(By Steffie De Man)
I have to admit that I ‘ve never felt at ease in the water. I have overcome my fear of the water here in Mexico. As a guide I had to go into the water if not, no job, no money. I still remember that first time admiring a sea turtle under the water or my first time swimming with the whale shark. Wow, those were indescribably beautiful experiences!
Are you planning to go snorkeling on your next vacation? Then keep reading and learn the art of snorkeling in three simple steps!
What is snorkeling?
Snorkeling is an activity that makes it possible to breathe underwater with the help of a snorkel and a mask through which you can see the underwater world.
The following three steps are essential for a fun snorkeling experience:
Step 1: Mental preparation
This crucial step is often skipped.
Before you jump into the water, you must prepare yourself mentally. Be calm, if you are already nervous or panicky beforehand, it will not work. Breath in, breath out. “Only calmness can save you” my art teacher would have said. If you are really curious about what can be seen under the surface of the water, you will certainly succeed.
Step 2: Practical preparation
Adjust your fins or ‘flippers’ before snorkeling. Your shoe size is not always the same size as your fins, but your shoe size is a good indicator. If the fins are too tight, there is a good chance that you will get cramps in your feet. If they are too loose, you can lose them in the water. They should be comfortable. Don’t run wearing your flippers while on a boat (or anywhere else for that matter): You will look like a penguin; you can fall and you can break the fins. If you are entering the water from the beach, put them on by the surf and then walk backwards or “moonwalk” into the water. Another option is to put them on while sitting in the shallow water.
Mask and snorkel
Put the mask on your face and inhale so that the mask sticks to your face. Then you pull the plastic strap of the mask backwards. This should be at the height of your eyes, so just above the ears. If the band is too high or too low (e.g. on or under the ears), water can seep into the mask. Also make sure that the mask comes over your nose. If you have long hair, make a bun or ponytail and just let the strap rest on your bun or tail. Large pins or hair clips are not recommended.
Do not tighten the strap too hard, because then you will get a headache and water can also get into the mask.
To avoid your mask fogging up, you can rub your mask with a special product that prevents this or even better with your own saliva! (Don’t forget to rinse the mask afterwards!) There’s nothing more annoying than a mask fogging up all the time! If you have just bought a new mask: rub some toothpaste on the inner lenses and let it sit overnight. The next day, rinse everything and your mask is ready to use.
You can wear your snorkel on the left or the right: if you are left-handed like me, hang it on the left side of the mask strap, if you are right-handed, hang it on the right side. Are you really unable to breathe through that pipe? Then just let it hang and hold your breath when you look into the water. Keep in mind that it is much more tiring to swim without a snorkel.
Here in the Riviera Maya and Cancun, wearing a life jacket is mandatory in all protected areas such as Isla Contoy, Sian Ka’an or the natural reserve of the whale shark. Some life jackets are inflatable, others are filled with a type of foam that keeps you afloat.
Make sure you get the right size. Adjust it before you jump into the water. You can tighten it a bit so that it does not crawl up once you are in the water. Mind you, don’t tighten it too much or you will get stomach cramps!
Step 3: Let’s go into the water
Put your mask on before entering the water to avoid getting salt in your eyes! Sit on the edge of the boat, keep one hand on your mask when you enter the water so that it doesn’t shoot off your head, and gently push yourself off the boat. Remove the water from your snorkel and put it in your mouth, behind your lips and in front of your teeth and slightly bite the plastic ‘particles’ sticking out from the mouthpiece. Then slowly breathe in and out. If water does get into your snorkel, blow very hard into the pipe or take the snorkel out of your mouth and shake the water out of the pipe.
If water gets into your mask, keep your head above the surface of the water, lift the lower part of the mask and let the water drain from the mask. You can also blow hard through your nose, then the mask will automatically push the water out of your mask. This is a good technique because then you can continue snorkeling without having to stop and lift your mask to let the water run out.
Very important: don’t just look at the bottom everywhere in the water! Most snorkelers just look at the bottom and don’t see what’s going on around them. Maybe a stingray will suddenly pass by and that would be a shame if you missed it!
Lie horizontally in the water and move your fins up and down. This up and down movement happens just below the surface of the water. (Karate movements are out of the question and please do not make bicycle movements with your legs!) Continue swimming in a constant rhythm and follow the guide. He knows the coral reef and knows exactly where you can and cannot swim.
Stay in a horizontal position throughout the activity. Anything you see in the water that looks like stones or plants are corals, which are microscopic creatures that are very fragile.
Contact with the coral can cause pain or burns, but worse, the coral can die from our negligence. The word “horizontal” is therefore often repeated by the guide. You don’t need your arms. You can hold your life jacket if it would crawl up a bit or let your arms rest on your stomach or on your back. Taking photos and videos is also an option, but don’t forget to enjoy the view!
Some extra tips for you:
- Practice makes perfect! If you have your own snorkeling equipment, try it out in the pool of your hotel. Using a new mask is just like breaking in a new pair of shoes. If you plan to swim with the whale shark, be sure to practice beforehand as there is no time to practice snorkeling during this excursion.
- When booking a snorkeling excursion, check the age at which children are allowed to enter the water. On the Contoy and Isla Mujeres excursion, only children from the age of 12 are allowed to snorkel in the official coral reef of Contoy National Park.
- Do not pressure your partner or children to enter the water. During the winter months the water can be a bit cold here and children are extra sensitive to this. So chances are that they will not complete the entire activity. You can expect the highest divorce percentage on the trip to the whale sharks! So if your partner or child doesn’t want to snorkel, let them decide.
- If you have a full mask, you can continue to breathe through your mouth. Many tourists use these masks and they are great for beginners and those who prefer not to use the snorkel. The only disadvantage, however, is that the elastics often do not last long and therefore the mask sometimes hangs completely crooked.
- Don’t be shy to ask for extra help from your guide.
If you follow these 3 steps, you will master the art of snorkeling without any problems! Do you know someone who wants to learn to snorkel, send them this blog.
I wish you a lot of snorkeling fun!