A Haven for Underwater Photographers
Every year, budding underwater photographers descend upon the Royal Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii for one of diving's top underwater photography competitions. I don't say this because Sport Diver is one of the sponsors but because, unlike other photo competitions, this one focuses on making images, growing as an underwater photographer and becoming a better shooter rather than any kind of cutthroat competition. Even the locals get into the event: About one-third of the participants call Kona home.
I've always been amazed to see photographers not only sharing an interesting and photogenic subject, but actually going out of their way to make sure every diver within sight has the chance to shoot the exciting find even when the participants have a chance to win great prizes from Body Glove, Light & Motion, Aqua Lung, Pelican, SCUBAPRO, Deep Outdoors and a grand prize trip for two to Tahiti provided by Pearl Resorts. The Annual Kona Classic has become as much about camaraderie among like-minded divers and the pure celebration of the underwater image as it is about winning a prize. This year underwater pro photographers Jim Watt, David Fleetham, Dan Baldocci, Jeff Mondle and Marty Snyderman were on hand to share their knowledge and inspire everyone with their breathtaking imagery.
The glue that keeps the event strong and vital for pros and locals alike and that allows photographers to exercise their image-making acumen is the diving off Kona, which is a true divers' haven. It's not a secret that the Kona coast boasts some of the globe's top diving. Such renowned photo pros as Jim Watt, Doug Perrine and Masa Ushioda call this place home, and for good reason. If you want turtles, you're virtually guaranteed to find them here. Moody, lightbeam-ridden caverns riddle the coast. The world's best manta night dive will leave you breathless. Tiger, snowflake and whitespotted morays poke their heads out of almost every coral head. Dragon wrasse, whitetip reef sharks and hawkfish almost wait for their photos to be taken. For pure adrenaline, trolling the blue water will often reveal pods of pilot whales and their oceanic whitetip consorts, massive gatherings of spinner dolphins, breaching humpback whales (in season), false killer whales, sperm whales and who knows what else. Many local shops take to these same waters at night, when deep-water hunters and zillions of larval forms for marine life play out their merry dance of predator and prey, for an experience straight from the annals of the X-Files. Heck, even writing this makes me want to go back. Right now. And maybe take a photo or two.
I've certainly never grown weary of Kona in the nearly half-dozen trips I've made within as many years. It's predictable and capricious at the same time, which makes the prospect of every dive thrilling and makes the Kona Classic the premier event for anyone who wants to become a better photographer.