SCUBA & Fish Tacos: From one shark pit to another

Found this little guy on the bottom of the ocean on my first dive

Found this little guy on the bottom of the ocean on a dive

This trip to Maui was about celebrating my buddy’s 40th birthday.  Being the good friend I am, I was down to make the flight, get the dude a beer, maybe even a meal, and even indulge his desire to go to a Luau (origins of the Luau). So of course that meant I’d also be down to swim with sharks, right? Wait, wtf!?! What just happened? Yep, this is my tale of 007-esque shark-swimming, night dives and, well, food.  Here goes…

We’d talked very generally about maybe getting certified to scuba dive several months ago when he brought the trip up. I didn’t really think it through, but was thinking I might do it if it was relatively easy. I mean, I can swim, so how much more complicated could doing that underwater be, right? I have a good friend who is a scuba junkie, and he’s still alive, so I was thinking it must be relatively safe, and might even be kind of cool. We did some day adventure with our friends, got back to their hotel, and it turned out their scuba instructor was doing a free in-pool instruction (my buddy actually landed early and got his dives in before we even arrived). The instructor was basically like “here’s what everything is called, here’s how it goes on, don’t hold your breathe EVER, now let’s go.” Umm, cool?

Essentially all of my preparation before my first dive

Essentially all of my preparation before my first dive

I had previously learned how to equalize the pressure in my ears and practiced that on my snorkel trip the day before, this turned out to be a valuable skill. For those thinking about doing this, if you go under water and you start to feel pressure or pain in your ears or sinuses, hold your nose and then act like you are  blowing your nose.  This forces air into those sinus spaces and makes the pain go away.  Works like a charm. One quirk I never fully understood, though. They tell you NEVER hold your breath because you could pop a lung (long story), but I never fully got how you could possibly equalize without momentarily holding your breath. I’m alive and typing this so it all worked out, but that seemed odd.  Anyway, I went from pool swim to morning scuba dive off Mala pier in 24 hours. My first open water dive didn’t require a bunch of class work and book instruction, which is good because I’m quite certain I would have skipped it otherwise.  Anyway, my first dive starts with a descent into about 35 feet of water and almost immediately I see an array of coral and sea life growing off the sunken Mala pier, so I was feeling pretty good about the affair.

Slightly less immediately I realized a few important points I hadn’t fully thought through before signing up for this birthday adventure. One, you can’t really talk underwater. This may seem obvious, but for some reason I didn’t ask for the hand signal for “this stupid mask isn’t sitting quite right and my BCD needs adjusting.” Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to wing it. The regulator (the thing you get air from) was working well, so I figured the rest would work itself out. The second thing I realized is that I like communication, ALOT. Pointing and waiving and throwing up the shaka (origin of the shaka) was all good and well, but damn if I didn’t want to just say “wow, did you see that!?!” This was especially true when, again on my first ever open water scuba dive, I saw this

My first shark pit

My first shark pit

Yes, you are seeing that right, a freakin real live Sea World Shark Encounter just beneath me in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! I must say, I think I handled the whole thing pretty well. My underwater tour guide expert scuba instructor Kevin had told me both that we might see sharks and that they were more like dumb cats than angry dogs, so if I didn’t yank their tails I’d be fine. And indeed I was. There’s no easy way to describe the first time you swim with sharks.  It’s a little like being a kid and realizing you may have to fight one of these other kids on the playground, but instead of an instant fight where you just are in it, this is like one where you’ve got time to size everything up, realize that this could go very badly, buckle down and get ready. In fact, as I think about it, I spent a fair amount of this dive when not looking at pieces of sunken pier, turtles and fish planning what I’d do if surprised by something.  This led to what I’m certain would have been an entertaining series of tweets if I’d been able to send them from under water:

@omarpassons: Dang, I really wish I’d taken that American Sign Language class in college.

@omarpassons: this would be especially cool if somehow I could also have a Pupil or maybe Cali-Belgique right now

@omarpassons hey, I’m like James Bond down here. I should rescue somebody or disarm a weapon

@omarpassons wait, how does the emergency regulator work, again?

My whole first dive was just me and the instructor, and under water there’s no real conversation to be had, so when I wasn’t swimming with my buddies it was kind of like wandering down an unfamiliar street alone. Cool to look around, but not as cool as if there’d been someone to discuss it with.

