My first true love was the sea, as a child I lived for the weekends spent on the beach, “Boogie-boarding” and body-surfing. Eventually I learned to surf and many a school days were sacrificed so that I could get my surf fix. I gave up my chosen team sport of Football (Soccer) in High School because it would mean no time for surfing after school.
The closest I have ever come to death is in the ocean, not in the Marines, not in war. The two times I recall quite vividly were while surfing big waves, both times I remember being completely disoriented, having no idea which way was up and totally out of breath, both times I resigned myself to death. But I did not panic, and that explains more than anything why I survived. As a result of these experiences and more I grew stronger and more confident, but my respect for the ocean grew even more. Nonetheless I still continued to push the limits.
Freediving became another passion of mine. At my best, when I was regularly and seriously freediving (breath hold diving) I could manage to stay below for 4 minutes on a single breath. It was around that time I tested my depth capabilities and managed to hit 114 feet on a constant weight freedive. This was a bit foolish for me however as I was not at my peak conditioning and I felt it as I started my ascent from the ocean floor. I remember hitting about 50 feet and acknowledging in my mind very clearly, “I would really like to be at the surface right now.” By the time I hit 30 feet I was quite desperate… but once again I was not panicking. The last 20 feet or so I was not truly conscious, I was semi-aware but the signals going to my brain were confused, incoherent. My friend and safety diver Dan told me that I broke the surface like a breaching whale; I cannot recall. I was totally depleted for the rest of the day, wiped out from oxygen starvation, and once again my respect for the ocean grew.
I have dived and surfed and swam in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea and the blessings I have experienced cannot be fully appreciated with the use of words. I have been enriched in ways that will not leave my spirit in this life nor the next; I am truly awed by the magic of the sea.
So it was that I went to swim with the Sharks once again, on the North Shore of Oahu, my home when in Hawaii. Using our dive boat (Deep Ecology Hawaii – http://www.DeepEcologyHawaii.com) we summoned the sharks and swam with them free of any cage. This type of Shark encounter would be nightmarish for many no doubt, but for those who know the true nature of Sharks, those who know how to relax and share their space with respect and humility, it is dreamlike. I have no fear of Sharks, especially in clear water. In murky water however, especially while surfing, appearing so like the Sharks prey from below, it is unnerving. But the truth is that Sharks almost never attack humans intentionally. Even Great Whites and Tiger Sharks very rarely, almost never, actually eat humans. 99 times out of 100 the attack is a case of mistaken identity and when they realise their mistake they spit us out… but one bite alone is enough to do us in, especially when an artery is severed.
So we were 3 miles offshore in several hundred feet of water with about 20 Galapagos Sharks ranging from 5-9 feet. Tiger Sharks also frequent the area and we were hoping to have one of the resident Tigers come, but this was not to be. Funny enough the Tigers are, despite their reputation, very non-threatening in open, clear water, they are in fact almost friendly.
So we spent about an hour in the water and in that time I was bumped and prodded several times, mostly because the strobe I use for photography gives off electrical pulses that simulates the energy waves of their fish prey. I love the close contact however, to me it is pure joy. As we were getting out of the water, at the back of the boat where the Sharks are most accustomed to getting scraps of fish, I happened to inadvertently dangle my left hand out in a way that caught the attention of 6 footer, next thing I knew my hand is in his mouth… but only for a flash. Upon realising this I brought my hand back to my body, realising right away that the blood coming from my hand was dramatic, but superficial, a wound that will give me a nice scar, but no long term problem whatsoever.
Many think I am crazy anyway so let me add fuel to the accusation, I was ecstatic for the experience. I was overjoyed at the honour of such a beautiful creature leaving his mark on my person. If he/she had exerted any of his/her capacity in biting power my hand would have been mince meat. Instead it is merely a scar and a story and a memory I shall cherish. I love these creatures, absolutely love them. They are perfection in the water and being with them in their natural environment is to commune with God, to connect with our source, to participate in the splendor of nature.
So the moral of the story is; if you don’t want to be bitten by a Shark, don’t play in their playground.