SHARP & Seiko
Jamar McNeil grew up steps from the ocean in the Queens borough of New York City and has always felt at home in the water. It wasn’t until his family took a Caribbean cruise in his late teens, however, that McNeil had his first experience with scuba. Since then, the CHUM-FM morning show host, who goes by the nickname JNiice, has followed his passion for diving around the world, swimming with hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos, cave diving in Mexico, and exploring the chilly waters of Humber Bay near his home in Toronto. We spoke to McNeil about his lifelong love of the ocean, his passion for scuba diving, and doing his part to protect the world’s waterways for future generations.
What got you started with scuba diving?
I grew up in one of the most unique places on earth, a beach town in Queens called Far Rockaway. We’re a stone’s throw away from Manhattan but my neighbourhood is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Jamaica Bay on the other. Being Jamaican, my family would spend part of the year back home on the island, and in both environments being so close to the ocean was a source of constant curiosity for me. As a child, I spent countless hours exploring the ocean swimming, snorkeling, and freediving. I used to watch the Discovery channel a ton, and Shark Week in July felt like the Super Bowl to me.
How has scuba changed the way you see the world?
Being underwater reminds me that this planet is incredibly dramatic and dynamic. On the surface, we think that we run things, but in the ocean, you feel really small, really quickly. Swimming out across a reef to where you can see the bottom under you rapidly go from 80 feet to an invisible 1000 feet is humbling. You’re surrounded by huge fish schools, rays, and turtles, and it’s a perspective that’s nearly impossible to have on the surface.
What are some of your dream locations to dive?
I spent 10 days diving in the Galapagos and it was mind-blowing. We encountered seals, swimming iguanas, orcas, and a school of thousands of hammerhead sharks. On my list of places to dive next is a place called Socorro off Mexico, which is known for its giant manta rays, the island of Dominica in the Caribbean, where I’m looking forward to seeing sperm whales, and Tonga in the South Pacific where I’d like to see humpback whales.
What do you look for in a diver’s watch?
A watch that is properly engineered for the harsh conditions of the deep is the top priority. Water can and will find its way into every space under strong pressure, and if the watch isn’t built properly it will quickly become useless. Timekeeping accuracy is also extremely important. We divers use underwater computers to track things like elapsed bottom time, air consumption, and nitrogen load on our blood and tissues, and all of these calculations require proper timekeeping to keep us safe and alive. If a dive computer fails for some reason, then the watch may be the only backup to keep the time for the rest of the dive. And since it’s something I’m wearing both in and out of the water, I definitely need it to look good.
What do you do to help protect the oceans for generations to come?
I have seen with my own eyes the havoc that pollution and plastics wreak on our waters and it’s heartbreaking. We avoid single-use plastics in our home and we recycle meticulously. We also use reef-safe sunscreens to avoid introducing toxic chemicals into the ocean. Outside of that, I share underwater videos and photos from my dives to hopefully inspire interest and respect for the ocean, and I donate to some great ocean conservation organizations. I’m also teaching my son about the deep.
What are the words you live by?
The truth is this is who I’ve been since my first breath. I vividly remember doing mini-dives in my bathtub as a kid, and I followed that childhood obsession to one of the most awe-inspiring pastimes I could’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve seen things that many people wouldn’t believe that a person could see, and I feel supremely blessed and fortunate to be a diver. So my message is to be yourself at all times and all costs. It’s the easiest thing to be and the key most rewarding existence you can imagine.