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Talkin

Diving with Adam Fram

29.Sep.2015

About Adam

Experience

Diving since 2014, Snorkeling since 1990.

Location

Kona, Hawaii

Adam on the internet

How did you first get into Scuba Diving and how frequently do you do it now? I have always been obsessed with the ocean and all the fascinating creatures that inhabit such a widely varied environment, but recently I resolved to jump from books and films to real life encounters. In 2014 I was finally able to combine my lifelong fascinations with my professional editing and motion graphics experience when I landed a volunteer gig at a boutique underwater photo/video company on the Big Island of Hawaii. While still working full-­time at NBC Sports I took night classes and spent weekends studying and practicing diving techniques to get my Advanced Open Water certification. I quit my job and bought a one way ticket to Hawaii. I worked hard on every aspect of the process, from cleaning and organizing gear to multiple dives per week to designing graphics, editing videos and eventually shooting underwater at night on my own. Towards the end of my designated two­-month experience they offered me a full-­time position which I enthusiastically accepted. For 6 months, I would typically dive 3­–7 times per week, sometimes twice in the same day at different dive sites. Every day presented exciting new challenges. In July 2015, I got my Rescue Diver certification off Catalina Island, CA and I’ve done a few dives since then—mostly I’ve been volunteering with Ocean Defenders Alliance to help clean up underwater garbage and wreck debris. You can check out some of those efforts on my website.

How do you typically prepare? (For a day, and for a longer trip if applicable) Every hour of diving requires many more hours of preparation and logistics before and after the dive. Dive planning, scuba gear preparation, camera equipment preparation, transportation logistics (boat dive or shore dive) all need to be worked out before getting anywhere near the dive site. After the dive, all scuba and camera gear needs to be desalinated and the photos and footage need to be processed, edited and output to whatever formats are required. On a typical night dive (I mostly dive at night) I start prepping at 3pm, dive from 7pm­-8pm to record photos and videos of giant Manta Rays feeding, and then work until 11pm. Logging dive information is important for keeping track of your history and performance, and for maintaining a good accurate dive résumé.

What’s the “Starter Pack” or minimum gear setup required to try diving and snorkeling? And what can people expect to pay? Are there typically good options for borrowing, renting, or buying used? Renting gear is usually an option at any respectable dive­friendly area but if you’re serious about snorkeling or diving you want to at least own a mask, snorkel and fins. A wet suit keeps you warm and allows for more time spent in the water, and it also acts as a protective layer should you scrape against anything. Sharp rocks, corals and wrecks can make quick work of flimsy human skin, and stinging/biting creatures will have a thicker layer to puncture before you get hurt. For diving you definitely want your own dive computer, which tracks your personal statistics for nitrogen saturation, depth, bottom time (time spent underwater per dive) and other important data.

It’s also great to have your own Buoyancy Control Device (basically an inflatable vest) but that can be refurbished or rented rather than brand new. Diving is more expensive than snowboarding and most other sports, but you don’t need to spend more than $200 for a mask, snorkel and fins, and $400 for a dive computer and/or analog gauges. Since this sport requires precise, comfortable and delicate personal equipment I would recommend going with new or reputably refurbished items from a respected PADI­certified dive shop rather than used gear from the Internet or budget from a big corporate chain. Safety and comfort in the ocean are not to be skimped on.

Any magical or critical pieces of gear? Anything hyped up that’s excessive or doesn’t work for you in the depths? A comfortable setup of mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit are crucial. I have streamlined lightweight fins for open ocean diving and snorkeling/freediving, and beefier split­blade fins with treaded boots for shore diving.

Some dive computers are designed like fancy wristwatches and have integrated digital compasses and wireless air tank monitoring but I prefer hard­wired analog dials and gauges; I don’t trust digital equipment and batteries with my life underwater. For camera enclosures I recommend solid aluminum housings. I’ve used plastic housings as well and while cheaper and transparent for easier adjustments, the plastic seems more prone to problems than robust metal. Powerful underwater lights are necessary if you want any usable photos or videos, especially at night.

