite the repertoire of projects that I had steered with my wanderlust.

With graduation behind me and a shiny new Bachelor’s Degree of Fine Arts hanging on my metaphorical wall, I thought I’d share a some of my favorite travel related art I created over my four years at art school.

The first assignment I’m going to post is one I call Sea Snaps. The assignment was to redesign a disposable camera, and with my passion for diving my mind went straight underwater. I bought a disposable underwater camera, pried it apart, and made this, one of my favorite projects of all time:

disposable underwater camera
disposable underwater camera

In addition to my travel motif, I tend to use pattern a lot in my work, and I love this one. My fingers were covered in gold spraypaint and I was itching to go diving, but I remember presenting this in class as one of my proudest critiques.

You can see more of my design work on my portfolio website, or you can stay tuned for the next week as I share a few more of my favorite creations!


Underwater in Five Senses

The following is one of my homework assignments from my travel writing class at NYU. The prompt was to write about something using the five senses. After watching Disney Nature’s Oceans last night I was inspired to share this here.

Sight. It is the sense that drives us into the ocean. To witness colorful coral, swarms of tiny fish that move and dance as one giant organism, giant beasts of the sea that make you question your ranking on this planet. There is such visual overload when diving it is best to narrow your focus- macro or micro. Sometimes I prefer to hang back, enjoy the underwater vistas, the coral mountains, blue holes, and other seascapes that permeate the ocean floor. Other times I bring my mask as close as possible to the life around me. I choose one fish and observe as it goes about its daily routine, fussing around its anemone home, busybodying other fish away, oblivious to my existence.

Underwater Photography

The range of taste is predictable underwater. There are long pauses of slightly stale air punctuated by intense, bitter accidental gulps of sea water.

Smell is the one sense that is truly dormant beneath the surface. Yet there are so many smells we associate with the ocean: The salty air, the noxious fumes from boats and air tanks.

Underwater Photography

It may be forbidden to touch marine life and coral, but you can’t stop the water from touching you. Bubbles brush over the body, pushing past to reach the surface.  Temperature changes are acute, sliding against skin. Reaching hand to arm, you feel raised hair and puckered skin, fighting against the cold.

Underwater Photography

Many people list the silence of being underwater as one of their favorite parts about it. But listen closely. Inhale. Exhale. Your own breathing thunders through your head as your lungs rasp for oxygen. You hear bubbles fizzing around your ears as they glide to the surface. A boat roaring by in the distance. A parrotfish greedily crunching on coral. The muffled exclamation from a fellow diver. Occasionally, when your breathing is slowed and your adrenaline surged, you hear your own heartbeat.

Underwater Photography

The imagination takes over and fills in what gaps are left from our naturally dulled senses underwater. A mesmerizing hard coral would die if touched by human hands, but the sensation of the texture is so intense you are convinced you must have felt it. The brain fills in the gaps.

Underwater Photography

Diving in the Perhentian Islands

After days of eye problems keeping us above sea level, we were finally ready to take the plunge. After all, we had come to the Perhentians in part for the virgin reefs fringing the islands.

Diving Perhentians

We dove with the in house dive shop at our bungalow, making it easy to roll out of bed and wade out to the dive boat. On our first diving day we headed out for a two tank trip, hitting two of the island’s most famous dive sites: Sugar Wreck and Terumbu Tiga, or T3. As we headed out my eyes were still a bit sensitive but I was determined to dive!
diving perhentian

Sugar wreck was my first ever wreck dive and I was required to complete a PADI “Adventure Dive” in order to do it. The cynic in me says this was a ploy to get me to do my Advanced Open Water course, as it basically consisted of paying more money and pointing to the buoy line a few times throughout the dive. Descending down the line, I was awestruck by the amount of life. Nurse sharks, lionfish and barracuda lurked around the sunken ship ominously, and we swam through the swirling, inky evidence of squid or octopus.
Diving Perhentians

Heading into the wreck, we swam towards an air pocket the divemaster had told us about beforehand. At the time, this was only my seventh ever dive, and my buoyancy control was lacking, to say the least. In my excitement I started to shoot up towards the air pocket, not seeing the metal beam directly in the path of my head. Luckily my dive buddies were a bit more keen than I, and Mark and the divemaster simultaneously yanked me away before any damage was done. Embarassing? Yes. Better than being med evaced off the island? Also yes. My shame evaporated quickly as I marveled at being able to breathe with no air tank, 50 feet under water.
Diving Perhentians

Our next dive was to T3, a favorite site amongst divemasters for its swim-throughs, caves, and microlife known as nudibranches. This was a big day of firsts for me, and lacking any experience with swimthroughs I was so focused on getting through the tunnels and trying not to knock into everything and kill anything, that I have almost no other memories of the dive!
Diving Perhentians

