Monica Ganame, of Apnea Total, inside Blue Holes in Palau, Micronesia.
Since we started running charters two months ago, life for me on board the Palau Siren, has been a non-stop series of tasks to get the operation up and running smoothly. The work has been challenging but enjoyable. To make matters even more interesting, my crew and I had to deal with a near direct hit from super typhoon Bopha a few weeks back. We were very fortunate that the typhoons highest winds at the eye of the storm missed us by a mere few miles. Many lost their homes here in Palau, but miraculously no one was killed or severely injured.
Even though I have been tied up running a liveaboard, I have had time to do a few dives and take a few photos. Many of the photos I took were ok, but not worthy of a posting online. Sometimes a photographer needs to scope out photo ops, come up with ideas and then go back to shoot it. I was feeling a little discouraged about the images I was landing until I went on a photo shoot with free diving expert Monica Ganame. Monica owns and operates her own freediving school, Apnea Total, based out of Koh Tao, Thailand.
I’m always on the hunt for an underwater model that possesses a natural grace underwater that gives the appearance that they are a part of the underwater realm, I spotted Monica and her talents early on in the trip and asked her if she would like to do a photo shoot in the famed, Blue Holes dive site in Palau. Blue Holes is a cavern formation that opens up on to a 3000 foot wall. The view is stunning from within and the lighting a challenge to work with. After showing Monica some of my work she agreed to the shoot enthusiastically.
When dive time came, the group was scheduled to do Blue Corner, another legendary dive site only a few hundred feet away from Blue Holes. After everyone was dropped off at Blue Corner, Monica and I were dropped at Blue Holes and had the great fortune of having the entire cavern to us. No other dive groups had been there.
As we pulled up to the entrance on top of the wall, I donned my cumbersome scuba gear and rolled over the side with the poise of circus clown. In contrast, Monica wearing only a mask, streamlined wetsuit and long freediving fins slipped fluidly below the water like a dolphin leaving barely a ripple on the surface. While I descended down in to the cavern and set my camera up, Monica remained motionless on the waters surface meditating and practicing her breathing exercises. By breathing in slow and deep and using the diagram to fill up as much of the lung cavity as possible, a free diver will maximize the oxygen they can carry thus staying down longer. The physical technique however, is only part of what is required to dive deeper for longer periods of time. By relaxing the mind and eliminating the fear factor inherent in every human psyche a diver can extend their range and bottom time more than someone whose mind is not at ease with the watery environment. After all it is the brain that tells our body, “you need oxygen buddy and now!” However, like many obstacles to overcome in life, it is factor of mind over matter. Concentration is key.
After I set my exposures and snapped a few test shots, Monica began her long descent down in to the cavern. I made sure the opening was in view above with the blue water shining through. With ease she made her way down to the 60 foot mark while I continually snapped away. After what seemed like a minute, she began her ascent to the surface where she rested for 5 minutes before taking another dive. With each subsequent trip down she was able to go deeper and longer and the photos got more interesting. On a few of the dives Monica swam horizontally under the cavern and ascended through a totally different opening. For most people this would have been a nerve-racking task, but for her it was no effort.
So there the two if us stayed for nearly one hour; Monica diving over and over again and I taking as many images as I could. Most often I had to chase her through the cavern from behind, which was a futile effort due to the drag of my dive gear. In the end, she had a great time freediving Blue Holes and I had a great time photographing her. I look forward to our next photo shoot out there somewhere in the ‘Big Blue”.
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