Diving With A Curve

By Michelle Hoffman

Diving With A Curve

by Michelle Hoffman

For decades Playboy magazine has endeavored to dazzle its monthly die-hards with beautiful women in new and exotic ways. Mission Honduras took three Playmates to one of the most exotic regions on Earth. Though diving with Heffner’s “mer-mates” was never a fantasy of mine, it has proven to be one of the most valuable and memorable experiences of my dive career.

My job was to communicate Playboy’s editorial vision to the Bay Islands Aggressor III’s staff, help with site selection, assist the Playmates and veteran photographer Richard Fegley with their diving needs and shoot a few rolls of film when asked. The offer was far too good to pass up. Photo Editor Jim Larson also made it clear that he wanted safety first and no abuse of the corals or marine life—a true underwater experience.

The result Jim was hoping for was natural looking divers—minus the usual wetsuit garb—experiencing the wildlife under the waves. He wanted three Playmates sharing the frame with a bevy of fishy friends, and we had four working days in which to make it happen.

Day 1
If getting there is half the fun, my journey to meet the Playboy crew in Key West was not the half of it. After experiencing flight delays and myriad misadventures, I arrived in Key West a day late and luggage short. When I finally got in touch with Jim around 9:00 a.m., he said we would begin work around 1:00 p.m. To my relief, this gave me the time to buy a change of clothes, rent some scuba gear and set up my camera equipment (which I never have, or will, check through airlines).

Prior to this day, I had only met with Jim, Richard and photo-tech whiz David Goodman. However, later that afternoon, I was finally introduced to Playmates Kalin Olsen, Kelly Monaco and Victoria Fuller as well as their stylist Karen Acattato, completing the ensemble of companions that I would share close quarters with over the next several days.

By the poolside of our hotel, a crowd of onlookers had gathered, which we later found was due to some unsolicited press in a local paper. We were there for a dress rehearsal to re-acclimate the girls to diving and make sure both camera and scuba gear would cooperate. The girls were all fairly new divers, which made the PADI instructor in me a little anxious. I was both impressed and relieved to see how skilled and comfortable they were. Our work that day went like clockwork, and we finished quickly, giving everyone time to get ready for the trip to Honduras in the morning.

Our two-leg flight into Roatan was thankfully uneventful, and my bags managed to keep up this time. Once we had disembarked, I was able to view for myself what would inspire Aaron Spelling to use this captivating place as his Fantasy Island in the seventies. We met the Aggressor Fleet’s Captain Dan and were quickly loaded into the van. We rolled down the winding streets flanked with colorful local life and, minutes later, were standing on the deck of the Bay Islands Aggressor III, only eight of us on a boat built to accommodate more than 20 guests.

Impossible to resist, the lure of a night dive called out to my watery soul. The sun was just beginning its descent toward the horizon as we pulled out of port, its very last rays straining to touch the water by the time we giant-strided from the gently rolling deck. Ricardo, of the Aggressor, pointed out a dazzling menagerie, and away I clicked as fast as my strobe would recharge.


Playmates Kalin Olsen, Kelly Monaco and Victoria Acattato on the deck of the Bay Islands Aggressor III.
Today we would take one girl at a time to work out a system and get a feel for hand signals before creating the proverbial three ring circus. Kelly was up first, and things were going fine until the Yellowtails got a bit worked up. They swarmed poor Kelly, which took both of us by surprise, but, like a true professional, she kept at it. Back on the boat we had a chance to talk, having both learned a few things from the first run. The girls better understood the distance limits after glancing through my camera so they could see what I saw. They would need to be very close to each other, so that not even a fin got cut out, and almost equally as close to me or Richard as we shot.

Working with diving models poses considerable challenges. Slightly skewed angles will send the strobe’s light bouncing off a diver’s mask, and bubbles at the wrong time and angle can pose another unwanted effect. Put three divers into the act, and the potential for such undesirable mishaps significantly increases. Captain Dan ran all the rolls we shot this day so we could see our results.

Our first true day’s work had gone well without real incident, but the three glass-bottomed boats that happened by got more visuals than they bargained for.

