While I was in South Africa last month, I wanted to tick as many items off my bucket list as I could. Having already bungee jumped off a bridge earlier on during my trip, I decided to try my hand at shark cage diving. I have always been a big fan of being in the water and besides the water, and my obsession with documentaries means that I have seen quite a few sharks. Only ever through the TV screen, though.I am not the strongest swimmer by any stretch of the imagination, but I figured I’d be just fine inside a steel cage.
I opted to go with the White Shark Diving Company, and trust them with my life, thankfully it paid off. I had arranged to be picked up from my hostel in the morning for the drive to the drop off point which is situated off the coast from Gaansbai. I’m glad that I chose the WSDC as the van we took also offered wifi, which is incredibly important when travelling and wanting to show off snaps.
On our way to Gaansbai, we stopped off at Hermanus which is a famous location in South Africa for whale watching. The group I was with waited for a few minutes before we saw the movements of a female whale and her small calf. Unfortunately, the did not jump out of the water to greet us, but it was still such a phenomenal sight.
Hopping back into the van we headed towards the sharks. We were provided breakfast and they had shower rooms where you could get changed. In all my excitement, I completely forgot to put my swimming suit on underneath my clothes beforehand. We went through the safety instructions which mainly consisted of: DO NOT PUT ANY PART OF YOUR BODY OUTSIDE THE CAGE! Which is pretty solid advice.
The gentleman that we were due to go with was very helpful offered any assistance should I require any during the dive. Getting onto the boat was not too difficult as there were not that many steps to get through. We cruised for about 20 minutes to the drop off point and I was part of the first group of divers. My excitement was short lived as I had to struggle with the wetsuit I had been given. As the water is unbelievably cold, the suits have to be very, very tight. So tight in fact that it makes getting them on an absolute nightmare, and once you do get it on, you have to take very deep breaths as your entire body is basically held in a chokehold of protection.
With my wetsuit and little booties on, I was excited to get into the water and come face to face with an apex predator. While I knew the water would be cold, I didn’t expect it to be that cold. The freezing water combined with the tight wetsuit meant that I had a tough time breathing. I held out for as long as I could, but I could feel my chest tightening and asked to be brought back up.
At this point, they had thrown in the chum [fish bait] into the water but no sharks had surfaced as of yet. By the time I was sitting on the edge of the cage and the boat, a shark had appeared and it was beyond bananas. The divers still in the cage had ducked their heads down and tried to see the shark from below, but I had a magnificent view of the beast from above.
S/he made off with the chum and went back out to a different part of the water. The divers came back up for air and commented that they couldn’t really see anything as the water was rather murky. While sat above them, I decided to pluck up my courage and go back down. I didn’t pay all that money and drive all that way to not get in on the action. As I was lowered into the water, I found my second wind and got used to breathing in the suit and the chill of the water.
We were floating around for a while before we saw anything, so I struck up a conversation with the lady besides me, a New Yorker. As we were chatting along I could feel my left leg…wandering. Due to the movement of the water and the fact that I have very little muscle in my left leg, it kept inching towards the young lady. I began to apologise profusely and assure her that this was not some weird seduction technique. She laughed it off and we went back to commenting about the coldness of the water.
Then my leg began to wander about again, unfortunately this time, it was going outside of the cage. I started to panic and quickly pulled it back in. This happened just in time as we were instructed to dive back into the water. I had taken my phone with me in a waterproof pouch, but was unable to use it. Instead I focused on seeing exactly what was in front of me. A large great white swam by close to the cage, I saw its entire body from the nose to the tail. The surrealist thing ever, being so close to something that could easily have eaten me and had room for seconds.
On our dive, this would be the last time that we saw sharks coming up that close. The second group dived in while we got changed and had some small snacks. I went onto a higher part of the boat and dried off while watching more sharks come towards the cage. While the feeling of being in the water with the sharks cannot be replicated, you get much better views of the sharks from the boat.
So if you don’t feel like getting in the water, you can still get plenty of sightings from the boat itself.I would love to go shark cage diving again and see more sharks all around, but next time I will make sure to hold onto my leg, lest it wander into the mouth of an apex predator when I least suspect it.
Have any of you been shark cage diving? How was your experience? Did your leg randomly start touching people?