Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shark Dive Xtreme

I decided that since I had gathered enough courage to GO to Australia, I should do something brave and crazy while actually there. I signed up for the Harbor Bridge climb (despite my fear of heights) and for the shark dive at Oceanworld in Manly.

I wanted adventure. I wanted some fun. I wanted something to brag about when I got home.

I love sharks and don't have a huge fear of them. Okay, of course if I'm swimming along in the ocean and a Great White appeared, I would not happily smile and take a photograph. I'd probably scream, cry, and then become lunch. But I figured the sharks at the aquarium would be relatively harmless. I did some research and confirmed my suspicions. I'd be mingling with Grey Nurse Sharks, Giant Stingrays, Wobbegong Sharks, and fish thingies. None of them dangerous.

What I was nervous about was not the sea-life I'd encounter, but the scuba diving bit. I had never been scuba diving. I didn't know if I'd do well with the breathing. I also didn't look forward to the wetsuit. I hate uncomfortable clothing; and a wetsuit looked like it could beat out any uncomfortable clothes I had ever worn.

I left our hotel early Monday morning and headed to Manly.

My first surprise was the group I would be diving with. I think I imagined a large group of tourists. Well, not huge. Maybe five our six of us? I don't know. It turned out to be two guys and me. They were both from Sydney. I was the only female. I was the only tourist. Well, actually there was a female there....a girlfriend. But she was just going to observe.

I think in most cases, I'd love to have two handsome Australian guys all to myself (plus the shark dive instructor-man). This was not one of those times. I guess because I was nervous. It would have been nice to have a girl with me.....well, especially when it came to the point of putting on the wetsuit.

The guys all got theirs on immediately. They were dressed and ready to go. I struggled and struggled. The three guys were so sweet and supportive, but I was too mortified to enjoy or truly appreciate it. And then I had to actually go out and have the shark dive instructor help me zip up my suit. I don't know how much of my ass he saw. I have blocked that out of my memory. I'm thinking....HOPING that we wore a swimming suit under the wetsuit.

My other most embarrassing moment of the day was when I asked what turned out to be an inappropriate question. They mentioned the fact that the animals might approach us and interact with us. They might come near us, but we shouldn't worry. And I asked Are we allowed to touch the animals?

The shark dive instructor gave me this worried look and said No. And I got a lecture. I mean all I meant was that if the animal comes and swims very close, can we reach out to touch them? The way the instructor looked at me--it's as if he thought I was going to chase down the poor animals and molest them.

Okay, finally it was time for the actual shark dive. We went into this starter-pool thing that leads into the shark aquarium. As we got our masks on and practiced breathing, this giant sting ray came over and brushed against us. It was such an amazing exciting experience. The best way I can describe it is when you're pregnant and the baby kicks or does a flip inside of you. It's that kind of amazing feeling--to have this giant creature touch you. I got the gist of the game by then. They can touch you. You can't touch them.

All was okay (besides me still feeling mortified and a complete loser) until it was time to go underwater. We were supposed to give the okay sign if all felt wonderful. And the three guys looked happy and wonderful. I felt like I was drowning. I wanted to be brave and strong like them, but felt I should be honest. I gave the sign for "Not quite okay." They had me come up and asked me what was wrong. I told them I felt like I couldn't breath. They assured me I was fine and I could breath. They encouraged me. We were all smiles.

We went in with the sharks.

Lots of exciting animal encounters.

I wish I could have enjoyed it.

But I never quite caught on with the breathing thing. Obviously I was breathing because I lasted thirty minutes down there and I'm still alive today. I'll just say it wasn't comfortable breathing. I felt horrible. I wanted to enjoy it all, but mostly I was just wishing it would all end so I could breath normal air.

There was one really cute thing that happened. A big orange Wobbegong shark plopped down right in front of us and stayed there for quite awhile. It was like when a cat plops down on the book you're reading and waits for you to pet him. Too bad we were not allowed to pet Mr. Wobeogong. That would have probably kept my mind off the whole suffocation thing.

The whole thing finally ended and I was so thankful to breath regular air again. Only one more problem. I had forgotten to bring the required towel and had to put on clothes while still soaking wet. One more chance for me to prove to Australians, how dumb American tourists can be.

Later, I started to realize that I'm probably a nose-breather and breathing through my mouth was very hard for me.

I vowed that day to never scuba dive again, but since then I've had second thoughts. Maybe I can practice breathing through my nose--do snorkeling and all that. I would love to be with sharks again and actually breath well enough to enjoy it.

We'll see......., marine life, sharks