Monday, May 5, 2014

Great White Shark Cage Diving vs Sandboarding vs Surfing

Above and below.
Cape Town is an amazing city to visit. Straight up. But it's hard not to think about apartheid and the racial oppression that mired this country until just 20 years ago. 20 years ago! 1994! That's when "Dumb and Dumber" came out! That's ludicrous. The stigma of apartheid still lingers on residents - white, black, and colored (as other ethnicities like Asians, Latinos, etc. are referred) - and there's plenty of tension and unrest boiling below the surface. Most of the locals I talked to, black and white, are frustrated with government, politics, and corruption; and race remains at the heart of the issue. I don't know nearly the amount of history I should about this country or apartheid, but I can recognize as much as this country has progressed, there's still plenty of fixing left. When enjoying all the glorious natural gifts of the city, you almost have to take it with a grain of salt and pepper.

That all being said...

When it comes to action/adventure travel, Cape Town's geography is virtually unrivaled, at least amongst places I've traveled. Not only can you choose your own adventure, but you have more options than a Cheesecake Factory menu; and I tried to do as much of it as I possibly could in three days. That meant surfing Monday, cage diving with great white sharks Tuesday, and sandboarding Wednesday. Oddly, my 70-year-old mom had no interest in joining me for any of these activities. 


No Lori Petty to save me here. #ReferencesWillOnlyGetWorse
A friend of a friend of a friend hooked me up with a local resident to go surfing with me and show me some sweet Cape spots. The FOAFOAF, Leith, kinda looks like a grizzled David Beckham. Sorry ladies, happily married with kids. He was beyond nice and gave my mom and I a quick driving tour along the western part of Cape Town down to the southern tip of the peninsula. The day started with rain and was mostly overcast; Leith was concerned the wind would be blowing in the wrong direction which would make for poor surf. I told him I didn't care, just being out there would be enough, especially considering the miserably long and cold winter we've had in the northeast. 

Hout Bay Harbor view off the scenic Chapmans Peak Drive. Leith has legit claim to title "nicest guy ever."

We surfed at Long Beach in an area called Kommetjie, but the locals didn't get my LBC references. By the way, you'll notice many parking lots have security guards or attendants. Leith says often these guys are self-appointed. They buy neon traffic vest on their own and patrol lots hoping for tips in exchange for watching over your car. Apparently a common problem is when you constantly see the same guys if you frequent the area (like for work), and if you don't tip, your car might be the first to get ransacked.

Guess who that isn't? Keanu! Gerard Butler! Me! #FunGame
So Leith is a badass athlete, surfed for a long time, even has a daughter who was a sponsored Billabong surfer for awhile. Unfortunately, he and seemingly everyone in the area are only fans of shortboards. I ride long [insert juvenile joke here]. Leith hooked me up with a 7-footer, the longest board he had. Not long enough for me, homies! The waves treated me like the Gimp did Ving Rhames in "Pulp Fiction." That is to say, quite impolitely. The waves maxed around 7-8 feet, which is literally above my skill level. I probably caught one wave in 2-plus hours, and I was battling to stand the entire time. I shot video with my GoPro hoping for some decent video that could make me long halfway cool, but that failed. I didn't even get a good wipeout on cam. After repetitive wipeouts, a woman told Leith she was impressed I kept paddling out... like a dumbass! If this were "Point Break" and I was Johnny Utah ruining other surfers' waves, the Red Hot Chili Peppers would most definitely jump me and Patrick Swayze wouldn't even come rescue me. Of course, I didn't care. I was back in the ocean on a board and that's all that really mattered.

7-feet has never felt shorter. 
After getting a bite to eat at some local joint, we drove down to the entrance of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa, and continued on to Simon's Town, where we saw jackass penguins at Boulders Beach. The penguins are so accustomed to tourists, they practically walk up and pose for the cameras like a Kardashian. I love penguins. I don't feel the same way about the Kardashians.

Penguin: "You know where I left my keys?"
They're wearing the same outfit. #Embarrassing
"Best bathroom ever."

"Enjoy the view, Shia."


"I was eaten by a shark!" I could really go for a Samuel Jackson beer about now.

I booked a great white shark cage diving tour through because they gave me a discount on the hotel pick-up shuttle. They didn't mention pick-up time was 4:40am!!! Well played, guys. After a 2.5-hour drive, we arrived in Gansbaai, then sailed out for another 30-minutes or so. The boat was a little rockier than I expected. Four people threw up by the time we reached our destination. I grabbed a lollipop (a manly one) which apparently takes your mind off the rockiness. All good, yo! There's a 5-person cage and you don't need scuba gear or oxygen, just a regular snorkel mask for viewing. You stand in the cage with you're head above water, and two spotters scream when it's time to dunk your head in the water. 

