March 29, 2013

Diving & Surfing First



Not so long ago, I took up surfing for the second time in my life and had what some call a spiritual awakening; I would like to think that most first time surfers who actually make it to an upright position have a similar reaction. I had tried it once before in the US in the eastern state of Delaware, but of course this sensation went entirely missing as this state is really not well known as a surfing hot spot, however, this second time around the results were completely different – I somehow managed to stand up on my board and ride, not just one wave, but a total of four righteous waves, thus, falling in love with the sport of surfing. I enjoyed it so much that now I want to adopt the surfer lifestyle, which means buying a surfboard, growing long blonde hair, and saying the word “dude” all the time. My only wish was that this would have happened in Honduras so that I could turn this insane sport into my weekend hobby; sadly, this totally bodacious experience did not take place in Honduras but in a neighboring country. Unfortunately nature was not kind to the Honduran coastline which was blessed with great beaches but bogus waves unsuitable for any decent surfing; still I have heard of some acquaintances of mine catching some gnarley waves down south in Choluteca, in the Gulf of Fonseca. I will need to investigate the next time I go down to this part of the country and check out for myself if a surfing scene really exists and if it’s happening, I am definitely buying a surfboard and preparing a new entry for the Travel and Tourism Honduras blog.
surfing in Costa Rica - need to find a surfing spot in Honduras

You may be asking yourself why I started out this piece with this surfing analogy when surfing is not really popular in Honduras. There is a reason why, and it is not just because of the large amounts of surfer lingo available for comic relief, or because I wanted to show off my newly acquired surfing “skills”, it has more to do with the rousing similarities between the two sports. I believe both, a tubeular wave, as well as a really sweet dive, can conjure up the same heightened feelings of excitement that keep everyone coming back for more. It is also fair to say that for a recreational diver, the experience of finally catching a glimpse of that hard to find creature can easily be compared to that same feeling pro surfers get when after many years of looking for that perfect wave, they finally ride that eternal wave into the sunset; to use more appropriate wordage, the feeling I am looking for is – TOTAL AWESOMEness brah!

Basically, I will try to explain here why I got so stoked after a few dives I made in the island of Roatan, Bay Islands, and in the process perhaps attract some “surfer Nazis” from around the globe to hang loose, way down unda, under water in Honduras that is!

Ok, that’s enough with the surfer talk – It’s time to chat about diving.

These fantastic submersions took place during the month of September 2012, not the best of times to go diving in the Bay Islands as this month is usually reserved for the rainy season which extends from June through November. However, there is a short pause during this period; it is a natural occurrence known as the canicula which happens in this part of the hemisphere; it is a dry period resulting in little to no rain, with nice and calm seas, usually occurring during the month of August. Perhaps it was climatic change which had extended the canicula during 2012 or maybe I just got lucky as the entire second week of September proved to be sunny with relatively no winds, thus creating favorable diving conditions.
the bow of thePRINCE ALBERT
The visibility was ideal for a new set of underwater pictures, including of a couple of underwater wrecks lying undisturbed at the bottom of the sea floor; let me remind you that my camera lens had never focused on these two sunken attractions before, as this was my first time visiting the south side of Roatan. It also included the execution of a shore dive, a totally new experience for me, and one I should have done a long time ago considering I brag a lot about diving. In addition, there was the surprising but highly anticipated debut of an important piece of camera equipment I had bought over a year ago but which was never used to the date. It was lacking a small but vital accessory for it to work, one I had recently ordered online and hoped to receive in time for this trip, but to my luck, it did not arrive on time. Nevertheless, I decided to bring it along anyway – that ended up being a wise decision, as a very kind staff from the Coco View Resort, opportunely provided me with an extra accessory which fit my camera perfectly, literally transforming this dive into my most memorable dive so far.
ALEJANDRAhovering over theDC-3plane wreck

This truly was an all out eclectic mix of exceptional first time diving events for me and one I wish to share with you, but FIRST, I have to give special thanks to Alejandra Casco, the local Honduran, diving instructor who made it all happen. She was the one who guided me on that one stellar dive – in her short shorts, rash guard, white mask, and neon pink Atomic regulator, she lead the way as I floated through these unfamiliar waters in a place which right away became my favorite dive site to date, the wreck of the Prince Albert. There is a little bit of everything here, long drop offs with all kinds of coral formations exploding with color, a large variety of micro and macro organisms crawling and swimming in all directions, including an impressive 140 foot tanker, sitting upright at 65 feet of water. This site is Coco View’s most popular night dive located just in front of the Dive Center, in what they call their “front yard”. It becomes even more special when you add a second wreck located very close to the PA, a DC-3 airplane which has lost part of its fuselage due to hurricane Mitch in 1998, but which remains a cool wreck specially for those who have never seen a plane underwater before (you can still make out part of the wings and the mid passenger section). This dive included yet again, another first on my log book, finishing the dive with a walk-out to shore and realizing how convenient and effortless a dive like that can be. It was soooo relaxing – I even used up the entire tank of air, another first. In the end, there was Alejandra walking next to me until we reached a pier where we paused for a while to discuss this amazing hour-plus long dive.
aLIONFISHhiding between the crevices

