I sat on the edge of the boat, clutching the side and staring at the nurse sharks and south rays circling in the water below—lured by our guide, who threw sardines to entice them to swarm en masse for our benefit. I might have stayed in the boat, foregoing the snorkeling, if Brian hadn’t thrown down the gauntlet with his post How to Become Fearless. So I jumped in…and lived to tell the tale.
This was our second time snorkeling, something we first tried last year in Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park. Like caving, another newfound pastime, going beneath the surface opens up a stunningly different world. Off the coast of Caye Caulker, Belize, we swam over coral canyons and shared space with spiny lobsters and fish flaunting vibrant shades of blue, green, yellow, and purple.
On our second stop of the day, we encountered the predators with sharp teeth. After latching onto Brian, I stuck my face in the water and saw a nurse shark swimming below us, speeding along with an eel hitching a ride on its back. The sharks, surprisingly, were less daunting than the eerie-looking rays, which swam in clusters closer to the surface and nearer to us. Talk about fearless: our guide turned a nurse shark on its back and tickled its belly.
Here are some tips for not-so-fearless snorkelers:
- Let others go in the water first, especially if there are sharks around.
- Equipment matters. Properly-fitting masks and snorkels are essential. They’ll make you feel more confident, and you won’t ingest as much salt water.
- Don’t panic. Yes, it’s unnatural to stick your face in the water and breathe, but that’s why you have good equipment.
- Wear a life jacket. Being buoyant with less effort means you can focus on the sights beneath the surface without worrying about staying afloat or drowning.
- Remember why you’re doing it. Spying on sea creatures isn’t something most of us get to do every day. It’s okay to be afraid; just don’t let it hold you back.
- Have someone’s hand to hold.