Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast

Divers Unmasked: Stephan Whelan, founder of DeeperBlue.com, on the evolution of the diving community and who divers really are

November 26, 2019 Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway Season 1 Episode 8
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
Divers Unmasked: Stephan Whelan, founder of DeeperBlue.com, on the evolution of the diving community and who divers really are
Chapters
Big Deep - An Ocean Podcast
Divers Unmasked: Stephan Whelan, founder of DeeperBlue.com, on the evolution of the diving community and who divers really are
Nov 26, 2019 Season 1 Episode 8
Hosts Jason Elias and Paul Kelway

Stephan Whelan, founder of DeeperBlue.com, on the evolution of the diving community and who divers really are

Show Notes Transcript

Stephan Whelan, founder of DeeperBlue.com, on the evolution of the diving community and who divers really are

Jason Elias:

Hi and welcome back to our next episode of big deep. Just a quick note before we start, after you've listened, if you like what we're doing, please subscribe like comment and radar show in iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Those subscribes, likes and comments really make a difference for our show. Okay. Thanks for listening and I hope you enjoy what we created. Welcome to big, deep

Hosts:

Hi and welcome to the big deep podcast. Big Deep is a podcast about people who have a connection to the ocean, people for whom that connection is so strong it defined some aspect of their life. Over the course of the series, we'll talk to all sorts of people and in each episode we'll explore the deeper meaning of that connection. In this episode, we speak with the founder of one of the world's largest online dive communities as he unmasks what it means to be a diver in today's modern world. Hello, this is Paul Kelway and I'm Jason Elias. Welcome to the big deep podcast.

Jason Elias:

In today's episode, we speak with Stephen Whelan , founder of deeperblue .com one of the world's largest online communities for free divers and scuba divers. When we spoke with Steven , his humor and intelligence informed a sophisticated understanding of where the world of diving is today, as well as where he sees it might need to go. But beyond the business of diving, Stephen also shared his love for getting in the water and how a simple class when he was on vacation as a child led to a lifelong passion that has shaped his life.

Stephan Whelan:

So I'm Stephen Whelan, I'm the founder of deeperblue . com. I'm a Freediver and sort of ocean advocates and I've been doing this for the last 22 years. I actually had my first experience scuba diving when I was seven years old. I was on holiday with my parents as you do when you're seven years old, I think it was the Canary islands sitting around the pool. There was a guy who looks a little bit like Jacques Cousteau long white hair sort of thing. And so he came along and said, does anyone want to learn how to do scuba diving? So like I chucked you in the pool with a cylinder and kind of regulator and I remember I went down to the bottom of the pool and experienced breathing underwater for the first time. And I thought this is amazing. So when I was 13 I actually had a scuba diving club that was related sort of Navy cadets at the school here in London where I'm based. I went through all the different certifications up to instructor level. And the instructor had at the time said, are you sure you want to do this? As soon as you get to this sort of level, you're forever more worrying about everyone else around you. And that came very, very true. In a university I ran the dive club. This was 1996 now the early days of the web. So I started hand coding and handcrafting web pages and I started publishing stories about my diving interests, essentially my teaching adventures. And that then became the foundation of deeperblue.com. So that was the s tart of the journey a nd f reedivers came flocking to Deeper Blue and for a good 10, 12 years deeper blue was synonymous with f ree d iving. In fact a lot of the world champions you see today they started their career by typing in the forums, "I'm interested in learning a bit about free diving and off I go." Will Trubridge, the 15 or 16 time world champion freediver from New Zealand who now lives in The Bahamas setting world records on a very regular basis,Yeah, he talks about the fact he was on Deeper Blue from day one. So that was just an amazing mind blowing thing for me. The site has grown and grown and grown to the point where it's one of the biggest websites in the world now to do with diving. Generally we have quite a significant impact I think on the diving community and suddenly it's seen as thought leaders around the various types of diving. But it's weird because essentially for many years it was run out of my bedroom. So you know , you wake up in the morning, get yourself a cup of coffee and wander into your spare bedroom and that's the worldwide headquarters for deeperblue .com.

Paul Kelway:

I'm just wondering if you could speak to, how have things changed in the community of scuba divers and free divers? I mean is that different ways or different types of people that are connecting to scuba diving and free diving today than there were say 20 years ago?