Filming in blackwater.
Adam at work. Photo: ©Martina S. Wing, Manta Ray Advocates

Do you have a training plan and / or recommend training for safety / endurance etc.? Strong swimming, endurance and humble respectful common sense are the most basic attributes to have, which sound obvious but I wouldn’t mention them if I didn’t have to. Swim weekly, do breathing exercises if needed, and leave cocky attitudes on land.

What are the key steps to feeling, and ultimately being safe while diving? Is location a major factor, like sharp objects / currents / lurkin’ creatures? Knowledge of the dive site and its inhabitants is important, so go with an experienced guide. Alert comfort and practical information will keep you safe. Watch where you put your hands and feet. Never dive deeper than your limits and never enter a cave or wreck without proper training. No creatures are out to get you, so keep your hands to yourself and you won’t get any scratches, stings or bites. Currents, surges, swells, sharp rocks and other environmental hazards can all be addressed safely if you are among experienced divers.

Which skills would you tell a noob to learn right away and which skills are you still working on?

Conserve your air with controlled consistent breathing. Carrying your air supply in a tank on your back limits your mobility and time underwater so use it efficiently. Also, if you can master buoyancy control you will automatically be a better diver than most people. Buoyancy control is what separates good divers from great divers, and it’s what separates blurry distant photos and standard shaky footage from artfully composed shots and watchable video. I am still perfecting my buoyancy control, and there is a specific PADI class that teaches advanced techniques on the subject.

Any close calls / HOLY SH*T moments? I’ve had countless close calls with spiny sea urchins, jellyfish and other strictly defensive creatures who only cause pain if you touch them. On one day dive I swam into cave with a shark larger than me, and another day I was circled by groups of different smaller sharks. On a night dive one time my boat left without me, so when I surfaced I had to quickly swim through the dark towards a random boat’s faint lights hoping they would hear me over the engines and take me back to land instead of running me over. I watched a 600lb seal bare her teeth at a diver who got too close to her. I’ve been followed by large carnivorous eels, inked on by a frightened octopus, slapped and crashed into by speeding half-­ton Manta Rays, taunted by a Dolphin, and one morning snorkeling a 45ft Humpback Whale swam so close underneath me that I thought its fins would hit me and accidentally break my legs.

I’ve been followed by large carnivorous eels, inked on by a frightened octopus, slapped and crashed into by speeding half­-ton Manta Rays, taunted by a Dolphin, and one morning snorkeling a 45ft Humpback Whale swam so close underneath me that I thought its fins would hit me and accidentally break my legs.

Lessons you’d like to share from those? See my comments about keeping your distance from wild animals and staying aware of your surroundings. Always have a dive buddy on every dive, whether it’s a clear day dive, a murky night dive or anything inbetween. Not everyone is experienced and mentally/physically equipped to resolve dangerous situations alone so having a dive buddy is absolutely imperative.

Have you ever been stung by anything or attacked underwater? One time an oblivious diver accidentally kicked me and almost knocked my mask off. I’m more concerned about human stupidity than wild animals.

Filming Manta Rays
Photo: ©Martina S. Wing, Manta Ray Advocates

Favorite wildlife / nature story while diving? The first night I went diving with giant Manta Rays, I could barely sleep afterwards because of the excitement and adrenaline. Every time I swim with any species of dolphin, whale, fish, or turtle it’s a different unique and beautiful experience. My encounter with a Humpback Whale was indescribably wondrous and left me speechless for ten minutes. A few weeks ago an endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal ­one of less than 1100 in the world ­ swam up to my team during a night dive and we recorded some beautiful footage of the confused and curious seal interacting with Manta Rays and divers.

