With all due deference to surfing and snorkeling, if you haven’t
yet tried swimming with sharks you have a whole new world to
Nothing can compare to the feeling of being in the water with
these fascinating animals. It’s surreal and powerful,
frightening but fun, and something you will remember for the
rest of your life.
One Saturday in March, photographer Anna Bandling, another
communication major at HPU, and I went to Hale‘iwa Harbor,
on O‘ahu’s North Shore, to dive with sharks. The
Shark Encounters welcomed us aboard their 32-foot Radon Vessel
Kainani and gladly answered all our questions. There were two
instructors, one of them the captain, and nine other eager,
wanna-be shark divers aboard.
Before departure we received some basic safety information.
There were fire extinguishers on board, 20 life vests, and
one life raft. There was also a Coast Guard monitor, and we
were told what our location would be, just in case in an emergency
an instructor, for any reason, could not get to the radio.
The basic rules were: no hands or feet outside the cage. Sounds
reasonable even though the type of sharks we were about to
meet normally don’t eat humans, only other fishes.
The captain was Juan Oliphant, 30, from Mexico. He’s
been in this business for five years and has worked for Shark
Encounters for three. What he loves about the job is that it’s
never the same. People are different, and so are sharks, and
there is nothing monotonous about the job, Oliphant said.
This kind of job requires a great deal of knowledge about sharks
and ocean safety. When he has spare time, Oliphant swims with
the sharks outside of the cage, which he does not recommend
for beginners, even though he’s been in the business
for five years he has never witnessed a shark-related accident.
People have received minor injuries on the boat, cuts or bruises,
but never have there been shark attacks.
Asked if people ever back out and don’t want to go in
the water, he said: “That happens, but once we talk them
into trying, they often don’t want to come back up again.
And several times a day we hear that this is the best thing
they’ve ever done.”
Chris Simmons, 30, one of the brave divers, was here on vacation
from his real estate job in Utah. A few days ago he and his
wife went on a whale-watching trip and Simmons, who easily
gets seasick, felt a bit apprehensive. “I’m nervous
about the boat ride,” said Simmons just before departure. “I’m
not even thinking of the sharks right now.”
The boat ride was rough, but after 15 minutes, the cage was
waiting in the water. Simmons seemed relieved that the boat
ride was over, but then he started thinking about the sharks.
So nervous he almost forgot to put his snorkel on, Simmons
was among those first in the cage with five other excited divers.
As soon as he got into the water, all signs of tension and
fear disappeared, and he was smiling proudly.
While the first group descended, the rest of us got a quick
shark lesson. The sharks that circulated around the boat were
Galapagos sharks; they are normally 10 to 12 feet and the most
likely shark to be seen on these tours. We were lucky, because
we also got to see some sandbar sharks, 5-to 7-feet long.
The tiger sharks only come every third or fourth month, and
then all the other sharks disappear to avoid becoming shark
We went in the cage with the last group of divers. In the beginning
it was scary to be so close to the sharks, even though the
top of the cage was just above the surface and two of the sides
were covered with plexi glass. When the sharks stared into
our eyes, it felt very unreal, but after few minutes it all
Back on shore, Simmons still had a big smile on his face, and
he said he was glad his wife had talked him into shark diving.
I have always been a bit afraid of the water, but I think I’m
cured!,” Bandling said. As soon as she got up, she wanted
to do it again!
Two brave HPU students get ready to swim with sharks.
Cage courtesy Hawaii Shark Encounters
Beware of hungry sharks!
Courtesy Monica Karlstein
Would you get in the water with these animals?
Courtesy Hawaii Shark Encounters hawaiisharkencounters.com