Anyway, in addition to my buddy who was turning 40, his hopefully soon-to-be brother in law was on the trip.  He had a Go-Pro camera that allowed him to photo and video at pretty close distances, and he got this

Just in case that first one wasn't close enough. Yep, that's a shark

Just in case that first one wasn’t close enough. Yep, that’s a shark

We spent a fair amount of time chasing sharks and photo bombing turtles and even got this pretty cool shot looking like we knew what we were doing

Of course, my buddy is one of those dudes who if you say let’s go 5 miles he’ll say let’s go 6, and do it uphill being chased by a bull in flip flops. So it was totally not a surprise when he was like “lets do a night dive.” Yes, you read that right. I had been in open water exactly one time and my friend has now convinced me to swim Black Rock at night, in the dark. Ain’t no street lights in the ocean. It’s just you and your flashlights and some prayers that Kevin had fresh batteries across the board. Kidding about that last part, I felt utterly safe and confident diving with Kevin of Aloha Dive Center. He was super laid back but also supremely confident and very helpful explaining details. I usually only make recommendations for food and drinks, but if you are going to learn to scuba, Kevin is your guy.

I don’t have any photos of my own of the night dive because it happened so early that no one remembered to bring anything to record with. Alas.  There was this, however

Night photo

From memory, I can tell you only that I had a lot of trouble staying at depth, I didn’t see many critters other than a sleeping turtle and some fish I can’t identify, and we got caught in a strong current I wasn’t fully ready for but it worked out okay. Diving at night is far less scary than it might seem. To be fair, we were only 30 feet down and right off the coast, but still it was pretty tranquil.

A solid effort out under the water with our instructor Kevin

A solid effort out under the water with our instructor Kevin

This was us after one of the dives. What a really great experience the whole thing was. I should warn you that you might overthink regular aches or excess burping right after your first dive. Just know if you follow all the rules they give you, you’ll likely be fine. And seeing what happens on the ocean floor is an order of magnitude better than merely snorkeling, FYI. I am now certified for life to risk popping my lungs and decompression sickness to explore other waters. Can’t wait! All this harrowing underwater adventure built me up a nice appetite so we headed from one shark pit to another – a food truck near the sugarcane train along the main highway in Ka’anapali across from the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas.

The Shark Pit
I could write quite a bit about The Shark Pit. In fact, I liked it and owner Chris Mahon so much I wrote my first yelp review in almost a year here. Rather than describe all the delicious, I’ll let some of the photos speak

Fish tacos and furikake rice

Fish tacos and furikake rice

We went on back to back days and I can tell you the fish taco was the best thing I had on the menu and it rivals ones I’ve had in San Diego and Baja (to be fair, I haven’t been to Baja in far too long, but still).  I am not going to go all obsessive foodie on you and describe the intricate details of the fish and the cabbage and the sauce. This time, I’ll just say that if you like fish tacos, this is what they are supposed to taste like. Wife had read about the furikake-laced corn on the cob, which also didn’t disappoint

Those black specks are bits of delicious seasoning called furikake

Those black specks are bits of delicious seasoning called furikake

If you aren’t familiar with furikake, I’d recommend having some in something very soon. If you are familiar with it, you probably find my mild fascination a bit peculiar. All I can say is the stuff made the corn tasty and the rice – which usually just haplessly accompanies dishes – worth eating.  On my return trip I enjoyed this

A little grass fed island goodness

A little grass fed island goodness

This was a very good burger and my only complaint is the bun was a little more bread than I really wanted to deal with. The whole purple bun as an homage to taro was a nice touch, actually. Since poi doesn’t taste like anything anyway, no harm was done by the added color and it’s a nice novelty.  The other thing I really liked about The Shark Pit was that the owner was committed to supporting local farmers by using local ingredients, organic when available. He had –insert language about various farms.

When I went on Facebook after the first day to find the page and like it I was a bit surprised to find this photo, which includes me in a Hess Brewing Company shirt sharing with Maui the treasure that is Grazias, a Vienna Cream Ale that I thoroughly enjoy when staying in North Park for some craft beer.

Somebody snapped this photo of us while enjoying our meal...and telling even more people about Hess Brewing Company

Somebody snapped this photo of us while enjoying our meal…and telling even more people about Hess Brewing Company

For those who happen to read this outside San Diego, Hess is one of the 79 breweries in San Diego and is making fantastic craft beer while supporting schools and several other local causes. Definitely worth a visit if you come to town.  Thanks for a great meal, Chris. Two, in fact. Cheers

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