YOU CREATE YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES
From time to time, a person will be put in a situation where they will be forced to call upon all their skills to truly experience what they are doing. This is exactly what i am experiencing now and also what i have been helping others to achieve along the way.
When you spend a consistent amount of time living on the ocean your senses become very accustomed to the subtle changes of her moods. Temperature, wind, swell, current and tide changes are noticed instantly, almost without thought, you just sense it, subconciously. Underwater it is just the same, and you can pick up on the mood of the underwater world immediately.
Working to start acquiring this ability is crucial, and it is something that will require continuos work, as you will be forever learning and adapting.
This ability keeps you safe, you are pretty much on your own out here, if your yacht gets damaged because you did not see/feel a squall coming in the night, or you get swept away in current while freediving, you get bitten by a shark or you suffer a deep laceration from hitting the reef whilst surfing, that could be a deadly mistake. You cant expect someone to save you in the remote areas of the South Pacific.
This has been the biggest joy for me on this trip so far, to face the challenge of being so remote and needing to call upon all my experiences and training as a waterman to really explore, really make a good go of it, to test my self and hopefully capture once in a life time images and experience once in a life time moments.
It is a dream to have access to some of the most pristine waters left in the world right off the back off the boat and I am so grateful for this opportunity. Freediving in these places is like nothing i have experienced, it is a giant playground of ocean activities.
A great tester for all watermen and waterwoman is how you react around sharks and as you probably have gathered from my recent photos posted on social media i really like sharks, allot! Not for some hippy romantic reason and not even for an environmental reason, i just really dig them. To me they are just simply beautiful and fascinating. I very much enjoy the fact that to observe many of the larger marine animals you must consciously monitor how you are within your self. To interact with them you must be calm and aquatic, otherwise they will not approach. I have dove with many species of sharks; whalers, bulls, hammerheads, great whites, grey nurse and have found they all react similarly to your mood at the time. Contrary to the beliefs of many people, sharks are really quite scared of you, if they think their is a slight chance of you posing a threat and they run the risk of being injured, they will dart away and sometimes not approach at all.
I will give you an example; During our recent visit to the remote atoll called Beverage Reef (130NM SE of Nui) I was doing dives to around 25 - 30m filming Dog Tooth Tuna where the reef drops off. My friend Josh had just speared an Amberjack for lunch and the action of the fighting fish had attracted two Grey Whalers. One of the Whalers was very calm and relaxed, he was the bigger of the two, a giant of a Grey at a length of around 8ft. The second Grey was a small female, around 4ft long which was very excited and inquisitive. On one of my many dives i was hovering in the blue, out off the reefs edge and the small female came at me, head on at a reasonable speed, so i lifted my camera and started getting some shots, she kept coming straight at me and i had to stop shooting and push my camera out to fend off her harmless curiosity, she got a very big fright, darted around my camera and swam flat out into my face with her nose, it felt like i was at boxing training and got a jab to the face. She then darted away to take cover in the reef and was a much more timid shark after that.
Now, this was my fault, not hers. I reacted to quickly and spooked her, at no stage was she aggressive or wanted to attack, she was just very curious. If the average snorkeler had of seen this interaction from the surface, i have no doubt they would have thought I was attacked. If this same interaction had of happened to an uneducated waterman or waterwoman they would have had/percieved a totally different experience to the one i had.
Here in Maupihaa sharks are everywhere in the pass, when you first enter the water you often see 10 - 20 sharks straight away, curiously circling under the dingy. The good thing about this particular spot is that the sharks are not to frightened of your presence during your dives. (As most of the experiences I have had with sharks is that they are very timid and do not like to get to close, rather they like to stay on the edge of your visibility or approach you from behind then dart away once you turn, especially if you have a camera!)
“As with most of the dives here at Maupihaa, I start my dive and notice the sharks would take interest in me straight away, some would swim up at me and follow my descent, once i hit the bottom they would cruise at the edge of my visibility and about 5m - 10m deeper than me. It seemed that they were sussing me out, to assess if I was a threat or not, because after about 30sec they would all take turns in passing very close by me, watching me very with that curious eye. At no stage did they ever show any defensive postures or aggressive swimming patterns, they just cruised by with amazing fluidity. I find the way they move hypnotising”.
