Oh, the joys of snorkeling- the perfect blend of recreation and leisure for water sports lovers the world over.
There are more incredible destinations for snorkeling than any one person could see in a hundred lifetimes, meaning the possibilities for exploration our planet’s underwater life and ecosystems are pretty much endless. You don’t need to invest in thousands, or even hundreds of dollars of gear to get up and running and the learning curve is such that people of just about any age or skill level can participate. But even as snorkeling is a relatively safe water sport, the fact that it is performed on the open water makes it important to nonetheless gain a basic understanding of the fundamentals so that you can have an optimally safe and fun experience.
It’s tempting to dive right into all of the best places for snorkeling in the United States, and it’s even more tempting to survey the hottest spots around the globe, but before we touch on that, we’re going to offer a little Snorkeling 101, for those of you who may be first-timers or looking to perfect the art after going out once or twice. We’ll also assess the snorkeling gear you’ll need to make your trip a success. And don’t worry, we’re not forgetting about snorkeling destinations. There are so many of them worth writing about, we decided to dedicate a full blog entry to the subject to demonstrate all of the magical opportunities out there and to help get you going on your way.
The big key to snorkeling is understanding that, just because the activity does not require intense physical output, that does not necessarily mean that snorkeling is easy. While other, high-intensity water sports may demand sharpening skills that require a bit more practice and staying cool under high-pressure situations, snorkeling requires that you keep your focus and concentration so you don’t over-exert, causing yourself undo problems. It becomes easy once you get the basics down, including floating (as compared to flailing), using your equipment properly and understanding how to be cognizant of the safety of yourself, others and the natural environment in which you are swimming
First thing’s first, you need to do a check of your gear.
Do you have your snorkel, mask and fins in line? If you are planning to snorkel once on vacation, you’ll do fine just to rent, but if you plan on making snorkeling a regular activity on your next trip, you will be best served to purchase your own equipment. It is not expensive in the least and proper-fitting gear is of the utmost importance, especially for novice snorkelers. Faulty masks or snorkels, or masks that let in water and bubbles can cause otherwise cool-under-the-collar swimmers to panic unnecessarily. Don’t worry- any professional snorkeling outfitter will work with you to ensure you have the right gear for you and you can always test it out in a pool or shallow waters before officially taking the plunge.
Once you have your snorkel, mask and fins and know where you’re going to be snorkeling, you want to keep some basic best practices in mind. First, trust your snorkel. We highly recommend that you take it into the pool or into very shallow water and get the feel for floating while breathing naturally. After a few minutes you’ll get the sense that you really don’t need to do all that much except float, use your fins to move, and as long as you’re breathing naturally and keeping the end of the snorkel above the surface of the water, you’re in for smooth sailing. Interestingly enough, within what sounds like a very rudimentary process like this, so many people tend not to trust that they can actually breathe through the snorkel. Perhaps it’s because most of us aren’t used to breathing through a tube, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Breathe naturally and if you feel some water enter the snorkel, you can very easily blow it right back out. You may even consider trying this in the pool- allowing a little bit of water in and blowing it back out.
After learning to regulate and focus on natural breathing, you want to practice your floating and notice that you only have to use your arms very little, and rather that it is the proper use of the fins that primarily moves you about. You definitely want to swim at a pace that is in keeping with natural, easy breathing. When you’re hovering above a particular area, perhaps a sparkling coral reef, you can just tuck your arms under your chest or lightly use treading strokes to keep you in place. Also, keep in mind that for certain snorkelers who may have special needs or who are simply not the strongest swimmers, there’s nothing wrong with donning a life jacket to make your snorkeling experience more gratifying. The crux of breathing and floating appropriately in snorkeling is learning how to completely relax in the water. In order to do this, you need to practice and learn to trust yourself and your gear.
After even your first time out, you will find that your confidence and skill level have improved dramatically and you’ll be ready to take on your next destination, and perhaps even the wild world of scuba diving in deeper waters. But before we head out too far beyond the coastline, let’s review some final need-to-know’s:
Snorkeling is a look but don’t touch water sport. Just take this to mean everything. You’re swimming in the habitats of marine life and you want to respect the territory. Don’t touch marine life including fish, corals, rocks…. Or anything else!
Take time to know your environment. If you’re working with a snorkeling outfitter to rent gear on a vacation, for example, you can ask about the local marine life, the depth of the water and virtually anything else you want to know about. The best companies will preempt this conversation by offering this information readily, including communicating the can’t-miss sights, as well as the safety rules and regulations to be aware of.
Unless you’re a seasoned snorkeler or diver, it’s best to try to snorkel with other people, or at the least, one other person. It’s just a basic best practice to have someone else out there getting your back.
It’s worth repeating… RELAX out there. When you relax and just breathe and trust your gear, your heart rate goes down and you actually begin to see all of the breathtaking marvels around you. Get past that early panic phase so you can enjoy the glory of snorkeling… it’s more than worth it.
Now that you’ve completed Snorkeling 101, you’re ready to move on to advanced-level, in-the-water action!