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Wakatobi Endorsements

Steven Frink
Steven Frink
Steven Frink

Stephen Frink grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, where the closest he got to any aquatic activity was as a competitive swimmer for 13-years. However, while in graduate school in California, he did finally become certified as a scuba diver. This was about the same time he was taking photography courses at California State University, Long Beach, so taking a Nikonos II along on those early ocean dives seemed a natural progression. He practiced his underwater photography more during his six-months in Kona, Hawaii, but it wasn't really until he moved to Key Largo, Florida in 1978 did he ever consider himself an "underwater photographer".

Frink opened his studio in Key Largo to process E-6 slide film and rent underwater cameras to tourists who were diving John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, but it wasn't long before he was seriously pursuing a career as an underwater photographer himself. His first commercial assignment came from a dive magazine seeking images on the Florida Keys.

Today, Frink is among the world's most frequently published UW photographers, and is a Canon EXPLORER OF LIGHT, the only marine specialist within this very elite group of photographers.

He is also the publisher of a beautiful new quarterly magazine for the Divers Alert Network, ALERT DIVER. Previously, his editorial work appeared in SCUBA DIVING as Director of Photography, and as a contributing photographer for SKIN DIVER magazine for 17-years. Frink has authored a coffee table book entitled WONDERS OF THE REEF, and teaches Masters level courses of Stephen Frink School of Underwater Digital Imaging in his home waters of Key Largo, Florida.

Clients for assignment photography over the past 3 decades have included Canon, Nikon, Victoria's Secret, Aqualung, Oceanic, Scubapro, Subgear, Mercury Marine, Jantzen, Alcan Aluminum, R.J. Reynolds, Seaquest, Henderson Aquatics, Neosport, American Express, Club Med; as well as scores of resorts and live-aboard dive boats throughout the world. Rolex Watch Company has also engaged Frink for both endorsement and product photography.

Other Frink enterprises include a dive travel company, WaterHouse Tours and Reservations and a stock photo agency, Stephen Frink Collection. Stephen Frink Photographic is the North and South American distributor for the Austrian camera housing manufacturer SEACAM.

Links:
Portfolio - http://www.stephenfrinkphoto.com
SEACAM - http://www.seacamusa.com
Travel - http://www.waterhousetours.com
Canon Explorers of Light - http://www.learn.usa.canon.com/explorers_of_light/eol_home.shtml


 

Reflections on Wakatobi

I have a great admiration for entrepreneurial achievement, especially when it represents a triumph over logistical and infrastructure challenges. Having traveled extensively in Indonesia and throughout the Coral Triangle, I have to admit astonishment at what the Wakatobi team has created in their small island paradise.

The scale of the service evolution is impressive, beginning with the ultra-professional and accommodating ground staff in Bali - able to handle our every need from the moment of arrival, including assistance through customs, ground transfers to hotels, and to even the more mundane issues like baggage storage. Crispin and Wakatobi's crew in Bali are the ultimate in terms of organizational excellence, and that is just the first hint we have that Team Wakatobi is very special indeed.

Having flown through any number of Third World airports and suffered through the whole "hijacked-for-overweight" routine, I appreciated the simplicity and efficiency of the Bali to Wakatobi air transfer. Which is not to say a diver can be capricious about how much excess baggage they bring along, for clearly there is finite lift capacity and we all have to be responsible travelers. But, so many remote destinations now impose onerous baggage restrictions and outrageous fees for excess as a surreptitiously structured profit center. Wakatobi does not do this. They are reasonable, forthright in communication about their expectations, and scrupulously honest. I assume I probably saved $400 in excess baggage fees during my last trip to Wakatobi, just in lack of excess baggage fees. I wasn't massively overweight on luggage, but I can imagine a domestic airline elsewhere in Indonesia or PNG or Australia charging at least a couple hundred bucks each way. To not have that hassle, and probable expense, was a lovely intangible benefit of the Bali to Wakatobi air arrangement.

