On April 28, 2021

Diving in: discovering new worlds below the surface

By Dom Cioffi

I spent quite a bit of time in the water during my recent vacation to St. Martin. The Caribbean is obviously known for its pristine turquoise ocean and white sandy beaches, so I was more than happy to spend the majority of my week communing with the natural elements.

Within hours of arriving at our resort, I was inquiring with the hotel staff about snorkeling gear and the best places to dive. Thankfully, one of the young guys I met was well-versed on the area and a regular diver himself, so he knew exactly where to send me.

The area we were in had a small cove that wasn’t accessible via the beach, which made it look more intimidating than it actually was. It wasn’t the safest spot to climb around but just offshore where the water covered the rocky landscape, it was an absolute dream for snorkeling.

Early the next morning, I got myself fitted with a mask, snorkel, and a pair of fins and headed into the water. It wasn’t as warm as I hoped but within a short time any chill I had was gone. I swam around for several minutes adjusting my mask and getting acclimated to the gear. Once I was comfortable with the way everything was working, I pointed myself toward the cove and started swimming.

Snorkeling in the area just off the shore from our hotel was beautiful — with its pristine clear waters — but got boring rather quickly due to the lack of vegetation. However, as I got closer to the cove and the abundance of rocks, things started to change.

I was conscious of the current and crashing waves, which were much more robust as you got closer to shore, but the guy I talked to at the hotel assured me I’d be fine if I kept my wits about me. Plus, there were two other people already snorkeling when I arrived, and they seemed unconcerned.

As I began to see the first rocky outcroppings, the vegetation got hardier. And while I hadn’t seen a fish since I first got in the water, suddenly they were everywhere. The first fish I saw were unremarkable, but before long, the colors, sizes and shapes began to expand.

As I floated on top of the waves with my head submerged, breathing comfortably through my snorkel, my body became more and more relaxed. The muffled sounds of the ocean enveloped my ears, while the dominance of my breathing took center stage.

The combination of all these senses being stimulated had an amazing effect on my body. All the stresses from the “real” world dissipated. I couldn’t have been more out of my element and yet I felt completely at home.

I swam around for over an hour, traversing the cove and marveling at the otherworldly creatures I discovered. Eventually, I swam back to the hotel and located my wife and son lying in the sun. Neither seemed that intrigued with my adventure, even though I droned on about it for 20 minutes. That night at dinner, I begged them to accompany me to the cove the next day. They balked for a while but eventually gave in (mostly to shut me up).

My Octopus Teacher

The next morning, I got them fitted for gear and took them to the water. We jumped in, got ourselves situated, and then headed toward the cove. I could tell they were initially unimpressed with the lack of sights, so I kept promising that the experience was about to explode tenfold.

When we finally arrived at the rocks and they got to take in the underwater visuals, they both agreed that it was amazing. We swam around in awe for over an hour that morning and returned again later in the day.

That night at dinner we all agreed that the only downside to snorkeling was having to come up for air. Swimming along the ocean floor and feeling like you’re flying through the water is so exhilarating — until your lungs start crying for air. That’s when we decided that we would get certified for SCUBA on our next vacation.

Although I never saw an octopus on my underwater excursions, this week’s film, “My Octopus Teacher” (which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary on Sunday), reminded me how amazing the ocean and its inhabitants can be.

The film follows a middle-aged man who, while diving daily in a kelp forest off the coast of South Africa, befriends a small octopus. The experience ends up having a profound and heartwarming effect on his life. Part of what makes this documentary so entertaining is the beautiful cinematography of the underwater environment where it was filmed. However, the unique and unlikely story also gives the viewer a gentle reminder of the fragile connection we all have to the natural world.

Check this one out if you love documentary films or are intrigued by sea life — just be prepared to have your definition of friendship expanded.

A bonding “B+” for “My Octopus Teacher” (available for streaming on Netflix). Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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