Stan Waterman will tell you very few people are likely to be chosen to be astronauts and venture to outer space, but with a little bit of training you can go into the world of the sea in a another alien world and have the adventure of your lives. It is this wise man of the sea sensibility that stirs the hearts and souls of divers young and old. That’s because Stan knows about discovering new worlds and creatures in oceans throughout the globe. He was one of the first to film oceanic white tip sharks from the outside of a sharks cage while on production of the 1971 documentary Blue Water, White Death. This was a movie that documented the search for a great white shark and largely considered the inspiration for Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws. An experience Stan considers one of the most frightening moments in his life, yet just another reason for Stan’s love and respect of sharks to flourish.
Prior to this momentous experience Stan was surrounding himself with the tools and objects just starting to be used by early divers. He grew up in the 1940’s when SCUBA (acronym for self contained underwater breathing apparatus) was just starting to be used by the military frogmen of the United States during World War II. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1946 where he studied with Robert Frost. In the 1950’s Stan was inspired by Jacque Cousteau’s invention of the Aqua Lung, the first successfully commercial scuba set. He would be the first to acquire one in Maine where he taught future divers to use this scuba device and ushered in the era of diving for the state.
Eager to explore the possibilities of dive and underwater film outside of Main Stan moved to the Bahamas where he ran a successful dive business from 1954-1958. It was during this time that Stan began to use 16mm film to document the world of life underwater and share his experiences with the masses.
His career as a film maker finally took off in 1965 when he moved his family, a wife and two kids, to Tahiti and documented his year long experience living there. National Geographic took notice and purchased the rights to air the film to a television audience. Stan was not only exposing legions of the television viewers to the South Pacific for the first time, but was also catching the attention of writers and producers in Hollywood.
That production of Blue Water, White Death was a springboard for Stan as an advisor of sharks and marine life in general. He soon began to work with author and neighbor Peter Benchley. Stan was hired for Mr. Benchley’s second book to be made into a film, The Deep, as a director of photography and as an underwater second-unit director. For the next ten years Stan and Peter would collaborate on ABC’s “American Sportsman”.
Most recent works by Stan include ABC’s “Spirit of Adventure” series and “Expedition Earth” on ESPN. The Discovery Channel produced and aired a two-hour special about Stan called “The Man Who Loves Sharks.” Of particular note Stan and his son, Gordy, won the first father and son Emmy for their work on “National Geographic Explorer’s” production of Dancing with Stingray’s.
Far too many to list, Stan has been bestowed numerous honors and awards including five Emmy’s, two Gold Medals from the U.K. Underwater Film Festival, Pioneer of the Year Award and most recently the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. In 2005 Stan published his first book, Sea Salt, chronicling his lifelong love and experiences in the ocean.
Today Stan maintains residences in Main and New Jersey and he continues to lecture and host dive tours. He returns like clockwork to Fiji each year where he takes his camera and experience on board the Nai’a, one of Fiji’s premier dive live-aboard boats. This year we caught up with Stan at DEMA, North America’s largest dive retail show, and asked him what brings him back to Fiji again and again, and what not to miss the next time you explore the ocean and reefs surrounding Fiji.
Interview begins here…
1. What were the circumstances that first brought you to Fiji and when?
I was hearing reports by friends of the exceptional diving in Fiji and a first class live-aboard dive boat, the Nai’a. I return every year to Fiji and have lost count of my trips. Fiji is simply a must not only for me, but for all divers when planning their next adventure.
2. What struck you as different about Fiji compared to other parts of the world?
On first contact I experienced a vibrant, generous and welcoming people. And I soon discovered that there was no exaggeration to the enthusiastic reports of diving the Fiji reefs. The welcome is genuine and I have always felt a strong spirit of friendship at the end of my journeys to Fiji. It is simply a feeling that can only be felt in Fiji.
3. What should a diver expect to see when they come to Fiji?
The Nai’a had discovered an isolated ocean reef with magnificent arches and caverns, overhung by a rich panoply of brilliant soft corals. The colorful reef fishes, so desirable for photography, abounded. The Nai’a crews called the location, “E-Six (after the processing system for color film).
4. What is your favorite spot in Fiji to dive in?
The Negali Passage has a resident school of Pacific barracudas and magnificent gray reef sharks. More than any other experience, today’s divers hope to see sharks and bring home with them pictures and videos of those handsome animals. In the passage the Nai’a has a fine observation post where the divers can position themselves atop a coral pinnacle and film the sharks that parade by. The otherwise shy animals are used to the divers. Curiosity brings them close enough for fine photo ops. Some of my most exciting videos have been taken there.
5. Is there any one experience you had in Fiji that stands out?
Aside from the splendid diving, the Nai’a always makes a shore visit to one of the small island fishing villages. The friendships encountered over the years of taking medical and school supplies to the villages has built a spirit of warm and generous welcome. The villagers are proud of their villages and delighted to take the visitors in hand and show them around. In their meeting bures they complete the visit with a “Meke” (a kava ceremony) followed by dancing and singing that the ladies of the village have been practicing for months.
6. Does one need to be a certified diver to appreciate Fiji's underwater life? What can snorklers expect to see?
The live-aboard dive boats and resorts in Fiji are qualified to provide a short certification course to guests who have not been certified. Those, so newly introduced to aqualung diving will be accompanied closely by one of the dive guides to insure their safety. As well, the dive crew are trained to observe any need for help by newly certified divers and work closely with them. Over the years, on many of the dive tours I have hosted, I have had guests who only wished to snorkel (usually because of respiratory problems that prevented them from full diving). The reefs most often approach close to the surface, arising from deeper water. They are often blanketed with glorious soft corals, swarming with golden anthias and the usual compliment of handsome angle fish, butterfly fish and many other jewels of the marine community. I frequently ascend from deeper water with my high definition camera to the top of the reef, no deeper than six-feet.
7. Can you tell us why Fiji is considered the "Soft Coral Capitol of the World"?
Fiji diving has been called, “The Soft Coral Capitol of the World”. The term is no hyperbole. The richness of the soft corals with their range of vivid collars is unmatched by any in tropical waters of the world. I say that without exaggeration, having dived and filmed for over seventy years in most of the tropical oceans of the world.
8. Other than great diving what else should not be missed when visiting Fiji?
Aside from the diving, don’t miss the people. They are a strong, handsome, affable and generous people. The best place to see the genuine friendly nature at work is in the villages. They are craftsmen, too. I have brought back so many beautiful hand-worked wooden salad bowls. Well more than enough to supply any restaurant. Nothing captures the country or the culture more than a sit down with a village chief.
To read more about Stan Waterman be sure to find his collection of essays and memoirs, Sea Salt, published by New World Publications.