This day began with a tremendous challenge for the girls. Our goal was the critter-riddled wreck of the Jado Trader, which lies on its side at 110 feet. The Aggressor crew assured us this site was heavily laden with large groupers and eels, the sort of animal fantasyland that Playboy was looking for. As promised, the fish were there to greet us, waiting patiently as the girls disrobed and got into place.

With daunting time limits working against us, Kalin, Kelly and Victoria got right into it, arranging themselves like mermaids around the cargo holds where the coral growth was best. The marine life (obviously accustomed to being overstuffed with diver offerings) got a bit rambunctious and overly assertive with the girls. After shooting 18 frames we had to depart, low on air and time. We needed shallower sites where we could stay submerged longer and have the cameras caddied back to the boat for reloading.

Our next ploy was to attempt shooting right under the hull of the boat where the fish tend to congregate. This view could yield the potential for some striking silhouettes and the novelty of incorporating the shape of the boat. After lunch we went in, but there was a tiny current present, which scattered our team. As this was not a very amenable setting, we went to Plan B: Within swimming distance in the other direction was a shallow reef, which was out of the current. But here the fish life was uncooperative. Richard made the best of it and snapped a few roles, but we had spun our wheels a bit already and couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed.

Starting time was early, but the girls were ready, dolphins were waiting and the maximum depth was 20 feet…perfect! What was not working for us yesterday would come around 10-fold today. Playmates, dolphins and Richard were in aquatic heaven, and as I shuffled the cameras back to reload, I lost count of how many rolls we had gone through. Though hours had gone by it felt like minutes when the Aggressor staff took us ashore for lunch. Odd creatures kept popping up on the palm-speckled beach to keep us company, watch us eat and beg to be fed. Temptation to record them on film overcame me, so all through lunch my camera shutter clicked. Pelicans, iguanas and agouti posed for my camera, lunch concluded, and back to the water we went. We worked until the sun sank, at which point Richard caught some incredible shore shots. It was a long day of water and sun, but I still couldn’t resist my ritual night dive. This day had gone very well, and I didn’t want it to end.

Day 6
To say I woke at daybreak would be figurative at best, since time is relative in a torrential downpour without a clock. Jim, Richard and I stared at the rain streaking down the glass, which threatened us with a non-working day. Dan brought out the weather reports and began evaluating conditions. All was not lost. Surface conditions were relatively flat, no current was running, and there wasn’t a single lightening flash in the sky. According to the reports, the circuit was moving around us, and, in all probability, things would improve. The decision was made that if conditions remained fine we would begin at noon despite the rain. At the appointed time the rain had dwindled to a drizzle, and in we went. The water below was calm, clear and positively packed with fish that seemed to be waiting for our arrival. It made me wonder briefly if there is any credence to the fisherman’s tale that rain draws fish toward the surface. The girls had devised their own style of choreography now, which kept them swimming closely to each other at the same speed, without even blocking one another. They had even learned to predict the fish, incorporating this knowledge into the patterns they swam. On this day everything came together on cue, and we worked until our necessary pre-flight out time intervened.

I’ve just left Jim’s office having viewed the final layout decision for “Wet Dreams,” shocked and thrilled to find that some of my work is there alongside Richard’s. The project was a success, and we had met Playboy’s high standards for a perfect dive fantasy. For a freelance artist like me, working with a large team was novel but challenging. Normally, I set my own deadlines, decide on the story and style of coverage I want—the benefit of working alone. In this case, knowing that we brought eight people together in a tight time frame and still got the job done was even more gratifying.

Going Deep in
For more information on the Aggressor Fleet, call (800) 348-2628, (504) 385-2628, (504) 384-0817 (fax) e-mail info@aggressor.com, or check out the website at www.aggressor.com. To learn more about the travel to the Honduras and the Bay Islands, call the Honduras Institute of Tourism at (800) 410-9608 or log on to www.hondurastips.com.

Rumors frequently fly that Playboy heavily relies on airbrushing to achieve perfection. Males out there will be pleased to know that this has not been my experience, so you office gossips can eat your hearts out! People often ask me if it was odd or uncomfortable to work with the Playmates, but, the funny thing is, I never thought about it. This team was so professional and focused, they could’ve been wearing ski clothes underwater and it would’ve seemed normal. Given the chance, I’d do it again in a second.