Diving: The Superior Sport

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What a fabulous sport scuba diving is. Other sports mostly challenge my sanity, and their blatant inadequacies confirm diving as the superior sport. Take Motor Racing for example. Aren’t you glad I do not squirt you with Champagne on the dive deck after every successful dive?

Few realize what this extravagant behaviour actually symbolizes. Squirters are not just wasting perfectly drinkable and delectable beverage, they are trying to consummate their victory.

I have seen women shake and squirt Champagne, but it looks distinctly odd, and is a rare occurrence – for good reason. In the animal world males compete in order to mate. The animal winners really do get to mate but since podium “mounting” by our racing heroes would undoubtedly be frowned upon, motor sportsmen unwittingly only simulate it. Observe carefully what they do. Actually, they are wankers.

Divers never worry about winning, and gleefully drink any Champagne handed out. After a couple of magnums, divers agree how happy they are that they all had a great dive. Cooperation beats competition, and everyone helps each other fill out their log books with exaggerated depths, times and encounters. OK, I’m kidding, that’s Socialism not diving.

Unending news of injuries, fights, fouls and suspensions makes the football season unbearable. And then there is cricket. In the 1880′s when English missionaries moved into Milne Bay PNG, they decided to civilize the natives by teaching them cricket. “Shields into bats and spears into wickets!” they proclaimed. As a result Milne Bay people are sterling characters, friendly and hospitable, and it is my favourite place to go diving.

Cricket was a gentleman’s game and the manner in which you played was just as important as winning. Not anymore. Playing cricket these days is excellent training for cads, drama queens and deviant mobile phone texters.

High physical impact sports take their toll on older players, but divers just get better with age. The intellectual processes of sea sense, observation, identification and understanding of marine life are more important than youthful reflexes and strength. History, with its triumphs and tragedies, enhances our discovery of an underwater wreck – which may be transformed into a magical garden. Scuba diving is a low impact physical sport in its own right, but it is even more a vehicle for enlightenment.

Swimming and cycling are excruciatingly dreary. Just imagining the hours of repetitive training involved sends me to sleep. In the ocean with a mask on I can swim for days (well 41 years actually) mesmerized by the marine world. Don’t tell me cycling involves beautiful scenery – the cyclists I have seen mostly have their heads down watching the road, or are swerving to avoid annihilation by passing trucks. That is one of the greatest things about scuba diving – the exercise is incidental to the sport, and not its main purpose.

And let’s get the drug thing sorted. Every diver’s kit bag has performance enhancing drugs – Sudafed, Drixine, even Aspirin for deep divers. We do not make a fuss about it and do not call it cheating; we just swallow and praise the pill. So what if athletes turn out to be drug freaks? They are pretty much freaks anyway. Basketball would not exist without, shall we say, height advantaged, personages and I’m not even going to mention Sumo Wrestling.

Purists are correct when they say diving is uniquely a sport that provides prolonged weightlessness, and many enjoy diving for this very sensation. Being weightless is deeply psychological, directly relating to the time in our mother’s womb. It is probably why I feel so relaxed as soon as I start any descent. I’m going home to Mummy.

Experienced divers clear their brains of cares and luxuriate underwater, blissfully floating in inner space. I have never been able to do that on a golf course. There is no primordial reason to hit a ball into a hole with a stick  (and to be obscenely rewarded for being good at it).

But is diving a sport at all? In the past I have promoted diving as Adventure rather than sport, however recent experiences have confirmed to me that diving is indeed competitive, and that underwater photographers are the most competitive. Anyone who has been elbowed off a sea fan containing Pygmy Sea Horses knows I am right.

Years ago I dived with a jerk who after shooting a subject, deliberately stirred up the silt to make it impossible for other divers to photograph. He did not stay on my guest list for long. One tour leader routinely guided his disciples to a well-worn area, and then would disappear with his model to his nearby “secret” hot spot.

When I was running the dive boat Telita I made a point of showing my clients the weird and wonderful critters I had discovered – to the gratitude and amazement of some professional photographers who routinely kept their discoveries to themselves. But of course my main business was getting passengers on the boat, not selling underwater photos and competing with them.

One question that always turns up when you admit to being a diver is “How deep have you dived?” This is the diving equivalent to your “PB” (personal best) time for your event, your handicap, or highest score. The ignorant public perception is that the deeper you have been, the better diver you must be. We even have world depth record for scuba diving on air and people die attempting to break it. As we know, the gases that we breathe become more and more poisonous the deeper we go. Deep diving record attempts have the same illogic as seeing how much arsenic you can swallow before it kills you.

