The real Shark Tank: cage diving with great whites in South Africa


Often called one of the most exhilarating experiences on earth, I decided to try cage driving with great white sharks while visiting Cape Town for about a month. It seemed like a hell of a way to kick off my time in South Africa – daring, bucket list experience that I will never have to do again in life. And frankly, that’s exactly how I feel about it to this day. If you have a free day in Cape Town and want to try something different, then this experience may be for you. If you hate getting seasick, long boat rides and feeling a shark’s slippery skin rub on your bodysuit, this may NOT be for you.

There are dozens of cage diving operators in the area, so we took one that our hotel suggested (rookie mistake, as I usually do my own research and book something without a middle man getting kick-backs, but the hotel owner was a very kind man, and we trusted his suggestion). The operator is called Supreme Sharks, they are highly experienced – and a day with them (including transportation from Cape Town and back, breakfast, lunch, boat ride, cage diving, wet suit and diving mask) sets you back ~2,000 ZAR (~140 USD) per person, which seems astronomically high compared to prices in the rest of South Africa. Nonetheless, keeping in mind it was a once in a lifetime experience, why the hell not?

At 3:00 a.m., we got picked up from Cape Town in a small van along with a couple of others and began a ~3 hour journey to Gansbaai, a small town near “Sharkstown”.  You can get some shut-eye on this journey, the road isn’t too windy or bumpy.

Arriving at the Supreme Shark center, we were fed a hearty breakfast of eggs, ham and hot tea (which many should NOT have eaten, but I’m getting ahead of myself…). We were also asked to listen to important instructions and warnings, and we signed waivers, essentially relieving the company of all wrong-doing in case we became shark food. So on that cheerful note and a few nervous chuckles later, we selected our wet suits. Note: I’m not scuba-certified, nor do I want to be. It was my second time ever in a wet suit, and unfortunately I learned later that the size was completely wrong (too large) and I’d regret this. We also got dry bags to carry things like cameras and waters, but most of the stuff was left securely at the Center.

Cage diving operators “Supreme Sharks” begin easing their boat into shark-infested waters
Appropriately apprehensive about this insane thing I’m about to do

We walked to the boat aptly named “Great White” to begin a rough 30-minute voyage to a spot where we might find great white sharks. Now, you’re not guaranteed to see any sharks, nor are you compensated if you have this bad luck (I think they give you a discount on your next trip, but no money back…). They do, however, monitor tide levels and weather the day before, so the journey would be cancelled or postponed for safety reasons.

They asked everyone to change into the wetsuits over our bathing suits on board while the boat got anchored in the middle of the sea.

Wet-suited up and wanting a lollipop

This was 7:00 a.m. The weather was not in our favor yet, and we worried that visibility wouldn’t be great, which meant shark sightings could be limited. It was slightly overcast and cold as hell during the month of October. While we were changing, we got divided into 3 groups of 8, as only 8 people can fit into the cage at a time. We were in the second group, so we watched and learned as the first group climbed into the cage to face their fate.

“Helping” people in and out of the cage – I suppose it’s better than becoming shark food
Packed like a can of sardines

The boat captain then tried to lure any nearby sharks in by throwing  stinky chum out into the water on a rope. After what seemed like ages in tumultuously wavy waters, we heard the captain yell “Down! Down!” to the first group. Before I knew it, I saw an ugly gray, razor-like fin speed its way in our direction from below. I would even say the view from the top is more impressive than in the cage if visibility is bad. I stood, stunned and frozen (literally and figuratively) as my mind wrapped around the fact that I was going to be in these icy waters (which was literally about 19 degrees Celcius) moments from now, going head to head with has been ranked the greatest predator on earth. No big deal. I didn’t feel fear, just the usual anxiety. All I saw were rows of jagged teeth, big dead black eyes and that ghoulish fin.

Fins of foes
Comin’ in hot!

Getting after that shark bait

Finally it was our group’s turn. I got in the middle of the cage, putting my swimming mask on tight, and then I felt the cold water hit me like a ton of bricks, because the damn wet suit was a size too big. ARGH!! I decided to divert my attention on not being eaten by a shark instead as the top of the cage door slammed shut with a loud bang. Now all I could hear was the nauseating creakiness of the boat and metal cage rocking against the rise and fall of the sea, while the eight of us waited, partially submerged in the Atlantic Ocean. What sucks is they don’t give you the snorkeling breathing tube, just the mask for your nose and eyes – if you struggle with holding your breath under water, this could be very difficult.

It seemed like an eternity waiting and shivering, and I was about to say, “Get me the fuck out of here” when I heard the dreaded words, “Dive! Dive! Dive!” And intuitively, without taking a deep enough breath, I stuck my head below the water level and moved closer to the edge of the cage, forcing my eyes wide open.

Everything looked murky and green for a second, when I saw a shadow darting around. That can’t be the shark, can it? As the shadow transformed into that familiar gray mass of the predatory creature I saw from above, I caught a glimpse of the stinky chum swing just in front of the cage top, followed by those teeth!! HOLYSHIT! I was cage diving with a great white shark!  The shark came around the cage several more times, bumping the cage angrily as it couldn’t tear off all the chum on the hook. We waited for further signals to dive while we graciously replenished our oxygen in between. I had to remember to hold the cage bars that were NOT outwardly facing the shark… because I fully intended to come back with the 10 fingers I came with.

Dark shadows that turned out to be sharks
View from the cage
When the sharks tail/fin almost knocked the GoPro out of our hands!
They do get insanely close to the cage without actually being inside
Someone wanted breakfast.. and it wasn’t me!
Hangry noms! And those teeth…
Dead eyes, am I right??

