There is no shortage of things to do in Oahu that get you into nature, close to wildlife, and immersed in all of the island’s beauty. There’s snorkeling, hikes for all experience levels, and surfing, just to name a few.
Those looking for a thrill can try skydiving, or if you’d rather get an adrenaline rush in the water, go swimming with sharks — without a cage.
Sounds insane, I know. Who would jump into the open ocean to be surrounded by sharks on purpose?
*Raises hand slowly*
I first heard about snorkeling with sharks from a coworker who posted a beautiful photo of her family in the water just a few feet away from a shark — no cage, no barrier. The photo was both stunning and terrifying and I immediately added “swimming with sharks” to my ever-growing bucket list.
Fast forward to just over a year later and there I was, flippered-feet hanging over the edge of a tiny boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean off of the North Shore of Oahu.
There are a few different pelagic diving tours that operate from the Haleiwa Harbor, but I chose to go with Island View Hawaii after hearing about my coworker’s experience and religiously following the company on Instagram.
Arriving at Island View
I scheduled the tour for 8:00 AM on a Tuesday during my second week in Oahu. Unfortunately, that week was smack in the middle of Hawaii’s rainy season which meant the tour got rescheduled due to rain, wind, and high seas twice before I finally got the chance to go.
The weather broke for a bit the following Saturday. It was still raining when I woke up and even while first arriving at the boat, but the tour went on.
I sat on the small boat with four other people who were also crazy enough to willingly jump into shark-infested waters, getting briefed on what to expect and more importantly, what not to expect in the water — namely, being attacked by sharks.
Most of us are afraid of sharks on some level. We hear of surfers and swimmers being attacked on occasion and, of course, we’ve all seen Jaws.
However the Island View crew assured us that the sharks don’t want to attack us. In fact, according to National Geographic, “you’re more likely to be crushed to death under a falling vending machine in your office, or a cow that collapses on you in a field than you are to die in the jaws of a shark.”
I’m going to go ahead and guess that assumes you’re not jumping directly into a known shark feeding area, but I digress.
Their team let us know we were most likely to swim alongside Galapagos sharks, which can get up to about 12 feet long and are known to be curious creatures. They mentioned the possibility of coming across Hammerhead sharks as well, and it’s worth mentioning that the biggest Great White ever recorded had recently been seen in the waters around Oahu.
After the safety and information briefing, we set off for the reef frequented by the Galapagos sharks.
The Boat Ride
I’m going to be honest with you and say the boat trip out to the dive spot was far more terrifying than actually encountering the sharks in the water.
The rain continued all throughout our safety briefing, so the small platform we sat on was soaking wet, as were our legs. Which meant as we made our way out of the harbor and into the rather large waves without much of anything to hold onto, I was sliding all over the place and more than once was convinced I was going to fly right off the back of the boat.
After a few minutes I asked for a towel to sit on in hopes that I’d be able to stay aboard, which helped.
By the time we got to the dive spot, the waves had calmed down somewhat — though there was definitely still quite a bit of chop.
Swimming with Sharks
Once we were anchored and the Island View team checked out the visibility underwater — and we even saw a breaching whale nearby — we quickly took turns jumping into the water from the side of the boat.
I went skydiving a few years back and vividly remember not being the least bit scared until I physically had my legs over the edge of the plane. I imagined this situation would feel similar. However, I was so shaken up by the boat journey that I didn’t even have time to register nervousness — I simply jumped right in.
Once in the water, I tried to get myself accustomed to the snorkel before being brave enough to dunk my face in the water as I wasn’t quite sure what to expect once I did.
When I finally took a look, there they were — a few Galapagos sharks simply swimming around doing Galapagos shark things. They didn’t seem to mind at all that we were in their space, many times coming within just a couple of feet of us.
I’m not sure exactly how many sharks we encountered — it could’ve been a few circling us, or a new shark each time. There were a couple of times I’d be focused on one shark only to look to my side to see another one right next to me!
As far as what to bring aboard the tour, I boarded the boat with my backpack, a water bottle, a towel, and wearing a rain jacket and romper over my bathing suit.
Yeah, it was far too much.
They let us store stuff in the bow of the boat, but we didn’t touch any of it. If I ever get the chance to go back, I’d likely go with nothing but the bathing suit on my back and a towel.
While they did have floats for those who may not be comfortable in the water, I’d suggest being adept at swimming and/or snorkeling. I’m a strong swimmer, but admittedly not the greatest snorkeler, and there were a couple of times that I inhaled a ton of water and would’ve panicked if I wasn’t comfortable treading water.
We spent about 30 minutes total in the water, which was honestly long enough. By the time we got back into the boat everyone was covered in goosebumps and shivering!
Luckily, the rain ceased the entire time we were in the water, however it was still very cloudy so visibility wasn’t the greatest. I would love to go back on a sunny day as I imagine it would be a totally different experience.
The Island View team (which included the captain, photographer, and dive instructor) was young, but very friendly and knowledgeable and made it a fun experience.
It’s worth noting that the photos were taken on an iPhone 6 in waterproof casing, so if you’re doing this for the gram instead of the experience, you might want to think twice. I now have a pipe dream of buying some fancy underwater housing for my DSLR and turning pelagic tour photography into a nice side hustle.