Hawai’i is the snorkeling mecca of the United States. Not just with one superb location, but with multiple fantastic snorkel sites on each of the Hawaiian Islands. The sea water is warm (averaging 80 degrees), and the ocean is often crystal clear. You can access many of the great Hawaiian snorkel sites directly from shore, and affordable offshore snorkel cruises are available for those who want to experience conditions a distance from the shore. Expect some amazingly beautiful nature encounters as you proceed!
So what is Snorkeling?
It is swimming with A Dive Mask, a “snorkel” or breathing tube attached to your Dive Mask, and Swim Fins. Snorkeling creates a way that you can keep your face in the water, and can study the bottom and sea life more intensely and satisfyingly than you could not simply by holding your breath as you dive or swim. Snorkeling, is also a method of getting comfortable in the sea water allowing you to interact with the Hawaiian nature on top and under the waves. Want to give it a try? Let’s talk about what you might need, and what you should consider before, during, and after you go snorkeling.
Here is what you need to snorkel successfully in Hawai’i:Swimming Ability (at least a little):
Our last snorkel trip was at the “Two Step” at Pu’u Honua O Honaunau on the Big Island of Hawai’i, and we were with a young couple that had never learned to swim a stroke. They had floatation devices on their bodies, and cautiously put their faces in the water to see the bottom. (Feet firmly planted on the bottom) They loved it! Within a half hour, they were paddling about with the fishes, having lost their fear of the water, and gaining confidence that they were not in imminent danger.
Being able to see and to breathe with your face in the water can really inspire confidence. Obviously, the more swimming ability you possess, the more you can see and experience as you snorkel. Please read our section on swimming in Hawai’i and understand that the risks we describe in that section also apply to snorkeling in Hawai’i.
A good Dive Mask can mean the difference between seeing clearly for long distances underwater, and not being able to see much. A proper Dive Mask will fit comfortably on your face, and will maintain a suction between your face and the Dive Mask. The idea in the suction is to create a method to keep the water out and away from your eyes. Snorkelers with beards and mustaches may have to live with a certain amount of water seepage associated with their facial hair.
If a small amount of water seeps into the Dive Mask, you can simply tilt your head back, tip your Dive Mask slightly back at an angle to your face, and blow out air from your nose. This is a proven Scuba technique, but should first be tried in shallow water until the user gets comfortable with the technique. It takes a bit of practice, but is well worth the effort if you plan on repeated snorkel adventures.
Fogging in the Dive Mask can be an annoyance in the warm waters of Hawai’i. Again, and old scuba diver technique is to use a small amount of spit in the Dive Mask to prevent fogging. If this is not acceptable, you can buy commercial prepared solutions to help alleviate Dive Mask fogging.
A snorkel is a breathing device that is attached (or strapped) to the Dive Mask, and allows the snorkeler to keep their face in the water while continuing respiration. Many modern snorkels are designed to wrap around and behind the head, so that they are placed optimally to avoid water finding its way down the air tube and into the mouth. A good snorkel will breath easily and will be comfortable in the mouth and on the face, attached to the Dive Mask.
A technique for clearing the snorkel of water after a dive underwater is to clear the surface with your snorkel top, and blow a blast of air through the tube , similar to a “cough” of air through the snorkel. This blast of air generally sends the water in the tube skyward, and clear of the snorkel. Resume normal breathing after clearing the snorkel tube. Practice this techniques in shallow water first until you are comfortable with the results.
If you find that your snorkel is not positioned properly and fits comfortably with your face and mouth, try adjusting its position on the Dive Mask. Your comfort is job one as a snorkeler.
There are many different styles and philosophies of design in swim/snorkel and scuba fins. Many different types are quite good, but for purposes of simplicity - try to find a pair that feels comfortable on your feet. Assume you are going to have them on for an hour or more when you use them - as you make your selection, and the fin should be snug but not ”tight” on your foot. A good swim fin fit should never cut off blood circulation to any part of the foot.
If you are walking in to the ocean to snorkel, it is a good snorkeling practice not to enter the water with your fins on. Once you have arrived at a sea depth where you can comfortably stand or float, add the fins to your feet as you prepare to start snorkeling. Likewise, as you are leaving the water take your fins off before you start walking toward the beach. It is very easy to trip and fall with fins on while walking.
People tend to be more buoyant in sea water than they may be in fresh water. Nonetheless, if you are new to snorkeling, you may want to consider having some form of floatation device available or attached to you, as you get comfortable in the sea water. Floatation vests are very popular in Hawai’i, as is starting your snorkel trip with a Boogie-Board or similar floatation device. Some floatation vests can be manually inflated or deflated depending on the requirements of the user. This also allows the user to dive under the surface should they elect.
Additional Information on Snorkel Equipment: Hawai’i Snorkeling
Choosing a location to snorkel in Hawai’i:
If you are a beginner snorkeler, you will want to try snorkeling in a location that is best for swimming in general. The seascape may not be too interesting necessarily, but use this time to get comfort with the snorkel equipment, and learning to use the fins to swim. A swimming pool is not a bad first start for any new snorkeler.
Once you have your comfort level established with your equipment, you have many scenic and nature laden choices in Hawai’i to view underwater. All the Hawaiian Islands have some terrific snorkeling locations on them. Check out the beach recommendation in SBHawaii.com for the individual recommendation. Generally, sea life tends to congregate around rocky and coral areas underwater. Smaller fish generally prefer the safeguards of numbers, and preferring locations that generate some geographic safety from larger predators. This equates to better snorkeling in areas that combine both features, and you will want to keep an eye on tidal surge and wave heights in these areas also.
The depth of the sea bed will also play a role in how much you have available to see in your snorkeling adventure. Often the best snorkeling comes in areas where the depth falls off fast. Fish will tend to feed in these areas, so keep ready as you swim in approach.
Renting or Buying Snorkeling Equipment in Hawai’i:
There is no hard and firm answer here in that the correct answer depends on your intentions with the Snorkeling equipment you use. Simply, if you plan on using the Snorkel equipment on other trips in the future you may be better served to pay more and own the equipment. If not, you may be getting the deal of a lifetime to use it once or twice, and just walk away after the rental is over.
Hawai’i Snorkeling and Underwater Photography:
With disposable digital waterproof cameras becoming so readily available, it has become feasible to consider taking a camera with you for every part of your trip – including snorkeling in Hawai’i. These digital cameras can actually take surprisingly good photos underwater if you keep a few basic rules in mind:
• Don’t go too deep and expect terrific photographic results
• Don’t get too far away from your subject, and expect terrific photographic results
• Don’t expect vibrant colors too deep in that they are filtered out by the sea water the deeper you go. Red colors get removed in the first few feet. Flash units can help restore some color density, but they typically scare smaller fish.
If you are looking for more professional results, try one of the new non-disposable waterproof digital color cameras starting in price around $200. Or consider using a specifically built “Aqua-Bag” to use your existing digital camera, prices starting around $20. CAUTION: Anything taken into the Ocean may get wet, regardless of the Manufacturer claims.
As a last option, try the local Scuba diving shop and inquire about an underwater camera or video camera rental. Might be worth it when you are showing off your pictures!