Sunrise at Gansbaai.
 I think that's the Otto from "Airplane."
From the boat.

It's cool to watch when the sharks swim by, and you're in there for around 10-minutes at a time, depending on how many sharks you end up seeing. Our guide said that you never see the dorsal fin approach, that's only in movies, but after covering numerous shark sightings in San Diego, I wanted to contradict, but I passed 'cuz I didn't want to be the douchey American who thinks he knows everything. When I saw my first great white, I was a little nervous thinking that the gaps between bars in the cage were a little too spacey, but you get comfortable relatively quick. 

No dorsal fin, my ass. What's this guide talking about?
The cage. 

Pardon the interruption: double rainbow!!!

The first go around, I tried taking my GoPro and iPhone, but I couldn't do a single thing with the iPhone. You need to hold onto an inner railing within the cage, otherwise you become far too buoyant. The water was colder than the land in "Frozen" (I saw that on the plane ride back). My butt was moving like Shakira on ZipFizz and I was shaking the entire cage. Fortunately that terrible visual didn't prevent sharks from rolling through. The largest shark the company said they ever saw was 6 meters, around 20-feet. We didn't see anything close to that, the largest I'd say around 10-feet? To be honest, I have no idea. You're underwater trying to catch photos of the magnificent species and usually they don't get close enough to the cage for you to bust out the measuring tape. Usually.

If you put on 3D glasses, this photo is really cool and in-focus. #NotTrue
After bracing the cold water for 7-minutes or so, a shark emerged from the murky nothingness of the sea and came barreling straight toward us. It actually rammed into the cage, inches away from me, and actually making contact with the woman to my right, who was hit by the shark's nose. This woman was completely petrified and tried to stand behind me. While stunned first, I got a little more ballsy and tried to stick my GoPro right up in the shark's face, without sticking it in his mouth, which was wide open and wrapped around the cage bar, but unfortunately the video was aimed too low and I missed out on what would've been the most badass shot of my life! Thought the fish-eye lens was going to bail me out, but alas, not the case.

Big tuna fish heads are doused in chum. That's what attracts these dudes.

Here's the deal, with the exception of this super brief encounter, captured on the video below (around the 1:06 mark), it's not scary at all, but you still get an adrenaline charge. It's a unique view of the sharks and the cage provides so much mental and physical safety, that you shouldn't have to worry about a major accident happening. So if you ever get the chance, go do it... and hope that a great white shark attacks your cage!

Dunes. Not to be confused with sequel to "Dune." #ToldYouReferencesWouldGetWorse

A new traveling habit I've started to pick-up is going for a run (or jog that gets slower if you want to get technical) near wherever I'm staying. It's a great way to get a closer inspection and better vibe of the area. I went for a morning job around Bantry Bay, then ended up being late for my pick-up to go sandboarding in Atlantis with Downhill Adventures. #CuzMyJogGotRealSlow

I'm plague-less!! #winning

I'm anti-looking-at-the-camera. That's Robben Island in the distance.

The dunes in Atlantis, about 45-minutes outside of Cape Town, are smooth sand hills that look like the deserts of Egypt, from what I gather from my 1988 World Book encyclopedias. You can actually see Robben Island in the distance. Sandboarding is exactly like snowboarding. Don't worry about falling, it won't happen; if you do, it certainly doesn't seem like it would hurt. You have to ride toeside the whole time and lean forward heavily for speed. If you carve, you lose too much speed. The rides only last 10-20 seconds, then it's climbing time, which is completely exhausting. Snowboarders, imagine riding for 20 seconds, then climbing a 60-degree incline to do the same thing over and over again.

If you don't lean crazy forward, the ride is significantly slower. And toe-side all day.

Our guide was over riding pretty quickly. He was more interested in taking pics.

You have to use furniture wax for the bottom of your board to prevent sticking to the sand. Our guide suggested rubbing in a tablespoon's worth of wax. After testing that out, I upped my dosage. I was using wax like a Madame Tussaud employee working on a statue of Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor." It helped. I was flying... for 15 seconds. But you can imagine how amazing those 15 seconds were. Got it on, like Veronica Vaughn.

I love my hydration backpack. Outdoor Products. From Wal-mart!
I'm stoked that I got to experience sandboarding, but the dunes aren't steep or long enough to lead to mainstream popularity in South Africa. It's definitely more of a novelty. A solution might be if you had an ATV tow you wakeboarding-style, or at the very least, give you a lift back to the top of the dune. I'm too lazy to be hiking dunes all willy-nilly. Of course, that being said, all that really matters, is just being out there.

Next: Lions, elephants, rhinos pooping and a safari through Kruger National Park.

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