Confessions of a SNUBA Failure

Trilogy Eula - to SNUBA

I remember that glorious Maui morning that I boarded the Trilogy catamaran from Kaanapali Beach. The weather was perfect and the deep blue ocean was calling to me to come see its treasures.  It was a moment of excitement mixed with some trepidation.

We’ve had so many excellent snorkeling experiences with Trilogy. If I trust anyone to teach me to SNUBA, it’s definitely these guys.

The trip from Kaanapali Beach south to Mala Wharf only took about 15 or 20 minutes. On the way, the SNUBA instructor divided us into two groups of six — the brave ones who would SNUBA first and the second group who would acclimate in the water by snorkeling before trying SNUBA. As you can probably guess, I volunteered for the second group. This plan calmed my emerging nerves quite a bit.

Once we got to Mala Harbor, I happily donned my snorkel mask before carefully dipping into the ocean.  I was prepared for the slight chill in water temperature which always shocks me at first. Within a minute, I adjusted to the temperature and I was off to see some sea life.

The snorkeling at Mala Harbor was very good. We could see lots of fish nibbling at the coral on the sunken pier that was damaged by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. We also saw a few honu (Hawaiian sea turtles) in this area.

Honu we saw while snorkeling at Mala Wharf

After snorkeling, almost all of my nervousness about SNUBA had subsided. I was ready to face the challenge.

Then came time to snap on the weight belt that would keep me from being buoyant.


I prayed.

I used the ladder to slowly lower myself into the water and grab hold of the raft that carried our life-sustaining oxygen tanks. What an awkward moment of trying to stay upright with my head out of the water while the weights on my back were pulling be downward in a supine position! Instinctively, I fluttered my legs trying to stay vertically afloat. Our instructor kept telling me not to kick my legs. For a few moments I could consciously keep from kicking my legs. The weights would pull me down backwards and instincts would take over again. Frustration mounted for both of us as my instincts to stay alive kept overtaking her instructions. We were not best friends at that moment.

It was now time for me to put the regulator in my mouth to practice breathing in and out of my mouth. Sounds easy, right? Well, not for me! I tried, I really, really tried. I stuck my face in the water. I tried getting used to it, but after a few breaths, my masked filled up with water. This was the same mask that I had just successful worn while snorkeling. Why was it filling with water now?

The instructor suggested I try a different mask. So, here we go again with the weights pulling me backwards, my accidental, instinctual leg flipping and the “Stop kicking your legs!” instruction, but this time with the added difficulty of taking off one mask and putting on another.

Unfortunately, with the second mask, I had the same issue with water seeping into the mask. I could probably take three breaths before my mask was filled.

Well, this mask-filling-up-with-water process was not going to work. I felt like I was holding up the others who were anxious to SNUBA. Time was limited, so I got back on the boat — frustrated and most certainly embarrassed.

I wanted to be able to successfully SNUBA so that I could provide you with useful information. I felt like I had failed you.

The concerned captain came over to check on me when he noticed I was back on the catamaran. When I described what happened, he said that I was probably partially exhaling out of my nose. With every exhale, I must have unknowingly exhaled out of both my mouth and nose. The air in the mask (from my nose exhalations) had to escape, which created a temporary gap that let the ocean pour into my mask.

Folks from our excursion that were successful with SNUBA

For those who quickly learned to breath with the regulator, they had a great time SNUBAing.

 If I had it to do all over again, I would have taken Trilogy’s pre-SNUBA program that they offer in the pool at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.  (Call Trilogy for details — toll free: 888-225-MAUI or local phone: 808-874-5649)  That situation would have been a better place for me to learn how to breath in and out with a regulator at my own pace without worrying that I was holding up others.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever try SNUBA again. If I only snorkel for the rest of my life when I visit Hawaii, I’m perfectly content with that.

