Posted by: Josey | October 6, 2008

Night Scuba Diving with Manta Rays in Kona, Big Island, Hawaii

“What scares you?”

“What scares me?”

“Right. What’s your biggest fear?”

We’d known each other for about 20 minutes, so it caught me off guard. But, what the hell, I’ve never been a huge fan of small talk either.

“Well, for starters, I don’t like swimming in water where I can’t see what’s swimming with me. I don’t care if I’m swimming with sharks… just as long as I can see them.”

“Oh my gosh, me too! You couldn’t pay me to Scuba dive at night.”

“You know, I actually did that once. It was a bit of a Fear Factor experience, no question about it. As much as I’d like to tell you that ‘it wasn’t that bad,’ it was terrifying. The dive master said the moon would light the water, but I could only see what was illuminated by the beam from my flashlight. I just kept darting it around to cover as much ground as possible.”

“That sounds,,, awful.”

“I think it would have been. But it was part of the popular ‘swim with manta rays’ experience in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is really very cool. It feels incredibly ‘sci-fi.'”

“‘Sci-fi’ how?”

“Well, several dive boats all meet at one spot because the more divers, the more flashlights, the more plankton, the better the odds of seeing manta rays. One of the dive masters puts a milk carton full of high-powered flashlights on the ocean floor, and then all the divers circle up around the milk carton on their knees and point their flashlights up towards the surface. The light attracts the plankton and the manta rays come to feed on the plankton. Given that they’re enormous—10, 12-feet in wingspan—their agility is mind-boggling: They swoop down, turn somersaults, change directions on a dime. They’re unbelievably graceful. …Although, their depth perception might be a little bit off: One actually swam right into the back of Jeff’s head.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, it was really quite amazing. It swam into his head and bumped his mask and then, since you obviously can’t talk underwater, Jeff started feverishly pointing at his head to try to tell me what had happened. I’m actually not sure it’s safe to laugh as hard as I did underwater through a Scuba regulator. And the best part? Another diver from our boat caught the incident on his underwater camera.”

The manta ray hits Jeff at around the 47-second mark:

“That’s crazy! …But you still couldn’t pay me to do it.”

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