Courage for First Time Hawaii Snorkeling and Confessions from the Chicken of the Sea

If you have never snorkeled before, I’d like to encourage you to try it. There really is a whole new world underwater. With Hawaii’s waters being so clean, clear and full of colorful tropical fish, it’s a great place to try snorkeling.

Now, I’ve not always been ready to fearlessly dive in the ocean with my snorkel gear. In fact, I consider myself to be the biggest chicken of the sea. No, not a tuna, but someone who tends to be on the more cautious side when it comes to being in the water. You see, I didn’t learn how to swim until I was 22 years old and only then because it was a requirement for me to graduate with my BS Engineering degree. (Yeah, I agree, it is weird!)

So, for all you other chickens, I wanted to put together snorkel advice to help you be more knowledgeable and confident to give snorkeling a try.

Good snorkel gear is your best snorkeling friend.

With snorkel gear, you don’t have to be a good swimmer in order to snorkel. My swimming skills are still embarrassingly horrible, and I find it easy to move around in the water with snorkel gear.

  • Flippers really help you move around in the water. They displace more water than your feet and make it much easier to propel your self around in the water.
  • A mask that fits firmly around your head will keep water out of your eyes. If it doesn’t fit firmly, use the straps to adjust it tighter. If you have long hair, you may want to consider pulling your hair into a low pony tail to help your mask fit better and to keep your hair out of view in the water.
  • It doesn’t take long to become accustomed to breathing through the snorkel. Practice breathing with it before you get into the water. The key to breathing through a snorkel is to make sure you don’t bend your neck too far down or too far back when you are in the water so that you don’t allow water in the snorkel.
  • Use a floatation device to give you confidence in the water. Also, bear in mind that salt water is more buoyant than fresh water and that the flippers also help you stay afloat. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been brave enough to snorkel with ease without a floatation device. (That was in Moorea in French Polynesia.)

Try your first snorkeling experiences with a reputable snorkel tour company.

The tour company will provide the snorkeling gear including floatation devices. The tour guides will teach you how to use the equipment and advise you where to go and where to avoid. A good snorkel tour company will also keep an eye on the snorkelers, particularly if you tell them that you are a bit scared. I think it’s really important that you be somewhat supervised for your first few snorkeling experiences.

Prepare yourself for a shock.

The ocean water will feel very, very cold at first and it may even take your breath away. Just be prepared for the shock and know that you’ll soon adjust to the change in temperature. I usually just tread in the water for about a minute until I adjust.

Be a responsible in the water.

Don’t feed the fish. Don’t touch the coral! This excellent video explains why you shouldn’t do those things and how they are harmful to the fish and overall health of the ocean.

But, what about the sharks?

Regarding sharks, you’re in the ocean so the sharks are definitely out there. It’s not extremely likely you’d see one, though. In all my snorkeling in Hawaii, I’ve only seen one shark and that was in Hulopoe Bay in Lanai. That reef shark was only minding his/her business and didn’t approach us. In a Q&A I conducted with a Hawaii snorkeling expert, Mike Jones, the head dive master of Trilogy says, “People are more likely to be killed by a bee or struck by lighting than to be bitten by a shark.”

One thing that you can do, especially if you are super nervous about sharks, is to swim close to your spouse or friend. Consider holding hands. Two people together look much bigger and more intimidating. A shark won’t normally approach something that looks much larger than them. See more tips to avoid shark encounters here.


I hope these tips will be an encouragement for other chickens and first time snorkelers to give snorkeling a try. From my experience, I can say that my snorkeling is worth the effort! What additional tips would you add?

  1. Don’t forget to wear plenty of sunscreen–especially on your back and shoulders. You might also want to buy a waterproof disposable camera–or waterproof case for your digital camera.

  2. Andy – good points about sunscreen and cameras. I used to be a fan of those waterproof disposable cameras, but it seems like only one or two photos out of 25 turn out decent at all. So, in my opinion, I’d rather just enjoy the scenery without the pressure to capture a photo.

    There are some studies indicating that sunscreen damages the coral. See this news item from February. Experts say, “Banning sunscreen won’t be necessary, and points out two simple things swimmers can do to reduce their impact on coral: Use sunscreens with physical filters, which reflect instead of absorb ultraviolet radiation; and use eco-friendly chemical sunscreens.” I think zinc oxides fall into that category of “physical filters.”

  3. I went snorkeling for the first time in Kauai and absolutely loved it. It’s amazing how much you can see when the water is so clear and clean, it’s a definite must for everyone.

    I also have a confession, I was extremely scared of the water as a child and I still am initially uncomfortable around it today. That said, having flippers and a snorkel puts me at ease because I know that even if I just float I can still breathe without issue. I think getting comfortable in the water is crucial and snorkeling is a great way to do that.

    I prefer a tshirt over sunscreen in the water because no matter what the sunscreen always washes away, but that may because I can easily spend hours in the water (turning all pruny!). The first time we went I wore a wet suit because it was off-short and considerably colder but I prefer no wet-suit, don’t like the added buoyancy.

    I’m reliving the snorkeling as I write this… ahhh I miss Hawaii. 🙂

  4. @ Angie – we have a nice Pentax Optio that’s waterproof. It takes better photos than the disposable cameras. It also takes great photos above the water, too. In fact, sometimes that’s been the only camera we bring to Hawaii.
    @ Jim – Thanks for sharing your conffession as well. I’m glad I’m not the only one who is less than comfortable about getting in the water. Did you take a tour or snorkel on your own or both?
    Do I need to invite you to the HAA (Hawaii Addict Anonymous) meetings? 🙂

  5. Growing up in Honolulu, our family would often go to Hanauma Bay to picnic and snorkel. I still have vivid memories of the fantastic whole new world under water populated by beautiful creatures of all colors and sizes. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go snorkeling, to just take the plunge!

  6. Thanks so much for talking about how helpful snorkel gear is if you’re not a good swimmer. My partner and I want to go on a trip for our anniversary this year and we’ve been thinking about snorkeling. Neither of us is a very good swimmer so we’ve been looking into what to expect.

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