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10 Reasons why I’m a Snorkeler



Psychologists and self-help gurus call it Flow, that trance-like state of total absorption in the moment.  Meditation.  Prayer.  Bird-watching. All those activities can get you there.  But transcendence is where you find it, and snorkeling is where I find mine.


True, it’s not as accessible as bird-watching, unless you happen to live within swimming distance of a coral reef. But once you’re there, all you have to do is pull on a snorkel mask and put your face in the water: instantly you slip through the looking glass into a world so splendid and strange that it’s hard to believe you got there / arrived without a spaceship.


Here are the top ten reasons I’m devoted to snorkeling.



1. It’s an endless learning experience. I love climbing out of the water after a snorkel and consulting the local fish and coral identification book. What were those weird ferns that resembled neon eyelashes? And what about that flashy reef fish shaped like a Chinese food container and colored chrome-yellow-with-black-polka-dots? How marvelous to put names to these improbable creatures.


2. You must submerge yourself in southern seas. Floating in warm salt water means letting go, giving yourself over to the same fluid that supported you before you emerged onto dry land. It’s profoundly relaxing. [Add sunshine and a blue sky: subtract stress.]


3. Anyone can do it. If you can breathe you can snorkel. An ability to float is a plus, but with appropriate buoyancy devices, not absolutely necessary.


4. Snorkeling is a life-long activity. You can take it up as a young child and continue into old age, long after other sports may have proved too strenuous. And on the reef, everyone is equal. A five-year-old may be the one to spot a marine creature her elders missed.


5. You don’t need a bunch of pricey gear. Getting outfitted costs very little. The three basic pieces of equipment are: a mask, fins and a snorkel. Make sure the snorkel is the “dry” type, one with a purge valve meant to keep the ocean out of your mouth.  There’s other stuff you can buy, but even if you splurged on all of it would be hard to make the bill add up to four figures.


6. The camaraderie. Hard-core snorkelers are often considered an oxymoron and like any marginalized group they are always looking to bond with fellow enthusiasts.


[Among divers, snorkeling is widely held to be a somewhat wimpy activity usually undertaken by a diver’s spouse who hasn’t worked up the nerve to get certified. This explains an example of snorkeler humor I recently encountered: a button with the legend “Snorkelers look down on divers.”]


7. Saving the planet. Snorkeling, done properly, is a low-impact form of ecotourism that draws attention to the potential value of the reef and thus encourages conservation.


8. The time-traveling. You can encounter remarkable creatures like the crinoid, an insubstantial being resembling Christmas tinsel that has been around unchanged for some 400 million years.


9. The over-the-top beauty. Between the extravagant forms and the outlandish colors, there’s nothing understated in the gaudy realm of the reef.


10. The trance. When I’m snorkeling, I stop thinking and simply see. It reminds me of my favorite line from Eudora Welty: “The thoughts flew out of her head and the landscape filled it.” Seascape, in this case.

Ann Banks in the Abacos


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