Alden Boon

Bucket List: Face-to-Face with the Great White Shark


“I’ll think about it.”

“You’ll do it? Great!”

Cindy, my Earthstompers tour guide with an electrifying charm, and I were at Salina’s Beach Restaurant, Wilderness. Over the cacophony of our neighbours’ chatter, clink of champagne glasses and cutlery, she misheard my decision to go shark cage diving. Without missing a beat, she picked up her phone and reserved a suddenly-vacated slot. The one who bailed probably wised up, I thought.

I dithered, half wanting to correct Cindy, half held back by bravado.  The restaurant became very quiet. My acquiescence was by silence.

Our perky Salina’s waitress served the seafood platter of calamari, prawns and hake, and my mind flitted to the thought that I too shall become the Great White Shark’s chow.

It was a one-hour drive from Wilderness to Mossel Bay. The Garden Route’s verdant scenery was beautiful — I’m sure.  My thoughts were now racing at breakneck speed and I could pay no heed to my environment. A vast endless road loomed before me, yet I felt hemmed in. Something intangible was closing in on me. Self-empowerment songs so cheesy they could make au gratin blared from the car’s sound system, imbuing me with last-minute courage.

I knew not the reason for my anxiety. The concept was simple and foolproof enough: participants, six at a time, would willingly entrap themselves in a steely cage. The crew operator hurls the sacrifice of fish head, appeasing the Great White Shark. We record our precious videos on our GoPro cameras and no human being gets eaten.

But the Great White Shark is no Nemo.   An adult female grows up to six metres in length, and tips the scale at over 1,900kg. Her senses — smell, hearing, sight — are keenly developed. She can smell the chum, a hodgepodge of blood, pilchard and sardines, from miles away. And probably my fear too. If she bends all her thoughts on me, a very fleshy and nutritious lunch, not even industrial-grade steel can stop her.

It did not help that I had, just a week prior, watched “Jaws” for the very first time.


Great White Shark
An eerie sight: Great White Sharks roll their pupils back in the midst of an attack to protect their eyes.

I was one of the first to arrive at White Shark Africa for the 8:30am adventure. Cindy took leave of me, and I was left alone to my unsettling thoughts. In traipsed a family, and then a couple. I began sizing up my fellow company of prey, and unfortunately I remained the most delicious standout.

Richard, looking every part a handsome surfer and that he does this for a living (and hence has got this under control), addressed us.  He began sharing facts about the sharks, before coming to a pregnant pause. There was a sombre tone in his voice. “73 million sharks are being killed each year, and do you know for what?”

“Fins!” the lady behind me hollered, like a straight-A student eager to offer all the answers. Being the only Chinese in a room teeming with Caucasians, I bowed my head in shame, stealing furtive glances to make sure no one was aiming his pitch fork at me. My resolve to boycott shark’s fin hardened then.

Finally, it was time to head out to the sea. Just a few kilometres off of False Bay was our destination. Before we reached our vessel, down a steep decline we had to walk, and the thought of my triumphant return unnerved me: I had to hike up this impossible incline while lugging my heavy tripod and camera and belongings.


The salty sea overwhelmed my olfactory senses. The waters were choppy. We passed Seal Island: a rank-smelling land home to a multitude of Cape fur seals. There, great white sharks would forage for food.

The boat was anchored just a stone’s throw away from the island. After giving a brief introduction, the crew went to work. Our steely bastion was released. The first batch of prey suited up, went into the water, and lamented the biting cold of it.

Just minutes later, the fins of the Great White Shark protruded above water, giving away her position. Up went the cameras, and the children on board craned their necks to see her. Very calmly she swam, every twist of her gargantuan body a graceful glide. She headed for the bait, but stopped short of taking it.

Before long, it was my turn to be imprisoned. “Hands off the outer cage at all times” came the instructions. “What outer cage? There’s only one cage here! Help!!!” my inner voice screamed. But I kept my bravado and chose instead to ready my GoPro. Into the cage I went, and for the first time in my life, I treaded seawater.

“Right!” the crew operator yelled. Like puppets on strings, all of us instantly took a huge gulp of air, and pulled ourselves down. My eyes, now bleared, and I could only see a dark turquoise colour and not very far. Wiggly chunks of meat torn off the bait swam about me. I frantically scanned my surrounding for the mammoth creature. Nothing in sight. My lungs tightened, and I immediately came up for air.

A huge gasp I let out, as if I had just sprinted a kilometre. “Left!” shouted the disembodied voice again.

And then I came face-to-face with her. Encircling my side of the cage, advancing very slowly, but advancing she was. She regarded me, and her row of razor-sharp teeth was in full glory. The bait plopped once again, and she went for it. Something stirred in her. She champed the bait. She fought against her opponent’s wishes, refusing to relent her gnash. In a rage and probably sick of this tug of war, she careened towards us, body-slamming us with sheer might. The entire cage quaked and all of us fell back.

Momentarily all was quiet. The Great White Shark then retreated to calmer waters.

It’s hubris to think we have outsmarted her. No, I think she’s simply tired of us.


Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.