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La Jolla Kayaking With A Shark-Phobic Spouse

Author: Stacey V. Levinson
Date of Trip: August 2012

I love swimming with sharks. I know that’s a shock given that 2 articles on my site ( are about swimming with sharks. My husband, however, does not share my enthusiasm. So how do you get him in the water when you want to swim with sharks, but it is a non-child filled weekend and you also want to spend time together? Easy. Take him to La Jolla.

La Jolla, CA is one of the most highly photographed and high-end places on earth. It is the only place I have been where it is socially accepted that you get absolutely hammered when you visit. You start at Jose’s Mexican restaurant near the Cove and work your way down to the ocean, trying not to fall in when you get there. Everything serves liquor with a view – even the art galleries. Why? I suspect it’s a lot like Vegas. They want you to spend money.

I used a parallel tactic to get Mark, my husband, in the water with leopard sharks on a San Diego Bike & Kayak Tours Caving & Snorkel adventure. Leopard sharks are harmless but Mark’s not big on water. He will perform his own personal ballet to avoid beach seaweed. He will leave the room if I’m watching Shark Week.

He will not agree to partake in shark tours – while sober. But he will enjoy it once he’s in the water. It’s a conundrum.

We started at Jose’s. It was margarita special night. After 5 bowls of chips, 3 shots of Cuervo and unknown margaritas, I asked him about the shark tour by saying it was a “kayak tour, and I know you’ve always wanted to do that.” Then I showed him the Groupon that offered the tour for $15 when it’s normally $85. That sealed the deal, but, “only if we can go on Sunday. I want to go on a Sunday.” I immediately booked next Sunday.

It was Friday night. I was drinking Dr. Pepper.

Saturday was his fantasy football draft so he had no time for sharks. When it came up later he’d already been back around the margarita wheel because he drafted at Barfly, a bar-during-the-day and club-at-night ‘restaurant’ with free internet service.

I also may or may not have left out the seals. Seals are prevalent in San Diego and concentrated in La Jolla, and it is possible the area we were snorkeling in was directly below a seal-viewing area. Seals like caves. It was a caving tour.

Mark likes seals. The seals aren’t the problem. The problem is that seals, although sleek and nimble in the water, are the main food source for sharks. Seals and sharks. The two are connected in his subconscious like “peanut butter” and “jelly,” or, “Ryan Matthews” and “still a good pick”.

On Sunday we left with only enough time to get to the tour shop because I am a girl and girls can take as long as they want to get ready.
Parking is tricky by La Jolla Cove, so Mark was off finding a spot when the earthquake hit. I was signing the release forms at the time.

The quake was centered in Mexicali and registered 5.4. This is not a comforting sensation, because two other words that go together are “earthquake” and “tsunami.” But there were several Tours coming back and we were assured that the water was calm.

Mark arrived and we both changed into the best outfit anyone can wear – a wetsuit. Neoprene sucks in everything. You may have sported a muffin-top on the way in, but when you leave for the Tour you will have Halle Berry’s curves.

All 10 people on the Tour did our sexy neoprene stroll down to the water, where they handed us helmets and snorkel gear and we were no longer sexy. They showed us how to paddle. We were in a circle and a few people were unintentionally smacked around but they took it in stride. I like people that go on these things. They’re usually adventurous and slightly nervous so they take a lot in stride.

We pushed our 2-person kayak in the water and Mark immediately began to paddle like someone had slipped a harsh stimulant into his coffee. When I sweetly asked him what the hell he was doing, he said, “I want to keep up.” I pointed out that we were spinning in circles and maybe this wasn’t the best strategy, but he really wanted to get in a work-out. So I dug in and went at it with him.

We eventually wound up in sync with the Tour and, since only half of the participants spoke English, the guides spent a lot of time talking to us. They also spent a lot of time pushing our kayak away because we were constantly paddling at them, banging our kayak into theirs as we failed to stop paddling in time. But the guides too took it all in stride.

They spent the rest of their time trying to keep the non-English speaking contingent from paddling into dangerous cliffs or drifting into other tours. They were mildly successful.

When it came time to get in the water, we stopped at the Seven Caves and listened to the seals as their barks echoed around and through the rocks and water. And then, in we dove.

Hands held, we watched the tall underwater grass move like a field in the wind. Colorful fish flitted in every direction and we split to follow different schools. The leopard sharks were hard to see but they were accounted for and a beauty to watch.

About ten minutes later I felt a hand on my back. Mark was pointing to a seal floating in place about 2 feet away that I somehow hadn’t noticed.
We stayed like that for awhile. The water, nature and warm contact enveloped us and there was only unspoken joy.

It was one of the most romantic times either of us has experienced and it was all because he kept his word and faced his fears. He could have backed out. We both knew he could have, and we both knew he would not.

We got back into the kayak fairly easily from the water. I got in a lot easier but I am not 6’3 or 185 lbs. There’s a reason gymnasts are tiny.

We managed a good rhythm on the way back, and, when we arrived at the off-shore starting point, the guides explained how to ride the waves back into shore without tipping over. They made the tipping over thing sound really dramatic. I suspect it’s because they were bored with the whole touring bit by then, and just wanted to go surf already.

Naturally, we tipped over on the way in. Mark tried to look at a fish and 185 lbs. tips a kayak easily when it’s leaning half-way over the edge. But it was warm at the shore and any excuse to get back in that water was a good one.

The tip was all talk. It was about as un-dramatic as you can get. After falling into gently rolling waves, we easily righted the lightweight boat while gently pushing it to shore. And then we immediately removed the helmets.

I now love kayaking.

And that’s how you get a shark-phobic spouse in shark infested water and have an amazing time.

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