The current always runs as fast as you can fin on the surface in the pass, to gain any ground at all you have to fin at 100% power and sometimes even then it is in vain, then have to swim for one of the eddies, luckily you do not have to dive very deep at all to get some good shots, only 20m - 25m.
The way you observe and react to situations in this environment will determine whether you have a great experience or a frightening one, its pretty much all up to you with your attitude and behaviour.
It has been such a joy to share the watermanship teachings with the other young cruisers that we have bumped into whilst sailing. These guys spend most of their days freediving, spearfishing and surfing and I felt a strong urge to run them through some training to make sure that they were safe and got the most out of their adventure exploring the oceans.
There where four boats with young crew on them in the little lagoon in Moorea, French Polynesia; Soul Rebel with Ryan and Angie, Naoma with Ryan and Nicole, Oceanna with Greg and Casey and us on Kuhela. All these amazing people have come from very different places and backgrounds, but with one common goal, adventure.
We all piled into Ryan from Soul Rebels beautiful 50ft sloop, which is a very comfortable, finely finished yacht with all the best mod/cons.
I asked the guys some questions about their experiences in the ocean, how they breathe-up, what recovery times they were having, what they knew about the urge to breathe, how they conserved energy underwater and what safety aspects they knew. I found that their knowledge was extremely varied, some had really good knowledge, some had limited knowledge and some had no knowledge at all, this was not their fault of course, its a very common theme amongst spear fishermen and surfers to have limited knowledge of apnea and aquaticity.
This was the point where I got very excited, I wanted this training to be a gift, a way that i could help others to really get the most out of their adventures, to help them experience these unique marine environments to the full and then, hopefully, they would share their experiences with others and the word would spread of how we need to preserve these unique marine environments.
For me, this is why i founded One Ocean, to educate people so they will learn to respect the environment in which they play and intern respect it, hence the company motto; Educate, Respect, Protect.
I think it was my time in the Military that made me see this way. Aggression will only lead to more aggression, people need to make up their own minds about things, through their own experiences.
It was quite a simple day of training, nothing fancy or complicated. A couple of hours theory followed by some static apnea on the beach finished off with safety and rescues. It was a highlight to see one of the lads (Greg off Oceanna) surface after a 4min static fresh as a daisy! And after completing his surface protocol, stare at me in disbelief when i told him his time. Everyone on the day more than doubled their apnea times, some tripled. Man, it was such a good feeling to know that these guys would be diving the next day and have a brand new experiences. They would have more comfortable dives and with complete safety. Because their comfort levels would be higher, their interactions with the marine environment would be completely different, they would be more a part of it, fluid, aquatic and calm rather than being some what uncomfortable in apnea.
It was great training with these guys, they all have have such great knowledge of their own and have already achieved such amazing things, as with all courses, I learn as much from the students as they do from me.
The next person I met who I felt would befit greatly from some fun training was actually one of the few remaining full time female ocean adventurers and waterwoman, Liz Clarke. I bumped into Liz whilst anchored up at a beautiful little island in French Polynesia called Huahine.
Liz has spent the last decade cruising the Pacific on her beautiful little sloop, Swell. Swell looked like what i imagined it to look, surfboards laid all over the deck, an out rigger canoe slung to the port side and surf stickers painted the underside of her solar panels.
Liz is one of those people that has the ocean in their blood and you can see the ocean in their eyes. If she is not surfing she is paddling, if she is not paddling she is freediving, if she is not freediving she is sailing and when she is not doing any of those things she is writing about her adventures to help inspire others.
As with the other group, Liz had a natural ability in the water, her movements were already very fluid and calm.
After a brief lecture on the basics of freediving we went out to the Pass off Huahine to begin practical exercises.
