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What is your first time snorkeling experience going to be like? Will you have an amazing time swimming with the fish and exploring reefs or will it be tainted by lack of experience, poor quality equipment and bad advice?
Unfortunately, bad first time experiences are common for a number of reasons but by keeping in mind a few simple tips you can most of what is a very enjoyable experience that will leave you wanting more every time.
Getting good quality snorkeling equipment will get you moving in the right direction. You will be more comfortable, feeling more confident and your kit will last longer.
Choosing the right mask is crucial so don't be tempted into buying the cheapest (or even the most expensive) as everyone will fit masks slightly differently. A mask might fit one person absolutely perfectly but someone else could find it uncomfortable and ill fitting. We have a fantastic guide to choosing the best mask that explains the different styles and how to test for a good fit.
Don't forget to grab some anti-fog to prevent your new mask from misting up whilst snorkeling. It only takes a few seconds to apply and will eliminate the need to stop and clear your mask whilst exploring.
If you can, opt for a dry snorkel that are fitting with a valve at the top of the snorkel tube which closes when the end is submerged beneath the surface, preventing water from flowing down the tube if you were to duck beneath the surface. If your budget won't stretch that far you should look for a snorkel with a splash guard on the end rather than the valve. A splash guard helps to deflect water away from the tube opening should a wave splash over you. Generally both of these types of snorkel are fitted with a one way purge valve that allows any water that does enter the snorkel to either drain out under gravity or be easily forced out with a sharp exhale.
Alternatively, if a traditional mask and snorkel makes you feel a little uncomfortable or claustrophobic you might want to consider an integrated mask and snorkel like the Ocean Reef Aria which is a full face snorkeling mask with an integrated snorkel. It offers excellent visibility and is easy to use.
Snorkeling fins come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Most come with full foot pockets that accommodate maybe two foot sizes per fin size but there are also open heel fins that use a stretchy strap. Which ever version you go for it should be comfortable to wear, not to loose or too tight. Remember that your feet will become wet and will also shrink ever so slightly so a snug fit is better than loose.
Now that you have got all your new kit it is time to practice some where safe and calm before heading out into the sea. It will give you a chance to practice putting on your mask, finding the perfect tightness for the strap, find the best positioning for your snorkel and practice getting your fins on and off. Doing all these things now will give you more confidence when you take your dip in the sea.
A swimming pool is the ideal place to do all this as it is confined and controlled. There are no waves to knock you off balance whilst you are putting your fins on and the side is never too far away if you need to grab it. If there isn't a handy pool nearby you could practice in a well protected shallow beach.
Don't just jump in head first. Take your time to get used to it. Put your head under first to give you a few minutes getting used to breathing underwater and through your snorkel. As a mammal we have a certain reflex called the Mammalian Diving Reflex that causes our bodies to automatic react when immersed, particularly our faces, in colder water. It can cause us to hold our breath so take a few minutes to get used to the water and relax. Whilst you are at this stage you can check that your mask isn't leaking, the strap is correctly tightened and you can have a go at clearing water from your snorkel by exhaling hard. Be aware that at certain angles your snorkel top will dip into the water so avoid looking down your body towards your feet whilst swimming along otherwise you'll end up with a mouthful of water.
Once you are comfortable with your breathing you can kick off and practice fining around. Try to keep your legs straight and use the big muscles in the tops of your legs to kick up and down rather than bend at the knee which produces far less thrust and a lot more splashing. Use calm, controlled kicks to gently move you through the water.
Never feel pressured to go beyond what you feel comfortable doing. If you are happier floating around the shallows rather than heading our to deeper water then there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You'll probably find that as you gain experience you will naturally head towards new experiences but always remember to remain safe.
Take some time to research your first snorkeling location. Choose somewhere calm and relaxed to help boost your confidence. A beach is better than snorkeling from a boat as that extra step of jumping off a boat can be quite daunting. Pick a beach that you know is going to be really interesting and has plenty of marine life. Try and pick a spot that is protected from big waves that can make snorkeling all round more difficult including get in and out of the water.
Once you have gained some experience and are confident in the use of your equipment you can begin to explore some more adventurous spots and excursions.
Don't forget to take note of what is happening around you. The Ocean is alive with tidal currents and flows that can move you very quickly. Remember to keep an eye on your entry point and potential safe exit points. If you start to drift away yourself allow enough time and energy to make the swim back to make a safe exit from the water. Never swim alone and always make sure someone knows your are out snorkeling.
We're not talking about going armed but rather making sure you protect yourself against the sun. It is amazing how quickly time flys by whilst you are exploring the reefs so it is important to remember to cover up to prevent burns. In cooler waters you might be wearing a wetsuit to help keep you warm as well but in tropical waters you'll want a suitable rash guard or even a full skin suit to protect your shoulders, back and legs from the harmful UV rays.
Rash guards and skin suits are lightweight, stretchy, quick drying and provide much better sun protection than sun creams that can easily wash off in the water.
Always remember that you are there to enjoy yourself!