Activity that Lasts a Lifetime
Editorial by Joel Simon
Over the last twenty years, I have had the privilege to teach literally
thousands of people how to snorkel. Many of these students have
been over 60 years old. Some have been over 70. Others have been
over 80. 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 first
to snorkel and later to 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 YMCA summer camp on Catalina
Island dedicated to teaching kids snorkeling and marine biology.
In college I was certified as a NAUI instructor and along with several
other instructors, 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
So when I was
offered the opportunity to teach snorkeling and marine biology to
seniors on board 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. In contrast to my college students, these pupils
were not pressured by prerequisites or final exams. They hadnt
passed any swim tests. They werent recent graduates of Red
Cross Advanced Swim Class, or Water Safety Instruction courses,
and they didnt hold Advanced Lifesaving certificates. They
hadnt read any of the classic biology texts. At least not
for forty years. They didnt know Echinoderm from "a kind
of germ" and they didnt care. Except for "E pluribus
unum", Latin was an archaic tongue.
Most of these
people were on vacation, and simply wanted to enjoy the marine environment
firsthand by immersing themselves in the sea and watching the tapestry
of life on a coral reef. My role was to facilitate this wish. However,
they educated me as much as I did them. We learned together.
and hints on snorkeling for seniors are discussed in our tips feature
this month. But the most important advice is not about how to use
fins, masks, or clear snorkels. Rather, what Ive learned,
through years of interaction, is that snorkeling is an activity
appropriate for any age group, including those over 60.
As our bodies
mature with age, and as our minds increase in wisdom, there are
many compromises to be reconciled 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 as being too
self-indulgent and lacking adequate social or intellectual components
to maintain interest. And some athletics simply become too strenuous.
on the other hand, is a skill easily mastered by anyone comfortable
in the water, regardless of age. Bolinas, CA resident, 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.
Im 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.
when one learns to snorkel, its an activity that can last
a lifetime. On a recent cruise 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 husband: "Well be snorkeling together for the
rest of our lives, wont we hun?" A kiss confirmed
Of all the wilderness
experiences available today, snorkeling may best allow us to mingle,
intimately and benignly, with the wildlife in their own realm. There
are no barriers, no walls, no windows, in the sea. And if you become
stimulated to learn marine biology, with or without Latin, there
is no better classroom.
For young and
old, novice and expert, 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 weve just been to the ballet. I dont
know why it took me so long to try this out."