Liz’s first “hang” was 2min! (For beginners a “hang” is best performed by pulling your self down a line to a depth of 10m where you will be neutrally buoyant. The diver waits until they feel uncomfortable or feels a diaphragm contraction (urge to breathe), what ever comes first and then surfaces, this is used as an effective warm up for deeper dives in freediving as it evokes the dive reflex) Liz had no contractions, no uncomfortable feelings, she just said she was blissed out listening to the whale song. When i told her her time she did not believe me! She just laughed. You know when you are teaching a well rehearsed waterwoman when she can put the theory into practice immediately.
After a few more “hangs” and some Constant Weight Training (CWT is when a freediver dives to a desired depth and returns powered only by the use of fins or if the freediver does not wish to use fins, their bare hands and feet) we went to swim with the sharks, it was great feedback to see the sharks approach us instantly, a sign that we were diving well. It was an amazing feeling to see a person having brand new experiences as a result of a newly learned skill. One of the many joys of teaching.
You learn a great deal from spending time with other people in environments subject to constant change. They always have a different perspective on things, how they perceive their environments can be very different. For example, a sailor might find that his or her comfort level is sailing in 15 - 20kts of breeze, in these conditions that sailor will notice every little detail in their environment; the crests and troughs of the swell, the birds, the clouds and subtle changes in wind. But if the conditions were to change and push that sailor out of their comfort zone they most likely would not observe nearly as much, they would be focused on the rigging of the boat and steering a true course, immersed in their own little world of survival. So if you are with someone who’s comfort levels exceed your own in challenging conditions, you can learn a great deal indeed, and no doubt this will lead to a very different experience.
Having a positive attitude as a waterman is extremely important, you could be a very practically skilled waterman but if you are a negative, worrisome person then you are self sabotaging your experience.
The best waterman i have had the privilege of spending time with all have very similar personality traits; optimistic, calm, humble, patient, observant and happy. This is not a coincidence, for these traits will always steer a waterman to the positive side of a situation, they will always back themselves and never panic.
There is an old Buddhist saying that i find explains what leads to the undoing of a waterman in challenging situations quite well, “While walking down a dark alleyway, a man notices a tightly coiled object in his path. A worrisome man would immediately see it as a snake and fear would take over him, a positive man would see it for what it is, a coiled piece of rope”.
I am reading an interesting book at the moment called “Deep” by James Nestor. During its chapters which dive into the different adaptions animals have as they descend deeper into the oceans, frequent references are made to the special abilities humans have, almost like special sensors that enable people to do extraordinary things; Some individuals being able to point South no matter where they find themselves, blind people being able to navigate busy streets using a form of echolocation, free divers being able to dive well past 150m and buddhist monks being able to significantly increase their body temperatures through meditation. Never underestimate your own potential! If you always back your self, you will not panic.
Enabling your body to perform to its full potential, correctly observing and discerning situations and living an experience to the fullest requires obviously some of the skills, knowledge, equipment and experience to perform the task but moreover having an optimistic, calm, humble, patient, observant and happy attitude.
The Polynesian people are always on the water, the ocean has always been a strong part of their culture from the beginning, for thats how they populated these islands, by travelling across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the eastern most islands of French Polynesia, as was re-enacted in the epic adventure tale, “Kon Tiki”.
The way French Polynesians relate to the ocean depends a lot on their location. In Papeete, the cultural roots of their connection to the ocean has been somewhat diluted by the French influence and the locals indulge in all sorts of ocean sports, the most popular being outrigger canoeing. They do this not out of necessity, but as i saw it, to experience the ocean the way their ancestors did, a sort of romantic indulgence, that you can easily observe brings them much joy.
