I prepared to jump from the Hula Kai Adventures boat into the endless abyss. I had no idea what to expect below. Resting stations were set up only feet from the boat, but in the dark of night on the Pacific Ocean I could feel my pulse quicken. Before I even stepped off the boat, I could see the gigantic shadows gliding through the water. I was about to snorkel with enormous manta rays in Hawaii. Even now as I type it, it doesn’t sound real. There are some opportunities in life that everyone should experience and snorkeling with manta rays is one of them.
Manta rays are harmless relatives of the shark, lacking the tail stinger of stingrays. Their wingspan can reach up to 25 feet and they can weigh as much as 5,000 pounds. While that all sounds overwhelming, as soon as you witness their gentle, gracefulness you’ll understand why I was so calm.
The water was illuminated by strategically placed waterproof spotlights on the seafloor. Bright light attract manta rays because they feed on plankton that drifts in the water and the light directs them to their food.
As soon as I entered the water, I looked below the surface with my mask. I could see about half a dozen massive mantas flipping and turning but it wasn’t aggressive or intimidating. The gracefulness of each movement drew me closer. I swam toward the floating station that was set up and I rested my hands on the soft, foam bars lined up for each person snorkeling. There were about 25 other snorkelers in the water, including Darren, but I felt like the mantas were performing specifically for me. I quickly forgot about my fear of other water inhabitants and completely relaxed as the black and white mantas spun beneath me and at times against me.
During the hour I spent in the water, several of the mantas swam so close to my body that I held my breath to avoid touching them. About half way through the experience, one manta was filling up on plankton as it danced below me. I sensed that it was getting closer than the others but I assumed it would turn before reaching me; then it happened. The manta brushed its body against my wetsuit. It was massive and its gigantic wings wrapped around the sides of my body before it turned away. I was in complete awe. It was more than an up-close encounter. I never imagined I would remain so calm but he was just gently saying hello before continuing on his way. A fear that once consumed me had disappeared and I gained a new respect and appreciation for these beautiful creatures.
I watched the video and looked at the pictures when I returned to the boat. Again, I couldn’t believe that the whole experience was real. I felt like I just woke up from an elaborate dream. It was an outer body experience. Rather than just remembering it, I have a video to bring me back to Hula Kai Adventures and snorkeling with the manta rays.
Photos are courtesy of James L. Wing but the video is all Bucket List Publications