all photos: Justin Lewis
From mosquito bites and home cooked meals we motored across the channel to the island of Moorea to indulge in ocean-hovering honeymoon bungalows, umbrella drinks, and the promise of big sharks.
I’m a warm water diver. While I do seriously enjoy the sport, I haven’t become addicted as I am to surfing. I’m content to pull out the gear only a few times a year if it means rolling off a boat into warm clear water with big critters. The whale shark in La Paz was large and exciting, the reef sharks in Kona were the first i’d ever seen, and definitely intriguing, but I wanted teeth, and lots of them, up close. I wanted to be a little scared.
Still, it was a little strange to pull up in a boat, look overboard, see at least twenty sharks circling, and excitedly leap into the water. That would never happen on a surfboard, but for some reason, it’s different in dive gear.
Cheyne, Alex, and I, throwing hand signs. Even when posing, i was thinking about sharks!
Turtles are cool.
This guy gave my finger a little nibble when I didn’t release the food quickly enough!
There isn’t a whole lot to do underwater. You breathe in and out, kick around slowly and peacefully, appreciate the calmness underwater, watch fish, look for sharks, and during photo shoots, you pose. As pro surfers, Cheyne, Alex, and I are well accustomed to being filmed, but on scuba without being able to talk to the camera, the challenge is more difficult. We each dealt with it in our own way.
Alex exhausted every pose and hand signal he could come up with. See below:
Cheyne is a hunter. He continually caught Remoras with his hands, and since he was not allowed to use his spear gun, he pulled his knife out and thrust it at every fish that came close enough. (no fish were harmed)
Cheyne did make friends with a big friendly eel and even tickled him under the chin. I even got a pat in myself and was surprised by how soft he was.
An 8ft lemon shark showing his toothy grin.
I was off chasing sharks.
In my initial excitement of seeing a shark larger than me with visible teeth, I just wanted to follow it around. After our first dive the photographers told me not to chase it. He said that if I stayed in one place, the shark would make a pass, then orbit around for another. If I was calm and didn’t blow too many bubbles, each pass would be made closer and closer. It was interesting to watch the sharks seemingly disappear and then return in a big circle, over and over.
After the initial fascination diminished slightly, we set to the task of getting “the shot”. The goal was to have the shark pass between the cameraman and I, which turned out to be tricky. We spent an entire dive trying to wrangle the shark into the right position and although we got pretty close, we never got the “money shot”.
At the conclusion of every dive, the dive masters would empty the tube of fish heads and bait that had been used to attract the live entertainment. Then the sharks would swarm in a feeding frenzy and actually look like sharks, rather than the harmless underwater pit bulls that had been orbiting previously, very friendly but only up to a point. By the time the action occurred however, most of us were low on air and watching from high above at a safety stop. Realizing this was “the shot”, the producers then asked the dive masters to release the bait earlier in the dive in order to capture the feeding action with “talent” (us) in the frame.
Eyeing a hungry reef shark. In the background you can see the dive master holding a chunk of tuna pre-bite while other sharks swarm and Alex and Cheyne hover safely, well above.
On our next dive when I saw the master heading for the tube of bait I followed him and positioned myself about an arm’s length away, although my arms were safely folded close to my chest. As the sharks darted in and out between us, I was in awe and ecstasy. One black tip circled around and charged me at eye level to the point that I thought it just might head-butt me right in the mask, but then turned away at the last possible second. The dive master was holding a big chunk of tuna in his bare hand and one overly zealous shark took an accidental little nibble of human skin along with his breakfast of fish. The dive master surfaced, calmly bleeding from the finger. It was only a tiny flesh wound, not even worthy of a stitch, but technically a shark bite nonetheless. Strange even to myself, I felt a tiny tinge of jealousy. I’m unsure of the type of pathology that would lead one to consider it cool to be bitten by a shark, but somehow I find myself diagnosed in that category. I realize that of the most likely ways to go based on this lifestyle; plane crash, drowning in big surf, or shark bite, I would prefer the latter. I feel that it would make me “one” with the shark, and however crazy it seems, that thought is strangely appealing. Alex and Cheyne both firmly disagree.
Diving is relaxing.
Next time…. underwater acrobatics with killer sting-rays!