Where Diving Is New
Simon Pridmore imagines what it must be like to be a new diver in Indonesia, where, until recently, going underwater was just an impossible thing that other people did.
You have never heard of scuba diving. You know that there are people who swim underwater. You have seen them on TV and in the movies and you have wondered what it would be like. But this is not something that you ever imagined would be possible. Then one day you meet a friend for lunch and she tells you about a scuba dive that she did with an instructor while she was on holiday. Suddenly, a door you thought would always be closed to you opens a crack and you can see beyond.
After thinking about it for a long time you decide you don’t just want to dive once. You want to learn how to dive so you do it many times. You can swim but you take some lessons anyway to improve your confidence in the water. Then you look online for a dive instructor. There are no dive centres in your town. You have never actually seen a dive centre. You will have to travel to a nearby island to learn.
You are the first person you know who has signed up for a scuba diving course. For the people of your parents’ generation, diving was something that navy personnel did. It was a professional activity, not a sport. Now they know that you are going to become a diver, your family are worried about you and your friends are envious. As for you, you feel like you are embarking on an adventure that will change your life.
The First Scuba Divers
This must have been how it was for the first sport divers in the 1950s and 1960s. Before them, everyone who had ever gone underwater was doing a job. The baby boomers born in the USA and Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War were the first people ever to go under water for fun.
But in Indonesia, this is how it is right now! People from other countries have been diving in Indonesia for decades but only recently have Indonesians themselves been diving here, other than as professional divemasters and guides. For the first time, a generation of Indonesians has the economic security and free time to dive for fun.
Scuba is COOL!
The wonders of Indonesia’s underwater world are now constantly featured in newspapers, magazines and television documentaries. Several free magazines have been published, featuring movie stars and pop idols as diving role models. Many of Indonesia’s dive gurus and industry leaders are in their twenties or thirties. Scuba is COOL!
I visited a hotel on Java’s Sunda coast a few months ago with a group of divers. We were sitting by the pool in the evening while a film unit was shooting scenes for one of Indonesia’s most popular television soap operas. One of the crew came over and started chatting. We explained why we were there and, on hearing that we were scuba divers, he brought filming to an abrupt halt. The cast, actors and actresses famous throughout the country, all came over and bombarded us with questions about diving, saying how they were all planning to take courses. It felt like we were the stars!
World Class Diving on Your Doorstep
How wonderful must it be to start diving and then discover that some of the best diving in the world is right there on your doorstep? The vast majority of Indonesia’s 170,000 plus islands lie in the coral triangle where two massive oceans, the Pacific and the Indian, join. If you are Indonesian, places that people spend tens of thousands of dollars to visit for just a few days a year are easily accessible to you pretty much any time you wish. Do you fancy a long weekend in Komodo? You could leave work in Jakarta on Friday evening and be diving off Cannibal Rock the next morning. How about Christmas in Raja Ampat? Why wait until Christmas? There are overnight flights to Sorong from Jakarta every night of the week.
On a more sober note, the environmental and conservation consequences of so many Indonesians learning to dive can only be positive. The country has an appalling conservation record on land and sea, with plenty of well-meaning laws protecting the environment but very little implementation or enforcement. A new generation of divers could well be a powerful force in turning the situation around.
Living in Indonesia and seeing scuba diving through the eyes of newcomers to the sport is refreshing. It is wonderful to witness a whole society that is discovering the joys of dipping their heads below the surface of the sea for the first time.
Comedian Dave Barry once wrote: “when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.’
Welcome to the circus, Indonesia!
Read more from Simon in his latest release Scuba Professional – Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations and his bestselling book Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver, both available from Amazon in paperback and e-book versions.