Snorkeling - Simple Joy!

Snorkeling in Hawaii is one of the most popular activities in the islands for both visitors and residents alike.

That Hawaii would be such a great place to snorkel stands to reason from just looking at the many pictures depicting Hawaii’s inshore waters with their varying shades of blue and brown depicting the different bottoms which are waiting to be explored by anyone with as little as a mask & fins to as much as an elaborate scuba outfit. Either way, it’s just as much fun!

What makes Hawaii snorkeling so popular is the wide range of bottom types offered by Hawaii beaches from which you can select to pursue your underwater adventures.

While some of the world’s best beaches are rated for their almost endless sandy bottoms and crystal clear water, one would get pretty bored in an underwater panorama that offered nothing but a sandy bottom as far as you could see in any direction.

Clear and pleasantly refreshing waters along with coral heads and reef formations make Hawaii snorkeling the great attraction it is as is the case at Oahu's famous Hanauma Bay!

One of the great things about Hawaii snorkeling is that the islands' inshore waters offer an abundance of coral and other rock formations that provide habitats for the marine life we underwater fans so enthusiastically seek out. Additionally, the large number of Hawaii snorkeling and diving spots that are very close to shore make it easy for almost anyone to pursue exciting snorkeling or diving activities appropriate to his or her level of experience.

Talk to any local and you’ll hear “diving” being used to reference any underwater activity that includes a mask. But for clarity sake, it might be a good idea to distinguish between what I mean when using the terms snorkeling, diving, and free diving. After all, the differences are significant and will determine what kind of location you select to pursue your Hawaii snorkeling or diving activity.


Snorkeling as you’d imagine would be the simple use of a mask and fins and of course, a snorkel, to enable breathing while you’re taking in all of the underwater scenes that lie below. Diving would be the utilization of scuba gear to allow you to get down into the watery depths and deeper than you’d be able to descend holding your breath. Free diving, has become one of the new extreme sports, a form of snorkeling incorporating specialized equipment and an even greater amount of preparation and experience.

For me, the extent of my experience has been at the most basic of underwater activities, snorkeling. Between the ages of five and into my early thirties (my goodness that means I haven’t been “diving” for over twenty years!). I spent a great many days combing the near-shore waters with spearfishing apparatus ranging from a simple three-prong shaft to an arbalette, the rifle-looking spearguns.

While in college, I enrolled in a scuba diving course through which I had a chance to experience diving with tanks. The sensation of being on the bottom at fifty-plus feet and looking up at the surface was awesome as was the silent blue underwater terrain we explored. However, the cost of purchasing equipment then having to worry about filling air was a little more than I was willing to go through or afford during that time! However, the opportunities to pursue scuba diving changed a lot since then!

Scuba diving operators have sprung up all over Hawaii in just about every area where you might consider diving... and even in some areas you'd never expect to see a dive shop! The competition and sheer availability of dive shops, dive boat operators, and dive tours make it almost as easy to scuba dive on a regular basis as getting out for a day of snorkeling and the prices nowadays make easy and economical to rent your equipment whenever you need or simply hook up with a tour for a boat dive!

If you're brand new to the sport, some scuba instruction providers offer training and exciting ocean dives all in a single day. What's more is Hawaii's scuba diving industry has a remarkably safe history despite its large number of participants. It should also be noted that a large number of businesses also provide Hawaii snorkeling tours if diving isn't something you're up to trying right away.

Whether you've never tried scuba diving before or are an experienced diver looking for advanced certifications or extreme dives, your time in Hawaii can be spent experiencing some of the best bottom-times of your life!

Over the last ten years, the sport of free-diving has literally exploded in popularity. A form of snorkeling, the folks into this sport don oversize fins, extremely large and specialized spearguns, wetsuits and weights to enhance their ability to descend to depths of thirty to sixty feet in pursuit of large reef fish and pelagics like mahimahi (dorado), ono (wahoo), tuna, and even billfish!

James Kawasaki, my brother-in-law, has been diving since he was a kid and has gravitated from the simple handheld spears in shallow waters to deep water spearfishing for Hawaii's big game fish!

The super-long fins and weights allow these free-divers to descend quickly and conserve their air for time on the bottom. Often, you’ll see them lying on the bottom with speargun poised as they await for their targeted fish to come by and check them out!

