My Swim with Moko the Wild Dolphin

Like many surfer girls, my affinity for the ocean and the sport of surfing goes hand in hand with my love for dolphins. In fact it wasn’t so much the graceful beauty of Lisa Anderson shredding through a sweet right-hander, but the allure of these beautiful creatures and my desire to be near them that initially drew me to the sport.  

Tucked away are vivid memories of my tiny hands turning the pages of my parents’ giant Jean-Michel Cousteau coffee table book — my hazel eyes drawn to each photo of these majestic creatures. I daydreamed of being a dolphin trainer and practiced every time I swam in our backyard pool. I named the mosaic-tiled dolphin at the shallow end of our pool “Sparky” and as a little girl would talk to him underwater and even once convinced my best friend’s sister he was real. I spent countless sunburned summer afternoons watching Flipper re-runs in my soggy swimsuit and towel.

My little girl dream to intimately experience the wonder of this fascinating animal in the wild came true unexpectedly on a trip to New Zealand in 2009 with my husband Paul.  Like many traveling surfers on the North Island, we headed straight for Raglan from Auckland airport after picking up our camper van that screamed tourist. Sadly, we missed the legendary left due to stormy, blown-out conditions but made the best of our time over cups of flat whites and sweet conversation with local friends.

After spending a few rainy days at some friends’ “bach” in Maricopa, a quaint town off the traveler’s path marked by rugged surf and sheep farms, we headed for the East Cape.

A store owner told us about Moko’s beach, where a wild resident dolphin lived and received world wide fame when he rescued two sperm whales in 2008. He told us Moko loved to safely swim with people and didn’t have a pod for a family.

We arrived at Moko’s beach. After twenty minutes of searching for Moko, I finally spotted a dark grey dorsal fin next to the orange buoy.

“I’m going out,” I told my husband.

“I’ve swam with lots of dolphins surfing,” he claimed. “I doubt this one is any special dolphin,” he said having no idea what he was going to miss out on.

As the wind pelted my face, I donned my 4.3 suit and hoodie and grabbed my vintage single fin for the paddle out. A sudden panic swept over me as the possibility that this was just a mean joke the locals play on tourists and Moko was really a fifteen foot great white. 

My fear vanished when Moko greeted me with a gentle bump on my board. Our play date had begun. The next hour was magical. Moko had a fin-full of games and I quickly caught on. Moko’s favorite game was hide and seek. He would disappear for a little while and as I was calling his name he would surprise me with a little bump on my side. Then his head would surface showing his adorable smile. 

I took off my wetsuit hoodie and just like my Golden Retriever Sunny, Moko would fetch it and bring it back to me. Moko also loved tunnel tag and would swim through my legs. There are few moment’s in my life when I’ve felt so alive and free.

I cherish my swim with Moko as a good and perfect gift from above — a gift that reminds me even in the desert and stormy seasons of life there is beauty and goodness. This dream come true reminds me that joy is always worth fighting for.

Do you have a “dream come true” or a mountain top experience that reminds you that even in the difficult or mundane moments of life, beauty and goodness is all around us?

P.S. While I was fortunate to have a blissful experience with Moko, not everyone did and in hindsight I don’t personally recommend swimming with wild dolphins!  From now on, I will enjoy them from my surfboard. Moko lived a short life and can you can read more about him on Wikipedia

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