By Ambassador Ken Kiefer
You're never too old to chase your dreams...
Growing up, my parents were always telling me inspirational things like "follow your dreams" and "if you set your mind to it, you can do it." You know, the usual stuff that great parents do for their kids.
About a year ago, I found myself regurgitating these inspiring words to my parents to sound nice and supportive. They were looking at pictures that Kimber and I shot of whale sharks near Isla Mujeres with Solo Buceo and were saying how fun it looks and amazing whale sharks must be. Then, they started laughing and saying maybe they should go swim with them. I kind of threw out some of the "sure, you should look into that someday" and "you can do it!" and random words that sometimes come into my scatterbrain... never thinking it would really come to anything.
A few months later, mom and dad called me and said that they had booked their flight and hotel and were gearing up to swim with the whale sharks. Also, they had a huge area of their living room wall set aside for giant metal prints of them doing so and they needed quality pictures from me. And, they were bringing my aunt and uncle along, so of course they will need pics as well!!
All of the sudden my vague arbitrary follow your dreams words were taking on a concrete, in-your-face reality!
I immediately did some freaking out and wondering how I was going to pull this off. I mean, I love taking pictures of big animals and divers and things like that, but I’ve never had parental pressure behind any of those images!!
Then, I remembered 10,000+ things that my parents had done for me over the years, and decided that I was going to make this work no matter what I had to do! I was suddenly the leader of the Senior Whale Shark Tour.
Kimber and I coached them on what gear to buy and what to expect on the trip. They are certified divers, but the snorkeling with whale sharks is a bit different. Long and maybe bumpy boat ride. And always the possibility that weather or animals might make things tough or even not possible. Plus, the need to channel your inner Michael Phelps to swim alongside the leviathans for a picture... (the real Michael Phelps, not the computer generated one.)
The whale sharks tend to congregate during the summer where a combo of fish eggs, plankton and currents are favorable. Our first day in the water with the Senior Whale Shark Tour, we found that spot to be where the waters of the Gulf of Mexico met the Caribbean. That was a problem for photography because where those come together you can see a delineation between blue and green water. And, matter of fact, the whale sharks were actually feeding in very brown water with a visibility of about 8 feet.
Since it was the first time that the Senior Four had ever been in the water with a giant whale shark, they were thrilled, even with the challenging conditions.
Luckily, the next two days found the sharks back in the beautiful Caribbean waters. With laughter and screams of delight, we pushed our Senior Four to the limits of endurance and made sure they enjoyed the experience to their hearts delight!
This trip could not have been more of a success, and I’m super proud of my parents and aunt/uncle for embarking and succeeding on this great adventure!!
Couldn’t have happened without my awesome wife Kimber, the incredible people at Solo Buceo Dive Shop in Cancun, and our amazing Ikelite underwater gear!
The only scary part was right before we flew home, my mom casually said "maybe we should try Hammerheads next!"