After about 20-30 minutes in the cage and a few more appearances by Mrs. Great White (we learned there were several females in the area that morning), we climbed out of the cage.

Me behind two German girls – ready to get into some warm clothes

The third and last group went next, ironically having worse luck and fewer sightings. The captain asked if anyone else wanted to go a second time, but frankly, I had had enough. I was freezing cold, to a point I could not enjoy the experience anymore – and what’s worse, half of the people on the boat were at the edge losing their breakfast. And I’m one of those people who has a serious aversion to vomit. Luckily, I had taken a precautionary Dramamine that morning specifically fearing this situation – but the sight of everyone puking truly made even me feel green at the gills. Funny enough, the solution for seasickness onboard was sucking on these obnoxiously bright sugary lollipops. Literally, the whole boat was all all over them! I hope it helped…

Finally, we changed back into our dry, warm clothes as the boat turned around and made its way back to Gansbaai (by now it was around 11:00 a.m.). I could not WAIT to get off of that boat and kiss the ground. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m an anxious traveler who get sweaty palms and nervous from all unpredictable turbulence, bumps, waves, turns and what not. But sharks? Meh.

One thing I should mention is there’s a professional videographer on board who captures this entire experience for your viewing pleasure. Honestly the boat got so wet and you’re concentrated on seeing sharks, that I didn’t even take our my own phone or pro camera once! So we opted to buy the footage (I believe it was around 30 USD), and it was worth it!

The divers that day

Once back on land (and after breathing a sigh of relief and swearing off boats for a solid year), we actually had worked up a hunger. Lunch was warm and tasty, while they played the video montage from that day on the screens. I purchased the photos and videos, and after that, it was time to head back to Cape Town (around 1:00 p.m.). On the journey back, the entire van was knocked out, including myself.

I may have dreamed of swimming with sharks on the ride back, but my memory is a bit hazy. Overall, it’s an experience I’m glad I did but don’t plan on doing ever again, unless I know the sea conditions are smooth, visibility is high, and my wetsuit fits like a glove!

Would you go diving with sharks? Share your experience or thoughts below!

Glampack and Go!


      • I was bumped by a great white while swimming in very deep water at the beach opposite the island in June 1977, in very bad winter weather. Lucky for me, it didn’t bite. …they first test their prey in this way before attacking, sometimes. I had other friends who also were shark ticklers twenty years later but only Michael bonded with them.

          • I had the equivalent of a serious “grass burn” from hip to knee. No real harm done. I only got a fright many years later when the shark ticklers explained what had happened to me. Ignorance is bliss.

  • For an anxious traveler, you did some gutsy adventure! good for you! I am a scuba diver and have seen plenty of sharks in my day but the earliest I ever woke up was 4:30am for a dive – 3:00am is pretty damn early I say! But I’m glad you got to experience what will undoubtedly be a memory of a lifetime 🙂

    • You’ve done free diving with great whites?? Or like reef sharks? A shark is a shark in my eyes haha, that’s a whole new level of scary/bravery! I’m too nervous of oxygen malfunctioning to attempt diving… plus rough seas, no thanks!

  • Wow this seems like quite the adventure! I’ve contemplated doing this, but I don’t think I’d ever do it in freezing water!! That would just add another level of stress to the experience for me lol.

    • You know, in some ways, the cold water is almost like a good shock, so you’re concentrated on staying warm rather than being afraid. At least that’s how it helped me. And it helped reduce sea sickness (I think!) haha

    • It’s super cool, right? It’s a fun experience to share with others, just wish we had better sea conditions, because not even Vikings could stomach those waves…

  • Oh woow, this is so scary, weren’t you afraid? I would be honest, I think I wouldn’t do it 😀 But great experience that must have been.

    • The only thing that scared me was the idea of throwing up in that awful boat haha – but being in the cage facing sharks was nothing! There were people who were very scared, some opted out completely, but others did it in the end.

  • What an adventure! This is something I’ve never done yet, despite having lived in South Africa for most of my life.

  • I have this on my bucket list, but despite having gone to South Africa twice I still haven’t done it!! So thrilling, you’re very brave!

  • I have never thought about doing this and I think it is an experience full of adrenaline that one should try if into this kind of things. I would need to think hard before considering it but I guess it is a once in a lifetime experience!

    • You know, I don’t know if it was the freezing water or the fact that I was concentrating on not getting sick from the waves, but adrenaline was the last thing I felt on this trip. It was almost like a safari-experience – you’re face to face in a car (or cage, in this instance) with a ferocious predator in the wild. It’s really cool, but not like roller coaster ride exciting, does that make sense? I’m also not afraid of sharks, but I know folks who were and that were on that boat, they had a very hard time getting in the cage. Some actually said no and stayed on board. It just depends on your interests – and I agree, once in a lifetime is enough.

  • I enjoyed your post, and I give you credit for getting in that cage, but shark diving is not on my bucket list. I would have liked to stay on the boat, but on second thought if the passengers were getting sick, maybe not.

    • Well, I guess in this instance I would take being in freezing, shark-infested water over a nauseating boat ride haha! In reality, it was easier to get in the cage because you don’t see the sharks swimming a few feet away. So maybe it was out of sight, out of mind? In fact, I wanted to get more shark action once I was in the cage to JUSTIFY that long, seasick-inducing, expensive journey. I guess everyone has their own adrenaline fixes! I can’t ever do bungee jumping, scuba diving or sky diving though – it just won’t happen!

  • Oh man, I think this is the one adventure I could never bring myself to do! I am terrified of sharks! It was great reading about your experience though, and seeing the pictures.

  • Holy shit this sounds like a crazy experience! But the operator didn’t sound like they were very good – not ensuring your wetsuit is fitted and not providing at least a snorkel!

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