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Surviving Shark Diving in South Australia

Picture it: azure waters, cloudless sky, the sun blazing above... and handfuls of Great White sharks circling your boat, which is rocking so heartily that you fear you may become part of the chum they're feeding on. This was how my South Australian shark diving adventure began... but it almost finished before it could start.

I'd been in South Oz for almost a week. I was lucky enough to fly first class from L.A. to Melbourne on New Zealand Air, then I took a puddle jumper to Adelaide. A word about first class with NZA: bliss. I love it. I wish I could fly that way all the time. I actually jumped up and down when I realized that not only was I on the upper deck of the plane for the first time ever in my whole life, but that I had my own pod with a lay flat bed and all that other good stuff. The family across from me looked at me with disgust, obviously cluing in on the fact that I wasn't an F.C. regular. I cared not. Instead I gleefully kicked off my Nikes and pulled on my cozy plane socks. Ahhh, luxury.

Anyway. My first few days were filled with touring and food. I wandered the food fest by the Adelaide river, walked through the botanical gardens and Adelaide zoo, went to the art gallery and museum to see the history of Aborigine people, spent my Wednesday morning making honey and my Wednesday afternoon making chocolate. Let's just say my inner child was very satisfied. And then I hopped on another puddle jumper to Port Lincoln, where I checked into my apartment for the night (which was more like a three-bedroom condo right on the marina.)

I awoke the next morning at the crack of dawn to the sound of the wind howling outside. I went to one of my gal pal's apartments and said in my best Serious Documentarian Voice, "The howling wind hinted at foreboding signs. Little did the American journalists know that they were about to meet an untimely death." We had a good chuckle, then ran out to meet the boat.

If there's one thing you should know about me it's that I love being on boats. Something about them relaxes me to such a degree that I can barely keep my eyes open the second I set foot on one. A family friend actually named his speedboat The Sleeper because of me. So when I heard it was going to take two and a half hours to make it out to the shark site, I found some good zen music on my iPod and found a corner inside to curl up and catch some extra zzzz's.

You know what they say about best laid plans, right?

That howling wind? The further we got from shore, the worse it was. And the worse it was, the choppier the seas were. And it wasn't just rocky waves - it was Perfect Storm waves. The boat would swing from one side to the next so violently that I swore it was going to capsize, right there out in shark infested waters. It was so bad that for the first time in my life I took a Dramamine and started to pray.

By the time we made it out to the site, at least half of the tourists on board were vomiting over the side of the boat. Dragging out the chum didn't help matters much. Sure, it was only tuna, but something about seeing giant, bloody tuna carcasses was highly unappetizing when mixed with choppy sea. The crew started tossing tuna chunks out, and sure enough, up came the Great Whites - literally. They're athletic little buggers, leaping out of the water like dolphins. Under normal circumstances I might've been slightly freaked out at how close they were to the boat, but I was concentrating all my energy on not puking.

"If you feel sick on the boat, rest assured you'll feel worse in the cage," our captain said as he was lowering the cage in the water and giving us instructions on the dive. At that moment I'd just come out of the bathroom and vowed I wouldn't dare pee again for the remainder of the day, as I was tossed this way and that against the loo walls as I tried to do my business. The only thing that comforted me was the fact that both the toilet and the drain in the floor would make for good yacking spots. But after hearing that, I knew I had to make a decision about whether or not I was going to put on my game face or sit on the bench.

The first group got in their wetsuits and slid off the edge of the boat into the cage. Within five minutes one of them came up and said, "I'm going to spew!" And spew he did, spraying chunks of chocolate chip muffins the on-board chef made earlier that morning. And in that moment I made up my mind. I wasn't going to put myself through it. I wasn't going to compound my illness just to see under water what I was watching above water. And I felt satisfied with my decision because not only was I not doing it because I wasn't afraid, but I was doing it because I was taking care of myself.

I watched the second group go in. All four of them stayed under for most of the time allotted - 30 minutes - taking video and pictures. From above it seemed like they were getting a good show as the sharks circled their cage and lunged at the food. One by one they climbed out, and the captain asked, "Who's next?"

"I am," said my gal pal.

"Me too," I echoed.

Wait, where did that come from?!? Two seconds ago I told myself I wasn't going to push myself to go in the cage if I was feeling sick.... But then again, I was feeling better from breathing in the fresh air and watching all the action. And what's the worst that happens? So I puke - so what? I've done that before, and regrettably I've done it in front of an audience more times than I'd like to admit, so who cares if it happened again? I wanted to see sharks, and dammit, I didn't go all that way to sit on the boat to watch them from afar. So I rallied, I put on my game face and wiggled into a wet suit.

I was second into the cage. I sat on the edge of the boat and swung my legs into the hatch, then jumped all the way in, hanging on to the edge so I could grab my breathing regulator. Easy, I thought as I slipped it in my mouth and started to breathe, but when I went under, panic gripped me. I couldn't get the hang of breathing in and out without thinking I was going to take in a lungful of salt water. I started to hyperventilate a little, so I pulled myself out.

"Y'alright?" the captain asked me.

"Yeah," I said, and tried to go under again, but the same thing happened.

What's wrong?" he shouted over the noise of the waves.

"I can't get the hang of the breathing!"

"You're doing fine - just take it slow."

So I did. I sat there for a moment, breathing in and out slowly, then I dipped my head under the water a little, and eased myself down the cage, and before I knew it I was all the way in standing at the far corner, doing my yogic breathing. Four counts in, four counts out. And when I had the feeling of panic, I just reminded myself to look up and see where the hatch opening was.

The chum floating in front of my face made me endlessly happy that I'd chosen to wear a hood, as I wasn't sure I was going to have the stomach to try and shower on the boat with the boat being so unsteady. Which reminds me, something about being in the cage - while strangely claustrophobic - calmed my stomach. Maybe it was because a gigantic Great White took a swing at us and butted the cage when it couldn't get at the tuna being dragged through the water on a string. That could have a little to do with it.

In terms of the actual shark viewings, I have to say that it was pretty damn cool. They come right up to the cage and munch away in clear view. The ones I saw looked pretty beat up, but their teeth weren't any less intimidating, nor was their cold, black, soulless stare. One swam beneath us, too. And while it was interesting, I wasn't near as afraid as I thought I'd be. Maybe it was the breathing, maybe it was the fact that I was in a cage. Either way, I became so engrossed in watching them make their next "kill" right in front of my face that I stayed under for nearly the entire 30 minute timeslot (save for a breathing break, and having enough of freezing in the water by the time our slot was done.)

Afterward, the seas didn't seem so choppy. I struggled out of my wet suit and climbed back into warm, dry clothes, and watched as others entered the cage - and as more huddled in the corner trying not to hurl. By the time the boat started its way back to the harbor in Port Lincoln, the seas had calmed considerably... and so had I. My nausea subsided, my pride in tact, I didn't regret a single moment of the experience. And I'd do it all again if I had to.

(Okay, maybe I'd do it without the guy who barfed muffins.)

Read more of Carly's articles on GoGirlfriend:

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Cool!! I've been looking to go out to California to do this one day - great to hear that there are others doing the same thing :)

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