Large animal encounters are exhilarating and it’s difficult to describe the blissful and tranquil amazement. Whether it’s a fleeting once in a lifetime whale encounter or a now nightly Manta Ray experience, the pure joy is intoxicating. There are also many beautiful, rare and small creatures in the ocean that are too skittish to allow a good look at them. Any time I am ignored or accepted as part of their environment and offered an extended viewing, it’s a great day to be in the ocean.

The other night I was at the marina on my night off prepping for a blackwater dive—3 miles offshore, 50ft under in 6000ft of water—watching bioluminescent creatures and nocturnal hunters of all shapes and sizes, I have a little video from a few of those dives on my Vimeo (disclaimer: it’s dark, blurry GoPro footage). As we were loading the boat someone runs over and says “shark in the harbor” so we grab flashlights and sprint across to the water edge to find a 10ft+ female Tiger Shark cruising along the lava rock wall. There’s half a black marlin at the bottom (it’s only 12-20ft deep there) that the shark seems interested in based on her movements and the murky bloody water. I run back to the boat for the camera, strip down to bathing suit, grab my mask and scramble back down the rocks for a closer look. By this point there was a crowd of a dozen people watching all shining flashlights onto the water, illuminating the huge silhouette swirling in the darkness. I hand the camera to my coworker, who dunks it underwater to get an approximate view of the shark. I was not satisfied so I dunked my whole head underwater, much to the chagrin of onlookers. I got an amazing view of her broad face as she tore chunks off the marlin and eventually grabbed the carcass and swam away with it, probably to eat in peace instead of in shallow water with humans hollering and flashing lights at her. People told me they were afraid I’d jump in with the shark, but common sense told me not to get fully in the water with a shark—twice my length and easily five times my weight—who is currently eating. After that excitement we decided “well a huge shark is in the harbor so I think we’ve hit our shark Quota for the night” so we went ahead with the blackwater dive and had a great time. Two days later, local news reported that a man was just flown from our side of the island to another entire island for their hospital when a 10ft tiger shark bit his arm and leg a few miles north of the marina. I don’t know the exact circumstances. I’m sure it was not a malicious attack, and I hope the human and the shark survive the incident—but I am further confident that I made the right decisions that night.

I recently went freediving with the masters Brett Lemaster and Deron Verbeck—literally two of the world record holders for freediving depth and time. I booked a charter with Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures and we took an 11-meter decommissioned Navy SEAL boat with twin jet drives and over 900HP as our ride and rocketed way out off the coast, further into the deep blue that even my usual “long range” and “blackwater” charters go. I was shooting some daytime photos and videos of a 6-foot Silky Shark, watching her glide gracefully around us. We spent at least 10 minutes with her and finally decided to move on when the captain heard over the radio that a pod of Pilot Whales had been spotted nearby. We zoomed around looking for the signature large black drooping dorsal fins – Pilot Whales are the second largest of the extended dolphin family behind Orcas – and quietly hopped into the water with them. Two of us were down about 20 feet underwater both focused on a mother and calf. Suddenly Deron started yelling and bubbling and pointing frantically at something behind my field of vision. I whipped around to find what I had failed to notice: a 3-meter Oceanic White Tip shark cruising directly at me. My instinct was of course to start firing off photos. She was close enough that (I think) the glint and reflection off my camera dome port spooked her and redirected her course around me. Since she was less than two feet from my face I only got body and tail photos as she sped away. Luckily she was still curious enough to circle back to pose for an awesome photo:

3-Meter Oceanic White Tip From Above
Oceanic White Tip

More on my Flickr. Deron later told me that it was the biggest Oceanic White Tip he had seen in 20 years, and he initially thought it was a Tiger Shark because it was so massive.

3-Meter Oceanic White Tip
That’s a big shark.

What resources would you recommend for someone who’s just getting into scuba ? PADI is a phenomenal worldwide resource for free information as well as paid training ­ much of which can be utilized online ­ and they host meetups and classes in numerous cities. Some dive gear companies have trial events to promote their wares, so take advantage of those as well. ScubaPro, Aqualung, Suunto, and Mares are a few brands to keep in mind.