Girlfriend Getaway to the Bahamas

Under the Sea: Overcoming My Fear of Sharks through Diving

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Have I mentioned before how deathly afraid of the ocean I am? And um, really all forms of water? It’s so severe, actually, that I avoid swimming pool drains at all cost (blame that on the 90’s screamfest Pirahnas), won’t go in a pool alone, and then often keep my head above water, as if something is lurking just below the surface and will bite off my head if I submerge. Yes, this is a story about getting over my fear of sharks.

Girlfriend Getaway to the Bahamas

This post was last updated in September 2021.

It’s so bad, in fact, that I even refuse to shut my eyes in the shower if that relays the severity of my fear of water. Why am I so neurotic, you ask? Well, I really have no idea–I mean, I had a pretty normal childhood, no traumatizing events to speak of–but clearly, clearly, the SHARKS will come out of the faucet and rip out my eyeballs with their menacing teeth if my eyes are shut. Clearly.

I’m sure I’ve bored you at least 734 times with my crippling fear of the sharks, and I hate to sound like a broken record, but I HAVE A CRIPPLING FEAR OF SHARKS. AND ALL THINGS WITH FINS. Flipper included.

(Flipper does technically have fins, right? I’m no marine biologist and I would Wiki it, but I’m not going to risk a picture of a shark turning up on the results page.)

I don’t really think many people take my supreme paranoia seriously because everyone is so-called “scared of sharks.” But we’re talking extremes here, people. Just ask my mom. As a child, I made her remove the “S” volume in my set of children’s encyclopedia from my bedroom, as well as any book that contained a picture of underwater life. I wouldn’t sleep in the same room with it.

In college in Knoxville, there was a billboard on the Interstate boasting a threatening picture of a great white. I drove off the side of the road with Megan in the passenger seat the first time I saw it. All subsequent passes, I covered my eyes–probably not good for the driving, but better than the alternative (a mid-driving, panic attack-induced car wreck).

I still suffer medium to high anxiety and launch my MacBook across the room if I happen to stumble upon a Web page with a picture of a shark on it. And I made SVV scour my diving books prior to the course and tear out any such photos that might cause my nightmares to resurface. Even seeing the word SHARK so many times on this hear post is causing my heart to palpitate wildly. Is this normal? Seriously, are any of you this afraid of something that, statistically, is responsible for a mere FOUR deaths, worldwide, a year? 

Girlfriend Getaway to the Bahamas

So why then did I think learning to SCUBA dive (that’s Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus for those of you who have yet to take the 16-hour SCUBA School, ha!) was a good idea? Blame it on the Maldives. I never had any desire to be more than toe-deep in any body of open water until the Maldives cast its spell over me, told me I was pretty, and courted me harder than even Colin Firth ever succeeded in doing in a single 90 minutes of a romantic comedy. Weeks later, I went to the Dominican Republic on assignment and again went diving–with a much more disappointing result: overfished water, no marine life. And still, I was hooked.

Dive Trip to the Bahamas
Dive Trip to the Bahamas
Dive Trip to the Bahamas

When I got the opportunity to go on a work trip to the Bahamas to finally get my full certification, my immediate reaction was a “HELL YEAH!” putting aside all fear of sharks. And I even roped in a good pal (trust me, talking her into jetsetting to a beautiful, serene, remote spot in the Bahamas on the work clock was like asking her to cut out and lend me her spare kidney, let me tell you), so I had a reliable underwater buddy who could handle being responsible for my life at 100 feet below the ocean surface. And thus, SCUBA School commenced.

Girlfriend Getaway to the Bahamas

As she’ll tell you, there were highs: underwater tea parties; passing our written exams with nearly flying colors; doing the sprinkler and lawnmower at 10 feet below sea level, which we will hopefully re-enact in the Atlantic Ocean for you all if my underwater digital case does its job. There were lows: “summer” San Fran conditions, meaning a chilly pool; the repetitive surrendering of our weight; having to remove our wetsuits, BCs, tanks, booties, flips, et al every half an hour when we inevitably had to pee. And there was everything in between: having a cool police officer dive instructor who seemed to love us one minute, loathe us the next).

Then of course there were the tens of emails we sent back and forth beforehand pondering issues of extreme importance: was it really pertinent we do all the homework (um, YES), would they all think we were freaks if we turned up in bikinis (not to our knowledge), was this even a good idea in the first place (yet to be decided)?

Girlfriend Getaway to the Bahamas

But we passed the “easy part” (freezing our asses off in a suffocatingly-small swimming pool) and now just have to complete our check-out dives somewhere in Green Turtle Cay in the Abacos, where we’re likely sitting at this very moment drinking pink drinks with matching umbrella stirrers–ha, fooled ya! (I just love that I can set up my drafts to post in advance!) And here you thought I was sitting behind a computer somewhere in the greater Bay Area.

Girlfriend Getaway to the Bahamas

Hopefully, we’ll both return with killer tans, a universal referral form allowing us to partake in recreational dives anywhere in the world (at the maximum of 100 feet, of course, because we follow the rules like that), sans decompression sickness and a fear of sharks … but only time will tell. Call this a cliffhanger if you please.

  • August 14, 2008

    ah! i want to be there with you guys! awesome!

  • August 14, 2008

    i am SO FREAKING JEALOUS. i am oozing stress out of every pore of vacation and need to be there with you, relaxing! only 4 more days till i defnd my thesis and more importantly 19 days to my own vacation.

  • August 14, 2008
    May Vanderbilt

    Ack! I love the Caribbean so much, mon. I can barely read this without wanting to go home, turn on the heat in my apartment, and flop around the house in flippers.

    Don’t be afraid of the ocean. Think of it as a giant, briny spa treatment of some kind.

  • August 14, 2008


    That pirhana movie scared he bejjebus out of me as a kid, too. So much so that to this day I won’t go in a pool alone, for fear that a killer fish will make it’s way through the filter. UGH!

  • August 14, 2008


    I didn’t realize that you and Holly got to go together! Have fun!!

  • August 14, 2008

    Hey you have the roaming gnome! Awesome! I didn’t know that you guys went together! Next time bring me! 😉

  • August 14, 2008

    that’s a happy gnome if i ever saw one. is he packin’ pistols? 😉

  • August 15, 2008
    La Petite Chic

    Wow, I thought I was afraid of sharks, but you truly have a real phobia! My husband and I got PADI certified so that we could dive on our honeymoon. We travel to the Caribbean a lot and I’ve yet to see a shark. Thank god, because I really think I’ll hyperventilate if I do!

  • August 15, 2008
    Speedy Canizales

    I totally forgot about your fear of sharks – the last message I sent you just went on and on about sharks! Hope it didn’t freak you out.

    I agree with May – you should think of the ocean as one giant, briny spa treatment. You will see so many cool animals down there, if you haven’t already!

  • August 15, 2008
    loaded bow

    You’ve given me hope!

    I have a ridiculous fear of sharks that my mother continues to blame on the Jaws set at Universal Studios. I almost had a panic attack when I saw a pod of dolphins while crossing the Straight of Gibraltar. 20 fins at once! It was too much too handle. I can rattle off all shark stats, and spend most of my time thinking about these unfriendly creatures any time I am remotely close to a large body of water (which is unfortunate, considere that I living blocks from the Pacific).

    But if you can make it into the open ocean, maybe I can too…

  • August 18, 2008
    Chelsea Talks Smack

    Im not a huge fan of little planes like that, BUT for the beverage below….Id totally suck it up.

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