Stephan Whelan:

Look, I'm a diver, but I'd probably cast myself now as a bad diver all round , a bad scuba diver, a bad free diver. It's just a symptom of having too much on my plate at one time. But I'll be honest, if you put a whole bunch of people in the room, you could probably pick out of the crowd, the typical average scuba diver and the typical average free diver because the scuba divers tend to be the middle-aged overweight guys. And I'm being slightly harsh here cause I'm definitely a middle aged overweight guy. And you know freedivers tend to be the younger 20 to 30 somethings, very fit athlete style people which you know , hopefully will change over time. Well, people think back to it depending on generation, and think Jacques Cousteau or Sea Hunt on the TV. People these days understand and know about scuba diving from things like blue planet, some of those amazing documentaries out there where they hear about going under water and showing these amazing shots of animals. And I think more people are getting into it, and nowadays are very much around trying to understand what they can do to help the ocean and get involved with saving the planet. I think from a freediving standpoint it's a slightly different perspective. People still are very much around helping the ocean because free divers tend to be much more about lifestyle, not just about helping the planet, but also to help themselves being fit and healthy and living in great locations. There's a lot of people they can look up to heroes, essentially, people who set world records who are doing some amazing video shots in cenotes over in Mexico. There's competitions all over the world where people are setting records with depths of 130, 140, 150 meters and all filmed all the way down, all the way up, which is just truly amazing. I think, excuse me, diving , it has become a bit bit boring. Being harsh here, and I am a scuba diver, but if you talk to kids these days, they don't want to be seen to be doing the things that their parents are doing. I think a lot of people in the s cuba d iving industry, if I do have heroes, tend to be the real adventure divers, the guys and girls who do cave diving, who go t o extreme parts of the planet. But the real a dventure i s with f ree d iving people. Like this person is an amazing athlete. They've got a toned body, they do yoga, they go and hold their breath for ridiculous amounts of time. It's got an element of danger and elements of coolness about it. So there's two main things that people t o get into diving these days. One is any u sed to be around ocean conservation. How do you help save the planet and do the right thing. The second thing is utilize sports like free diving, like cave diving to have these hero figures that they can start that journey, but know that that's where they're aiming for.

Paul Kelway:

I was going to ask you about that because, and it's quite comforting to hear you saying that you don't think of yourself as a good free diver. And I think one of the perceptions perhaps is because it is this very Instagram-able aspirational lifestyle activity that it can almost be perceived as something that's only for the superhumans, but it's actually much more accessible than that. So I mean the question I suppose is do you see it as something that anybody can do or try and how would you like to see free diving evolve in the future?

Stephan Whelan:

So let's get this clear. Free diving is absolutely not a sport that is only for the elite. The key thing to understand is that it's got nothing to do with lung capacity. It's got nothing to do with what age you are. It's got nothing to do with size, shape, or anything along those lines. The only theory is it's an inch and a breath. So if you are in water only an inch deep and you're holding your breath, you're free diving. I think getting as many people in the water in any form is something that can bring you an appreciation of the most beautiful underwater world that we have, and unfortunately also an appreciation of all the terrible stuff, white plastic way of chucking into our oceans. Ultimately getting people in the water and experiencing it in whatever way that is - simple, complex, shallow, deep experiencing it firsthand. Divers of all sorts need to be ocean ambassadors in their own right .

Paul Kelway:

Well you said that at the heart of things, it's about getting in the water and I just wondering with as many experiences that you've had, is there one particular experience, ei ther s cuba diving or free diving that was particularly memorable that you'd like to share?

Stephan Whelan:

Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I got t he opportunity to go and do some shark diving i n Fiji. I went down to the South of the islands a nd it was a totally amazing experience. There were 40 50 60 different types of sharks, different types of reef sharks, different types of bull sharks, and then we had a bout a seven foot tiger shark come in. And t hey w ere probably 25 I'd be 30 bull sharks, just literally just i n f ront of me, just c ircling around. And it was the most c alm a nd most relaxing experience. At no point d id I ever feel things were out of control or feel threatened. T hat was the most humbling experience, that these beautiful majestic animals would let us be in their environments and observe them. It was calming. Which a l ot o f people is not the way they think about sharks. But to me it was truly the most amazing and majestic experience I think that I've had in my 26 year career in diving.

Paul Kelway:

Finally, we often end our interviews by asking our guests a single open ended question. What does the ocean mean to you?

Stephan Whelan:

Good question. The oceans to me, 70% of this beautiful planet that we're on is water and we know so much about it, but also so little. I think whether I am sitting on the beach enjoying it with my family or u nderwater snorkeling or free diving o r whether it's going on a shark dive, i t never ceases to amaze me what a beautiful place it is and how important these oceans are to us.

Hosts:

Thank you for listening to the big deep podcast. Next time on Big Deep, "If it's sitting there laying on the bottom with a fingerprint, a pubic hair, anything. Imagine finding a murder weapon and that murder weapon is the key to the arrest and a bad guy goes to jail." We really appreciate you being with us on this journey to the big deep as we explore an ocean of stories. If you like what you're doing, please make sure to subscribe, like and comment on our show in iTunes, overcast, SoundCloud or wherever you catch your podcasts. But those subscribes and links really make a difference. The more info on our guests, extra audio and photos as well as updates on anything you've heard. You can find a lot more content at our website, big, deep.com plus, if you know someone you think we should talk to, just let us know what the big deep website is. We are always looking to hear more stories from interesting people who are deeply connected to our world's oceans. Thanks again for joining us.