Inspiring divers – My ocean destiny was written in the starsJune 22, 2022
"Born as a fish zodiac, my earliest memory of the water was voluntarily jumping in, kicking my feet, and just taking to the water. I did not have to be pushed. I did not have to be shoved. And ever since that day, I knew, I had found a place in my existence that was truly meant for me. I found my soulmate when I was three and every step that I have taken since then has been to sink deeper in her." Are you wondering what ignites a lifelong passion for the ocean? Find out more and get motivated to go diving with Rhea Malhotra’s story of scuba diving, freediving, and inspiring divers to find their own underwater freedom.
Why did you start diving?
I took to scuba diving in 2017 and it soon became an obsession. The sport pulls you in with the marvels of everything that covers 71% of this planet.
"It is the most exclusive club that you can be a part of. To swim with manta rays, float with sea turtles, and dive with sharks is nothing short of a privilege."
I remember the day I wanted to take up diving very distinctly. At a get-together, my uncle – who has been diving for years - showed me some of his videos from when he was diving in Egypt in 2009 and I was hooked.
The moment I saw those videos, I just knew, I was on land by fluke. If there was any say I had in the matter, I was going to find my way to a world that screamed home.
I have always found the water to be my safe space, ever since I was little. A swimmer from the age of one, it has been a source that energizes me and allows me to feel like my most authentic self.
Inspiring other divers – Our role in ocean conservation.
While I was taken in by amazement, today as a diver I feel like there is a far bigger responsibility that I carry with me. That of an ocean advocate.
The ocean is our biggest power source, and it functions on a delicate balance. It is our duty as divers to be gatekeepers of that knowledge and pass it on as we encourage more people to take up the sport.
Where have you been diving?
But here is the thing, I want to be mindful about earning my privilege of diving at some of those dive sites. Raja Ampat will be my 100th dive marker and the Galapagos, 200th.
What is your favorite dive site and why?
This has to be the toughest question for divers to answer! I have had the most memorable dives in the Maldives so far and, my gosh, there are just so many beautiful sites there.
My most memorable one though has to be at Lankan Faru in North Male.
Known for its manta cleaning stations, this dive site was the first time I witnessed their magic.
"Not one, not two, but almost 25 to 30 mantas. I am told I was very lucky to witness this kind of manta aggregation at the dive site."
I saw them strut. I saw them flip. I saw them dance. And that type of visual is an absolute winner.
I also managed to identify a couple of my mantas after the dive by sending in images of their markings to the Manta Trust.
Breathing better, diving better – Rhea’s journey towards freediving.
While I was good at understanding breath-control in theory, I soon realized that I had to lean on another principle to romance the ocean.
That is when I gravitated towards yoga and decided to make controlled breathing second nature to me. In yoga, it helps you get the full benefit of the asana, and in diving, it affects your buoyancy.
"Breath is central to truly enjoying any time underwater. Our breath controls our buoyancy, our buoyancy controls our conduct, and our conduct defines our experience."
I decided to make the most of my time on land with yoga so that I could make the most of my time underwater. It was a very carefully thought-out equation.
As breathwork improved my form as a diver, I realized there was an itch to discover more and seek more.
Why did you switch to freediving?
I had been exposed to the visuals of freediving while casually scrolling through Instagram and it felt like the next frontier I was meant to experience.
Freediving came to me in December 2021, and it was like one of those whirlwind romances you do not see coming.
"In my opinion, freediving is the highest form of self-love for an ocean lover. There is no tank. There is no regulator. There is no BCD.
Your only equipment is your mind, which connects back to your biology and your breath."
Freediving allows me to combine the two things I love most – the ocean and the principles of yoga. It allows me to draw awareness within my body in the place I believe is my temple.
What do you love about freediving?
While becoming a scuba diver requires you to understand and use actual equipment, freediving requires you to master your breath and mind.
You get to geek out about the biology of freediving (the mammalian dive reflex had me drooling) and then learn how to use your breath properly.
During static breath-hold training, I was surprised to see myself go up to 3 minutes 30 seconds of breath-hold.
Freediving drills (on land and in water) involved breath holding with movement, so my body could get comfortable with the build-up of lactic acid.
I also learnt proper freediving techniques – duck diving, finning techniques, and equalizing. All before the actual freedives started. I loved that training pathway.
Freediving is all about that fleeting moment of harmony – a streamlined body and a calm mind that kicks in the biology of optimum oxygen utilization for just a couple of minutes of magic.
"It is utter freedom. And to be able and equipped to engage in freediving has been one of the greatest discoveries of my life."
A racing mind cannot freedive. It is physically impossible to optimize a long breath-hold if you are anxious.
So, to be able to step back, talk to your mind to slow down, take that big gasp of air and freefall, is a different kind of control.
You learn to control before you let go and that experience is spiritual and cathartic, to say the least.
Everyone takes from a sport what they wish to. Some want to sink deeper and longer. But for me, freediving gives me the ability to dance in the water and romance my soulmate in a way I only dreamt about, quite literally.
So you see, my destiny with the ocean was written in the stars. And now as a freediver, I flip, turn, and spin like a mermaid who is finally home.
Are you pursuing a career in diving?
No, I am a recreational diver. I have been in content marketing for over 8 years now working with some of the top television and OTT platforms in India.
Diving is my passion and I plan my life and year around it (like all passionate divers). I try to explore this planet, one chunk of the ocean at a time, as and when I get the time.