I was reminded over Thanksgiving what it is like to teach someone how to snorkel when my mother-in-law arrived in town to spend the holiday with us and see Panama for the first time. Naturally, my husband and I wanted to share with her the beauty of Panama’s marine life and beaches.
How to teach someone to snorkel
Choose a destination that is visually stimulating, but limits any visual distractions that could cause anxiety, for example, rock outcroppings or waves breaking on the beach. Make sure to equip the person with a mask that fits.
I do not recommend teaching someone how to snorkel in a swimming pool because there is nothing to see. Nothing to see means there is nothing to distract the student from concentrating on their breathing. If there is something interesting to see, it helps overcome any anxiety.
If you have ever taught a child how to snorkel or swim underwater, you almost always hold something bright and shiny in your hand or place an object of interest at the bottom of the pool to draw the swimmer’s attention. The same concept applies to adults.
Start in shallow water and allow the student to determine when they are ready or interested in moving into deeper water. In shallow water is the appropriate time to explain how to clear one’s snorkel of water and defog your mask, essential instruction to keeping snorkeling stress-free.
The trick is to listen to and watch the body language of the beginner snorkeler. My intention was to draw my mother-in-law’s attention to the colorful parrotfish. However, she was totally focused on hunting seashells on the sea floor. She would point with her toe, and I would dive down and retrieve the “shiny object.”
Soon her feet were off the ground, and she was floating and swimming to follow whatever enticed her into deeper water. Then it was my job to keep nudging her back to the shallows where I knew she could stand up in swim socks without hurting her feet.
It was not until our second snorkeling outing that my husband was able to guide his mom’s swim path by holding onto her fingertips as he swam her through a coral reef. She has now not only “gotten it,” she will forever be interested in snorkeling.
Snorkeling Coiba National Park
Panama is host to undiscovered places of exuberant natural beauty. One of them is Coiba National Park. This is a World Heritage Natural Site, consisting of a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, south of the Veraguas Province.
Snorkeling the reefs with a knowledgeable guide is a good way to explore the incredible richness of Coiba. There are numerous reefs, some sheltered, some more exposed, where tourists can snorkel safely. A number of companies in Panama offer tours to Coiba and some can tailor a trip to your specific wishes and abilities.