“What’s the best dive you’ve ever done?” has to be the most frequently asked question of any scuba enthusiast, and it’s such a tough one to answer because every dive is different, and each one has its highlights.
But my current go-to answer? The night manta ray dive in Kona, Hawaii with Big Island Divers.
Kona is a beautiful spot both above and below the surface. We snorkeled with dolphins and turtles in the morning before we even checked in at the dive shop. We took a boat out in the late afternoon with a plan to do a regular dive, then do a surface interval and eat dinner on the dive boat while watching the sunset, and then dive in again to see the manta rays.
We saw a couple of rays on the first dive, which is always exciting, but other than that it was some pretty standard coral and fish. But the second dive…
The concept is that the rays come out to feed at night. All the divers are given powerful flashlights and taken to the sandy bottom about 30 feet below the surface. Everyone sits on the sea floor (with rocks in their laps to make sure they stay put against the current) and shines their lights upwards. The light attracts plankton, the plankton attracts the rays.
As we descended, divers from other boats were already on the bottom, or were descending around the same time. The beams from their flashlights cutting through the blue water created an otherworldly environment, made even more alien by the presence of ENORMOUS FRIGGIN’ MANTA RAYS!
We hit the bottom and took our seats, and our guides placed rocks in our laps. We shined our lights up as instructed and within seconds we had manta rays with 12-foot wingspans swooping just inches over our heads. On a good night, divers are lucky to see four or five manta rays. Our guides counted at least 22. Every direction you looked, there was another one, gracefully flapping its wings and looping through the beams of light while scooping up its dinner.
The experience of watching the acrobatics of these majestic creatures in this surreal environment is something that can never be fully conveyed with words or images. Having dived in so many places and seen so many stunning things and interacted with so many awesome animals, there’s nothing that quite compares to the multi-sensory experience of having a manta ray fly through a flashlight beam past your face 30 feet underwater. The novelty of the sensation is so acute that it triggers a sense of giddiness that most of us lose as we become adults. The combination of the water, the darkness, and the scale and proximity of these fantastic fish demolishes all sense of earthly context. What you’re left with is a pure sense of wonder.
It’s not a dive that tests your limits: It’s only 30 feet, and once you descend you’re just sitting on the ocean floor and watching the show. Hawaii isn’t even that hard to get to, compared to most other “bucket list” dive sites around the world. The price is about average for any normal diving day trip, and even the boat ride to and from the dive site isn’t that long. It somehow seems embarrassing to say that the best dive I’ve ever done was accomplished so easily.
But diving with the manta rays was nothing short of magic. It’s the essence of why people strap on tanks and regulators in the first place. If there is a better dive out there, I can’t wait to experience it.