Solo Scuba

This post isn’t suggesting that you should solo scuba dive. Scuba diving has risks and I don’t know anything about you.

Part of why I always buy properties with my friends is so that we can take advantage of the things that are easy to do in each location but hard to do in other places I might be. Scuba diving is one of those things in Hawaii.

Before my very first scuba dive in recent years (I had been certified there 20 years prior), I bought my own equipment. It costs around $35 to rent, but I bought a full setup for $600, meaning that the investment would pay off after 18 dives, a number I’ve already exceeded after having the place for just over half a year.

For the first few dives I went with friends, and then I went to the main dive site on a tour with the local divemaster. After that I asked if he thought I could handle the dive solo, and he said yes. Since then at least half of my dives have been solo.

I love diving with the divemaster and/or friends, but I really love going by myself as well. Solo scuba diving is considered to be a huge taboo in the diving community, but I don’t think it’s always dangerous. There are plenty of dives I would never even consider doing by myself, but simple shore dives in well-known areas aren’t among them.

Most mornings I’m in Hilo I load my scuba gear into our minivan, grab a tank of air at the dive shop, and drive 15 minutes to the scuba site. I assemble my gear, walk out onto the lava rocks, and slide into the ocean.

The dive goes to a maximum depth of 70 feet, which I think is about the deepest I feel comfortable diving solo, but it averages an easy 30 feet. There are sea turtles and tropical fish everywhere, but I’ve even seen octopi, eels, huge puffer fish, and schools of trumpet fish. Apparently there used to be dolphins.

I always start with the same little circuit. I go down to 30 feet, look at the turtles and big parrotfish, and then swim parallel to the reef until I find the lava arch. You can swim through it but it’s a little bit of a tight fit and there’s often a big turtle sitting there that I don’t want to disturb, so I usually don’t go through. From there I go straight down the slope to a big sandy patch that’s at 70 feet. I like sitting at the bottom there by myself and looking at the massive reef. There are often some light-colored fish that are curious about me and will swim near me.

If I were with friends or on a tour I wouldn’t just sit there. But when I go by myself I can just sit at the bottom of the ocean and think a little bit. It’s extremely peaceful and relaxing.

From there I swim back parallel to the slope until I come across the other sand pit at 40 feet. One time I saw a massive ship anchor there and looked up to see a diving boat. I wanted to go close and look at the anchor but was worried it might shift or get pulled up, so I stayed away.

From there I swim back up the slope to thirty feet for my favorite part of the dive.

The first time I went down there with the divemaster he told me that he had trained some fish. He’s pretty old now, so I wondered if maybe he was going senile and was imagining that he had some relationship with the fish. For the first half of the dive I thought that might be true, but sure enough some fish found him, waited for him to lift rocks for them to filter feed under, and then followed him around. The next time I went solo, they were there waiting for me.

Two of the fish are the same every time, and then there’s a rotating cast of 4-5 more who aren’t quite as brave but will hang around. The two main ones will swim inches from me, waiting for me to turn rocks over for them. I usually spend about a half hour lying on the ground playing with them. As I stay there more fish often come join us. Sometimes I have 5-6 fish all waiting for me to flip rocks for them.

One time there was a huge dive group in that area and there were no signs of any fish. When they left and the silt settled I swam back over and sure enough they came out of hiding after a few minutes.

I leave myself a little more air than I would on a tandem dive and I start heading back. These days I use so little air that I’m usually cold after an hour and I go back up with a ton of extra air. The exit requires a little bit of timing and swimming against a current so it’s the only part of the dive that presents a small challenge. I like seeing the look of random passers-by on the shore when they see a guy come out of the ocean randomly.

Every time I get halfway through a dive I think that maybe I’ve seen everything down there, but then inevitably I see something new. I told the divemaster this and he said that even after thousands of dives he feels the same way.

In the years preceding getting a place in Hawaii I dived maybe once per year on average, but now I probably average 40-50 dives. I love spending time down there, especially by myself at a slow pace with no agenda.

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Photo is from a guided dive a few weeks ago with my friend Todd. I’m going on guided dives of that area until I know it well enough that both I and the divemaster think I can do it solo.

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