Showing off the island's dive sites

Diving Perhentians

On one of our last days on the island, we headed out for our final dive and what would become one of our best memories of the trip. Tokong Laut, or Temple of the Sea, is the superstar of Perhentian Island diving. Its topography alone would be impressive, an undersea mountain emerging at the surface as only a small blip on the horizon, but below there was more untouched marine life than I have ever seen. I only regret that I didn’t have the diving experience to remember the names of what I was looking at or the camera skills to capture it! (All underwater photos in these posts are taken with the borrowed camera of a friend, and we really didn’t know how to use it very well.) What I can remember is Mark and I looking at each other underwater, seeing the excitement in each others eyes, and signing frantically to each other over the magic of it all. We were even lucky enough to see the resident three legged turtle that we had been briefed on! It was my first time seeing my blog’s namesake underwater, and it was love at first site. Even with my limited technical skills and inexperience, to this day this is one of the best dives of my life.
temple of the sea perhentian

In front of the tip of the temple

Keeping with my recent video clip theme, I put together a short video of our boat ride back to the dock. My camera skills weren’t what they are today, but you can get an idea for the amazing topography of the Perhentians. At the end of the video we pull right up the bungalows we were staying in. Enjoy!

Beneath The Sea Recap Part II

Just stopping by? Check out Beneath the Sea Recap Part I to get started.

Exciting as it was to walk around the exhibitor floor and daydream about my next dive trip, the real value came from the seminars going on all weekend. The best part? They were all included free in my $18 per day day-pass. The worst part? Figuring out which of the four simultaneous lectures to attend at any given time! The offerings were split somewhat evenly between destinations, photography/videography, conservation, and tech diving. I spent most of my time at the photography lectures, though one was a last-minute swap out after the much-anticipated Lionfish lecture was rescheduled. You already know how worked up I am about that, so maybe it’s for the best that I missed it.


Beneath The Sea


I was a bit early for my first lecture so I snuck in the back of the room to hear what the previous topic was. I caught the tail end of what appeared to be a dry and boring presentation- and almost made a run for it. Then I heard an enthusiastic voice cutting through the crowd as the next presenter snuck in behind me, breezing up the aisle with a rolling suitcase behind her. For the next hour I sat entranced as the most bubbly and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met told us about her amazing career in underwater video. Annie Crawley is a member of the Woman Diver’s Hall of Fame, producer of the Dive into Your Imagination children’s series and a seasoned underwater filmmaker. The seminar was Top Ten Shots you Need to Master, but I was far more interested in learning how I could replicate this woman’s life! I left the room floating on air and this isn’t the last you’ll hear about Annie….


Beneath The Sea



Next I headed to Underwater IMAX Film Production, which was a fun and interesting little presentation. Having seen quite a few underwater IMAX movies at the Boston Aquarium, I was curious to lay eyes on the filmmakers. The female half of the husband and wife  team was smaller than me- making it all the more amazing that she helps operate a camera weighing over 1,000lbs! I was also interested to learn that three minutes of filming costs over $9K in film and processing. That makes for a pretty pricey feature film! The husband also spoke a bit about an eye disease he has contracted from spending so much of his life underwater. I don’t think the average diver has to worry- these are people that stay down as long as 6 hours on rebreathers to get a shot.

My last stop on Saturday was the standing room only State of our Oceans panel given by the first family of scuba, the Cousteaus. I can confidently say this was the most inspired I have ever felt to make a change my behaviour in order to change our environment. Jean Micheal Cousteau is an engaging, composed public speaker, but about halfway through his speech he stopped, pointed out an infant in the audience, and stated simply that if we do not act now, if we don’t each make a change in our lives, the oceans will be irreversibly damaged, within that child’s lifetime.


Beneath The Sea


The entire family took turns speaking, and the mood shifted from sadness over the deterioration of the ocean (especially visible to long time divers!) to hope over how we can help. They encouraged the audience to stop blaming corporations, stop blaming governments, and stop blaming other countries and simply take responsibility for yourself and live as an example.  The warned us not to be overwhelmed, that if we can change our habits we can help others do so next.

I have a big post planned about how I plan to change my actions, and what I’m hoping to do to help with cleaning up the oceans. But if you’re eager to be informed today, visit the Cousteau’s Ocean Future’s Society for more info.

Sunday I attended three photography seminars of varying interest, but before heading home I saw one more seminar on the list by Annie Crawley. I had been thinking about her story since the day before and I decided to go to her second presentation as well, as the last one put me in such a good mood. The effect was the same. At one point during the hour Annie pointed right at me and said “and you young people, you need to do this all while you can! Sell your car, buy a plane ticket and go chase the dream!” Being at the show on my own, I had been battling shyness all weekend but at the end of the hour I forced myself to go up and introduce myself and tell her I was in fact planning to do just that. We had a great conversation in which Annie told me to please keep in contact with her and update her on my career. She ended by pulling me aside and telling me she wanted to support me in a career in underwater video and giving me a free copy of her Camera Coach DVD, something I had considered but shied away from due to the $30 price tag. It was such a touching gesture and combined with such warm words of support, I walked away from the weekend feeling hopeful and excited for the future.


Beneath The Sea


To divers at any level, I encourage you to go to a show like this in your area! You’ll meet like minded people, get ideas for new trips, and if you’re lucky, you might walk away ready to become an oscar winning filmmaker and singlehandedly save the ocean.

