On what was to be a wondrous trip to the island of Palau, producer Gale Anne Hurd and a dive buddy found themselves in a shifting current and stranded in the blue water, their boat nowhere to be seen, as hundreds of gray reef sharks and barracudas floated below.
Only after an hour did a passing dive boat of Japanese tourists pick them up.
“I was terrified,” says the producer of “The Abyss.” “The thought of spending the night out there and the things you can’t see in the dark, like tiger sharks, worried me.”
Hurd calls it her own real-life “Open Water.” Despite the risks, she and others won’t give it up. The world below is a majestic, Technicolor fantasyland, a cinematic experience in its own right that carries with it both aesthetic wonders and the undeniable prospect of danger.
Although Hurd is among the most avid divers, others range from Natalie Portman and Holly Hunter to “Lost” star Daniel Dae Kim; scribes like Anne Cofell (“24”) and writer-director Jordan Roberts (“Around the Bend”); UTA agent Dave Park; and executives like Fox’s Day Vinson, Here TV founder Paul Colichman and Wojahn Bros. Music founder Roger Wojahn.
Just about everyone uses superlatives to describe their experiences, often comparing them to scenes from an underwater pic. Park says he got “hooked instantly” with a 20-foot dive he took five years ago in Maui. He and his wife now plan all their vacations around diving hot spots, and he has invested thousands in the latest and greatest equipment.
“Diving is the most peaceful, relaxing process,” he says. “No one can reach me by cell phone or Blackberry. The minute you go underwater, it all goes away, and you’re completely sanguine and zen.”
Kim started diving for Sony’s “The Cave,” a thriller about expert divers sent to explore uncharted caves in Eastern Europe. Fortunately, his ABC series, shot in Hawaii, is in close proximity to some of the world’s best wreck diving. He recently dove to a downed World War II Corsair off the coast of South Oahu.
“It was down 110 to 120 feet in the middle of nothing else,” Kim says. “It had become its own reef with its own ecosystem. In the cockpit were two moray eels. They’ve made it their home. It’s a little chilling and beautiful at the same time.”
Fox’s Vinson, so much an enthusiast that she became an instructor for Los Angeles county’s scuba program, frequents Catalina Island, but others make a point of vacationing in exotic, aquarium-clear waters. Colichman owns a hotel and movie studio on Grand Turk Island that’s next to a prime dive spot flush with black coral. “It’s great for night dives because it’s somewhat luminescent,” he says.
Wojahn likes to deep dive to about 200 feet. He recounts a trip to Palau, where he dove into a big outer reef. As he descended to about 150 feet, “there’s two giant, oceanic gray sharks. They’re not friendly little reef sharks. They’re big-ass sharks. Then there’s 10 of them, then 20, then 40. There are schools of hundreds of bass fish, and the sharks are taking them out. Blood is in the water. There are turtles everywhere. You don’t know what to look at.”
Just about everyone has had a similarly harrowing experience: encounters with sharks, chaotic currents, irate dive captains. For “24” scribe Anne Cofell, it was a drift-diving trip at Boracay Island in the Philippines.
“You catch a ride on the underwater current, and it shoots you, like ‘Finding Nemo,’ very fast between two islands,” she says. “It’s pretty high speed. Basically, you get in it, and it’s really fun. But it was a little tougher than I should have been doing. One of my arms went outside the current, like putting your hand out the window of a speeding car. I didn’t have the strength to stay level. I blink, and I’m on the surface. From 60 feet down, I shot out of the water. It’s like falling upward.”
Hurd now calls herself “the world’s most cautious diver.” She doesn’t do current diving anymore, always makes sure a dinghy follows her group’s bubbles and carries a dive whistle and safety sausage (an inflatable device to attract boats), among other things.
But it hasn’t chilled her passion for the deep.
“I was scuba diving in Papua New Guinea at a resort called Jais Aben,” she says. “There’s a wreck there called the Coral Queen. On moonless nights at dusk, you dive down with no flashlight about 100 feet to the deck of the Coral Queen. When it is finally completely dark, a huge school of flashlight fish comes out. They are like the fireflies of the fish world. They have lights near their eyes that blink on and off. When they come out, they all blink in unison. It’s like being surrounded by Tinkerbell dust.” –J.H.