I have long told people that if I were to get a tattoo, it would be a shark on the top of my foot. That way every morning when I put on my shoes, I would remember that I can swim with sharks. There is nothing left to fear (unless you count jumping from an airplane and that, my friends, is simply not going to happen).
Swim with sharks? Your brain will probably rebel.
There was that moment when I first caught a glimpse of dark bodies gliding beneath the waves of the dive boat as it began to slow before my first shark dive. My heart pumped a little faster. My breath stopped in my throat as first one, then another graceful shape came close enough to the surface for a positive identification. There was no mistaking these beauties for anything but sharks.
“What the heck are you thinking?” my brain screamed. The entire time as I prepped for the dive, eyes glued to the surface of the water, I wondered if I could actually take that step off the back of the boat. I continued gearing up. Wetsuit and booties somehow found their way onto my body without any conscious thought.
Suddenly I thought about air. “Double check the air for crying out loud! You don’t want to be down there with all those teeth and not have enough air,” my mind continued to coach.
Mask, fins, gauges, dive computer, camera, all in place. A quick glance at Gary confirmed what I already knew– the grin on his face said it all. For him, there is no fear. He has been waiting for this day his entire life. That is the long and short of it– the two reactions most divers have on their first shark dive. It’s either fear and trepidation or fun and frolic.
And the crazy thing is that often these two types of divers swap places once in the water surrounded by sharks. For me, the fear melted away once I saw the astonishing beauty of these powerful animals. For almost two hours (two dives) I had what felt like an out-of-body experience where I was watching myself in a Discovery Channel program.
It was by far one of the most amazing things I have ever done, leaving me with a longing to see more. Our first shark dive was with Stuart Cove’s in Nassau. We repeated with them again a few years later and can recommend their operation without any hesitation.
For divers that plan to dive extensively in areas where sharks are present, doing an organized shark dive is actually a good idea. Think of it as preparation for the moment when you (if you are lucky) encounter sharks in the wild. I am not sure how I would have reacted when two large reef sharks approached us quite closely in the Abacos had I not previously participated in supervised dives with multiple sharks. Kneeling in the sand in the midst of a feeding frenzy of 20-30 big sharks makes two sharks checking you out seem oddly tame.
Most of our other shark dives have been brief and accidental, white tips and a tiger in Hawaii, and reef sharks in Florida and throughout the Caribbean. In most cases, it is the shark that is most fearful in the encounter. With no indication of an identifiable food source, they are quick to disappear into the blue as quietly as they came.
For me, those moments are not just glimpses of nature’s most magnificent creatures, but rare moments of self-awareness. I breath underwater and swim with sharks. What are your superpowers?