The sinking sun reflected off the swirling water, painting surreal shades on its surface. A few strands of hair escaped from my braid and danced in the breeze. We waved as another boat filled with sunburned tourists sped by, heading back to shore as we traveled away from the coast. Minutes later, our crew dropped anchor at the dive site.
Dusk settled like a veil, thinly separating the sun and moon, and the purple light made the water almost black. The captain began to pass out wet suits. The boat tilted back and forth in the swells, making maneuvering into the suits almost impossible. After much struggling, I finally heard the satisfying zip that signified my success. I’d worn wet suits in the frigid coastal waters of California, but it seemed unnecessary in the bathtub waters of Hawaii. I guess everything changes at night.
The captain instructed us to get into the water to claim our area before other diving boats arrived. Against everything I had learned on Shark Week, I stepped off the boat’s bow and plunged into the twilight waters. The blubber layer insulated me well but made swimming awkward and slow. Others followed me, and we bobbed in the water, testing our equipment.
The crew brought out modified surfboards with handholds. I grasped mine and let my legs float effortlessly as I fixed my eyes on the reef below.
Minutes of blackness and inactivity passed, and I was becoming impatient, when a shadow appeared as silently and suddenly as a ghost. The 15-foot creature dove down to the bottom but quickly turned and rushed toward the surface. My survival instincts told me to flee. Instead I stared, paralyzed, into the massive, gaping mouth of a manta ray with its rib-bone-reminiscent gills. Inches from my face, the ray arched its back and dove again, its tail tickling my stomach.
Ten others joined the ray in a graceful dance made eerie by the light. I floated, transfixed by the strange, ancient ritual these peaceful giants partake in every night. The rays made sweeping circles – an efficient way of eating and a spectacular sight.
The hour-long dive felt like minutes and before I knew it, our captain was calling us out of the water. Although I was fascinated, I was glad these animals could resume their feeding without unwanted human spectators. Wrapped in a towel, I watched the sea as we sped back to the harbor, wondering what other mysteries the waves were hiding.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the December 2014 Teen Ink Environment Contest.