Many of these free-divers are able to hold their breath well over two minutes and longer! These guys are a rare breed pursuing such depths without the aid of scuba and watching them in their element is absolutely amazing!

More on Hawaii Spearfishing

Diving with basic snorkeling equipment and a simple three-prong spear can yield some great reef fish like these happy campers had to show for on the island of Molokai!

Hawaii's reefs are habitat to so many beautiful fish that are also prized for their table popularity like these uhu (parrot fish) that bruddah John Matapua brought back for dinner!

There's a wide variety of Hawaii snorkeling and diving experiences! Each island offers different conditions for whatever diving you choose to pursue. But in a nutshell, the islands of Oahu, Kauai, and Maui offer pretty similar conditions being the older islands. On these islands you’ll find more reefs resulting from a longer period of coral growth over the years as compared to the youngest island, Hawaii, which has yet to see the older reef formations fringing the other islands.

The island of Hawaii, instead, offers waters which go from shallow to very deep in a short distance, a condition that makes for its great nearshore fishing! I remember the first time I dove on the big island, I chased a fish as it headed toward deeper water then took a shot at it and missed. As I looked down at my spear on the bottom, I realized that it was deeper than I thought I could dive to retrieve it. The great change in depth had occurred in less than twenty-five yards!


To try to point out specific Hawaii snorkeling or diving areas is like trying to specify a great space to enjoy trees and plants in a forest! On every island, you could drive the coast and come across great places to dive and snorkel without any prior suggestions! More important, is being able to “read” the conditions that you’ll encounter before getting into the water. If you’re not experienced, make sure you’re going where others are and that you’ve taken the time to check with a lifeguard about the area’s water conditions like surf, currents, and known hazards like box jellyfish or men-o-war. The right safeguards can make your Hawaii snorkeling experience a safe and enjoyable one while ignoring basic ocean safety can make it extremely perilous!

During the higher tides, sand or other sediment is stirred up making for poorer visibility than the during the low tide periods when the water is less turbulent.

Most Hawaii snorkeling is done in relatively shallow water, near the shore. Therefore, tidal periods have a much greater impact on visibility and currents. Low tides are generally the best times for visibility since the increased turbulence during higher tides will result in more sediment in the water making for decreased visibility. Viewing the waters you intend to dive can give you a good idea of the conditions. Like a photograph, a clear delineation between rocks and sand mean clearer visibility underwater as well. On the other hand, a view which includes less definition between visible objects in the water and their surroundings signifies that diving wouldn’t be too spectacular at all. Note the view before you enter the water and then the water conditions when you go in and, in no time, you’ll be able to read the water like a pro!

Get to know the water conditions and you can predict the scenery, depths, and bottom type of the areas you'll be diving!

Currents, whether prevailing currents for the area or tidal currents can put you at risk. Again, check with lifeguards so that you are aware of the safest way to plan your dive. For example, if you know there is a prevailing current that runs parallel to the shore, start your dive traveling against the current then return to your starting point with the current when you are more fatigued.


If you’re unsure about the current, allow yourself to simply float every so often and note the speed and in which direction you drift as you watch the bottom. This will let you know very quickly how far you might want to venture out or the direction you might want to travel during your dive. The worst thing is to jump in the water, find yourself swimming at an impressive speed for a great distance then find it takes twice the energy to travel the same distance back to where you started! Believe me, it’s as scary as it is dangerous.

If you’re really serious about Hawaii snorkeling, a real great site to visit and bookmark is Grant Kailikea’s Snorkeling Hawaii Insiders Guide. Here’s a born-and-raised-in-Hawaii resident that very expertly shares his love for Hawaii snorkeling and diving. Grant's site includes great pictures, very useful information, and different resources to enjoy Hawaii’s underwater beauty. You’ll enjoy visiting this outstanding website!

The website for Hawaii Skindiver Magazine is one of the best places to get an in-depth look at the sport of free-diving in Hawaii. Check it out and plan to spend some time marveling at the big game fish these guys, and girls, bring home on a breath of air!

So whatever it is you choose to do while in Hawaii, remember that Hawaii snorkeling and diving are some of the things you'll want to really look into. They're some of the things Hawaii offers that you'd have a hard time matching anywhere else in the world!