I love snorkeling, but I have an almost-debilitating oxymoronic confession: I am absolutely terrified of sharks. I will *never* watch Jaws, I refrain from being around any type of television and social media during Shark Week, and I firmly maintain that diving with Great Whites while in one of those metal cages is like dangling a pig’s ear in front of a starving dog: you gon’ get bit.
I’m also not the type of person who allows fear to dictate what I will or won’t do, but rather faces that fear and grows from it. And it adds to the beauty of the moments, imprinting a stronger memory in my mind.
Plus, it’s thrilling to do something that terrifies you. I’m not saying that I’ll be jumping into the ocean to purposefully swim with sharks anytime soon, but I’ll jump into the ocean to go snorkeling with the possibility of sharks being in the area.
For the last 2 summers, I’ve been able to attend destination weddings in both St. Thomas and Hawaii. Extending both trips to include snorkeling adventures was a no-brainer, and gave me the awesome opportunity to experience snorkeling in different oceans, with different companies and different marine life.
While I still consider myself a novice traveler and am working on finding my voice, I thought it might be fun to compare my last 2 snorkeling experiences: what I liked, what I experienced, and what I now look for when planning my next snorkeling adventures.
Hawaii – Molokini Crater
My friend Nikki and I booked our snorkeling excursion last-minute while in Maui. When I say last-minute, I mean like, the day before, and I don’t even remember the company name. Isn’t that horrible? I’d love to remember it because they were awesome. The tour lasted for half a day and included breakfast and lunch on the water!
We started our snorkeling adventure by taking a boat tour of the lava cliffs on the southernmost end of Maui. To get out there, we had to go on open water; which meant choppy waves, gusty wind, and hanging on for dear life as our catamaran launched over the white caps.
If you’re prone to seasickness, this probably isn’t the tour for you, although you have ample space to hurl into the ocean!
By the time we reached the Molokini Crater, it was early in the afternoon and most of the major snorkeling tour companies and yachts had left for different dive locations. Yay for us!
The first time we got into the water, I was absolutely petrified and almost didn’t go in. There had been a shark sighting not far from where we were just a few days prior, and, as I mentioned before, sharks are like my kryptonite.
Can I just say that I’m so happy I sucked it up and dove in? Sometimes we need to give ourselves little pep talks and remember that most of the time, we’re the only things standing in the way of a fantastical adventure.
There’s a reason that Molokini Crater is always listed on the top 10(ish) lists for dive sites in the world. The water was so clear and the current was gentle. So beautiful.
The crater is a protected area and people aren’t allowed to step foot on the crater, nor touch anything in the reef, which helps keep the reefs alive and well.
We were able to dive twice within the crater and then again on the outside of it.
Outside of the crescent form of Molokini is a huge drop-off, which our guide estimated to be about 200 feet deep. If you swim a few feet away from the crater, it’s just you and the big ol’ blue. I may or may not have been singing that song that Mr. Ray sings in Finding Nemo. You know, the one where they’re naming everything in the sea while heading to the drop-off? Yeah.
I had also confided in the skipper my aversion to sharks and expressed my hesitation for diving into the open water. He listened patiently and explained that not only would I be able to see a shark coming much easier by the drop-off, but I would never forgive myself if I didn’t snorkel around for a few minutes.
Again, positive peer-pressure won out and I slid into the water with everyone else. Heart pounding harder that I’ve ever felt it, eyes desperately searching for signs of a Great White, while trying to take pictures and pretend that I was having a blast.
All in all, I was grateful that I didn’t stay in the boat and I managed to get some awesome shots, all while glorying in the fact that I survived!
St. Thomas, USVI – Turtle Bay
Having narrowly escaped my previous snorkeling adventure without getting my arm bitten off by a Great White, I was eager to try snorkeling on another island. My friend Alison and I were eager to get back into the water, and were so excited to find that snorkeling with sea turtles.
Cue the Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean quotes.
As with most Caribbean charter companies, ours had the most laid-back feel I’d experienced. Drinks flowed like water (Coke for me!), the translucent blue water promised epic viewing capabilities, and the crew was chill like ice.
When we arrived at our diving site, we dropped anchor a little ways away from the other boats. Apparently we were at a hot site and had to share.
We had to wear life jackets, which really put me out. Even if we were able to swim, we had to wear them.
“You can let out all of the air if you want, just leave them on,” was the cry from our crew. Really? Can I really? You’re too kind.
So, with our deadened life jackets dragging us down, we followed one of our crew members as she pointed out the sea turtles, fish, and rays.
I was sad that my camera stopped working about 3 shots into the dive, but it probably was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of worrying about what shots to get, I was able to focus on how closely the sea turtles swam up to us.
We followed our crew member around and watched her expertly dive to the ocean floor to pick up a huge shell…with an even larger slug in it! She passed it around for us to see how heavy it was, and I was surprised that most people opted to just look at it.
After she took it back down to the ocean, we had a few minutes to swim around and spot more turtles.
As Alison and I started to make our way back to the boat, something caught my eye and I almost aspirated through my snorkel. Alison and I surfaced at the same time.
“Was that a…?” I asked, barely able to speak.
I might not look it, but I’m fast when I need to be. I literally flew across the top of the water to get back into the boat, barely aware of anything…other than the SHARK THAT HAD FOUND IT’S WAY TO OUR GROUP!
Apparently, as the crew told us after we were all in the boat, this was a hot site for seeing sharks, and a few of them lived close by.
SO GLAD they waited until after the dive to tell us.
Heart still pounding in my throat, I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot, reveling in the fact that I had just survived a shark encounter.
Sharks aside, the diving in both Molokini and St. Thomas are simply amazing. Being underwater is to enter another world, one that most people never have the opportunity to experience. The deafening silence, the sun rays bending with the waves, the colors and patterns of the sea life are like musical instruments in a melodious symphony: adequate words are hard to come by to describe the experiences.
If given the opportunity to choose, as I have just given myself, I would love to snorkel the Molokini Crater again with the same company (why can’t I remember??). I’ll have to ask Nikki.
It all comes down to personal preference. I absolutely detested the fact that I was forced to wear a life jacket in St. Thomas. Of course, if you’re not a confident swimmer, wear the life jacket. You can get tired treading water if you’re not accustomed to it.
I will never turn down an opportunity to snorkel, no matter where I am: Hawaii, the Caribbean, a pool in someone’s backyard…but between my last 2 experiences: Hawaii, hands down.