I am floating, bobbing along the waves and surf, 300 feet out from shore in the endless Pacific. I am staring down through the clear tropical waters, and it feels like flying over an alien wilderness. A small cluster of Hawaiian Sergeant fish catches my attention for a moment as I steady my breathing for the next dive. I get a visual on my dive partner S.T. surfacing from his dive and begin to take slow breaths. Deep breaths to calm the mind. I stare without focus, relax my muscles, and slow my heart rate.
For as long as I have known S.T., he has been an adventurous and sometimes fearless freediver. He leads the way. In Lanai, we dove a rural shipping bay that operated only a few days of the week. When we found that the pilings created vast gaps, tunnels, and passageways underwater, it took little time before he disappeared into the dangerous and sometimes dead end tunnel ways. I’d have a visual on him as the tips of his long fins disappeared into the concrete mess at about a 20′ depth. A minute would tick by, and just as I would start taking breaths to dive down and check up on him, he’d come out of a little hole another 20 feet below that (total depth 40 feet). (I’m guessing at the time, we were both at about 3′ for static apnea.)
As soon as I feel my blood pressure drop, I take a nice long breath. I frog gulp a few more mouthfuls of oxygen before folding my body at the waist and going down. I have sensitive ears, so I equalize often during descent. After I reach 15-20 feet, I kick only once. There are enough lead weights around my waist to make me negatively buoyant here and deeper. To minimize oxygen consumption, I relax all my muscles as I naturally descend until I am about 5 feet above the ocean floor. Sometimes, if it is a sand bottom, I just lie flat.
I enjoy the large field of blue during my slow motion fall. Here, out beyond the secondary reef at Three Tables, there are large boulders in piles on the ocean floor. I slide over to one with a large flat surface, and I sit. I sit and I watch for a minute. And this is one of my favorite things to do. I carry no spear, only a sheathed knife for emergencies (I’m a vegetarian), and if i do shoot fish, it’s with a camera only. Sitting quietly, I have seen eagle rays, titan triggerfish, sea turtles, frogfish, and all types of moray eels (among others); I have heard humpback whalesong from females, bulls, and calves (yes, you can tell the difference!); I have been surrounded by hundreds of convict tang as a school of fish moved past me, aided by the surf. I have experienced myself as a singularity, an observing consciousness and nothing else. Dive time happens on a different time scale perceptually. A minute can feel quite long, and on a good dive, when you surface, it feels like waking from an hour of meditation.
I lived in Hawaii for many years. The winds of fortune blew me back to San Francisco, no lesser a place, however different. Leaving was difficult. I had many friends and warm living ocean waters that I would dive maybe 3 times a week (or three times a day!). On the day of my departure, my good friend and dive partner S.T. gave me a very special gift. That’s the photo. They are the sands from our most memorable dive spots. I love my friends.