Snorkeling for Fun, Fitness and Food. A beginners guide to getting started.
Welcome to the world of snorkelling.
Snorkeling is a fantastic underwater activity that allows you the privilege of seeing and being a part of the amazing realm below the surface of the water.
Cheaper and safer than scuba diving, snorkelling can be enjoyed by anyone who is a competent swimmer.
All you need are a few pieces of equipment and some basic skills and you are ready to embark on your first underwater adventure.
My personal experience in snorkelling.
My first experience in snorkelling began as a kid with just a borrowed mask and snorkel (I will talk about these items later).
I swallowed half the ocean I'm sure but seeing underneath the surface had me hooked and shortly after I invested in my own equipment.
Sometimes I'm content to just swim along and view the amazing fish and other sea creatures while other times I'll take a spear and catch lunch - there is nothing like freshly caught fish or abalone for lunch.
Snorkelling - what you'll need.
A diver's mask allows you to see clearly underwater and protects your eyes from grit, salt and other matter floating in the ocean.
A basic child's mask is usually made of clear plastic clipped into a plastic frame and surrounded by either a pvc or less commonly nowadays rubber skirt that straps to the users face.
These are ok for children who like to wade waist deep and look at starfish but are not recommended for anything beyond that.
A decent mask is made of tempered glass, a solid plastic and occasionally metal (stainless steel) frame and a silicone skirt which is either black or clear.
Tempered glass is much more scratch resistant and provided you don't dump heavy gear on top or drop it from a second storey building will last for years.
Snorkelling - your snorkel.
Next to your mask you'll need a breathing tube - your snorkel.
Basically your snorkel is a shaped piece of pipe with a mouthpiece.
This attaches to the strap on your mask and protrudes above the waterline when your face is submerged and allows you to breathe through your mouth without needing to lift your head out of the water.
Advanced models like the one I use have a purge valve located near the mouthpiece which makes it easier to clear your snorkel if you have filled it with water (after you have dived down to the bottom for example and then resurfaced).
A good snorkel will feel comfortable in your mouth and have a bore or opening wide enough to make breathing easy.
Fins or flippers for propulsion.
A set of fins will add mobility to your underwater experience and will help you to keep up with the fish.
There are essentially two types of fins available to choose from and they vary in materials and price.
Fins come as either a full slipper type and fit on over your foot (just like a slipper) or as a strap type (see the picture).
I personally have used both but prefer the strap type which are usually worn with diver's boots.
The reason I use these is because it gives me the ability to take off my fins in the water and then safely scramble over rocks without getting my feet cut on barnacles (which by the way can cause a nasty infection).
Fins with a softer blade are easier to use if you are a beginner or younger since they require less muscle effort when kicking.
A more rigid blade made of stronger material will give you more speed or power but requires more physical strength and endurance.
A wetsuit (If you are really keen).
The human body was not designed to be in the water for long periods of time.
The big issue is heat loss.
This is not usually a problem snorkelling in tropical paradise surrounded by warm water.
If you are only going to be in for a few minutes that's fine.
For cooler water a wetsuit is vital.
A wetsuit is usually a one or two piece close fitting suit made from neoprene (a porous rubber like material).
It works by trapping a layer of water in the material which is then heated by the wearer's body and effectively acts just like being inside a hot water bottle.
A wetsuit effectively will keep you warm for hours and will also help to protect you from sunburn and scratches.
Other stuff you might want.
Here is a list of items you might find useful.
Neoprene gloves and boots - These will protect your hands and feet from cuts and keep your fingers and toes warm.
Neoprene hood - If it's cold - (thirty percent of body heat is lost through the head).
A spear - Only if you want to catch lunch (please don't spear for sport and only catch what you really need).
A knife - Usually these are strapped to your leg for easy access.
A weight belt - only if your wetsuit is so boyant you can't dive.
The right one to choose is a belt that is easy to release in case of an emergency.
You should have enough weight that your face goes just into the water (but you don't sink) when you breathe out completely and are not kicking.
A Boyancy vest - this is a safety vest that can be inflated in an emergency to help keep you afloat.
Underwater camera - to record your snorkeling adventures.
Some helpful tips in getting started in snorkelling.
Here are some pointers to get you going.
The first thing I recommend anyone learn when starting to snorkel is how to clear their snorkel of water.
The best way I have found to do this is to stand waist deep in water and submerge the head while holding my breath and allowing the snorkel to fill with water.
The next step is to then lift the face out of the water and with a strong puff of air exhale quickly to force the water out of the snorkel.
Keep practicing until you are confident with this and can avoid swallowing water.
Practice holding your breath while swimming the length of a swimming pool (underwater) - it will help you develop your lung capacity.
Get comfortable with wearing your face mask and breathing through your mouth only.
Use spit and water to defog your mask (a cut potato is also supposed to work well).
When you go snorkelling always take a dive buddy and remain in sight of each other.
Practice putting on and taking off your fins in the water so you can do it in an emergency.(this is also handy if you happen to have one come off - you don't want to have to get back on land in order to put it back on).
Some more snorkelling related tips.
Below are some tricks you can use to enhance your snorkelling activity.
If you intend to snorkel for an extended period of time you might want to do the following.
Take some fresh water with you.
Although you are relatively cool in water that does not mean you won't lose moisture. It is easy to become dehydrated and not notice it so drink regularly and this will also help you to avoid cramps.
Also snorkeling does burn up energy so take some with you in the form of cereal bars, fruit, nuts etc.
These will help keep you going during the day.
If you are catching fish or collecting shellfish a good idea is to get these out of the water quickly so you will avoid creating a blood trail that may attract the unwanted attention of a shark.
One trick I use is to get a bucket half filled with ice and water to create a slurry and I place my catch in this. You can either leave it on a convenient rock, covered so the seagulls don't get your catch. or you can get an old car inner tube, sit the bucket in this and anchor it somewhere close by or trail it behind you.
Attach a diving flag so people know there is someone below the surface.