An accomplished freediver and underwater photographer, Jim tries to spend as much time below the surface as he does above it
"The ocean is a big blue desert. Although biodiversity can exceed that of the densest tropical rainforests, a lot of what we encounter is just vast swaths of desolate water. My favorite component of diving is the moment when a shadow or shine begins to take shape, and a chance encounter that appears in the distance drifts into view. I love the unknown component of the ocean, the uncertainty and unpredictability of the experiences and the elation of an unexpected visitor, even at a site you've dived 100 times."
When and why did you start diving?
Diving for me started in college. After two years of undergraduate study in Tennessee, I realized that I needed a change of direction in my life in order to be fulfilled. After a little research and correspondence I was accepted to the University of the Virgin Islands. I thought it'd be better to have a dive cert. under my belt before making the journey so I took the course as an elective at school. In hindsight it was one of the best decisions I could've made. Taking months, not days or weeks to complete the process made me a very comfortable and confident diver. Although my checkout dives were in a flooded, icy-cold rock quarry, it all paid off when my made it to the VI. Our first lab for Invertebrate Zoology was a dive at Saba Rock off St. Thomas, one I will never forget.
How do you approach non-divers to get them excited about learning to dive?
I developed an interest in photography in High School and it was the perfect way to document my experiences underwater. As my technique improved it became a great way to make a living, working with my wife and showcasing the beauty of the ocean. Our approach is to share the experience of diving and the way that it impacts our lives, hoping our interests and experiences are contagious. I couldn't imaging looking at inspiring underwater imagery and not being tempted to see it with my own eyes.
Dream dive: where and with who (alive or not)?
I've always wanted to visit Antartica, and although I've done very little cold water diving, I'd say that's at the top of the list. Surrounded by my friends, watching for penguins and leopard seals. I've also always been a bit of an adventure junkie, so stumbling upon a treasure trove of gold bars in a shallow wreck in the tropics would also rank up there as a dream dive. Just throwing that out there.
Favorite piece of Aqualung equipment?
I'd say its a three-way tie! My Legend regulator is a dream dive tool, my Aquaflex 3mm hooded vest is a staple on every dive as well as my trusty black Micro Mask.
Most memorable dive experience?
One of my most powerful dive experiences was an entirely routine dive. Ali and I lugged our SCUBA gear down to the West Side of Oahu and hopped in for a post-certification shore dive to give Ali a little more experience before our trip to French Polynesia. We did a surface swim out about 100 yards and descended to the bottom in about 50ft of water. There was a small ledge that dropped beyond that and as we pushed deeper I could see that Alicia had become quite shaken. I worked through the distress signals with her, trying to understand her dilemma until I realized she was just truly uncomfortable. I attempted to ascend with her and she refused, knowing if she'd aborted the dive she might not be up for another attempt. We settled onto the sand at around 45ft and I just held her as she cried. Unwilling to give in to her fears she realigned her focus and, after a brief stint, I followed her over the ledge and we completed the dive. Watching her overcome her fears and grow into a diver was a moment I'll never forget.