I love snorkeling. It feels to me like peering into a colorful alien world where I’ve come as an explorer. I love the weightlessness on water’s surface and diving down to peer beneath a coral shelf that hides a school of timid fish or something unexpected in its shade. Underwater life looks so different from the terrestrial forms we’re used to, but it’s hard not to give marine creatures human characteristics: fish eyes that seem to widen in wonder as I near (just as mine do), the graceful slow ballet dance of a manta ray, the down-turned scowl of a grumpy grouper.
Of course, if you’re spending water-time constantly readjusting uncomfortable equipment or suffering from not being properly outfitted later, it can take away from the fun. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tips (some the hard way) to make the snorkeling experience easier so I’m able to forget about everything except all there is to observe and enjoy in the aquatic surroundings!
1. Make sure your equipment fits well before you head out on a trip. If a mask fits your face, it should stay on without using the head-strap when you gently press the mask onto your face and let go. A good seal is vital so you don’t have water slowly leaking in as you snorkel. Fins should fit snugly on your feet (or over your booties if you’ll be wearing booties), if they’re loose they can cause uncomfortable blisters.
2. Choose your attire wisely. Although you may be snorkeling in the waters of Indonesia or Palau where the average water temperature is a bathtub warm of the mid 80s, having full or significant body coverage is always a good idea for a few reasons. First, after a while, even warm ocean water will suck heat from your body and you can get a chill. Second, there can be stinging things (like plankton) in the water that are uncomfortable when they come in contact with your skin. Third (and this is one I learned the hard way), sun protection! Even if you are diligent with waterproof sunblock, the elements can beat you. A lightweight full body wetsuit or dive skin are excellent warriors against sunburn, help to conserve body warmth, and provide sting protection. Wetsuits can provide added buoyancy to make your snorkeling more relaxed surface floating, but if you feel confined or uncomfortable in wetsuits, dive skins are a good alternative.
3. Speaking of sunscreen. There have been reports that chemicals in common sunscreens can cause bleaching of coral reefs. In order to protect your skin and protect the reef, choose “reef safe” sunblock.
4. Mask tricks. Masks are most often the source of snorkelers’ frustrations. Even if it fits well, water can find ways to leak in or it can fog up and cloud the view. To minimize water leaking into a well fit mask, make sure that all of your hair is clear of the mask’s skirt so that a solid seal forms between the mask and your skin. Before you get in the water, use an anti-fogging agent in your mask. If you don’t have access to an official “no fog” product, all of these will give you similar results: toothpaste, baby shampoo, spit, a raw potato slice. Rub any of these products inside the mask and then rinse briefly with water and your mask should resist fogging (make sure to rinse the shampoo or toothpaste well enough so that it doesn’t sting your eyes while snorkeling). The toothpaste method is especially recommended if you have a new mask that may have residue left on the lens from the manufacturing process as it will successfully clean this away and reduce fogging.
5. Bring an underwater camera. Even if you want to enjoy your snorkeling experience without fiddling with a camera the whole time, it’s a good idea to bring one along on a trip so you have the option of taking it on a few snorkels if you’re so inspired. If you don’t want to invest in a waterproof camera, there are disposable underwater cameras that can be sufficient for memory’s sake (though the photos they produce are far from top quality).
6. Equalize. If you’re the type of snorkeler who likes to dive down below the surface, make sure to equalize the pressure in your ears as you descend. Do this just as you would on a plane, where you pinch your nose closed, close your mouth and push air through your ear canals to ease the pressure. If your mask tightens against your face as you descend, breathe out through your nose a bit to equalize the mask pressure.
Most importantly, relax and have fun and enjoy your visit to our marine neighbors!
If you have other snorkeling tips or tricks, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Interested to see where WT is snorkeling? http://www.wildernesstravel.com/trips/snorkeling
-Text by WT Photoblog Editor Sommer Antrim, Reef photo by WT Graphic Designer Shannon Hastings, Snorkeling the Raja Ampat Archipelago