I Can’t Swim, But I Went Great White Shark Cage-Diving Anyway

Flickr / Crystian Cruz

It’s my first time in South Africa and I’m loving it! Saw some beautiful animals in Kruger, drank some wine at Stellenbosch, and visited the Cape of Good Hope—it was a Disney dream come true. My travel buddies made a comment here and there about going great white shark cage-diving, but I let it go in one ear and out the other. Then one day, I find myself in a car on the way to Gansbaai, one of the largest homes to great whites. Still, I’m a team player, I’ll go on the boat, enjoy a drink, and get my melanin on while these fools decide to test their fate.

Thirty-five minutes later, everyone is getting fitted for their wet suit and I am chilling in my white one-piece mesh bathing suit looking like a Nigerian goddess. Not surprisingly, the guide tries to get me to participate by giving me standard reasons: I’m already here, I already paid for it, don’t be a baby, and so forth. Too bad he doesn’t realize I’m the youngest of five with a Nigerian Catholic mother; I am immune to guilt trips or petty insults.

Another guide comes over and tells me, “Just do it.” I reiterate, “No, thank you. I’m fine where I am; besides, I can’t even swim!” This man lierally laughs in my face and says, “You think learning how to swim would save you from a shark?!” and walks away.  I don’t know what mental juju had just happened, but a lightbulb turned on and I thought, “Damn, he’s right! Swimming isn’t going to help my ass if Jaws decided to attack, so why the hell not?”  So brave, right?!

I put on the wetsuit, everything’s fine; I put on the goggles, everything’s fine; I put on a TWELVE-POUND LEAD WEIGHT on my body, everything is NOT fine. Cue the barrage of thoughts: “You are not adventurous, you can’t even go paddle-boarding on a lake!” “You don’t even have a driver’s license! YOU CAN’T SWIM!” “How can I get out of this…how can I GET OUT?!”  To make matters worse, due to my being a drama queen, everyone on the boat is cheering me on, since I made a dramatic scene about “conquering my fears” and bla bla bla.

I climb into the 10-12 foot-long cage and confess my sins to the Almighty as the cage is submerged into the freezing blue water. My fellow divers were my two friends (a term that’s being used loosely at this point) and two other crazies; above us the guide was chumming the water to attract sharks to the cage. (Feel free to re-read that last sentence again slowly to capture the true essence of my bad decision.)

“SHARK!! GO DOWN GO DOWN” the guide yells and down I go! I plunge myself into the FREEZING water and I swear my heart stopped. I felt terror, anxiety, and uncertainty all at the same time; almost instantaneously two looming sharks whizz past us, lunging at the bait! Instinctively, I screamed (still underwater by the way), allowing a wave of gross salty, chumm-y sea water into my mouth; flailing everywhere I pull myself up for air and start laughing uncontrollably. Apparently, in terrifying, knee-weakening situations…laughing like a maniac is my coping mechanism.

I caught my breath and after a chiding from the guide for flailing everywhere (my legs looked like fish for the shark), I was ready for round two! This time my fear was replaced with exhilaration and excitement as I eagerly submerged for another look of the majestic, graceful creatures. I saw a total of four sharks and though they did get pretty damn close to the cage, they were more interested in the fake bait and not the potential real-life human bait. Honestly, the feeling was something I don’t think I can even describe; the mix of fear, excitement, and unknown of what’s about to happen was amazing!

All in all, it was such an incredible experience, or it could be the cold water seizing my heart, but I had never felt that able before in my life! In fact, I quit my job about three months after and moved to a brand-new city! I mean, if I can go Great White Shark cage diving without knowing how to swim, who gon’ check me, boo? TC mark

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