What a Great White taught me about risk and accountability.
Updated: Feb 6
I took this photo - then thought I might die.
We were on the last morning of a 3 day great white shark cage dive at the Island of Guadalupe, Mexico. We had had a several great sessions over the previous few days, and this was the morning we were preparing for the 20 hour boat ride back to San Diego. The waters were rough that day, and nobody wanted to bother with one last dive.
I suited up and went into the cage alone. It wasn't a great day for shark viewing. The noises of the boat and the cages banging against the hull seemed to be keeping most of the sharks away. Just the day before we had a 16 foot female white circling our cages for an hour. I got to see a huge white up close, but hadn't gotten a great shot. I was still figuring out underwater photography and was determined to get just one. great. shot.
Out of seemingly nowhere, a nice 12 foot great white shows some interest in the cage. This is my chance - and undoubtedly my last chance of this trip. I want to get the shot - but I don't want the bars of the cage to interfere with my "artistic vision"... so I do something stupid - - I pull myself out of the cage.
I pull my torso and hips out of the horizontal viewing bar area and wrap my right leg around the vertical bars below, to kind of lock myself in place. So now my torso, arms, and waist are outside the cage, and just my shins and feet are inside. I line up my shot as this shark comes in, about 15 feet away - and then something I didn't expect happens. A wave rocks the boat in a manner that caused my cage to twist. So now the cage is underwater "on its side" with me essentially dangling out of it, and because of the angle, my hip placement and my weight belt, I can't pull myself back in.
At this point the shark turns and starts coming towards me. I panic. I am very much stuck, and a great white doesn't take very long to cover 15 feet. There is nobody to pull me into the cage. The shark is coming closer, and closer, and when it is about 4 feet away the counter movement of that wave shoots the cage in the opposite direction, and I essentially fall back into it, and the noise of the cage movement startles the shark - which bolts off in the opposite direction. I got out of the cage, composed myself. and packed up to go home. I didn't tell anyone this story. Partially out of embarrassment, and partially because I was still in shock.
That taught me a fairly interesting lesson. Risks are awesome. Risks have enabled most of the greatest achievements of humankind to happen. We are raised on the mantra "no risk, no reward." But what we aren't taught is accepting accountability when things go wrong.
Basically, this is what happened.
Risk: I'm going to pull myself out of a shark cage even though I have no experience diving or with great whites.
Reward: A sweet shot of a white shark I can frame on my wall.
Accountability: Wait, what? I never even thought I might be accountable for this action.
Accountability is not as sexy as risk. Rich dudes in 80's movies driving Ferrari's didn't get rich by accountability. Accountability is dull. It's safe. And it is totally necessary. I took a risk, and for a few moments, I thought that risk was going to kill me. I knew it was my fault. I knew it was my decision to do an action far outside of my comfort zone, and I remember telling myself "this is going to be a really shitty way to die." There was nobody to blame but myself.
And to top it all of - The picture sucks.
So the moral of the story: Risk is beautiful. Take risks. But if they don't go the way you planned, be ready to take accountability and learn from them.