Having said that, my PB on air is quite deep. I am sort of proud of it, and tell people even when they do not ask. But, as you all know, I am a sweet, non-competitive guy and would never encourage some budding underwater photographer to go deeper, but if one does – then that is one less competitor! Ha!

In my youth I was a keen underwater hunter but only ever for food, and, of course, the thrill of watching freshly spilt blood and thrashing animals die. In Japan this is called “Science”, which is one of the reasons science is so poorly understood these days. The other is Al Gore.

Competitive underwater hunting has never been my thing. I know many that started their diving careers this way but, as they learned more about the underwater world and came to love it, they abandoned the practice. I do not even eat reef fish these days. I’d rather be environmentally correct, and eat my neighbour’s cat.

Yes, diving is the Superior Sport. Now if I could just stop my model from racing me back to the dive boat at the end of every dive, life would be perfect. It’s not the racing I object to, just the fact that she always wins.

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6 comments for “Diving: The Superior Sport

  1. Bret Gilliam
    September 17, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Bob Halstead and I have exchanged perspectives on diving’s controversies going back nearly 20 some years now. We always seem to agree and I’ve been privileged to publish his material in some of my books and magazines over time. He always hits it right on the head… and gets it right. We’ve been railing against the pompous neo-conservatives together in our writings from opposite sides of the world with a rapier sharp commentary that never failed to attract condemnation for the self-appointed “scuba police” but we always ended up vindicated when what we advocated became mainstream practice. He’s the true pioneer of diving in PNG having almost single-handedly introduced the sport there and then setting up the best operation ever run in the country. My only regret is that in my countless treks across the world to its most distant outposts, I keep missing catching up with him in person. Because there is no one else I can think of that I’d rather hoist a glass with that has still eluded me after 40 years as a diving professional. Undercurrent readers should note this special man’s writings and recognize the musings of one of diving’s greatest innovators and thinkers. Please give us more, Bob! Good on ya, mate! I know our fellow infidel John Bantin in the U. K. will agree with my assessment of Bad Bob!

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  2. September 17, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Thank you, Bob! Tho my sides still ache from laughter, the words you’ve spoken ring too true. The diving industry would be much better off if we really promoted this image of the sport rather than letting the other media dictate the public’s impression of what we’re doing and why we’re dong it. We’re not all mad great white freaks trying to escape our cages, nor are we trying to set records in any direction. Aside from UW photogs pushing each other aside for that “perfect pic”, we’re basically there to see and experience an incredibly wonderful, bizarre, and beautiful world, as well as being able to operate in a full 3-d universe. If all divers spread this image of the “sport”, then perhaps we’d see more a resurgence of interest amongst the younger set — we’d beat extreme skate-boarding hands down!

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  3. John Bantin
    September 17, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve never met Bob but I know of him of course. He always comes across to me as rather uh…British! I wonder how he copes with the new breed of diver that is so keen to tell us older characters that we are doing it wrong! Don’t tell me…He listens patiently and says “Good for You!”

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  4. September 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Bob, thank you for your wonderful, wandering piece on the “adventure” of diving. You had me laughing out loud at several junctures.

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  5. Brent Hedges
    October 6, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Unlike John I have met Bob. In fact I have done several trips with him aboard Telita some of which were in the late ’80′s which were some of his very early trips.
    As such I can attest first hand to the fact that diving with Bob on his boat was an aboslute delight. There were definitley no “scub police” in sight and yet everyone on board managed to undertake all their diving incident free in a range of conditions which included deep dives- “BlackJack”- current dives and drift dives.
    Isn’t it amazing that when you give someone the opportunity to take personal responsibility they generally do but when you dictate to them how to dive, if something goes wrong they generally look to blame you. Funny that.

    Bob, I am glad to see that after 20 years you haven’t changed. Keep the faith and remember your brifeing motto- “Deeper, Harder, Longer”.
    Cheers.

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  6. Richard Jacoby
    October 7, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I’m quickly approaching my eighth decade and am deciding where to dive next. Last year it was Raja Ampath (I never could spell that name) at the east edge of Indonesia’s waters.

    The point is, I was surprised at how diving is like riding a bike (except this bike doesn’t ruse). Current, tanks and all the other gear didn’t get i my way, and the awe and relaxation of the ocean doesn’t diminish; it only grows more amazing.

    When someone tells me they’re afraid of the water I suggest tennis. But for we lucky few, I’d rather be diving.

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