I was upside down and underwater at the time, completely ignoring the cameraman trying in vain to get me to move a little slower, when I finally completely shut out the cameras and lost myself in the moment. With each quick delicious gulp of oxygen allowing me another dizzying dive a few feet beneath the surface to dance a rhythmic tantric twirl with a trio of sting rays I took a brief pause to thank that mysterious life force to which most people attribute to “god” for my good fortune to be fit and healthy and interacting with such unusual friends.
It had been a wild ride thus far. Two weeks as a professional contest spectator, one week tackling the waves myself, a handful of frenzied shark dives, and now, free of microphone, surfboard, tank and regulator, let loose in the warm clear water to play.
And oh what unexpectedly eager playmates!
Sure, they are technically no less life-threatening than the sharks. These are the same type of rays that killed the Crocodile Hunter and their powerful barb can be seen extending about six inches from their bodies, sitting flush to the tail. But they are docile and used to being hand fed by snorkelers. They were curious and completely friendly. The tail itself is rough and scratchy but their bodies are smooth and soft to the touch, and when they swim across you it almost tickles. Maybe i’m crazy, but I wasn’t even slightly worried about being stung.
Alex, however, was significantly less trusting. The moment he jumped overboard, a pair of large rays rushed him, looking for food. Thoughts of the strange end of the seemingly invincible Crocodile Hunter caused him to break into a protective karate stance to fend off what seemed like aggressive underwater monsters. Fortunately, neither Alex nor the rays were injured in the altercation.
I was given a handful of raw fish to hand feed the rays. They would cruise along slowly until catching a whiff of the treat and then veer abruptly back towards the scent.
The rays don’t have sharp teeth, but they do have a hard abrasive mouth that accidentally caught my fingers a few times, only once slightly breaking the skin.
This guy was nice enough to actually give me a ride, pulling me along at surprising speed.
I could insert a paragraph here about the feelings associated with the experience, the pure joy and exuberance felt after interacting with those amazing creatures, I could keep on describing in minute detail exactly what it was like, or I could just let my eyes in the above photo tell the story…
All photos by Justin Lewis