No Contest

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Burt Jones & Maurine ShimlockWe have taken a long break from blogging because we’re putting together an updated version of the Raja Ampat dive guide we produced for Conservation International.  The new book will encompass all the of the Bird’s Head Seascape, so it’s larger and more time consuming to write and illustrate.  But we were interested to read the lead article in the latest Undercurrent, the one about Raja Ampat, which must have provoked lots of discussion about the best place to dive.  The article and Dave Eagleray’s comments certainly provoked some discussion around our house, so we decided to comment. This blog is not about defending Raja Ampat or even where our favorite place to dive might be.  This is about the fact that wherever you like to dive is the best place.

Our best friend Vickie (she introduced me and Burt so we have a very long term friendship) has been diving about as long as we have.  Whenever she takes time away from her busy career, she goes diving. She has the means to travel wherever she wants, and she has known us for over 30 years so she has heard about most of the world’s best dive spots. She could have dived with us in Sipadan, Komodo, the Solomons, wherever, but Vickie always goes to the same place: Cozumel.  Why?  Because she likes it!  To her Cozumel is relaxing, easy to get to, and offers plenty of diving, but not enough to get in the way of spending a few evenings partying in town.  We don’t argue with her about her choice of destination, and we’ve stopped trying to get her to join us in some faraway, exotic place.

We’re just happy she’s diving and loving it.

Another good friend recently gave up diving.  He also has the means to travel wherever he wants, go on any liveaboard no matter what the cost.  So why did he stop?  Because the only place he liked to dive was Cocos, and after more than 30 trips there (!), he said he was done.  No, he never saw Raja Ampat or Lembeh or the Solomons either.  Just not enough sharks to suit him in those places.  Hard to argue with that.

Some of us don’t mind traveling to the ends of the earth to dive on pristine reefs, see masses of fish, or even hunt for a new species of nudibranchs.  Some of us only want to see sharks. Some of us want our diving as easy and accessible as possible so we can enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted silence while floating weightlessly in the blue. There are professional photographers we know who say they will never come back to Raja Ampat because the viz was terrible or there wasn’t enough macro to suit them.  There are others who will not go back to Sulawesi because macro is all they were able to shoot and they expected schools of fish in clear water. We don’t argue with them because everyone has their own reasons for diving in a particular spot.

Folks, there’s no contest here.  The beauty of sport diving is that it’s really about what floats your boat, what best satisfies your individual expectations, not which reef is the most diverse or which site has the highest fish species count.  (Believe me, the scientists argue enough about that for all of us.)  So, if you take a leap and travel beyond your comfort zone in the spirit of adventure, let it be just that and enjoy the thrill of the unknown.  Don’t frustrate yourself by constantly equating one place with another. Sure we all have our favorites, but by comparing numbers of reef fish to numbers exotic critters to numbers of pelagics, we’re basically comparing apples and oranges.  Personally we like both.

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8 comments for “No Contest

  1. March 31, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Hey Burt and Maurine,
    Another wonderful piece of writing! Well done and well said!
    Thanks,
    Kerri

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  2. DocVikingo
    March 31, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Amen, Brother & Sister Shimlock.

    A spot on piece.

    Thanks,

    Doc

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  3. March 31, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    100% Agreed! While my husband and I love the South and Indo-Pacific, we’ve also fallen hard for Cozumel, for the same reasons as your friend! It’s not a contest for where is the BEST spot, just the spot you love the most. And it’s usually a tough one!

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  4. March 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    Well said, Maurine & Burt! When my clients ask where the best diving in the world is, I always tell them it depends on what they are looking for and that the “best” diving may be someplace they haven’t been yet!

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  5. Bret Gilliam
    April 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    As usual, Burt and Maurine have a direct common sense perspective. A lot of what they said hit me right where my perspectives are. For instance, I went to Cocos Island for over a decade, every year for a month at at time and always loved it… but I’m maxed out on the experience now. I’ve got enough photos of sharks, bait-balls, marble rays, mantas, etc. to last me forever. Now I really have interest almost exclusively in the Indo-Pacific, specifically the eastern side of Indonesia Komodo, Banda Sea, Raja Ampat) and the Solomon Islands. Yeah, it’s a bitch to get to and it ain’t cheap for the flights but I think the diving and the culture makes it the best diving in the world today. I’ve been everywhere and I loved it including places in the Caribbean four decades ago that I would not go back to today due to deterioration. But in many cases, I still love the islands themselves, especially the BVI. So choose what you like and enjoy it to the max. It’s all good!

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  6. John Bantin
    April 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Even Raja Ampat can offer two very different experiences: High voltage current dives around the Dampier Strait and more sedate dives suitable for macro-man around the Misool area. It’s about managing expectations and choosing the right place for you. (I go every where and try to concentrate on what makes a place special. They all are in their own way!)

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  7. The Dude Abides
    July 19, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Someone should tell the guy who only likes to dive Cocos about the large atolls in the Tuamotus. He’ll see more sharks than he can shake a stick at. Not only that, but they’ll be in a coral environment.

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  8. Jim Shuff
    April 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    I will go along with Cozumel being the be all and end all for where I want to go diving. However, I have a concern for my trip next winter. I plan on going for three months and need to take our dog with us. We have not been able to find a method that we feel comfortable with to get him there. There is a possiblility of a new ferry from Tampa to outside of Cancun that would work but it is not final at this time. As a result, I am considering going to the Keys instead, we can drive no concern with Toby. BUT, four years ago, when I retired, I went to Key Largo for my first winter vacation and was very dissapointed with the lack of shops willing to go out due to weather conditions and/or lack of other people wanting to dive. Is it any better further down towards Key West? I am still holding out for the ferry but I have heard to many stories about driving from Texas to Calico to get the ferry. Anyone have any ideas or experience with this? Thank you!

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