If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land, no frame of mind is ever going to help you -Bruce Lee
(North of Oahu, Pacific Ocean … yes, I took the picture)
During my quest to be limitless, I admitted to you that I didn’t like heights and felt that it was necessary to go skydiving. Now, let me tell you about how I had a fear of deep water and couldn’t swim. I’ll briefly qualify these points by saying that I am also amazed that I ever had girlfriends too… but, moving on.
If I were a normal person, I would have attempted to conquer my deeply-rooted fear of water by wading out past the ropes at a clean city pool, where a nice person who wears red shorts is watching over me. Since that is not the case, I chose to “swim” with roughly two dozen sharks in an open-top cage, five miles off of the coast of Hawaii before I knew how to do anything but hold my breath. So how did this all come about?
After a long day of being a beach bum with a constant drink in hand, one tends to have what scientists call “liquid courage”. When you are struck with said diagnosis, you find that talking to girls, doing the Bernie and lighting shots on fire all come with an unparallelled confidence. Similarly, any tourist pamphlet with a great white shark on it seems like the sure way to score an A+ on the manhood test. So, I called up North Shore Shark Adventures and gave them my credit card number. I now had two days to figure out how to snorkel before this goes down.
The first stop in the snorkel test is Waimea Bay. In the summer, the tide is pretty calm which was supposed to make for a great initial practice session. Turns out, that when you have a fear of water dating back to diapers, diving under and breathing though a tube is a real pain in the ass. While my friends Mike and Johnny are rock running, I’m bobbing up and down out of the water gasping for air, looking like a half pasty / half burned piece of bait. Fail.
My second test was at Shark’s Cove, which sounded like a death sentence. However, with a little good advice and a lot of will, I was floating around with neon fish and checked out an underwater cave called the blue door within a short amount of time. Things were looking less like I was going to die, so it was time to focus on zero hour.
Once I was on the boat, I was feeling pretty good about the situation. The sun is coming up, the boat is cruising away from the shore and then Captain Jack starts explaining to you how they piss the sharks off. Before the shark tour boat takes their swimmers out at dawn, the crab fisherman go to the “drop zone” in an identical boat and toss out chum, but not enough for everyone. When our boat’s diesel engine starts idling in the exact same spot a couple of hours later, the sharks rise to the surface expecting to get fed… and probably aren’t delighted to see a couple of gangly white dudes hopping into the water.
When twenty or so sharks start circling your boat, you come to the conclusion that shit just got real and that $120 really isn’t that important anymore. Before I could finish any select four letter words, the captain looked at me and said “get in”.
I planned to go underwater as soon as I dropped down into the cage, so I took a deep breath and plunged. The moment that I opened my eyes, I was face to face with some galapagos sharks. Snorkel training doesn’t prepare you for that, and I started hyperventilating in my mask to the amusement of everyone on the boat. After some trash talking back and forth to the deck, I got my bearings and spent the next 40 minutes taking awesome pictures and conquering a little piece of the Pacific Ocean.
Looking fear in the eyes is hard enough as it is, but adding intense variables and plowing in head-first changes you. I still don’t have a very good breast stroke, but this was one of those experiences that took everything I knew about a fear, flipped it, and ultimately remodeled my entire belief system. I had forgotten what it was like to have an insatiable appetite for challenge, and now I’m constantly hungry. Granted, I do some really stupid things because I can’t turn down a good challenge; however, I started going to my job looking for them as a professional, and that was the moment when I realized that I did something bigger than I originally knew.
There’s a great quote from Chuck Palahniuk (I can’t pronounce it either): “Find out what you’re afraid of and go live there”. Uncovering our fears can be the hardest part because it forces us to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and even exposes them. Once fear is staring you in the face, you have a choice: you can suppress, ignore, and pretend as if the fear isn’t real, or you can go live inside that raw, emotional place that is void of safety. You’ll spend far more time suppressing and ignoring it (in my case, two decades) than living in an intense moment (40 minutes) that changes how you forever step to adversity.
Choose wisely, conquer your fear, and be limitless.