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In this issue of Snorkeling Tourbook we focus on a variety of accessories available for today’s snorkelers. As the sport evolves, so do the products designed for our comfort, safety and education. However, to even determine what items qualify as accessories, we must decide exactly what is essential. For this I reflect on an early experience in the South Seas.
In 1985 I concluded a marine biology teaching contract with a cruise line in Suva, Fiji. As I walked down the ship’s gangway, I noticed a young local man loading lumber onto a pick-up truck.
“Bula,” said the fellow with a smile. “My name is Tui.” Soon I was helping with the wood. As we completed the task, he politely asked me where I was going.”Nowhere special, it’s my first time in Fiji. I just want to see the country,” I replied.
“Well then, why not come along with me? If you like, you can help unload the lumber,” Tui said.
After three days of loading, unloading and loading the boards on trucks, buses and boats, we finally arrived at the shore of Dreketi village on the island of Qamea. The community waded into the water to welcome Tui home and assist with the cargo. One youngster wailed, believing I was an ancestral ghost, another thought I was a market purchase, like the wood, from the big city. There I stayed, living in his parent’s house, for almost a month. While we transformed the planks into a sturdy open skiff, I became an active participant in village life.
The daily routine reflected the relaxed and joyous philosophy by which Fijians live their lives. Children scampered around the island in small laughing bands, sporting faded, tattered T-shirts, shorts and tiny bare feet. Perhaps they came back at night, perhaps they slept with another family. Eventually they returned home, often wearing different clothes than when they left. Parents were not concerned. Among the villagers, love and care for the children was universal and shared.
The women spent much of the day working the gardens growing taro, cassava, rourou and dalo and then later prepared the dinner. In the morning, the men did their chores and Tui and I worked on the boat. In the afternoon, the men went out to spear the evening meal. I went with them. For this activity, my preparations were always the same: find mask, fins, snorkel, gloves, booties, wetsuit, white nylon cover-up, mesh fish bag and line, climb into it all and assemble my collapsible, three piece, thread-jointed aluminum and stainless steel polespear. In the meantime, the men would patiently look on with curiosity and amusement, a tiny pair of hand-carved wooden goggles dangling in one massive hand and a rusted steel shaft in the other. Thus outfitted in polyurethane, nylon and neoprene, (perhaps I did resemble a mythological specter) and my companions in faded shorts with wide bare feet toughened through experience, we simply walked into the water, swam to the nearby reef and obtained our sustenance.
Unlike Tui and his buddies, most of us don’t have to snorkel to feed our children. Survival is supplanted with recreational pleasure we can enjoy and share with our families and friends. And, unlike those in remote villages, most of us have access to full service dive shops that stock a growing array of delightful accouterments designed to make snorkeling easier, safer and more enjoyable.
While I use (and appreciate) many of these items, part of snorkeling’s sophistication is its simplicity. Even a modest pair of goggles can open our eyes to the wonders of the aquatic realm. The freedom of freediving is a direct expression of just how little gear is really needed to indulge in the three dimensional world of water. As I learned during those afternoons spent swimming with the my friends in Fiji, the essence of snorkeling is not reflected in fancy equipment.