ESPN The Magazine senior writer Sam Alipour is not shark weak.
While he might have wished NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne’s sponsor for Sunday’s race was Krispy Kreme instead of Discovery’s Shark Week, he nonetheless accepted the No. 5 team’s invitation to join its driver for a shark diving excursion in Nassau, Bahamas.
“Sam was a little nervous about the dive, but pulled through like a champ,” said feature producer Luis Aldea.
Alipour describes feeling slightly differently in his ESPN.com account of the dive (to be posted Thursday morning):
“We’re going to die today.”
A pre-dive pool prep powwow and ensuing strategy session while motoring out into the Atlantic ensured no fatalities or lost limbs. But as Aldea said, “There was no cage to protect either Kasey or Sam. The sharks were Caribbean reef sharks — somewhat non aggressive, but once the chum was in the water, that was out of the window.”
“[Senior coordinating producer] Glenn Jacobs at SportsCenter gave me the official green light on my birthday, June 3,” Alipour said. “To be honest, I was deeply conflicted about SC’s birthday present. I’m a thrill-seeker for sure, and generally speaking I’m very much a fan of work trips to the Bahamas, but I’d never dived before and I’m a total ninny when it comes to sharks. I mean, I saw ‘Jaws’ and I read the papers, so I know how these stories can end. Honestly, more than a small part of me was hoping for the shoot to fall apart before I got on that plane for Nassau.”
At the very least, Alipour probably was hoping for some more vino with Amare Stoudemire.
– Producer Luis Aldea
And while Aldea was in the catbird seat 35-feet above the action, he literally had to remind his subjects that an actual interview was part of the deal for the SportsCenter piece (debuting Thursday).
“The toughest part of the shoot for me was the unknown, meaning when both Sam and Kasey were underwater and I had no idea of what the video would look like since the camera folks were underwater, too,” Aldea said. “Fortunately, both Sam and Kasey wore masks with mics on them and we had speakers topside where we could listen, record and talk to everyone underwater.”
“The sharks’ excitability with food in the water really threw Kasey and I off our game,” Alipour said. “I think we both figured we’d swim with a bunch of Nemos and maybe see a few small, indifferent sharks from a distance, but what we found instead were countless, NBA-sized beasts that would bump us for no good reason and could even bite us if we inadvertently extend our arms or pointed our fingers. Seriously, what the hell, man?
“Ultimately, our gracious hosts left our appendages intact, but they gave Kasey and I no shortage of scares by way of physical contact,” he said.