The Diving Gift Horse

Years ago I subscribed to the UK travel magazine Wanderlust for a short while. It is a magazine that styles itself as one for “adventurous” travellers, eager to go beyond tourism.

One of the first editions I received had an article on Iceland and its lead image, a full page shot, showed a diver in the crystal clear glacial waters of Silfra with arms extended. To their right they touched the vast North American continental plate; to their left the touched the equally gargantuan Eurasian plate. A lone human between trillion tonne lumps of rock.

I can’t dive, but it stuck I in my mind and a few years later in 2013 I found myself planning a trip to Iceland. I made the classic mistake of “doing Iceland” in 14 days although Iceland is in part to blame as it offers those who dare an easy round-the-country path in the form of the oval route 1. After a few weeks of planning I realised that, as someone interested in trying to capture the essence of what they see in a photographic image, this was a foolish idea. Being so close to the departure date meant that I couldn’t change accommodation and so the trip was scrapped.

In 2014 the trip was reborn as a 15 day trip covering a route along the southern coast. It was a good trip with just me and the rental car and three bases to work from. I fell I love with the solitude that Iceland offered me and left with images I felt proud of.

Like most offices across the globe in ours there are always several lines of conversation going on about peoples’ interests and hobbies and you learn to tune out one that you are not particularly interested in. One of the guys at our place is a keen diver – passionate about it – and spends as much free time as he can pursuing his dream. Maybe it was the recent return from Iceland and the remembered full-page image in Wanderlust, or his utter enthusiasm, but I began paying more attention. I put learning to dive on the 2014 list of things to achieve, but then the trip to Ethiopia suddenly appeared and sucked up a lot of time and money. By the end of 2014 I still hadn’t learnt to dive.

But the return from Ethiopia brought two things: First it was the start of a new year – the time at which I set my yearly goals. Second, Ethiopia had cemented in my mind something that had been troubling me for some time – a lack of photographic direction. After witnessing one of the more extreme environments nature has to offer I had a direction. There are many extreme environments on the planet, but the one underwater remains one of the most enigmatic.

So learning to dive is an aim for 2015, but it is nice to have a specific goal to aim for and mine is to dive at Silfra in Iceland. I’ve set an aggressive target; Aiming to get my PADI Open Water certificate in early July, then the PADI Advanced soon after, followed by diving at Silfra in early September. In between there’ll have to be plenty of practice dives too.

I’m under no illusion just how difficult this will be; diving is difficult enough but trying to photograph under water – and in temperatures of 2°C – adds a layer of complexity on top of that where even something as simple on land as standing still becomes a battle underwater. Plus trying to operate a camera with 7mm thick neoprene gloves is an acquired skill. Frankly, right now, I don’t even know how you focus a camera underwater. It is going to be a very steep learning curve and one where the chance of not being good enough to take the images I have in my head is easily 50% and likely much higher.

But if you don’t try you don’t know. If nothing else I’ll be able to learn from the mistakes making the next attempt easier. And anyway, it is a little early for me to be talking about failure. I’m very lucky. I know a passionate diver very willing to give advice and help with any questions and less than an hour’s drive away is a place where I can go and practise diving on a Tuesday evening – which is a traditionally dead evening for me. And as for the expensive underwater camera gear needed, well, I have the loan of that too. At any other point in my life, learning to dive would have a number of challenges to overcome but right now I’m being given this opportunity on a plate.

And, as the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth.

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