Ale, as she is called in short, learned how to dive and completed her PADI diving courses at Paradise Divers in Utila, gaining valuable job experience at the Utila Dive Center, later on at the Fantasy Island Dive Center in Roatan and now at the peak of her career at the Coco View Dive Center, located close to French Harbour, Roatan. It is hard to believe this “front yard” is what Ale calls her office, and where she actually works as a diving instructor and is host to a special kind of customer. These are mostly experienced divers who bring their own dive gear, camera equipment, and who dive 4 times a day for 10 days, if not more. 
my firstSEAHORSEsighting
In my opinion, Ale’s best attribute aside that she’s very friendly, is one every diver looks for or at least should look for in a dive buddy. I am talking about the important asset of having widespread knowledge of the terrain – this means knowing what is out there and where to look to find all those hard to find, alien-like, organisms you never even knew existed. Unlike other diving instructors or divemasters who haven’t been diving long enough in this part of the world, Alejandra has managed to become familiarized with her environment; I am sorry, but you need to dive with a local who understands his/her ocean. She certainly has that coveted ability to spot those endemic species, like the beautiful seahorse which can go undetected to the untrained eye. She is also very much into u/w photography and in particular macro photography of just about anything under the sea, but she is especially fond of these tiny and most stunning creatures. Her love for seahorses is so great that she even has created a Facebook community for seahorse lovers aptly called Love Seahorses, where she frequently shares her amazing pics of this magnificent specie. We did not discuss this but I am sure she probably has a few u/w photography courses under her belt, as you can tell from the quality of her photos. Her photos are literally out of this world.

I loveSEAHORSEStoo
Now, this is the part of the dive with Alejandra which had the most profound effect on me. Like I mentioned earlier, I also have ventured into the realm of u/w photography and so to improve my final results, I bought a new strobe for my u/w camera. However, I had a little glitch, I was missing an added piece of equipment to put this gear to work – a fiber optic cable which my strobe supposedly did not need as it would work remotely with the camera’s own flash, nevertheless, once the strobe was mounted on the camera casing, the receiver on the strobe was not picking up the light from inside the camera to trigger it. Basically, the strobe was useless but I brought it along anyway. I had to explain my situation to Alejandra who was very sympathetic and kind enough to provide me with a spare cable and right away my Olympus UFL-1 strobe was operational and ready for its maiden voyage. She even gave me a tip on how to set up the custom White Balance on the camera for shooting in ambient light (without the strobe) and obtain more even and accurate colors. She also provided me with a white slate to point underwater in order to calibrate the WB at different depths; however, I had some trouble figuring out these advanced settings. I tried for a bit but with no avail, so I decided to go back to the Auto WB, besides I was more than satisfied with finally using my strobe for the first time. On the other hand, I will be going back to the manual for instruction on how to do this in the future (who knows when this new camera trick will come in handy).
 
I can tell you this much, I owe Ale big time – her timely assistance proved to be one of those “moments of truth” you hear in management 101, one which had a significant effect on my dive and future dives from that point on. Truth is, I did not expect Coco View to have an extra cable lying around somewhere and furthermore for them to trust me with it, but Ale let me borrow it without hesitation, and man was I glad – the results were just jaw dropping. As soon as I took my first picture with a boost from the strobe my eyes became fixated on my LCD display rather than on the real thing. I was genuinely marveled by the plethora of colors found in all the aquatic life forms being captured on my memory card, considering I was so used to everything on my previous dives looking like 35mm film negatives (with blue and purples monotones). Seeing these bright and vivid colors come to life for the first time on my camera’s display and later on, on my computer, made this submersion that much fun and the highlight of this dive; can you imagine my excitement when later on Ale pointed to my first seahorse ever. On top of everything else, there wasn’t just one seahorse, Ale had the range of vision to find a total of three different seahorses and I was more than happy to have captured them all in their true colors.
can't get enoughSEAHORSES
Had it not been for her, I would have had to wait four more months to do another round of dives and use my strobe for the first time. Thanks again to Ale and to this fabulous sport because for as long as there are new creatures and places to see I'll keep coming back for more.