Northwest Florida is blessed with incredible white sand beaches and beautiful crystal clear water. However, when snorkeling over a sand bottom, there isn’t that much to see because there are no structures to facilitate the formation of a reef to attract sea-life. Fortunately, for the residents of Walton County, man made artificial reef structures are being deployed roughly 100 yards offshore in 12-15 feet of water. These structures attract all sorts of marine life , which makes for excellent snorkeling. Snorkeling is a very low tech sport, in contrast to scuba diving, which is more equipment intensive. All that’s needed is a good fitting dive mask , a pair of fins, and of course, a snorkel. The snorkel allows you to lay face first in the water and look at whats below you while breathing. The first thing a new snorkeler learns is how to use their breath to forcefully expel water from the snorkel. This is called clearing your snorkel. There are several different designs of snorkel with the most basic being a curved tube with a mouthpiece. Advanced designs include one way valves to prevent water from entering the top of the snorkel and purge valves to assist in clearing the snorkel. Come by our store, 30A Dive, to check out several different models. By far,the most important piece of snorkeling equipment is a high quality, good fitting mask. The mask consists of a silicone frame and skirt attached to a glass sense. This enables humans to see underwater. There is no one size fits all because everyone has a different shaped face. Aesthetics aside, you should by the mask that fits the best. Finally, a good pair of swim fins is crucial for increasing swimming speed and propulsion. Fins conserve energy and make swimming easier. Fins consist of a soft rubber foot pocket with a stiff , paddle shaped plastic blade attached. Ideally, the fins should be stiff enough to really give you some thrust but not so stiff that they cause ankle pain or leg cramps. Once you have your gear you are ready to begin exploring the underwater world. The reefs lie in 12- 15ft of water. At the surface looking down at the seafloor, your curiosity will beckon you to dive as deep as you can to explore the reef up close. Although holding your breath and swimming seems rather simple and straightforward, there are actually many special techniques that divers use to hold their breath and dive deep. This is the intersection of snorkeling and the sport of freediving. Freediving, which is one of the fastest growing sports in the world is essentially advanced snorkeling, although that is oversimplifying it. In freediving, divers use special breathing techniques to increase breath hold time and dive very deep. Trained freedivers routinely dive below 100 ft on a single breath of air. There are many safety considerations associated with breath hold deep diving and getting proper training is mandatory. Humans have an incredible capacity for breath hold deep diving and we posses many incredible adaptations. Most importantly, the mammalian diving reflex (MDR). Basically, The diving reflex is the body’s physical response to submersion in cold water and includes selectively shutting down parts of the body in order to conserve energy for survival. Although this sounds rather drastic, its actually really fun and exciting to challenge yourself and feel the activation of this reflex. The first thing that happens is the slowing of the heart rate. Immediately upon facial contact with cold water, the heart rate slows down ten to twenty-five percent. Slowing the heart rate reduces the bodies need for bloodstream oxygen, leaving more to be used by other organs, specifically the brain and heart. Next is peripheral vasoconstriction and blood shift. The blood in your body shifts from your extremities to your core, allowing more blood for use by the heart and brain. These reflexes enable a diver to stay underwater longer. With training, divers learn to cultivate and increase these reflexes. Here at 30A Dive, we offer a 2-day freediving course where students learn to increase breath hold and dive to a depth of 66 ft. It’s a very fun course and the 2 day duration means that you can become a certified freediver while on vacation. When students take our course, they almost always surprise themselves. It’s easier than you think. You don’t have to be a phenomenal athlete or an elite swimmer to have fun freediving. The most important thing is being able to relax and being comfortable in the water. As we said earlier, the reefs are in 12-15 feet of water, a depth that can easily be explored by the novice freediver. With the advent of the artificial reefs, theres never been a better time to visit Walton County, Florida. Come by our shop to get the training and equipment for Destin scuba diving and snorkeling that you will need to explore the reefs and the rest of the underwater world!