Upon arrival the attention to detail remains evident. Between being met at the airport and transported to the resort by boat, all the while never touching a bag is reassuring. The check-in procedure is painless, as well it should be as most North American travelers will be pretty groggy by this time. But, Wakatobi expects this and they make it easy to freshen up, get a snack, get checked into your bungalow or villa and relax. Food is gratefully all buffet-style, so little time is ever wasted on waiting for food to be served. That is gratefully appreciated upon arrival, when jet-lag and fatigue are inevitable, and ever more so when strength returns and we are powering through a busy dive schedule. Not having to wait for food is wonderfully convenient.

However, "buffet dining" in no way describes or reflects the culinary excellence of Wakatobi's chefs. The diversity, quality, sheer quantity, and aesthetics of presentation are truly amazing, particularly when you consider how remote the destination. I've written a lot of destination travel articles about live-aboards and dive resorts around the world, and I don't think I've ever once made food service a

marquee recommendation. However, at Wakatobi you can't ignore it. It is that far above and beyond expectation.

Travel infrastructure, resort architecture and food service are integral, but probably secondary to the quality of the diving. If the diving were not special none of the rest would really matter to a passionate diver. This is where Wakatobi has been inspirational. I imagine those first few dives for Lorenz, back in the day when he was first traveling through these islands, must have been off-the-chart amazing. It would have had to be for him to embark on a project to assemble a team, and build the infrastructure (including an airstrip) that now defines Wakatobi. But, two decades ago many places in the world offered amazing in-water experiences. To have forged relationships with the local villages and managed a sustainable fishery and ecologically aware dive resort that keeps these reefs vibrant and alive over all these years is perhaps more impressive.

To the underwater photographer, Watatobi's reefs are wonderfully productive. I know most tend to shoot fish and macro here, for the creatures are weird and plentiful and photogenic. But, I spent much of my time shooting wide angle, just because I could. There were the usual suspects along the walls ... big soft corals and sea fans, clouds of pyramid butterflyfish and likely encounters with something dramatic to complement the composition, like maybe a cuttlefish or turtle or angelfish or coral grouper. Rarely do I find reefs with the density of coral coverage these do, especially in the shallows where acres of staghorn, small boulder corals, and diverse gorgonia decorate the top of the reef slope. Offgassing was always a pleasure here, for the 7 to 20-foot portions of most of the dive sites were very fascinating.

I read some of the other guest endorsements on these Wakatobi web pages and have to concur with most. My good friend Berkley White is a savvy tour leader and quite discriminating in the services he expects for his guests, just as we are with our groups. His words describing the boats and guides resonated with me as well:

"The dive boats are fantastic. It would have been totally reasonable for you to put twice the amount of divers on those boats - they're so big. To put only 12 on such huge boats is Incredibly comfortable ... The staff were all amazing, great spotters, great at correcting issues - certainly taking care that nothing was going wrong but not in an unpleasant way, they did it really professionally and well ... the 4:1 ratio is beyond generous, awesome, fantastic. Everybody gets to see everything, I know its expensive to do and its well appreciated - also how the groups were so well spread out down the reef, so that very rarely did it feel like there were a dozen divers in the same area - that whole system was fantastic. I don't think you could do anything to make things more personal."

I had visited Wakatobi the last time perhaps 7 years ago. It was better this time. The food was better, the staff more accommodating, the transfers more polished and effortless (for us); and incredibly, the diving was better as well. There are few places that have aged so well, but clearly the Wakatobi experience is evolutionary. They seem relentless in their pursuit of perfection, but it was all behind the scenes, hidden from our view. As a tour leader responsible for 2 dozen guests, if anything had been going wrong, I would have heard about it. Not one person was dissatisfied, and the statement I heard most often was "beyond our expectations". Well, that and "I can't believe how good the food is".

Best regards,

Steven Frink

 

 

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