Swimming With the Sharks in Hale‘iwa With North Shore Shark Adventures
Whether you’re new to exploring the deep blue or a seasoned adventure enthusiast, cage diving in Hawai‘i’s crystal clear waters is the perfect weekend activity for the squad.
Photos and VIDEOS: Omar Ortiz and Katie Kenny
ACTIVITY: Shark cage diving
COMPANY NAME: North Shore Shark Adventures
WHO SHOULD GO? The adventurer who loves sharks and wants to see them in their natural habitat, albeit safely from inside a cage.
LENGTH: Choice of a one-and-a-half-hour or two-hour ride.
FEE: $85 for kama‘āina, military, students and groups. $120 for everyone else.
WHERE: Hale‘iwa Boat Harbor, 66-105 Hale‘iwa Road, North Shore
SEE ALSO: 24 O‘ahu Hikes We Really Like
The tour operators were not kidding when they promised multiple shark sightings.
Still on dry land.
Nervous laughter filled the car during the drive out to O‘ahu’s idyllic North Shore. Recollections of similar experiences, as well as guessing (or taking bets on) whether or not anyone would get seasick (three people eventually did) dominated the conversation—this experience seemed to attract a mix of adventurers. After figuring out that the Google Map location took us to the wrong spot in the boat harbor, we lined up at the little hut to sign in (scroll to the bottom for map). As soon as all 12 of us hopped on the boat and met the North Shore Shark Adventure team, we were given safety tips, rules of the boat and what to do if you feel seasick. I didn’t realize how common seasickness is!
Accidental whale watching.
During the ride out on the 32-foot boat, we stopped to watch a mama whale and her baby splash around off the coast of Hale‘iwa. Major check off the ol’ Hawai‘i bucket list right there! The captain and his first mate did promise that we would see more than just sharks during our day out.
But whales are not the focus of this adventure. As we approached the cage the same nervous energy from earlier spread—yet a little bit quieter this time—throughout the boat.
I’ve been free diving with young whale sharks before, and while they are harmless to humans, the 2-year-olds I was swimming with did have mouths that stretched the same length as my height (see: largest fish in the sea). Because of this I was torn between fear and the feeling of no-big-deal regarding the Galapagos, sandbar, hammerhead and gray reef sharks we were told we’d encounter—we’d be in a cage, after all. When the boat finally arrives at the cage anchored out in the ocean, the sharks don’t waste any time in making their presence known. Maybe the vomit from the first to get seasick attracted them … gross.
The cage made me happy! I float too well and have therefore always struggled with scuba diving—it takes a lot of effort for me if I don’t have fins on. I was part of the second group of six people to venture into the cage so I could watch and learn how to enhance my own experience. As soon as I touched that cold ocean water I took a massive breath and dove straight to the bottom of the cage to cling onto the bars. For once I could actually stay down long enough to really watch sharks and smaller fish glide and swerve around in their natural habitat. These guys were just as curious about us as we all were about them!
In addition to feeling seasick, some people also felt uncomfortable in the cage. It can be a weird experience being in a metal box out in open water—you are trapped while a pack of sharks and other sea life circle you. No judgment on those who chose to cut their diving experience short and continue their shark watching from the boat.
A bunch of us spotted a skinny barracuda hanging about and that worried me a little. Aren’t they aggressive and a little bitey? I kept my eye on it but continued to enjoy my time with the sharks. I was also trying to listen for whales as everyone else could hear them singing.
Aside from the fact that you just swam in the gorgeous North Shore waters with amazing creatures (we saw sharks, whales and barracudas, as well as two turtles on the journey back to shore) that are inches away from you, this is also simply a beautiful day out on a boat where you can also see other wildlife living life in their O‘ahu home too. I have always found that when I get up close to animals in their natural habitat, it makes me rethink my contribution of single-use plastics, Styrofoam& and other waste that damages the oceans as well as their inhabitants. So while you’re out there, your heart pumping with excitement, please remember that saving our oceans means saving your new shark buddies.
Wear reef-safe sunscreen. By now you have probably heard that many of the sunscreens available are severely damaging marine life. But not everyone knows which ingredients to avoid. So to keep it simple, here are the big four no-nos: petrolatum (or mineral oil), titanium dioxide, oxybenzone and& octinoxate.
Bring a long-sleeve rash guard. The water is cold and, if you plan on just floating on the surface while looking down (snorkeling-style), then you will want to protect your back from the sun.
Hook your toes to horizontal bars and hold on to the vertical ones. This keeps you stationary and prevents you from floating back up without putting in too much effort. It also means you might not kick your fellow cage diver in the head while you attempt to stay submerged.
If you get motion sickness plan ahead and take your precautions (such as Dramamine) either an hour prior or the day before, depending on what you’re taking, because this could become a very expensive two-hour boat ride if you miss out on diving. And if you feel a little uneasy at times, the staff recommend sitting at the back of the boat, which doesn’t rock as much.
Due to ocean conditions, customers with infants must book a tour that takes place before 9 a.m. After that it gets a little too choppy.
Make your way to the Hale‘iwa Boat Harbor, but park on the same side as Hale‘iwa Joe’s (despite the instructions on the GPS telling you to drive further along the land bridge). The standalone kiosk with it’s large sign and cutout of a shark mouth is hard to miss if you’re on the correct side.
$85 for kama‘āina, military, students and groups. $120 for everyone else. Open daily, tours are available every hour from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. (June through August tours start at 6 a.m.), email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hale‘iwa Boat Harbor, 66-105 Hale‘iwa Road, Hale‘iwa, (808) 228-5900, sharktourshawaii.com