THERE IS NO fear like fearing for your life. And in the lead-up to jumping in the water with great whites that couldn’t fit floor to ceiling in most living rooms, you have a lot of time to ponder that fear.
There’s the two-hour drive from Cape Town to Gansbaai, the shark-diving capital of the world on the western tip of South Africa; the couple of hours of chumming and baiting the water; the frantic few minutes it takes to squeeze into a wetsuit before jumping in the ocean to come nose to jaws with nature’s most feared killing machine. But this horror story has nothing to do with being in the water—it’s all about being on it.
We were blessed with a beautiful, sunny day out on the rolling Atlantic Ocean. Our boat, holding about 30 thrill-seekers, moved from spot to spot, dumping fish guts into the water and tossing fake seals onto its surface to entice the sharks up from the deep.
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On the second deck, we chatted and sunbathed, comparing photos of wineries and vistas taken during our vacation. Unbeknownst to us, people down below were in the fight of their lives—with their stomachs. Our boat had become a floating MASH unit.
The writhing, crying and excessive expulsion of food and bile shocked me. Soon, people who had been lying on benches below began making their way to our upper-deck oasis, where, they were told, they stood a better chance because they could focus on the horizon. What a load of chum.
Before long, we were inundated with people who took residence in the sun to retch the afternoon away. Grown men and women, moaning and mooning like they’d been shot in the gut and left to die. It got so bad that when a rescue boat approached—for the second and last time, the captain warned—I, who hadn’t felt at all green around the gills, considered making my own getaway.
But thankfully I stuck it out long enough to know there’s nothing more thrilling than bobbing in the water waiting for a spotter to yell, “Get down!” and having a 13-foot great white swim right at you and explode out of the water to attack a seal—yes, even a fake one. And at the end of the afternoon, I went home with one of the greatest stories of my life: The day I looked death in the face and triumphed—and the day I did my best not to look at those who looked like death.
This story originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Sportsnet magazine.