In the more remote islands of French Polynesia like Maupihaa (270NM East of Papeete), the locals relate to their ocean as a recourse, as well as their small islands flora and fauna. They do not indulge in ocean sports, if they need to paddle a canoe it is for a purpose which benefits the community, like fishing or transporting stores from the supply ships. The 24 inhabitants fish daily for small reef fish, hunt lobster from the shallow reefs at night, gather coconut crabs from the islands undergrowth and collect bird eggs from the nesting grounds. The coconut trees which make up 90% of the flora on the island, they use for the thriving Copra industry. The meat is dried under large tarps and tin roofs then shipped to Papeete to be used for coconut oil, the coconut trees are also used for their house frames and the coconut leaves used to clad the roof. Nothing of what the locals gather is wasted, everything is used down to the last bone, leaf or husk.
Although the people of Maupihaa have a strong connection with their environment as a resource, their cultural respect for their environment has been all but lost, this being the common theme throughout the islands i visited in French Polynesia.
But there is hope, there is a shimmer of it resurfacing amongst the young people of French Polynesia. You can see it in the way they proudly name their local reefs and how they manage them from environmental exploitation and how they take pride in how their islands are very clean and relatively free from locally produced rubbish. Out of all the people I have met so far, one young lady stood out to me as leading the pack. Poema Du Prel from Moorea. Poema is like the unknown version of Liz Clarke, spending her time sailing around the Pacific on her little sloop, Black Pearl; surfing, freediving and exploring. She works for a large environmental program called Global Ocean Legacy being a translator and guide for the many scientists who work tirelessly to maintain healthy environments around the world. Poema does not seek any publicity or praise for her amazing work at all, she prefers to stay silent, following her passion and doing her work for the love of it. She is the most inspirational person I have met on this trip so far.
By going out of your way to spend time with these beautiful people really makes for an amazing experience. By showing interest in their culture and having respect for their islands they will often invite you in to their world and take you on some amazing adventures. The locals live the most basic lives with the most basic resources but are so happy and content with their lives. They exude happiness which is so incredibly infectious. Often we would bring in some tuna for the locals as a gesture of our appreciation for their hospitality and they would not let you leave until they have loaded your arms with eggs, fruit and vegetables, they have so little but always want to give so much. Its a beautiful trait and i think one that many people living in busy western lives could learn from.
I want to finish off this blog with a little story, a short tale that shares an experience of how it pays to get off the well travelled path, take a gamble and choose a less travelled, less known route.
When we were setting sail to leave Maupihaa, we planned to head straight to Nuie via Palmerston (a small island in the Cook Island group). We heard some other travellers that there was another option, to stop at a very unique and remote coral atoll a couple hundred miles off Nuie. This atoll receives very little traffic and therefor is relatively untouched by humans.
After a week at sea, staring out at the endless horizon we finally saw the breakers detonating onto the outer reef.
I could really talk about this place for a long time but in the interests of your eyesight and patience i will keep it down to just one experience.
This place was the ultimate playground! Surf and epic freediving! The reef was alive with everything! I imagine it was what all our reefs looked like 200 years ago.
I was freediving off a reef edge which disappeared into the infinite blue abyss, I was filming the schools of tuna and patrolling grey reef sharks. I must have been diving the edge for 2 hours and was really in the zone, feeling really relaxed and comfortable. I was absolutely frothing! I had never dove such a rich marine ecosystem! Then the dream became reality, it was already an ultimate experience but it was made even better when we found ourselves surrounded by whales. They were so curious and relaxed. Males, mothers and calves swimming all around us, I had the most rewarding and profound interaction I have ever had. The experience will be for ever imprinted in my mind, and the images i captured will be forever hung in my home. I was so very happy we decided to take a bit of a gamble and head out into the unknown.
It would be so easy to cruise around the Pacific as a passive observer, keeping to your self and limiting your exposure to any form of risk. For some people that is ideal, but for me that is not an option. To live an adventure where you will learn, adapt, capture and experience all their is to experience you have to challenge yourself not only as a waterman but you also have to challenge yourself in all aspects of your personality, having the courage to break through those old habitual patterns, let go and live life to the full. What has happened in the past is done and finished, what is going to happen is out of your control and unknown, what matters the most is right now. Is your attitude conducive to attracting the most positive and amazing experience you can have? Because as you are well aware, negative thoughts work against you in every aspect of your life.
You create your own experiences.