The Night I got Rubbed by a Manta Ray
It’s 3:30 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and my family and I leave the Kona Reef and for Honokohau Harbor. It’s my 50th birthday and I’m about to have the adventure of a lifetime!
We are given our equipment from the friendly dive masters of Jack’s Dive Locker and board the seemingly small boat with 25 or so of my yet to meet closest friends. We are on our way to swim with the giant manta rays! Now I’m no Bear Grylls type, I don’t do the scuba dive thing well – so this time I take the easy route and snorkel with Danni, Toni and Sydney. My oh so brave Brandi, Rusty & Rich are doing the scuba thing.
It’s still light out in Kona, the sea is calm and we head out to our destination slightly north along the Kona Coast to “Manta Heaven”. We drop anchor near the waters outside the KOA Airport in what seems like no time. We don our snorkel gear and jump off the boat into the warm, clear blue Kona waters to get to know the area while it’s still daylight.
Once there, we are treated to many sights. Gorgeous fish in a variety of colors, sea creatures like sea anemones and beautiful coral. Our guide tells us the names and describes the sights we are seeing. Meanwhile the brave divers of our group are also enjoying the same sights about 30 feet below us. We snorkel around for the better part of an hour enjoying the sea’s beauty.
Back on the boat we are given a lesson about the manta rays we are about to encounter. They are not the bat rays or sting rays you usually think of. They don’t have barbs or teeth or anything that can hurt you. And they are huge! I mean gigantic! Spread your arms as far as they’ll go then double that- that is their wingspan! They have a protective gel on their bodies which keep them safe from disease so you are asked to look but not touch – we are visitors to their home after all. They eat plankton which is attracted to the underwater lights that divers placed here starting in the late 1990s. Their large mouths open and funnel the plankton into their system through what looks like gills. It’s a lot to take in, especially when you are so excited to witness their beauty.
Manta Ray at night
The sun has set and the waters in Kona seem black as night. As the snorkeling group, we are back in the water first. Immediately- there’s a manta! So huge! So gorgeous! We grab hold of the floating surf board and make our way to the “viewing site”. The divers are now getting in and descending the 30 or so feet to the bottom. I can see the top of Rich’s head and Brandi’s long fingers and there’s Rusty too with his red fins! It feels like they are so close. But wait – here come the mantas! Holy Moly! There must be half a dozen! Huge! Hypnotizing! The best way I can describe it is underwater ballet. These massive, graceful creatures turn and swim and move with what seems like little effort. Their ginormous mouths open catching their dinner. Danni, Toni & I lift our heads to say “look at him”, “did you see that one”!
That’s when it started happening – it looked like their gigantic mouths were coming straight for me! I couldn’t possibly get out of the way! I was floating, floating on top of the water – nowhere to go!!! And then I felt it- she swam right under me, her belly rubbing mine! I screamed – no easy task with my mouth full of snorkel! Was I rubbing off the protective gel? I screamed again! Then more came! More rubbing! I have never felt such exhilaration! My heart was pounding so fast I could barely breathe! There had to be a dozen mantas now. All feeding, all dancing that beautiful ballet of theirs and coming to say hello in their very special way – the rub!
The Manta Ray rub, epic
“Danni! Toni! Are you being rubbed?” “ YES!” They called, “YES!” Laughing and screaming and trying to remember to breathe! The royalty of the Kona Coast introducing themselves in a way we will never forget! Looking down I can still see Brandi, Rusty & Rich – are they feeling what we are? Literally FEELING WHAT WE ARE?
First ones in and last ones out of the water! So excited to swap stories with the rest of our boat mates. Everyone saw the mantas, everyone was excited and happy. But only we got the rub. I think we were the special ones that night! Our boat was the last to leave the site as a couple mantas just didn’t want to say good bye to us. It felt euphoric. To be so close to these amazing creatures. To feel their skin on mine! When I say The Manta Snorkel (or dive) is one of the best things I’ve ever done, it is not an exaggeration, it’s the truth!