Under The Sea (Minus Ariel)

Village Dive Club’s Eric Heller swims with shark, not mermaids.
September 21, 2012

(Christopher Spivey and Eric Heller)

There is an old joke asking why sharks don’t attack lawyers. The answer is: professional courtesy. But attorney Eric Heller has actually experienced this first hand, as he’s met quite a few sharks and lived to tell about it. He’s is a member and president of the Village Dive Club, New York’s gay and lesbian SCUBA diving club. With Village Dive Club he has traveled to the four corners of the earth in search of thrilling underwater adventures and a remarkable inner peace. During a night dive in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies, Heller slowly descended about 100 feet down a sea wall and then turned off his dive light. Gradually, the water began to glow with bioluminescent phytoplankton. He hung off the wall, alone at night, looking into the deep and surrounded by what looked like glowing fireflies. “The experience of diving itself is transcendental: you are weightless, floating, flying and even diving with a buddy you are alone with your thoughts, isolated except for the sound of your breathing, the fish chewing on coral and the waves. It is almost meditative,” he explains.
Heller’s interest in SCUBA diving derives directly from tae kwon do. As a pre-teen he took classes in the martial art, but he would beg his parents to drop him off early or pick him up late so he could spend time in the diving shop next door. “I talked the SCUBA shop owner’s ears off, looked at all the cool equipment and waited patiently until I turned 13 and could get certified,” he says.
Every October the dive shop would host an underwater pumpkin-carving contest at the lake. Heller quickly learned the trick to winning after watching people struggling to drag a very buoyant pumpkin to the depths below, saying, “Bash a hole in the pumpkin on the surface. And avoid cutting yourself while fumbling with a dive knife and a pumpkin at 30 feet in murky water.”
Joining Heller on most excursions is his partner-in-brine, Christopher Spivey. The two met almost 15 years ago in Oklahoma. Within a few months of meeting, Spivey realized he would have to get his SCUBA certification if the relationship was going to work. “He braved the cold waters of Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma for me,” says Eric. That’s love. Although Spivey has made it clear to his beau that he won’t partake in cold-water dives anymore, he has no objections in accompanying Heller on an upcoming trip to Bali next month.
Heller gets all bubbly thinking about the many dives he’s taken, exploring the glistening landscapes under the sea, encountering so many unusual creatures: from the bioluminescent phytoplankton to the 30-foot long whale sharks who feast upon them.
Eric’s only scare was on a dive in Fiji when a tiger shark joined the group along with some smaller reef sharks. “The dive guides tensed up and started paying attention when this huge shark approached; I knew it was serious. But I still tried to get as close as I could to see it,” he said. Not to worry—nothing happened. He must have smelled the lawyer.
Visit VillageDiveClub.org for more info.