Friday, September 2, 2011

The Guru of Diving in Bali

Most divers surface from the depths with a distinct imprint from their masks — dark red streaks on their faces where the water pressure has raised the blood cells to the surface of the skin. But their temporary brandings quickly fade as the dive boat heads toward dry land.

Nicky Wirawan, however, has the distinct curvature of a dive mask permanently etched in his tanned skin.

Born and bred in Bali, the 41-year-old inherited Bali Marine Sports, the oldest dive shop on the island, from his father, Ketut Wirajaya.

Nicky claims to be nearing his 15,000th dive some time in the next couple of weeks.

Nicky’s name is synonymous with diving in Indonesia — drop it in any dive shop across the archipelago and it’s met with a smile, a pat on the back and a nostalgic story.

“He’s like a mentor,” said Lia Marpaung, a monitor and evaluating officer for the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Economic Governance in Jakarta.

“I’ve been diving with him for three years. I feel safe and comfortable with him. He’s knowledgeable beyond just having dive skills and sensing the currents. He knows how to manage guests. We’re all divers, but we’re also individuals. Nicky knows how to handle our emotions and make us feel calm.”

Lia said that Nicky does not push divers into the water, but has the calming ability to make them feel comfortable in sketchier conditions.

“A while back we were diving around Nusa Penida and there were big waves in the area, so I immediately wanted to cancel the dive,” Lia said. “But Nicky could sense my fear. I feel safe diving with him. Now if I go diving with Bali Marine Sports I always ask, ‘Will Nicky be there?’ ”

Nicky and his crew know all the dive spots in Bali. His father found most of them back in the early 1970s — everything from the deep blue hammerhead shark havens on the west end of Nusa Penida to the wall dives in Menjangan and the wonders of Secret Bay and Jetty Point off the coast of Pemuteran, on the north side of the island.

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