As you travel around Australia’s coast, you are never far from a snorkelling opportunity. For our kids, nothing beat swimming amongst a school of fish, spotting a turtle or seeing brightly coloured corals. But as we discovered, getting them ‘snorkelling-ready’ doesn’t happen overnight. Here are a few things we learnt on the way to our kids being happy and confident snorkellers.
Getting them fitted out in comfortable fins, facemask and snorkel is critical. If their fins rub, the facemask leaks or their snorkel feels uncomfortable, it won’t matter how amazing the coral is. I guarantee you won’t be in the water long enough to enjoy it!
To make sure their gear is comfortable we suggest buying it rather than hiring it – especially if it is going to be a regular activity. Sure, not using up precious camping storage space is appealing. On the other hand, hiring isn’t always an option and you would hate to miss a great experience. I’ve also never been keen on the idea of communal snorkels, but I’ll leave that decision up to you.
It’s worth investing time and money to find a facemask that properly fits your child’s face. Facemasks are not ‘one size fits all’ and they are made from varying quality material. Look for one with a soft silicon seal and a split headband that is easy to adjust. It might take a bit of time and effort to find the right one – they are not the most comfortable things to try on when you are dry – but it’s worth it. A comfortable facemask that doesn’t leak goes a long way to having happy snorkelers .
As tempting as it might be to just forget about flippers all together, you can’t get away without them. They provide the propulsion needed to move in the water and combat any currents. Whether it’s buying new ones or swapping between friends and family, having comfortable fins is a must. The trickiest thing about fins is that the feet in them grow – sometimes very fast!
As with any other type of footwear, if they don’t fit they are uncomfortable. While adults might put up with this for a while, kids certainly won’t. Trying on fins is like trying on shoes. Make sure there is no rubbing at the heel and check there is room around the toes. Unfortunately, getting a size for them to grow in to will only result in rubbing and sad snorkelers. Their fins need to fit well from day one.
Even in warm, tropical water our kids would get cold after twenty or thirty minutes. We bought them each a thin shorty wetsuit and they loved them. The wetsuits allowed them to stay in the water for longer. They also provide protection from the sun and the occasional jellyfish. Their ‘wetties’ gave them a little extra buoyancy too. While this was great for conserving energy, it was less ideal when they wanted to duck dive under water.
You know you have their equipment right when they start wearing it out of the water. Take it as a good sign when they turn up for breakfast wearing a facemask or want to go to the shops wearing their flippers. Although not wildly practical, it is a good problem to have!
With them dressed for snorkelling success, it’s time for a ‘dry run’ before jumping into the ocean. Even if your children are strong swimmers, a practice snorkel in a familiar pool or beach is a good idea.
Nat and I are experienced, swimmers, snorkelers and divers and we are lucky to have a couple of water babies. That said, when you can’t see the bottom and currents are pushing you around, even our anxiety levels can rise. Start with some easy swims. Have the kids practise clearing their snorkel of water and de-fogging their facemask without touching the bottom. The more relaxed they are in the water the better.
If possible, try building up the degree of difficulty of snorkelling trips and don’t push them if they show signs of uncertainty. Confidence is a fragile thing. If you throw them into a tricky situation and it goes badly, it can take a while to re-build their confidence.
Best laid plans…
Having given all this advice and talked up our experience, it hasn’t always gone to plan with our kids.
We had one child make a beeline for shore after, she claims, a moray eel lunged at her from between some rocks. When we went to check on her we found abandoned snorkelling gear floating at the water’s edge where it had been ripped off, presumably so she could get as far from the water as quickly as possible.
We found her sobbing in the car vowing she was never getting in the water again. She blamed us for making her think that moray eels were only found in aquariums. Oops! Some intense therapy and many apologies were needed to turn that situation around.
As well as her eel phobia, the same child, understandably, also isn’t keen on sharks. When she heard we were going to snorkel over a shark bommie (a coral mound sharks rub against for a clean) she wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. We assured her we probably wouldn’t see many sharks. If there were any, they would be babies and they would be a long way down.
We got it wrong on all three counts. There were reef sharks everywhere! They were at least a couple of meters long and they were only ten meters down. We could hear her snorkel-amplified scream clear across Ningaloo Reef.
It’s not all eels and sharks
Despite the odd setback, we’ve had many great experiences snorkelling with the kids. We have swum with seals at Baird Bay in South Australia and floated above feeding manta rays at Coral Bay. We have drifted with turtles on Ningaloo and explored coral atolls on the Great Barrier Reef.
We’ve even tried snorkelling in the clear waters of Bitter Springs in The Northern Territory. Give that a try if you want to feel how much harder it is to float in fresh water!
Getting your kids ready to snorkel might take some preparation, practice and patience but stick with it. The rewards will be worth the effort!
- Patience Needed 100% 100%
- Reward for effort 100% 100%
- Lie about eels? 10% 10%
- Lie about sharks! 10% 10%