I was shocked by an electric ray when I was younger while scuba diving with a buddy in the kelp beds off La Jolla Cove in San Diego. It was in fact a Pacific Electric Ray. It’s one of those scuba stories I tell with a caveat. The caveat is I was young, inexperienced, and I hadn’t yet heard the sage advice from fellow scuba divers: “If it doesn’t move away when you approach…don’t touch it.” Well, I touched it and I learned that lesson the hard way. So here’s a scuba flashback that will hopefully spare some young and inexperienced kid the shock of a lifetime.
Thor and I have been friends since we were 12-years old. We grew up together and became best of friends. We swam on the swim team together. We lifeguarded together. And we enjoyed scuba diving together. One beautiful summer day we decided to go for a dive at La Jolla Cove. With 30-40 foot visibility we knew it was going to be a good dive, but little did we know we’d be talking about this dive the rest of our lives.
It started out uneventful enough. We unloaded all of our gear at the little grass park above the cove. I found parking while Thor organized the gear. By the time I returned everything was put together. All we needed to do was suit up, do a buddy check, and make our way down the stairs and enter the water.
There was no specific plan for the dive. We just wanted to kick around and hopefully see some stingrays, big fish, and maybe play with the seals on the way out. We eventually found ourselves in the middle of a giant kelp forest. The sun rays danced amidst the kelp sinking deep into the water until they dissipated into the nothingness of a dark bottomless blue. We stayed at about 30-feet because that’s where we saw most of the fish. We meandered around the kelp until I saw one of the strangest looking fish I had ever seen. It looked like the love child of a sting ray and a shark. It hovered between the kelp stipes seemingly content to just drift back and forth in the current.
I grew up watching nature specials and there were certain images which stuck with me. One was a scuba diver riding on back of a giant Manta Ray (which is a no no nowadays). This wasn’t a Manta Ray but it looked like it could do the job. This fish could certainly pull me. It was almost four feet in length and thick. I approached it slowly not wanting to startle it. It still didn’t move. It was brave. As I swam along the side of the fish it seemed to give me a look, which I guess, thinking back now, could be construed as a warning…a look that says “buddy, I don’t know who you think you are, but apparently you have no idea what I can do to you.” I didn’t process it the way I should have because I had visions of being towed through the kelp beds by my new found friend as my scuba buddy Thor looked on in awe at my spectacular fish riding skills.
I kicked up over top of it and then slowly drifted down. Kicking forward gently I positioned my hands just above the inside portion of his large wings. Thor was coming through the kelp off to the side and I knew he could see me. This was epic. We were going to have the greatest story ever. I imagined Thor telling the story over a beer later that night as a group of our friends hung on his every word… yes this was going to be a spectacular ride. My hands slowly came down one at a time on the fish. It was slick, rubbery and thick. Now it started to move forward very slowly. I could tell he wasn’t happy with this new weight anchored to his frame. I held on as he inched forward slowly and then it happened. A jolt of electricity charged through my body which left me confused, shocked (literally), and a little bit scared. I let go immediately.