Deep, Blue, and Keeps Being Hip

“You hail from and live in the world’s largest archipelago, yet you don’t scuba-dive? How is that?”

A Frenchman, already a licensed Dive Master then, asked me point-blank over a decade ago. My bellydancing pal Hanna, a diving enthusiast, asked the same question rhetorically a few years later.

The answer I gave them is the same I’ve given to anyone since- I won’t be able to walk nor talk, while everything below 5 meters comes off blue and cold until you upload the pictures onshore later, so why bother scuba diving at all? No self-respected diver has accepted this answer kindly so far, I duly noted.

Well, you can never argue about hobbies now, can you? I’ve met Hawaiians who don’t surf, Masai folks who don’t run, Brazilians who don’t samba and Gulf Arabs who don’t know how to saddle a camel.

Now what about Indonesians who do scuba-dive? The exact number is anyone’s best guess as none of the diving associations operating in Indonesia ever disclosed the number of diving license issued, but if the 11th Deep and Extreme annual exhibition in Jakarta last week were to be used as a benchmark, the number is sizable, and growing. The stats I gathered from the organizer showed growth; from 50 exhibitors in the 1st year to 150 on its 11th year, from 25,000 visitors last year to nearing 27,000 this year. As many longstanding exhibitions in Jakarta have had a hard time attracting sponsors, participants and visitors due to economic slowdown in the past two years, this is quite a feat.

Do visitors spend, though? The organizer has no access to transactions booked by exhibitors, yet from what I observed in the past two years attending Deep and Extreme, visitors eagerly spend. And not just on needs but also for wants—like neon-colored oxygen tanks and Rp3 million suitcases made of materials able to store damp wetsuit just in case you need to immediately travel after washing up ashore. For the business girl in me, once wants-based purchases are apparent, the demand is in a clear uptick.

So, the interest keeps growing, but is it sustainable? I was fortunate to attend the exhibition this year with a journo-turned-seasoned-diver-and-explorer friend who introduced me to Andi Zulkifli of Master Selam, a Master Instructor and one of the most respected figures in Indonesia diving community. I appreciated how Andi admitted that while there are committed and genuine natural-loving divers, presently diving is largely a trend—a recreational activity one picks chiefly due to peers, hip factor, or the sudden grow of disposable income. The last factor which, I shall add, fueled by economic growth during the last presidential administration that gave rise to the middle class and has also boosted other leisure activities— this year the yoga-focused Bali Spirit Festival is on its 10th while Ubud Writers and Readers Festival will be on its 14th. The difference is while one only needs stretch pants to start yoga and healthy eyesight to take up reading, a basic wetsuit can set you back Rp2 million. Not to mention that yoga studios are plenty within city limits, while diving sites take farther distance and thus, bigger costs.

One would think the higher “barrier to participation” would’ve helped chopping off the bad apples on the onset, but facts remained that there are still plenty recreational divers ruining underwater coral reefs for pictures and polluting far-flung islands with plastic bottles—long before New Caledonia cruise ship crashed onto Raja Ampat or the aptly-named Great Pacific Garbage Patch made it to National Geographic. To be fair, all hip hobbies suffer from this self-sabotaging attitude. Just as my diver friend Lailai met a girl bedecked in the priciest diving gears nonchalantly tossing cigarette butts into the blue water, I’ve shared classes with people obsessed with Rp 2million Lululemon pants, perfecting poses for Instagram posts, or spreading their clique’s mattresses around so they won’t practice next to strangers—completely oblivious to yoga’s core principle to shed oneself of upadana (attachments).

The good news is, at least the diving community in Indonesia is trying to fight the garbage problem. From Andi I learned that about 20% of the fee paid off to PADI for each license issued goes to cleaning up Indonesian seas, a great initiative that will only be effective when doubled with constant individual discipline from every diver dunking their body into the ol’ big blue. Borrowing Andi’s answer on the aforementioned question of the diving sustainability as leisure and business— people would still come as long as Indonesia’s underwater was still worth enjoying. And that’s the insight every stakeholder in any watersport should permanently nail in mind, or our grandkids would only know the oceanic riches through reruns of Finding Nemo.

As for me, so far the siren call doesn’t die— alluring continuously for snorkeling. In fact, my pals and I are going again soon. So if you happen to see a group of girls gallivanting about West Papua’s Kaimana waters next month, wave. I’ll be the one in polka-dot tankini and matching red lipstick enough to make the fishes swoon.

Hip, hip, deep into the blue!

As published:


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