I think it’s important to mention that Andy was also unsuccessful on this SNUBA attempt. Unlike me, Andy had no fear of trying SNUBA. He was fine up until the point he started breathing through the regulator. He has a very, very mild case of asthma. When he tried to breath through the regulator, he started to hyperventilate.  He tried to persevere, but it just wasn’t working and, again, time was limited and he didn’t want to hold up the others.

I’d like to point you to this SNUBA liability release I found online. Please note all the health conditions that might indicate you would have difficulty or greater risk with SNUBA.

Have you tried SNUBA? I hope you were more successful than I was! How was your experience?


  1. I definitely recommend doing a pool lesson first. Breathing through a regulator is very different to a snorkel. I was freaked out by the bubbles for one thing. Also, I found it hard to find a rhythm to my breathing. That, and we only had about 5 minutes to get comfortable. 🙁

    I’d still like to give it another shot in the future…and I’d definitely pick Trilogy.

  2. We took a snorkeling trip out to Molokini with Trilogy that also offered SNUBA to those willing to give it a go. My cousin totally owned it, while I happily opted to leave the weight belt on the boat and spend some quality time with my snorkel. I would love to give it a try, but my claustrophobia just doesn’t agree! I give you props for giving it an attempt – I was way too frightened to even try!

    1. Erin — I think we’ve got to tell ourselves that there “ain’t nothin’wrong with snorkeling.” 🙂

  3. Took me a bit to get used to the breathing, I wasn’t exhaling long enough and basically lost by breath. I started counting to 5 each time I’d inhale/exhale and that seemed to help. Althouh by the time I finally figuredit out I didn’t get to enjoy it much! Looking forward to the next time though.

    1. Vernon – it was surprising to me how strange it felt to breath compressed air through the regulator. It didn’t feel natural.

      It makes me laugh to think that I’ve been breathing all my life and then have trouble figuring out how to breath with a regulator. 🙂

      I hope your “next time” is much more enjoyable. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. I enjoyed reading your report; it’s witty, yet quite informative. I, too, love Maui. We go there once or twice a year, and must say to my own shame, that I’m still a chicken when it comes to going scuba or snuba diving or snorkling, whereas my 13-year-old daughter takes to the deep waters like a fish and I’m a basket case until she gets back on the boat. We’ve done a few trips on GEMINI, also from Ka’anapali and my daughter and our friend Donna always do the water fun, while I sit on the Catamaran and fear the worst till they’re back on board. By the way, the same happened when we went to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and I wouldn’t submerge!

    Does anyone have any recommendations as to how to shed my fear of swimming or snorkling in open water (my biggest fear is the sharks!)?

  5. We are trying snuba for the first time next week when we’re in Maui, can.not.wait! Glad to know what to expect (somewhat) and atleast I know that if it doesn’t work out we’re not alone 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  6. I too failed at Snuba. We had a choppy 25 minute boat ride getting slapped by waves of salt water left me feeling worn and anxious. Because the small boat had taken on water, there was no time to get comfortable. I was tossed in the water and told to put the regulator in and start breathing. Although I had successfully snorkeled a few times the days prior, Snuba was a totally different experience. The weights wouldn’t bring me down (or my hyperventilating kept me up). Either way, I went back to the raft where the instructor was annoyed at me, put on an extra weight and sent me back. Again, I couldn’t descend, and felt that the belt was making it difficult to take an effective breath. I went back up but got caught on the hose and started to panic. The instructor helped me out of the belt, and I spent the rest of the experience swimming on the surface. I was able to breathe better, and the instructor signaled if I wanted to try the belt again, however I was already too embarrassed and didn’t want to impead the others.
    When it ended, the instructor said we could snorkel while they put the equipment back on the boat. I was back to enjoying the sea life and even took a few dives down to get closer.
    I think if I had had more time to get comfortable with breathing through a regulator, not been rushed, and calmer ocean, I could have been successful. I would like to try again, but maybe with a more controlled environment and patient instructors.
    Thanks for the article. I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone.

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