Surfing with Manta Rays

3 Jun

I’m still waiting for the pictures from my wedding so I’ll have to kill some time with an awesome experience.

Somewhere in a remote beach south of the border lays a secret I’ve never heard about.  It started out with a conversation with my buddy that I thought was more exaggeration than truth.  In other words, a bullshit story.  It went like this.  “Did you snorkel today?” I asked.  “No I didn’t get a chance to get in but I saw some manta rays in the surf”  he replied.  “WTF?  Big ones?” I asked.  “No they were small, kind of like small bat rays but they were mantas I think”.  “Are you sure they weren’t stingrays?” I asked.  “Dude I shit you not, they were diamond shaped and had the little protrusions from their heads like mantas!” he stated to my unbelieving ears.  We wandered to the beaches edge.  “Check it out” he pointed to the surf.

I glanced at the waves and at first couldn’t see anything.  Then slowly as the next wave formed I saw a distinct bat like shape flap into the crest of the wave and surf it in.  No Freaking Way.  Actually I said something that was a little more crude but you get the idea.  I crept up closer and watched again as another wave form.  It was unmistakable, four of the critters few into the wave and surfed it until the wave broke.  They were clearly very small manta rays or more likely a close cousin called mobula rays.  Look it up, I’m not going to get into the fine details but basically the difference was that mantas have a mouth opening between the “horns” on their face and mobulas have their mouth more on the underside like stingrays.

We hastily made plans to go check them out the next morning.  Much too early for a guy who spent the whole week partying, the phone rang too early and I groaned and picked it up.  “Lets go eat breakfast and then dive”.  I threw on my boardshorts and grabbed my gear and we headed out.  At first we kicked a long way out to the outer reef about a quarter mile away.  It was rough there and we were hoping to spot the mobulas (or mantas or whichever one they were, I’m fairly certain they were mobulas though) but didn’t even spot a single one.  I shot footage of some other neat fish like puffers, clown hawkfish, and other small tropical fish though.  On the way back we hit the sand flats and spent about a half hour making drops without seeing jack shit.

As we headed to shore we found out why.  Those rays were staying shallow.  Really shallow, like a foot of water out to about five feet where the waves were breaking.  We found a clear area where they were all over the place, I started shooting video and then…my freaking battery died out.  Wow great.

I made plans to go out again the next morning, armed with a fresh charge on my battery.  The visibility wasn’t as good but I started shooting some video of them surfing the waves and then when I started shooting some underwater video.  Great shots, the rays were right up by me, I shot probably an hour of video of some really close shots and some great underwater surfing shots.  When I ran back to my room to download the video I could hardly contain myself.  I’m going to have shots like National Geographic!  I started playing back the clips and then was horrified to notice that I had been shooting the far away shots with the zoom lens and every shot I did underwater showed the rays up so close that the camera image was unstabilized and you could only see the ray’s tail or part of its head.  Great, zero for two.

The next day I again woke up early and headed out.  The visibility was even worse but I started shooting video, and once again got some great shots.  When I ran back to my room and played them back I noticed my camera housing had fogged so badly it looked like I was shooting in some thick fog bank from the pirates of the carribbean.  You couldn’t tell what was water and what was animal life.  Pretty much I started to really get an appreciation of how hard it is to be a wildlife cinemetographer.  I was now zero for three, but I didn’t give up.  Over the next two days I shot hours of footage before my camera housing fogged and have got some “okay” footage that I’ll share with you. Several times I also wasn’t paying attention and got tossed and got my head slammed into the sand so hard I had a ringing headache.  At any rate,  please do not be too critical, because IDGAF what you think and plus if you start clowning me there is a good chance I will hurt you :).

I will say that it was absolutely incredible to see these rays surfing like that, to this day I am unsure of the reason because I’ve never read about it.  Since most fish don’t do a lot of playing, especially dangerous playing (some of the rays were getting worked by the surf so badly that their skin was getting cut pretty bad), I’m guessing it had to do with feeding.  There is one hilarious shot where a single ray is riding down the face of a nice wave and it gets pearled and tumbles all over the place.  I guess I’m not the only lameo surfer around!

Check out the video of them surfing!!  I put two versions up, one is on youtube, the other on vimeo.  The youtube is a better version:

Youtube version (cleaner images, larger file)

Vimeo version (smaller, rougher images, smaller file)


One Response to “Surfing with Manta Rays”


  1. First Day in Paradise « Healthy Coconut - June 3, 2011

    […] story is about surfing with manta rays. They were swimming and playing in the ocean during our stay. Chris was all over it and took great […]

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