Eric Lee is a local waterman and ocean expert. This story illustrates one of his many adventures in Maui.
I’ve taken countless first timers on their maiden snorkeling voyage, but my recent favorite was my Auntie Tricia from Stockton, California.
My auntie is not the best swimmer but she is pretty comfortable in the water. I hoped that with a little coaching and encouragement, Tricia would get the hang of snorkeling at incredibly beautiful Honolua Bay—one of Maui’s top snorkeling beaches.
Though Honolua is one of Maui’s best beaches, it’s usually not a beginner’s spot. The bay has a rocky coastline and there’s more than 100 yards between the place you enter the water, and the reef where you snorkel.
After checking the conditions report, it was clear that Honolua was looking excellent that morning.
We swung by The Snorkel Store on our way out of town to rent a boogie board for Auntie Tricia to float on while snorkeling.
Along the drive we parked at a scenic overlook high above Honolua Bay to map out the adventure in our minds.
Tricia liked the game plan so we descended the short but beautiful walk to the rocky coastline of Honolua Bay. It was a gorgeous Maui morning. No wind, no waves, and the water was crystal clear.
We donned our custom-fit soft silicone masks, “non-thinking” snorkels, and comfy float belts, making sure not to pull too tightly on the straps—as instructed by The Snorkel Store.
The transition from land to water is often an unexpectedly difficult part of snorkeling. The “moment of truth”—placing your head under water—is usually a huge accomplishment.
In waist deep water, I asked Auntie Tricia to bend at the knees and take a look down underwater.
“Can you see your fins?”
From her snorkel I heard a very muffled “Yeah!”
She swiveled her head out of the water to look at me and I could tell by the expression of excitement on her face that she was ready to float.
I asked my aunt to hold on to both of my hands as she lifts her legs from the ocean floor.
She was excited to see fish, turtles, and colorful reef but I encouraged her to simply focus on her breathing while her face is in the water.
After 2 minutes I replaced my hands with a boogie board and asked her to kick, straight legged, from her hips.
We set up a simple “thumbs-up / thumbs-down” system for communicating while snorkeling.
If one of us gave a thumbs-down we’d agree to stop, float, and talk with snorkels out of our mouths.
Snorkeling should not be a cardiovascular activity and I instructed Tricia to go very slowly to take-in at the natural beauty.
I could tell that Auntie Tricia wanted to smile underwater, a playful “no-no” because the facial expression can break the seal of the mask, allowing water in.
“There will be plenty of time for smiling over cocktails at lunch, Auntie!”
Approaching the reef, my Auntie and I were greeted by a massive school of Akule (small silver fish) that numbered in the thousands.
Before we knew it the fish had completely surrounded us. WE’RE SNORKELING!
The reef was a giant living maze with nooks and crannies and species of fish too numerous to identify. For a half-hour we meandered through this stunning extravaganza of tropical splendor.
I continued to get the thumbs-up from Auntie Tricia.
Before returning I brought a red slate pencil urchin and an eel from the bottom of the ocean for my aunt to see. She loved the colorful, spiky urchin but the eel reminded her too much of a snake.
Returning to the shoreline, we removed our snorkel sets while still in the water. The Snorkel Store’s custom-fit snorkel gear is excellent in the ocean, but your feet will work much better transitioning to land.
When I looked over at Auntie Tricia she was smiling bigger than I’d seen in a long time. WE DID IT! We both felt accomplished, proud, happy—and even relieved.
Honolua Bay is usually a snorkeling destination for intermediate or advanced snorkelers. But with favorable snorkeling conditions, a lot of courage, and quality snorkel gear, my aunt’s first snorkeling trip was a tremendous success.
We got those beachside cocktails at lunch later that day and Auntie Tricia and I laughed and smiled as much as we wanted to during our meal.
I love my aunt very much and I feel so honored to have shared this experience snorkeling in Maui that we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives.
Auntie Tricia succeeded at snorkeling for her first time because she followed some simple instructions that will work well for all beginners. Follow these tips to create your own maiden snorkeling adventure: