If you’ve read any of my other stories of Hawaii, you’ll know that water and I are not the best of friends. And yet I continue to find myself riding boats that speed me out to the depths of the ocean for snorkeling. Chalk it up to peer pressure. Or my forgetfulness!
Our family vacation had brought us to the Big Island of Hawaii — a land of epic beaches, volcanic rock wasteland, and lush coffee plantations. Our entourage of twelve stuffed ourselves daily into a pair of minivans that sped us to beaches and good eats all over the island. New tastes and new places offered something to look forward to each day. And even if we hadn’t been in Hawaii, hauling that many people around would have been adventure in itself.
During a rare afternoon lull at the condo my wife and my sisters planned our next adventure. I overheard something about a snorkeling tour. The name “Manta Rays” also worked its way into the conversation. One of my sisters-in-law asked if there would be sharks. A bit spooked, she read statistics to the rest of us about Tiger Shark attacks, and reports of shark sightings around Hawaii. Others poked fun at her alarm, and I laughed a nervous laugh of my own. Though I didn’t have all the details, it was obvious that something exciting and nerve-wracking was in the works. And if everyone else was game, I knew I’d be coming along as well.
Fast forward a few nights to find a handful of us stepping aboard a small pontoon boat for a nighttime snorkel tour with manta rays. At first, I was just relieved to be “traveling light” (code for my three kids being back at the condo with grandma and grandpa). But before long my stomach was twisted into knots by my water anxieties. The Kalua Pig burrito I stuffed down my throat a few minutes earlier probably wasn’t helping either. The promise of Manta Rays excited me enough to stuff my fear (and dinner) down deep inside. I grabbed my camera to distract myself with some sunset photography as we bobbed up and down over the rising tide.
Our boat dropped anchor in a rocky bay just as the sun was retiring for the day. As we arrived, other divers who had been making the most of daylight were finishing one last dive. I watched these divers finally come aboard their boats to dry off and head home. One boat was just close enough that I could make out the silhouettes of the crew peeling off their wet suits and preparing their tiny craft to make the trip back home. I snapped this sunset photo of their ship in faint light. For the second time this trip, I was calmed by a beautiful sight just minutes before leaving my boat.
I slipped on my own wet suit while the other boat motored away, as if I and my fellow passengers were some sort of night shift offering relief to those other divers. I squeezed into that neoprene shell and took a deep breath. And another. And Another.
I dropped into the darkened water and clutched the edge of a raft that shone a bright light down into the water to attract the sea-beasties. In the hour to follow, I would make friends with a few thousand fish, a few million plankton, no tiger sharks, and a handful of elegant Manta Rays. The latter looped just inches away from my face. My fear of water gave way to awe as I got acquainted with the sort of water residents you don’t see ’round my parts. Truly incredible.
I’d have missed so much that night had I let my fears and nerves get the best of me. Here’s to the sort of peer pressure that pulls you through your fears.
What are some of the fears that others have helped you to face? Give us the scoop in the comments below!