It was my first time in South Africa and I was already in love. I was hitting all the major “spots” between Johannesburg and Cape Town. I had spent three amazing nights at Kruger National Park, mesmerised by elephants, zebra, giraffes and even lazy lions lounging at the roadside. I had drank my way through Stellenbosch’s picturesque vineyards and enjoyed the views from Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope. I was obsessed with all South Africa had to offer. All except for one thing — great white Shark cage-diving and that was exactly what my travel buddies wanted to do next.
Gansbaai in the Western Cape is known to be home to one of the largest communities of great whites in the world and cage-diving is apparently a “must”. Though I’m usually up for most things, there was one problem here – I didn’t know how to swim. I decided to sign up for the excursion anyway; the worst-case scenario was that I’d enjoy the sun and find comfort in my smugness, as everyone around me made reckless decisions.
Later that day, I was lounging in the sun, watching eager divers get fitted for their wetsuits. Unsurprisingly, one of the guides urges me to give it a go: “It’s paid-for already… it’ll be fun… don’t be a baby.” What he doesn’t realise is that I’m the youngest of five siblings and have a Catholic Nigerian mother – I’m immune to guilt trips or pettiness.
Another guide prods me: “Just do it.” “No, I’m scared – I can’t swim,” I reply. He laughs and tells me: “Knowing how to swim won’t save you. You just have to want to do it and do it.” I don’t know what mental gymnastics had just happened, but I suddenly thought of all the instances back home when I dealt with something out of my control, even though I wasn’t prepared. I decided I was going to do it, if only to gain some confidence in my choices and abilities.
I put on the wetsuit. Everything’s fine. I put on the goggles. Everything’s fine. I put on a lead belt. Everything is NOT fine. Cue the barrage of self-doubtL “You are not adventurous… you can’t even drive… you are scared of animals… and you CAN’T SWIM!” As a self-proclaimed drama queen, I obviously make a big deal about it. This compelled the entire boat to cheer me on – there was no turning back.
I climb into the 12 foot long cage and confess my sins to the Almighty as we submerge into the freezing water. Along with my two friends (a term that’s being used loosely at this point to be quite honest) and two other divers, I get in position staying afloat by gripping the cage bars. Above us, the guide continues chumming the water to attract the hungry, 1000 kg predators right to the cage where I am kicking around clumsily ready to become lunch.
“SHARK! GO DOWN, GO DOWN!” the guide yells, and down I go! Plunging myself under the icy water, I feel my heart stop. I’m overcome with simultaneous terror, anxiety, and awe, as two giant sharks whizz past the cage, lunging at bait and thrashing the surface mere metres away. Instinctively, I scream (still underwater by the way), allowing a wave of salty, chum-infused seawater into my mouth. Flailing like a dying octopus, I pull myself up for air and start laughing uncontrollably. Apparently, in the face of terrifying danger, I become a laughing maniac – go figure!
I caught my breath and after a chiding from the guide, I was ready for round two. This time, my panic was replaced with exhilaration and excitement, as I fearlessly submerged myself for another look of these powerful and magnificent creatures. The feeling was something I can’t adequately describe. Each time a shark appeared out of the deep blue, it was equally terrifying and amazing. I’ve never felt such abandon and strength at the same time. I’d always played it safe and I’m so happy that in that moment, I decided to just let go, because the experience was something I wouldn’t trade for the world. To this day, when something terrifies me, I just think, “If I can go great white shark cage-diving without knowing how to swim… what can’t I do?”
To experience it all yourself, contact these shark cage-diving tour companies:
Marine Dynamics Shark Tours
Visit the website or call +27(0)82 890 1485
Visit the website or call +27 (0)82 894 4979
Visit the website or call +27 (0)76 016 9696
Great White Shark Diving
Visit the website or call +27 (0)82 890 1485
Visit Taiwa Odusanya’s blog at www.madeinnigeria89.com.