Being a U.S. military serviceman stationed in Okinawa, Japan has many great benefits. Among them is the opportunity to dive some of the greatest reefs in the world. Additionally, the waters are unusually clear and relatively calm at most recreational dive sites. With the multitude of dive instructors on island teaching both NAUI and PADI courses, SCUBA is one of Okinawa’s leading recreational sports.
My wife and I began to dive seriously about one year after initial certification when we completed an underwater photo course. The course gave us the motivation to dive more frequently, and, with camera in hand, we now had our purpose for each plunge.
We had been diving on the island for nearly two years when we finally decided to take advantage of our ideal location. We were anxious to test our diving skills on other exotic reefs in the Indo-Pacific region. Our intent was to eat, drink, and sleep diving. After an exhaustive search, we decided to stay at a five star resort in the Republic of the Maldives. They offered dives on the house reef, boat dives, and various levels of certifications, so we anticipated being in a group with various skill levels.
My wife and I were psyched up about the approaching trip. We dove every weekend in anticipation of getting the perfect underwater photo. Macros were Jessica’s specialty, but she perfected her use of the wide-angle lens in anticipation of the scenery. We were brimming with confidence on the day we arrived on our vacation.
Like many tropical regions, the Maldives cycles between two seasons, wet and dry. We were arriving at what should have been the beginning of the dry season. However, due to unusual weather patterns the wet season was lingering, which would make the dives more challenging.
On our first boat dive we received all the prescribed pre-dive briefings. In fact, I was actually shocked at how much detail the dive masters were going into. They gave each briefing in English, Japanese, and German for our multi-national party. Additionally, they insisted on certain types of safety equipment we did not use at home. It was clear that this tour operator was very thorough.
In the course of Okinawan diving, the average diver returns to the same sights over and over resulting in an unconscious reflex to take many things for granted. Some of the ideal conditions that exist for open water diving include outstanding visibility, manageable weather conditions, and calm to moderate currents. Since we had been diving very regularly for two years, what happened next was a real eye opener.
Every time we arrived at our intended dive location, the dive master would gear up and check the currents for several minutes at various depths. At times we would need to move to a new locale, and on other occasions we would dive the sight with an added "currents" briefing. I wrongfully suspected that they were just being over conservative. Nevertheless, we were told which direction the currents were moving and how fast. The instructor would also discuss the best position to be in if the currents became too strong. Again, since we had never dove strong currents, the thought had occurred to me that the dive outfit was just being melodramatic.
On our first dive I realized what the instructors already knew, a strong current could sweep me out to sea. We immediately became caught in what seemed to me to be a swift current. Admittedly, the bells and whistles in my head began to go off. But with a calm look from the instructor I realized that these were normal conditions. I began to relax and just went with the flow. With good buoyancy control we were able to drift along the long reef enjoying the view.
At the end of the dive we conducted our safety stop and then surfaced. I was certain that the boat would be missing after nearly 60 minutes in a current. That’s when it became blazingly obvious why the instructor had insisted that each person carry a surface-signaling device. With device in hand ready to signal, it was to my surprise to see the boat within 20 yards of our position. When I asked the boat operator how he managed this magical feat, he simply said he knew the reefs and watched our bubbles.
With each trip into the water we became more and more aware of our environment. Dangerous marine life that we did not usually encounter at home was commonplace in the Maldives. For example, I was constantly on the look out for giant Stone Fish fearing I would brush one while photographing that perfect subject. Luckily for us, the tour operator also informed us of what marine life was common to each dive location.
We managed to go down with no problems, and captured some amazing photos. As it turned out, riding the current was actually one of the best experiences we have ever had diving. However, in the future we will never "assume" that we are prepared for all dive environments. Although we are experienced Okinawan divers, this vacation made us realize that there is still much to learn about diving.