Traveling to a new destination presents a world of new experiences that challenge our sense of familiarity, such as encountering a different language, social mores, or simply trying out exotic dishes you’ve never heard of before. This is why we turn to the community; we seek advice from seasoned voyagers who have done it before us and carry endless travel wisdom and stories worthy to be shared. They’ve also got unique hacks of their own that are tried and tested, just like the very things we talk about on this platform. And like these guys, as a traveler with a genuine passion for exploring unseen places, it’s only inevitable that you will want to veer away from traditional, guided tours (visiting the usual tourist attractions, eating at the most buzzed-about restaurants and the like) over the long haul and grow a desire to journey into the off-the-beaten tracks, a.k.a. the great outdoors: mountains, forests, rivers and seas.
For diving enthusiast and sea lover Peter Hager, exploring the waters is his favorite leisure activity, a “magical experience” as he calls it—so much so that he makes sure to plan a big diving trip every year. This adventure expert loves to document his experiences in stunning drone photos and videos—just as with other globetrotters who develop a fervor for capturing thrill-inducing moments on tape—and he recounts some of his aquatic adventures as he chats with CVMN. Keep up as we discuss Peter’s exploits with untouched nature, his most notable experiences, and how he manages to capture each moment in its undisturbed splendor:
CVMN: What inspired you to start this endeavor?
Peter Hager: My father used to love the sea and used to go diving on weekends in La Union in the ‘70s while we were fishing. He always had books around the house about diving, and it looked like another world of color, corals and fish… like an incredible adventure in a world of unknown waiting to be discovered. That made me want to dive ever since I was six years old.
Who are the people you bring with you when you go to the exotic places you feature in your videos?
How was the experience when you went diving for the first time?
PH: It has been so long ago that I can’t really remember to be honest!
How do you decide which destination to go to?
PH: Every year, we normally do at least one trip to Tubbataha on the Palau Sport (owned and operated by David Choy—the best dive operator in the Philippines). Then, Gutsy operates dive tours/charters around the world so I try and make one of those trips a year as well, time and budget permitting.
What is your favorite diving destination? What makes it special?
PH: I dove in many places around the world and all have been incredible experiences. However, I still love Tubbataha here in Palawan the best. It is easily accessible, the coral is breathtaking and world class, the boat is comfortable and the dive operator (David Choy) is fantastic—he runs a good and safe operation and has been diving Tubbataha for close to 40 years. Further, Tubbataha is relatively “wild”; you never know what is going to show up since it is located in open water and is rich in biodiversity.
What made you decide to begin documenting your adventures?
PH: I used to hold an extra camera for Gutsy underwater when film was still the norm and you could only get 36 shots out of a roll on each dive. I used to take some pictures myself. However, it wasn’t till about five or six years ago, when Gutsy gave me a small camera to try and shoot video for a project he had to do, that I discovered underwater video. I then got my first camera shortly after. And now I can’t dive without a camera in hand.
You have beautifully-captured videos underwater. What equipment do you use?
PH: My current camera is a Panasonic GH-5 with a Nauticam housing and Keldan lights. I used to have other cameras from Nikon and Sony, but I was not too happy with the underwater video capabilities. The Panasonic GH-5 is excellent underwater and performs, but I also want to eventually get a Canon system, having seen results of other people’s videos using Canon cameras.
What goes through your mind when you observe these ecosystems?
PH: I capture the scenery underwater to try and bring the viewer along for the dive, or capture candid fish/sea life interaction. It usually means trying to focus on one or two subjects on a dive, and watching them to wait for typical behavior. I try to be patient and have a little bit of a game plan—it doesn’t always go as planned of course, but to have some sort of a plan is an important start to a dive.
How do the sea animals generally respond when divers are nearing them?
PH: Animals normally tend to swim away—especially if you have lights. The secret is to learn to slowly wait for the fish to build confidence and come to you, or if they are moving, to learn to anticipate where the fish is going to be so you can position yourself in front of it. The idea is not to chase the fish since you’ll never keep up with them and all you will have are shots of fish tails.
Are sharks as scary as they seem?
PH: The sharks are not that scary at all… they are usually scared of you and will swim away if you are not careful. Except for the tiger sharks in Cocos—they can get pretty big and at their size, they aren’t afraid of you. They are also pretty curious and tend to come and check you out… so it is a little nerve wracking at times.
What was your most interesting encounter with a sea creature?
PH: In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to see a guitar shark in Tubbataha. It was especially memorable since I had never seen one live before (it looked almost prehistoric), and I had the chance to see it in relatively shallow water on Shark Airport reef. Also, I have very fond memories of swimming in open water with dolphins who were feeding on a bait ball of sardines in the Azores. The dolphins were rounding up the bait ball and driving them up with bubbles, while gannet seabirds were diving into the ball of fish, feeding on them with the dolphins.
Your recent videos beautifully captured the seascape and what is underneath. What kind of drone would you recommend for documenting nature?
PH: I have the DJI Mavic Pro. It is small and compact and you can easily take it around with you and film, but it has an incredible image sensor and filming capabilities. I also have a larger DJI Inspire, but it is too big to really take around and fly. In truth, the technology is getting so good that simple drones today are capable of capturing incredible images with fantastic resolution.
What keeps you coming back to the ocean?
PH: I guess I love the sea… but if I have to try and qualify it, perhaps it is to try and see or film something I have not yet seen. Or to see, film and interact with something (again) differently.
Your videos show remote areas. What’s it like interacting with the locals in those areas?
PH: It is always a pleasure to go to new places, learn about different cultures and meet people. In truth though, I really also love eating and drinking—I really love the culinary experience of traveling!
Do you have scary experiences in one of your travels?
PH: Back in mid 2000s, we were diving in Tubbataha and we spotted birds feeding on a bait ball. We wanted to see what was going on. When we got close, I jumped in right away and started furiously swimming in the direction of the bait ball. After what seemed like an inordinate distance and swimming through floating fish scales, I saw a lone silky shark. As I got closer I noticed he wasn’t stopping, at which point I looked around and realized there was no one else in the water with me, and the chase boat was what seemed miles away. The shark kept swimming at me. I was really worried and tried to swim backwards! When he got within 3 feet from me, the shark veered downward and swam away, to my great joy and relief.
Apart from your gear, what is the one thing you have to bring along when you travel?
PH: Hahaha! Believe it or not, I always bring a pillow these days. I easily get a stiff neck, so I always travel with my pillow. Aside from that, something to read and pass the time when things get slow, and bags of almond M&M’s which I crave for!
Watch some of his individual videos here:
Follow Peter Hager’s underwater adventures on Vimeo via Peter Hager.
All photos courtesy of Scott “Gutsy” Tuason