“What are we doing?” “I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise. I just need your shoe size.” That’s all I knew. While Phillip planning some total surprise for me—just on any given day, and especially when we travel—is totally normal, this was one of the first times I was overwhelmingly intrigued by it. Riddled with the thought of it. Excited by the unknown prospect of it. One of the many (many) things that make Phillip and I work so well is that he loves to plan: trips, excursions, first-time experiences and random, active adventures for us. And me? I love to do it, all of it, every bit of it. Seriously, pretty much any outdoor/active/artsy thing he has in mind for us. Phillip has surprised me with spur-of-the-moment bike tours, walking haunted house excursions, random rock-climbing, pub crawls, even a super intense personal trainer session for me and I loved them all.
That last one, in particular, was a ton of fun. The Sweat Social out of New Orleans. Phillip told me we were going for an “adventure run” off of Bourbon Street. “Okay, cool,” I thought. I love to run. Well … jog … semi-fastly. Let’s put it that way. But as we jogged along the bank of the Mississippi River near Hannah’s Casino in downtown New Orleans, I ran by a spunky little gal thumping out some awesome booty music, setting up a few yoga mats for a private river-view fitness session and I thought: “Man, that would be cool. A private pump-it-up session on the streets of New Orleans.” I tapped Phillip who was running ahead of me and pointed out Street-Fit Frida to him with a thumbs up. He laughed, smiled, but kept running and I left Frida in my rearview, thinking nothing more of it. But then Phillip circled around, jogged slowly up to the little circle of yoga mats and said “Surprise!” I soon found the little private Sweat Social workout session on the Mississippi River was for me. Me?? You see? Totally cool shit like that! Phillip plans it all the time. He loves to do it and he loves that I will always love to do whatever he plans—no questions asked, with no idea what my day is going to look like. I just need to know what to wear and if I’m going to get wet. That last question I forgot to ask this time because, although I didn’t know it, I was about to get very, very wet.
My first thought when Phillip asked for my shoe size, though? A play date in moon shoes!
Or maybe those funky impact-reducing kangaroo boots? I even thought maybe we were going to some place where you can walk on the walls or ceiling with special Velcro or magnetic boots and gloves.
I would totally do that. …. Well, with a safety net. I’m not crazy! Well, not entirely.
These are serious thoughts that ran through my mind because these are the types of things Phillip might seriously plan for me. Super cool, right? What had he actually planned this time?
A dive. No, take that back. The best dive of our lives. To date.
And Phillip has been diving for more than twenty years: for pleasure, in the Marines, as a volunteer search and rescue diver. He’s gone on hundreds of dives. I’ve gone on, maybe a dozen. The best with him, though. Hands down. And now the best, ever, for both of us, together. And it wasn’t out in the Gulf or the Ocean or even a magnificent, secluded cave. It was in a tank. In Tampa, Florida. What made it so special?
We swam with these guys!
Yes, sharks. Right next to us. We weren’t in a cage. We weren’t in some protected tank just looking at them. We were there. Exposed, in open water, with only a half-inch of neoprene between us and their thousands upon thousands of sharp teeth. At first it didn’t frighten me because they swam pretty far away but as we got closer and closer, there were a few times I found myself inadvertently in their path as they swam straight toward my face, deciding how best to avoid me, and I did have a few “Don’t freak out Annie, just breathe” moments when the shark locked his eyes on me for a frightening second before he just puttered on by. It was such an enlightening, frightening, invigorating experience. Way better than moon shoes I’m sure! You want one of those moments too? Well, we’re all suited up …
Whose ready to dive with us? Some very cool footage for you here from our dive with the sharks, many thanks to the fantastic Dive Masters at the Florida Aquarium who trained us, took us down and graciously filmed the entire dive for us so Phillip and I could share moments like this with you.
Our most important take-away from this dive? The education and enlightenment as to the true nature of sharks, their docile temperament, the need for them in our oceans and the unfortunate, very human-like tragedy of the greedy, plunder with which we trap, maim and needlessly kill them. Our highly enthusiastic and passionate aquarium guide and dive masters spent a good bit of time talking with us before-hand about the nature of the sharks, their absolute disinterest in us, particularly as food, and their desire to simply be left alone, to rest, eat and explore. They also taught us sharks in the wild generally only eat about five times a month and, when they do, unlike the many degrading movies that portray them as human killers, it is not humans. The occasional reported bite is more often a case of mistaken identity or harassment.
Humans harassing animals? Noooo!
Don’t you wish that were true? A shark’s number one enemy is actually humans. Particularly in China and other Asian countries, where they catch sharks by the hundreds upon hundreds, pull them out of the water for mere seconds to cut their fins off and toss them back—bloody and maimed—where they die in minutes. Simply because they like shark fin soup. Knowing that, before Phillip and I went into the tank, changed my perspective entirely. I didn’t feel as scared as I thought I would. Rather, I felt sorrow and appreciation for an ancient animal that was put on this earth to help keep it healthy. What I did not know, but our guide explained to us, is that sharks help keep the oceans and reefs healthy by eating diseased and dying fish. They help filter the waters of diseases and decay harmful to other fish and marine life. Yet, there are so fewer sharks in our waters than there used to be because of us. Greedy humans. It was humbling.
The dive, itself, however, was mesmerizing. It was a tank of wonder! We saw huge sting rays, bright green eels, hundreds of fish, a sea turtle, a nurse shark and, of course, the big beauties we swam with: three tiger sharks, a female approximately 7’5” feet long and two males between 5-6” feet long. They were slick and silvery, their skin, naturally the color of shimmery low-rider paint, and their thousands of teeth (constantly bared at you because they are always “breathing” water in) scattered in an impressive array in their large mouths. Because their eyes are located on either side of their skull, they also see two separate fields of vision. Imagine what that “looks like” and computes to in their brain? One large panoramic image joining at the bridge of their nose? I have no idea, but I had a great time imagining what they were seeing. Especially when they saw me. A wide, blue-eyed blonde, my hair wafting strangely around my head, these odd appendages sticking out and flailing, and bubbles constantly floating above me. How strange I must have looked? Certainly more weird than edible, right? That’s definitely the impression the sharks gave us as they swam overhead, many times just inches from our heads. Oh, how my heart pounded! It was such an amazing experience. Easily our best dive ever. And, all because this man decided, yet again, to plan something fun for us.
It only required some spontaneity on my part. And my
shoe flipper size. Had Phillip said that, I might have had a clue. But I’d rather not. Surprises are my favorite.