By Joel Simon
Each of our lives has significant moments;short lived experiences that make lasting impressions. They change the way we view our world, ourselves and our celebration of life itself. For me, some of these most meaningful episodes have occurred while drift snorkeling.
Etched with indelible clarity is the memory of my first shark encounter. Full of confidence, I jumped from the stern of our small sailboat into the warm Caribbean Sea off Belize. The water was exquisitely clear and, after the bubbles of my plunge had dispersed, the silver flash of an animal as sleek as an F-14 jet fighter came into view. In one instinct-driven motion, I was back on the boat before my buddies even had a chance to get wet. "A shark, a shark is down there," I sputtered. "Look before you leap!" They all laughed, and laugh still. I also have to laugh at my reaction to that first encounter. It was just a small inquisitive reef shark that kept us company during our survey of the coral gardens but, during that initial moment of mutual surprise, it looked as big and threatening as my boundless imagination. I have since snorkeled with numerous sharks but, so far, none has been seriously threatening. However, creatures don't have to be big to create meaningful memories.
I remember with equal vividness (and much less trepidation!), my initial sighting of an octopus as it slid across the sandy bottom of Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, California, where I grew up. I followed as it slithered home to an old encrusted Coca-Cola bottle amid other sunken debris beneath a small wharf. I went to visit this animal many times and, in my young mind, we became good friends by summer's end. Since then I have treasured each time I'm lucky enough to see one of these remarkable animals.
What makes a particular snorkeling session special? Fellow enthusiasts frequently ask which snorkeling experiences have been my most memorable or, just as often, which locations offer the world's finest snorkeling. The answers are obviously highly subjective: I believe that a snorkeler's attitude is just as relevant as geography. An open mind and open eyes are the real keys to unlocking the treasures of the sea. Also, locations are always changing. Weather and water conditions, visibility, time of year and plain luck are all variables that can physically impact the snorkeling experience.
In this and upcoming issues, we will feature some of the world's most remarkable snorkeling opportunities. Among them will be regions where you can interact underwater with sea lions, docile sharks, dolphins and Manatees. We'll also highlight incredible drift snorkels, rivers filled with turtles and Gar, mangroves teeming with juvenile fish and, of course, some of the world's best snorkeling reefs. Incidentally, if you've done some extraordinary snorkeling, we'd like to hear about it. Please feel free to write me c/o Skin Diver Magazine, 6420 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515 or e-mail me directly at JSIPhoto@aol.com.
This month Tammy Peluso shares with us her encounter with the largest and one of the most mild mannered fish in the sea: the Whale Shark. Although I've come close on several occasions and have seen them from ships, I've never (yet!) met one of these magnificent creatures below the surface. I look forward to that day and am sure it will qualify as a significant moment in my life. In the meantime, join me in reading all about this impressive event in Tammy's life.