Hawaii in a Campervan | PART 2: Diving With Turtles + Maui’s Molokini Crater

You may wonder how someone who claims to be terrified of the ocean became open water scuba certified. I can blame Sly for that. Back when we first started dating on opposite coasts we semi-planned to meet up at a friend’s place in the Bahamas. Sly mentioned that he liked scuba diving and I thought it would be wrong to NOT go diving if we were in the Bahamas.  I secretly took a diving certification class thinking that when we arrived in the Bahamas I would surprise Sly with a diving trip. As it turned out we never made it to the Bahamas due to scheduling conflicts AND I came to find out that Sly was actually NOT certified (or he was certified overseas at some weird place a long time ago). Awesome.  Right before leaving for Hawaii, Sly had to finish up his SCUBA certification coarse so that we could dive together. After all that I was not letting my SCUBA creds to to waste!

The most common dives are either shore dives or boat dives. In a boat dive you get up early, board a boat, head out on the *shudder* open water and typically complete two dives with a break in between. A friend of ours recommended Mike Severn’s diving company. We met up with our group around 6 am or so and were fitted for shoes, wet suits (I swear I always get the WORST suits. I’m pretty sure they gave me a men’s suit too because…well…extra room in the crotch that kept filling with water when diving), and weights.

And so it began. A journey into the heart of darkness…


Oh, sure, I look happy, maybe even a tad bit excited, in the above photos, but that was mainly due to the steady stream of coffee and sticky buns on board the boat.

The trip out to our first site took about 30-min (I think) and the entire time the crew provided us all kinds of useful information about native sea life and what to expect on our dive — things like, “sometimes the best time to see a shark or a whale is when you descend the line… you won’t even notice because they sneak right up on you,” and “we will be descend down a sloped shelf of a partially submerged volcano until we reach about 100 feet. You will be able to see the drop off quite easily/” The more information the guides gave, the more excited everyone seemed. Everyone that is except me. My terror must have been completely written all over my face because at one point one of the guides looked at me and said, “No? That doesn’t sound exciting?” If by exciting you mean horrifying then, yes. NO IT DOES NOT SOUND EXCITING. Submerged volcano? Sharks just casually “sneaking up on you?” How was NOBODY ELSE EVEN REMOTELY PHASED BY THIS INFO?

Everyone seemed amused by my reaction, as if it was just a passing thing. I can assure you it was not.

But lets get on to the actual dive, shall we? Because I think we can all tell where this is heading.

First, a less emotionally-charged description of the crater:

Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater which forms a small islet between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe. At a depth of 50 feet, divers can expect to see many shelves along the backside of Molokini Crater. Underneath the main shelf is another 80 feet of water before the bottom… [The Edge of the World] shelf sticks out of the side of the crater wall and the drop from here is another 200 feet to the bottom. The bottom depth here is 250 feet and the deepest along the backside of Molokini Crater. This area is in constant shadow from sunlight, some of the bigger and more unusual fish live here as well as sharks.

I must not have done my research prior to booking this dive because I’m almost positive after reading something like that I would not have gotten on that boat. Most likely I went to the diving website, became seduced by beautiful photos and thought, “ooh…fishies.”

When it was time to jump into the water — off the side of the boat (that in itself I found terrifying) — I was the last person to jump in. While everyone else happily made their way below the surface of the water I remained half submerged, flailing about as if I were drowning. To illustrate how badly I was freaking out, Sly told me after that fact that he thought I was joking or trying to be funny because I was so over-the-top frightened. Sly swam over to me, looked into my eyes, andrealized I was not kidding. I was having a full on panic attack. Realizing this Sly suggested we get back on the boat; that he was perfectly ok with not doing the dive.

If there is one trait that I possess it is being stubborn — it’s probably the strongest attribute (though also at times, worst) that I have going for me, and that, coupled with extreme case of FOMO, is usually what gets me through the times when I’m scared out of my mind. I considered climbing back on the boat but we were there. I was already suited up and in the water. I couldn’t turn back now. I took a deep breath and slowly descended the line.


This photo cracks us up because it perfectly summed up this dive. When I finally made it down the line where Sly and the rest of the group were waiting, Sly asked me in scuba sign language if I was ok. I am giving him the “ok” sign in response but check out the terror in those eyes. Does that look like a person who is ok?

You know how when you dive to the bottom of a very deep pool your ears pop like crazy? Well the pressure at 100 feet is insane. It popped out one of my contacts. This was also a great time to discover that I had purchased an expensive, yet ill-fitted for my face, mask that flooded like crazy. Two words not in our vocabulary: gear check. This is major foreshadowing because once again this will become an issue in our most recent trip to Hawaii. Because “learning from past mistakes” is also not in our vocabulary.


Compare Sly’s expression with mine. One belongs to a normal person, the other to a crazy person.


As I mentioned before I am both terrified and fascinated by open water and I think it was on this trip that I was able to distinguish between the two. What terrified me was the act of going underwater and the state of being half in/half out, wondering what creature lurked below. But once I had my head in the game and calmed down — what I refer to in hippie speak as ‘feeling the water’ — I was completely mesmerized. Being underwater was the true definition of the word ‘awesome.’

