Brandon Bethea, Founder, Fin Forward
There is a powerful parallel between sharks and cancer survivors: enduring and continuously moving forward.
Most of us have experienced the transforming, therapeutic powers of the ocean. Maybe, it took the form of a shoreline walk, a soul-cleansing swim, or the perfect sunset. Some feel it riding the perfect wave on the surface, others during a dive below. Regardless, it’s hard to deny that there is something magical about the world’s oceans.
Two events in 2007 changed my life forever. First, I lost my mom after a brief bout with cancer. Second, I decided to take her dream trip to Australia on her behalf and added my own bucket list item to the itinerary – cage diving with great white sharks. Some people get their breakthrough ideas in the shower or by the shore. My calling came in a shark cage.
Me with a great white. Photo courtesy of Brandon Bethea.
After resurfacing to reality, I decided to start Fin Forward to provide shark dives and other therapeutic marine encounters for cancer survivors.Why not offer one of the most life-changing adventures and sought-after bucket list items at a point when survivors are experiencing a powerful, personal shift in perspective?
In addition, Fin Forward provides a unique platform to help dispel myths about sharks and cancer, and demystify some of the motives behind the overfishing and finning of sharks around the world. There is a powerful parallel between sharks and survivors: enduring and continuously moving forward.
Fin Forward is more than just shark dives. It’s about harnessing the healing powers of the ocean and the joy of sharing an experience with other people as well as the animals below. It’s about interacting with our oceans, without interfering with them. Shark diving isn’t for everyone, so we also offer land-based activities at Fin Forward, such as survivor bonfires, aquarium visits, educational events, and film nights.
Mako shark seen from the surface. Photo courtesy of Brandon Bethea.
Depending on the participant’s comfort level with the water and marine life, we offer a spectrum of marine encounters ranging from observatory experiences (e.g. whale-watching cruises, aquarium visits, etc.) to more participatory swims with sharks, dolphins, and other marine life. These life-changing events can act as milestone moments during periods when survivors may be more open to experiencing new things or confronting their challenges and fears. Our trips not only give an experience of personal courage and confidence, but inspire survivors towards their own causes, which have ranged from ocean conservation to breast cancer awareness, to bone marrow donations. As we like to say at Fin Forward, “We help cancer survivors dream in color…mostly blue!”
I recently entered a contest called “The Power to Change” for $30,000. I entered Fin Forward and was blown away by the support I received for my vision. After getting hundreds more likes than any other entry on Facebook, it was heartbreaking to miss winning based on the judges’ votes, but it proved there is a need for Fin Forward, and made me more motivated than ever to grow the program.
Thumbs up in the shark cage! Photo courtesy of Brandon Bethea.
If I had one wish, it would be for everyone to experience our oceans from a different perspective. Break the surface. Cross the line. Dare to dive deeper in life and explore. What you find might change you and convince you that we truly do live in one world, with one great ocean!
Whether it’s shared resources or shared experiences, the ocean has so much to offer us. The least we can do is listen and show it a little love and respect, in return.
If interested in joining forces with Fin Forward as a participant, volunteer, or sponsor, please feel free to contact us and share our cause with your friends and fellow ocean lovers.