Beneath The Sea Recap

Like the New York Times travel show, I barely knew what to expect when I bought my ticket for the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo. I knew that the website was impossible to navigate, and so is New Jersey, where the show was located. Luckily I had use of a car that weekend so I had a way to attend, but I have such a complex about driving through the Garden State (Seriously, have you ever been on those highways?! Who designed them?!) that I basically burst into tears the second I drive through the Holland Tunnel. Finally, I spotted this car ahead of me. Calculating the likelihood of anyone with more than 10 diving related decals on their car not attending a dive show happening in a 10 mile radius, I threw the directions on the floor and followed them bumper to bumper. Two minutes later, I arrived.

Scuba Bumper Stickers

When I finally arrived forty minutes past what mapquest predicted the trip would take, I was not in the best of moods. My foul mood chipped away as I entered the show and was greeted by two smiling mermaids representing Scuba Radio.

Anyone who has attended a convention knows the chaos and excitement that fills the cavernous expo centers. At Beneath the Sea, booths were occupied by everyone from tourism boards, dive resorts and liveaboards to regional local dive clubs. The major certification agencies, PADI and SSI, were there (and PADI was selling the e-learning HARD) as well as the major equipment and camera manufacturers and several merchandise lines selling clothing, jewelery and art. It wasn’t all business and consumerism though, as several groups were there promoting conservation and special interest diving, like Dive Heart, which helps amputees and veterans regain their sense of independence through diving.

Beneath The Sea

In contrast to the New York Times Travel Show there were nowhere near as many giveaways and contest but diving is a fairly low profit business (from what I understand) so I’m not too surprised. In the same vein, the booths were, in general, a bit less splashy.  It took me about two hours broken up between different seminars to see the whole show, stopping to chat to a few camera people, conservation groups and my old buddies the Cayman Islands, Bay Islands, and Blackbeard’s Cruises. It’s always fun to talk to people who live in a place you’ve visited and compare notes.

With the exception of a roofing contractor (seriously?) and some sort of asian ballet theatre group, every single exhibitor had something that drew me towards it. These were my highlights:

Beneath the Sea

• The Women Diver’s Hall of Fame booth was staffed by a lovely and friendly group of women who told me all about some fantastic scholarships that I’m hoping to apply for next year, especially if I ever go for my instructor. They were very excited about me (I was one of very few single women I saw at the event) until I let it slip that I was taught to dive by my instructor boyfriend, yay for me! Then their eyes glazed over a bit. Not that I blame them, there’s a huge misconception about diving that women only get into it to make their husbands/boyfriends happy, and I kind of fit right into that. Better a diver who got into it to impress a boy than not a diver at all right? Right? That’s what I keep telling myself, and yet I’m pretty sure every time I repeat that story a feminist angel loses her wings.

• I stopped by the Sea Shepherd booth hoping to meet some hard core pirate members of the group famous for ramming and sinking whaling and shark finning boats violating international law. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the ocean- and they clearly aren’t sitting around writing letters to senators and waiting for results! But there were no mean pirates to be found- just some super nice New Yorkers who let me in on how easy it is to be a part of the organization. I have a fantasy of someday getting involved on the boats here or at Greenpeace, but I’m guessing they are primarily looking for crew with the ability to lift more than 12 pounds at a time. So I’ll keep you posted.

Beneath The Sea

• If I could have picked one destination or trip from the many that were being promoted at the show, I would hands down pick the Arenui Liveaboard in Indonesia. Without a doubt the most luxurious liveaboard boat I have ever seen, it makes quite a contrast to the Blackbeard’s trip that I recently took and loved. However luxury alone wouldn’t be enough to make this my top pick, in addition it is beautifully designed with an Indonesian style and has a true boutique feel.  At around 6K a trip this is going to have to rest at the bottom of the bucket list for now.

• One thing that surprised me at the show were the number of artists displaying their diving and underwater inspired art. Most were not really my style but I fell hard for the paintings of Pascal Lecocq. His tongue in cheek interpretations of classic paintings with a diver’s twist really felt to me like a perfect way to show how all consuming diving can be for the true enthusiasts… to the point that they can see nothing else! I’m kicking myself for not buying some of his postcards.

Pascal Lecocq

Pascal Lecocq

Into the Drink is new show about scuba diving and the lifestyle that often accompanies it (note the double entendre). These guys have incited quite the controversy over at Scuba Board for their heavy focus on the ahem, surface interval activities rather than hardcore diving, so I had a feeling they’d be a fun crew. The host and the producer were the ones at the booth, and they were not only passionate divers and friendly guys but also excellent salespeople, as I walked away from the booth with both the Season One DVD (okay, I wanted that anyway) and a t-shirt. Sigh. I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but when I do, you’ll be hearing about it!

As fun as the exhibitors were, the most rewarding and exciting part of the show were the seminars. Stay tuned for part II to hear about how I was starstruck by the Cousteau family, learned where iMax movies come from (not two iphones taped together in a plastic bag, as one panelist predicted), and appointed myself a new life mentor (I’ll fill her in soon).