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Over the last 20 years, I have had the privilege of teaching thousands of people to snorkel. Many of these students have been more than 60 years old. The oldest was a spry 92 years young. During this period, I, too, have been educated and inspired.
It seems I’ve been preparing for this role since childhood when I learned to snorkel and then scuba dive. During junior high school, my friends and I started an Explorer troop focused on marine biology. In high school I was a counselor at a Catalina Island YMCA summer camp dedicated to teaching kids snorkeling and marine biology. In college I was certified as a NAUI instructor and co-taught the university scuba diving course for many years. During those summers, I taught a college accredited scuba and marine biology class in the Caribbean to graduating high school students.
So, when I was offered the opportunity to teach snorkeling and marine biology to seniors on a large sailing vessel in the Caribbean, I thought, ah, this will be easy and a lot of fun. I was half right. It was indeed a lot of fun. Unlike my college students, these pupils were not pressured by prerequisites or final exams.
Most of these people were on vacation and simply wanted to enjoy the marine environment firsthand. My role was to facilitate this wish. However, they educated me as much as I did them. We learned together.
This month’s Tips and Techniques feature offers hints for snorkeling seniors. But the most important advice is not about how to use fins, masks or clear snorkels. Rather, what I’ve learned, through years of interaction, is that snorkeling is an activity appropriate for any age group, including those over 60.
As our bodies mature and our minds increase in wisdom, there are many compromises in the realm of physical activity. Some sports become risky for bones that break more easily and heal more slowly. Other activities may lose their appeal, seeming too self-indulgent and lacking adequate social or intellectual components. And, some athletics simply become too strenuous.
Snorkeling, on the other hand, is a skill easily mastered by anyone comfortable in the water, regardless of age. Alan Margolis, now in his nearly 70s, recently summarized his learning experience: “If you can breathe, you can snorkel.” The amount of physical energy expended while snorkeling is entirely up to the individual. I’m sure we all know people who delight in kicking vigorously, measuring their prowess in either speed or distance. Often, the most successful snorkeling may be no more than peacefully floating above an enchanting scenario of corals and fish.
Regardless of when one learns to snorkel, it’s an activity that can last a lifetime. In Fiji I met a couple on their honeymoon who were just learning to snorkel. With love in their hearts and dripping gear in their hands, I overheard the bride ask her groom: “We’ll be snorkeling together for the rest of our lives, won’t we hun’?” A kiss confirmed the answer.
Of all the wilderness experiences available today, snorkeling may best allow us to mingle, intimately and benignly, with wildlife in their own realm. There are no barriers, walls or windows in the sea. And, if you become interested in marine biology, there is no better classroom.
For young and old, snorkeling offers an opportunity to experience a truly magical world, an experience aptly described by Persis Webster, a 72 year old grandmother, after snorkeling with her young granddaughter. “I feel as though we’ve just been to the ballet. I don’t know why it took me so long to try this out.”