Been there done that? Go swim with the sharks!

I don’t mean that figuratively, like go have lunch with your lawyer or go toe to toe with your boss, I mean it literally. Grab some snorkel gear and go jump in the ocean!

I have always been DEATHLY afraid of sharks. I’m of the “Jaws” era, of course I am. Throughout my life, whenever I have been stressed or afraid of something, I inevitably would dream about wading in the water with sharks circling me or swimming underneath me. When I was seven years old, I had a bad dream that there were sharks in our swimming pool. When I was seventeen, my parents bought me a jet-ski for graduation which I couldn’t wait to ride until I had a nightmare. The night terror was of me sitting on my shiny new toy in the San Francisco Bay, looking up at the Golden Gate Bridge, while trying to start the damn thing. All I could do was keep hitting the start button but it wouldn’t start and sure enough, the fins starting showing up. Last year, when work stress starting kicking in, you guessed it, the sharks showed up. They are the reason I have never learned to surf even though I live in one of the top surfing sites in the world.

But alas, it is time to start conquering my fears in life. My beloved and I planned on taking a holiday to Hawaii to celebrate life and new beginnings after a challenging few months, though I don’t exactly know how celebrating life turned into, let’s go risk our lives by jumping into the ocean with sharks. In any case, after a little homework and a lot of self motivating, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just do it. I decided to conquer my silly ass fear of sharks and jump in there with them.

We contacted Hawaii Shark Encounters, located on Oahu’s beautiful North Shore and booked it before we could change our minds. Well, before I could change my mind. There are other reputable tour operators who offer the same tour but this is who we chose.

If you have never been to the Oahu’s North Shore, let me tell you, it’s no joke where the waves are concerned. This is where the best of the best surf Pipeline, and also where you can see the cartilaginous creatures from a cage. They offer different times for their excursions but I highly recommend going out on the earliest departure due to the possible inclement weather. We went on the second outing of the day and the rough tide actually became a bigger concern for me than the sharks. In short, the later you go, the rougher the surf. Go early.

The videos on their website show children as young as six in the cage having a great time which made me feel like, if they could do it, I could do it. The cage itself made me feel very safe, outfitted with plexiglass on the upper part so you feel totally protected from the sharks in case they get “curious.” (We’ve all seen that part in “Jaws” where the shark shoves his nose into the cage but it’s not likely to happen with this cage.) Since they do not submerge the cage, you are still on the surface which allows you to view the sharks with just snorkel gear.  I think what played with my head more than the sharks was the fact that I haven’t snorkeled in about fifteen years and haven’t been on a boat in the ocean in about ten years. So many things to think about besides the sharks! Eventually, I jumped in after my honey who was the first in our group to jump in, and I have to admit, a bit of panic set in. The sharks were RIGHT THERE! But I wasn’t used to the snorkel yet and the waves were ramming me against the cage. I handed my little underwater video camera to my honey so he could capture our sharky moments because I needed both hands to hold myself away from the cage. All I can say is, thank God for all the Yoga and meditation classes I attended in the past because both came in handy and helped me to calm the heck down so I could enjoy this little mid-life crises moment I took on. Sure enough, I calmed down, settled in, and I suddenly found myself in total awe and dare I say……..relaxation when they started swimming by us. What started out as total fear of death, turned into total gratitude for being able to get this close to these creatures and just appreciate them. I didn’t die, they weren’t scary like in my dreams/nightmares, and they were simply awesome. On average, they were about fifteen foot reef sharks, and totally curious about us in a non-threatening way. They swam in front of us, behind us, below us, everywhere. And I felt totally safe. I felt like I had finally faced a long running fear that had followed me my entire life. I’m not saying I conquered it, I’m still not going surfing considering the sharks in my neighborhood are some of the world’s largest great whites you’ll ever see, but at least I faced it. Maybe one of these days I’ll take on the great task of eating escargot. (Yes, I have a phobia of snails. Don’t judge me.)

So I did it. I got in the water with sharks. Do you know what I didn’t do? I didn’t prepare for sea-sickness. Again, I had not been on a boat for ten years. On our way to this excursion, I thought having a nice café latte coupled with a spinach wrap would be a good idea which very quickly, after climbing back into the boat, became a really bad idea. I tried. I tried to hold down my Starbucks breakfast, trying not to look like a wimp in front of the badass twenty-somethings that were in the boat, but I just didn’t care anymore. The boat operator nonchalantly signaled me to throw up over the side of the boat, looking like I’m just one of many victims of sea sickness on his boat, and right on cue, I vomited like a college freshman. I could care less. Still, no matter how green and nasty I felt afterwards, it didn’t take away from the fabulous shark encounter. I even went out for a drink afterwards! I just have to remember to prepare a bit better when attempting to prove something to myself. Is this what they call a mid-life crisis? I can’t afford that little sports car I want so now I’m off doing stuff that I was too afraid to do before. This is how it starts, people.

So try it ! If I can do it, I swear, any person can do it. I know there are closer encounters you can have from tour operators around the world but this was my cup of tea. It was just enough. By the way, if you are more adventurous than I and you want to do this kind of thing in the SF Bay Area, yes, with our world-famous massive, great whites, the known tour operator in our area is Great White Adventures. I can’t give you a first hand experience nor do I think I ever will, but you never know. I’d rather go back to Hawaii to the nice little reef sharks. It’s an experience you’ll never forget!

Below is our shaky little video that I put to music. It’s only about 4 minutes and the music reflects my experience. At first, it was a “Jaws” moment but I then started hearing “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” in my head for some reason. I think it just made everything less scary for me.


4 thoughts on “Been there done that? Go swim with the sharks!

  1. Under the Sea! I love it! 🙂 I swam with Caribbean Reef Sharks in the Bahamas without a cage, and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. 😉 However, I do want to do the cage dives off the North Shore when we go back to Hawaii! Thanks for sharing.

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