Snorkel success! (It only took 35 years)


Everyone has an irrational fear of something. Maybe high places set off their panic button, or perhaps the sighting of a spider. One person may refuse to board an airplane because they lock up in terror at the thought of flying while another will refuse to ride in an elevator. Me? I’m terrified of the ocean. That’s right, 70% of our planet gives me the heebie jeebies. What’s more, my husband is a lover of all things water which makes dealing with thalassaphobia an added challenge.

Luckily, it’s not severe. I can travel the ocean in sturdy well-constructed boats as long as they are well equipped with life preservers. But drowning is not really the point. I don’t fear the sea because of the possibility of drowning, as unpleasant as that sounds. No, my fear comes from what lurks beneath the waves. Maybe I watched too many nature shows as a kid, but there are some damned freaky creatures hanging out down there.

And though I’m all about oceanic preservation I’m really into self-preservation as well. So it seems a good idea to stay away from these guys.

photo by Steve Garner

Crazy beings like anglerfish with daggers jutting out from their severe underbites inhabit the ocean. Okay, they live in some of the deepest and darkest parts of the sea, but I know they’re down there somewhere. Waiting.

So, even though snorkeling is one of the most popular beach-related vacation activities, I’d never been. I did attempt to snorkel in Cabo San Lucas, when I was 22, but that was disastrous. When our catamaran pulled into a cove several hundred yards away from shore and the captain told us to get in the water, I had to work hard to mentally push past my issues. Once in, I felt a little better until I tried putting my face in the water. At this point I completely panicked because I couldn’t breathe through my nose. Yes, I had a tube and it was working fine, but my mind was being irrational and there was no reasoning with it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the crew on board the boat began throwing food in the water and fish began jumping in front of, over, and into me. That was it. My snorkeling days were over and I resolved to NEVER try it again.

Jesse, ready to hit the water.

Fast forward 13 years and I found myself in the water again complete with mask, fins, and snorkel tube. This time I was on Isla Iguana in Panama with my family and the only thing that could get me to try this again was my cute 9-year old son. David is a snorkel expert having spent much of his two years in Key West in the water and Jesse was anxious to learn. First David showed Jesse how to adjust his equipment and clear his tube if it filled with water. Once Jess was comfortable cruising around near the beach, he and David swam out to the coral beds to check out the fish. Jesse took to it right away, like..well, like a fish to water.

Of course when they returned to shore Jesse had to tell me all about the cool fish he saw and begged me to go out with him. So, I slipped on my equipment and eased into the ocean. The things I do for my children.

Knowing my limitations helped me out this time and I first practiced breathing through the tube outside of the water. Once I was comfortable with that I was able to lower my face into the water while still standing and check out how that felt. Mask was sealed, breathing was fine. Okay. Feet off the ground and woohoo I was snorkeling! So what if I was only six feet out from shore? I wasn’t suffering from an anxiety attack, and nothing had eaten me yet. Success!

I realize that for some people phobias can be debilitating. But mine appears to be manageable and it was so worth putting forth the effort to break through it, if even for just a few hours. I did eventually make it out to the coral bed with Jesse and sharing his excitement made all the work well worth it! Here’s to hoping for continued success in my conquering of the ocean!


6 thoughts on “Snorkel success! (It only took 35 years)”

    1. My husband has the market cornered on heights! We don’t ask him to go ziplining or do other height related activities with us anymore. I’m pretty happy to be able to snorkel now, but my younger son wants to learn to scuba dive and is insistent that I learn too. I’m not so sure how that might go, ha!

  1. Glad to hear you are overcoming your fears and getting to experience the wonders below the surface. I love the water but definitely find it creepy when I am swimming with anything bigger than me (I have been in the water with sharks, crocodiles, some very large fish, and a couple curious manatees)! Hope it keeps getting easier for you!

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