The following is an interview with Tripper and diver Janel Torkington.
What is your favorite local dive spot?
I currently live in Madrid, but have yet to dive in the Mediterranean. When I was based in Thailand, the standout was certainly the liveaboard trip I took winding through the Similan Islands.
The nine-island archipelago is protected as a national park, and as such the outcroppings of rocky beach remain gloriously resort-free. Fishing is absolutely verboten, and tourists are prohibited from so much as docking on several of the beaches known to be turtle nesting areas. This attention to conservation results in absolutely explosive marine life, both in terms of variety and abundance.
I completely lost count of all the new species I encountered with every plunge; particularly memorable were the shy pineapplefish, brilliant nudibranchs, cartoonish harlequin shrimp, and fiesty Queen triggers. The face-to-tentacles encounter with my first ever cuttlefish on Richelieu Rock was otherworldly; she hovering just above her brood of eggs, resplendent and shimmering in ten thousand hues at once, and me simply basking in pure cepholopod magic.
What is the most exciting diving experience you’ve had?
One of the eeriest has to be the Great Blue Hole in Belize.
One of the largest underwater sinkholes in the world, Belize’s Great Blue Hole is rimmed with flourishing corals and fish life around 80′, leading to an edge that starkly drops into apparently endless cylindrical abyss. In truth it bottoms out at around 410′; my dive briefing casually slipped in a mention of schools of silky sharks brooding in the depths, “only occasionally” surfacing to visible levels.
Silky tremors aside, the experience was unlike any other. Gigantic stone stalactites drip dark and ominous from the sinkhole’s curve, around which pods of divers ploddingly weave in and out. Accompanying the otherworldy journey are oversize grouper, fanning their bony jaws wide in hopes of effortless snacks from the hands of the human tourists.
You can’t stay long at these depths – around 130′ – both due to the high nitrogen concentration and the rapid depletion of your tank. However, the precious minutes spent cavorting amongst the cavernous formations are genuinely unforgettable.
What do you most love about diving?
In a way profoundly distinct from walking through the woods or hiking in the desert, diving wholly immerses you within an environment while at once making it utterly clear that you are strictly a guest. Humans require fancy apparati to remain submerged for any significant amount of time, plus calculations on precisely how much our fragile bodies can take of the wildly different conditions in the foreign environment – you might as well be walking on the moon.
Even given our gauges and goggles, physical contact with practically any underwater element results in mutual damage, often quite serious. Coral cuts and scrapes take weeks to heal; near-invisible jellyfish tentacles leave burning red welts in their wake. Wander into a Titan Triggerfish’s nesting territory, and her namesake jaws will snatch a chunk out of your exposed flesh. And with reason – you’re out of your element.
This isn’t at all meant to emphasize the dangers of diving; rather, I’m interested in the constant, rigorous level of respect demanded by the ocean and its inhabitants. You don’t belong, but you’re lucky enough to have found a means to peek in what would otherwise be a totally secret watery realm. While there, definitely marvel at the exquisite beauty of the decor – just don’t break any vases.
Where would you most like to dive that you have not yet visited?
I have my sights set on the Red Sea, which I’ve heard is overflowing with colorful species not found anywhere else.
What diving certificate you have or how many hours you’ve dived?
I have my Rescue Diving Certificate and my NITROX certification. Not sure how many hours I’ve logged, but would estimate about 200 – I’ve been certified through PADI since I was 12.
Thanks to Janel for the interview – we want to go diving right now!