Into the Cage & Beyond the Comfort Zone
Pulling up to the harbor, I scanned the boat slips until I saw a cage attached to the back of a boat. My stomach filled with butterflies and I could feel my heart beating faster.
It finally hit me that I was about to jump in the ocean with wild sharks and I couldn't contain my excitement. My mom, on the other hand, would barely get near the cage for a picture while we were on land. This is me totally freaking out over the best day of my life and we hadn't even gotten on the boat yet:
It was time to put a big checkmark on my bucket list- I was going to swim with sharks!!! Because I am an avid science nerd and shark lover, I snagged a seat close to the side of the boat to keep an eye out for wildlife and admire the gorgeous North Shore backdrop. My mom and I chatted with some of the other brave souls on our boat while settling in and found that every single person was nervous, uncertain, and a little scared. Some people still weren't sure if they were going to get in the cage and my mother was at the very top of that list. But as soon as the crew gave us a safety briefing and a little history on the types of sharks we may encounter, the nervousness quickly turned to a buzz of excitement. I loved watching people's expressions as they learned about the Galapagos sharks and Sandbar sharks we would likely face. Galapagos sharks are best distinguished by a ridge that runs between their dorsal fins, with countershading grey on top and white on the underside of their bodies. Additionally, they feed on rays, octopus, bottom-dwelling bony fishes, and crustaceans. But the best fact the crew shared was why they have a 100% shark sighting guarantee. The most important factor for me in deciding which tour company to go with was their method of attracting wildlife during the dive. If the company utilized active chumming, it was a definite no for me. North Shore Shark Adventures has capitalized on the natural behavior and behavioral conditioning of the sharks gathering about three miles offshore from the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor. Crabbing vessels historically have dropped their baited traps here because of the abundance of crabs and crustaceans at the bottom of the shelf, which is exactly why the sharks are down there too. Some of the bait tends to escape the traps as the fishermen lower them down, so the sharks are drawn up from the depths closer to the surface to snag some of the stragglers. Galapagos and Sandbar sharks are fairly curious creatures to start. The sharks are now conditioned to equate the sound of the boat's motor to free food, so they emerge to check out the dive boat.
Sure enough, the boat honed in on its usual spot about three miles offshore and I started screaming internally (and probably externally too, let's be honest) because I saw shark fins. Like, a LOT of shark fins. Everyone ran to the sides of the boat with their GoPros absolutely amazed that Galapagos sharks were circling the boat and breaking the surface of the water. One of the sharks that appeared to be a female was over ten feet in length and absolutely massive. I was beaming.
Because my mom and I were placed in the second group to drop in the cage, we were able to fully enjoy the initial frenzy of the boldest sharks exploring our boat. Unfortunately, this also meant we had more time for our nervous stomachs to be rocked around by the strong waves that day. I am very lucky and have never been seasick, and even my stomach was in knots. My mom, professed scaredy-cat, decided she would rather get in a cage near sharks than be on that rocking boat any longer, and she will tell you that it was one of the best decisions she's made!
As excited as I was to experience this, stepping down onto that ladder with my back to the water had my heart pumping like crazy. I knew I was getting into a cage and not open water, but the innate fear of not being able to see what was behind or below me as I carefully made each step down was nerve-wracking. As soon as I dropped fully into the water, my fear turned to sheer joy because there were sharks EVERYWHERE. It was like watching Shark Week but the sharks were real and right in front of my face. I quickly realized just how much my nerves and excitement had taken over me because my uneven breathing allowed a rush of water into my snorkel. I focused on my breath, held tightly onto the aluminum poles while letting my legs float, and took in the view. My eyes continually darted back and forth following shark after shark. My head was on a continuous swivel as I watched sharks emerge from every direction, especially from below. I forgot there were six or seven other people in the cage with me. In that moment, it was just the sharks and me in the most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen. After being in the water for several minutes, I felt oddly calm and serene. There was not a single part of me that felt fear, but rather, I developed an even greater respect and sense of awe for these gorgeous creatures. And I would venture to say that everyone in that cage felt the same way.
If your bucket list has "Cage Dive with Sharks" at the top highlighted in all caps like mine did, I would highly recommend adding a shark dive to your must-do list in Oahu. Even if you are terrified at the thought of being in the water with sharks, I would still highly recommend jumping out of your comfort zone and experiencing this shark cage dive. It's very safe; there is a well-defined barrier between you and the sharks, and these aluminum bars are easy to hold onto so strong swimming skills aren't necessary. North Shore Shark Adventures has a qualified and knowledgeable crew that will make you feel comfortable descending down that ladder. You may even end up like me, waiting until the very last second to get back on the boat because you don't want the experience to be over!
Have you done a shark cage dive before? Even better, are you a brave soul that has done a pelagic open water shark dive? I would love to hear about your experience! Leave me a message in the comments below or on my Instagram post.