Unfortunately my enjoyment was short-lived. That’s the thing about relying on oxygen to breathe underwater: when you have a panic attack or two you tend to breath a lot harder than necessary, thereby depleting your oxygen tank twice as fast as most everyone else. Poor Sly still had a lot of oxygen left, but he went back up with me anyway. Last ones down, first ones up. I should win an award for that performance.


Because the dive was pretty deep we had to decompress at various levels on the way back up. Do you see those fish swimming around my head? Don’t worry, I was on high alert for sneaky sharks/whales.


Back on the safety of our boat we rested and ate lunch (the food was really good on this trip — and there was a lot of it) before our second dive. Notice how I look relieved/exhausted while Sly is completely energized.

For our second dive, the dive crew asked us what we would like to see. Sly said we wanted to see turtles, so they took us to this spot that they hadn’t been to in like 2-3 yrs. While boating out there, we saw so many sea turtles popping up on the surface for large gulps of air. The crew said you can usually find turtles by the fish that eat the stuff off their shells

This dive wasn’t as deep and I was a lot more relaxed having the first dive under my belt. Plus, who doesn’t love turtles? Eeeeeeee!


This area had a gorge formed by real coral reef (the stuff near the shore is coral on top of lava–see I did listen). Turtles had made little turtle houses here. As I swam down this little valley, I came face-to-face with a large turtle swimming right towards me. I thought it would be scary, but actually it was pretty amazing.


Now look who’s acting as if she wasn’t just hyperventilating and in near-tears on a previous dive.  Once I’m underwater I really do love it, it’s just the getting under the water part (and informational boat rides) that I don’t like.


Note the scale of this turtle as compared to Sly. This one was a biggie.


I didn’t want our second dive to end! Talk about a complete 180 from the morning. Thankfully, this time around I wasn’t breathing *as* hard so I had a lot more oxygen/time to swim with the sea turtles.

It probably seems strange but even looking at some of these photos years later still makes my chest clench in a slight panic. But then I remember the feelings of weightlessness, the beauty and otherworldiness (is that a word?) of being underwater, and all my turtle buddies.

This was the first AND last time we ever went on a dive (not including the cage shark dive we did in South Africa which wasn’t really a dive). We haven’t really had the opportunity to dive again — so glad I was able to do it when we had the chance — and honestly not much of a desire. It’s expensive, requires a certain amount of time, gear, and for me, preparedness. Especially for someone that sucks up air the way I did. I’m not saying we’ll hang up our fins forever — there are a ton of amazing dive sites out here in Asia — but for now, we are good with snorkeling.


I don’t plan on writing much about the details of this Hawaii trip or providing links like I normally do with other, more recent, travel-related posts. It’s quite time consuming and given the amount of time that has passed a lot has probably changed. I did, however, want to include a few quick notes:

— We really loved Mike Severn’s diving company. The tours are led in part by biologists so it had a more scientific approach to diving instead of the touristy booze cruisy party fun boat approach that I normally I loathe when it comes to tours. As such, I found my fellow divers to be cut from the same cloth. It really felt as if we were going on some scientific expedition instead of a tourist dive, and I really liked that. I was probably a worst case scenario for the dive crew and yet the entire time they were very patient, understanding and did not pressure me to do anything I did not feel ready to do. I also was not made to feel like a complete loser for a)being scared of everything and b)blowing through all my oxygen. On top of this they fed us really well. When I looked back at some notes from this trip I specifically wrote down, “sticky buns were delicious.” God, I’m so pathetic. There I was diving at one of the best dive sites in Hawaii and all I could think about was sticky buns? Anyway, highly recommended.

— In the event that anyone is wondering what gear we used to take underwater photos — remember this was 2008. GoPros, if they existed back then, were not as prevalent as they are now. We used Sly’s canon sd700 — a point and shoot camera that at the time was already a couple years old — in separate underwater housing. I made very minor edits to the contrast of the photos in photo editing programs, but otherwise no further edits were made. These days camera phones can shoot at a much higher resolution though I don’t think camera phones are rated past a certain depth. I could be wrong about that. If you’re looking for a cheap way to take underwater photos I’m sure you can find old point and shoots w/underwater housing units on ebay, though be forewarned that underwater casing is very bulky. Right now we use a waterproof (up to 40ft) Panasonic Lumix TS3 that is almost 5 yrs old along with a Samsung camera phone that we seal in a cheap, yet surprisingly effective, waterproof Joto pouch bought off Amazon. As mentioned, we mostly snorkel so this inexpensive setup works for our needs. Of course these days there’s always a gopro.  We’re still debating the cost of getting one of those guys vs. how much we’d actually use it. vs what other camera equipment I could buy for the same money, but maybe one day.

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  • Kevin
    August 18, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Using the phrase “sneak right up on you” with the word “shark”, in a boat, on the ocean, is downright unneighborly.

    Keeping good thoughts…

  • veronika
    August 31, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    and yet some people found that to be exciting… nope.