November, 01 2013
Diving for Idiots

A recent near-death experience aside, this TV producer says scuba diving keeps her sane and makes her appreciate her country more.

by Utet Hasibuan
Lifestyle // Travel and Leisure
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For me two things are very true about diving. It is expensive  and addictive. Bad combination. But I love watching documentaries about marine lives and I've wanted to dive for as long as I remember, so four years ago I took a diving course.
 
Unlike some lucky friends who dive every two to three months, I am happy enough to be able to save money to dive once or twice a year. And those times are the best times.

At first I thought wet suit, mask and fins were all I needed for diving. Boy, was I wrong. I won't bore you with the details on all kinds of equipments a diver need, but the one very important thing to have is a dive computer, which is worn around your wrist like a watch.
 
In my first serious diving trip to Bunaken, Sulawesi, my diving Guru, Erykah, told me I must use a dive comp. It would be dangerous not to, she said. A dive com lets a diver know if she descend too fast, how long she can stay at certain depth, and how long her safety stop should be, so she won't get decompression sickness, which simply means undissolved nitrogen bubbles in the blood.
 
I rented a dive comp on that trip, but once we got home, I bought one. Until now I still don't fully understand it, but I  do know that it goes beep..beep..beep after 30 minutes under water, and it goes beep..beep..beep if I stay too deep too long and need to go to ascend a bit. This knowledge is enough to make me feel safe.



The sea, though, oh, the sea is amazing. For me being underwater is the closest feeling I can get to flying. I would spread my arms and look down at the deep blue and have the biggest grin my mouthpiece would allow. I am flying. It's quiet and calm down here, all I can hear is my own breathing.  
 
Diving around the Komodo National Park in Flores is my favorite. It's rich of hard and soft corals in every color. Huge sea fans, fish in all sizes and shapes, also in brilliant colors, swimming all around you, some as curios about you as you are about them.

With every flap of my fins I find things to marvel. I find that small clown fish in their anemone home will bravely nip at my fingers if they think I am dangerously too close to their home and their tiny babies. Some mantas are as big as four-meter wide. One swam right over me once and I could touch its belly if I raised my hand. It felt like an alien ship was flying very close above my head. Superb!
 
And the nudies—no, I'm not talking about naked people. Nudies or nudibranches are colorful sea slugs in intricate patterns, sometimes so small I have problem spotting them. Every diver I know is always fascinated by them. They surround the tiny creatures with their bulky underwater cameras, taking snaps from every angle. Sometimes I wonder with all those lights flashing, if the poor nudie will get migraine after the photoshoot is over.
 
I don't have a camera, so every now and then I will do my best to distract my friends’ attention from the beautiful sea creatures and be a far less inspiring model myself.



After four years of diving, I’ve become more confident under water and slightly a better diver, so when Erykah offered me to join the trip to Raja Ampat in  Papua- the ultimate divers destination in Indonesia- I quickly said 'YESSS!'.
 
There we were at the end of 2012, living aboard a ship for six days, among great friends and with great food. We dived four times a day, and the underwater as well as on land beauty was intoxicating.
 
Then came the night dive I will never forget. Maybe I was a bit over confident after the 11 previous dives went smoothly or maybe I simply thought I have turned into a fish.
 
That night I was floating in the dark sea, feeling very excited, impatiently waiting for Ade, my dive buddy, to get ready. When she was finally ready, we gave each other an OK sign and began to descend.
 
In less than a minute, already three meters deep, I realized I couldn't breath, I forgot to put the bloody regulator in my mouth!! Panic kicked in fast. Ade was swimming away, I could see her flash light. It was pitch black except for my own light, which was wildly dangling from my wrist while I was in panic, fumbling for my regulator.  
 
What saved me was the emergency regulator that was glowing in the dark. I grabbed it and stuffed it in my mouth. God, oxygen never felt this good!  
 
When I caught up with Ade, she signaled me to ask why I was using emergency regulator and whether everything was OK.
 
The drama queen in my mind: “Well, apart from the longest 20 seconds of what the near death experience, I am OK.”
 
It took me a good 15 minutes to calm down and breathe normally again.
 
Other than that one idiotic incident, the rest of the trip was fantastic. I have been all around Indonesia and Raja Ampat is in my top three most beautiful places.

I'm glad I took that dive course four years ago. As a TV producer I have to follow bad news everyday, and there were days I really hate my country—the corruptions, the religious extremists, the intolerance, the weak government.
 
On my diving trips, however, I can truly appreciate, love and even be proud of my Indonesia.
 
About Utet Hasibuan
Utet Hasibuan works as a producer in international news broadcasting. For her, news is work, so when she's not working she would avoid news by watching Spongebob and Animal Planet. She believes she was a dolphin or at least a clown fish in her previous life.
 
Photos by Erykah Black and Esther Pane in Raja Ampat, Papua.