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Beyond the Goggles: Be a Snorkel Dork

Updated: Dec 11, 2022

In my second post, I had laid out the bare essentials for your swim bag, but there's a growing and sometimes dizzying array of "swim techonology" that you can stuff in your mesh bag. I can't profess to have tried all of it and I'm certainly biased, but I thought I'd start a (hopefully) recurring series on "SwimTech" with what I like, what I don't like and how I deploy various "toys" (or instruments of torture, depending upon your perspective) in my training.

Today, we start with the piece of technology that once was the bane of my existence and now is my trusted piece of swim tech beyond suit, cap and goggles - the Finis Swimmer's Snorkel:

My first exposure to the snorkel was when my kids' USA Swimming team, Scottsdale Aquatic Club (SAC), required them of practically all training groups. I started talking with coaches there and elsewhere, as well as swimmers who I saw using them. The consensus rationale seemed to be that snorkel provides the ability to focus on technique, to almost get drill-like focus on the pull and the kick without having to worry about breathing ... but while going at pretty close to full-speed (something you typically don't do when drilling). As I watched the National Team at SAC crank out sets with these on and saw the overall results the program was generating, I figured this was a new trick this old dog must learn.

But, oh was I a slow learner!

I bought my first snorkel in August of 2010 and couldn't swim more than 3 or 4 strokes without devolving into a gasping, water-up-my-nose mess. Even when I tried to swim a 25 yard length while holding my breath (something I can normally easily do) with the snorkel on, I ended up with water up my nose.

Based upon the advice of some of my fellow Masters swimmers responding to my struggles on my training blog, I next added a nose clip (like this), on the theory that it would prevent water getting up my nose ... which it did, but I then proceeded to gag and struggle to breathe, the nose clip seeming even more foreign to me than the snorkel.

I gave up in frustration and took a three year hiatus from the snorkel.

I am not sure if, with age, I got wiser, more patient, or I just listened better to my fellow swimmers. Many shared similar stories of woe, but also talked about persistent, focused practice on just getting one more stroke accomplished with the snorkel on. Some described it as an "a-ha" moment where their breathing in & out of the snorkel while still breathing out, but not in through the nose finally synched. By the end of April of 2013, by really just thinking about getting 'just one more stroke,' I reached a milestone of sorts where I swam 16 x 25 meters wearing the snorkel without stopping mid-length and without ripping the snorkel off in disgust.

Over the course of that spring and into the early summer, I made more and more progress with the snorkel, eventually dropping the nose clip and feeling almost normal. I also started to see and feel the technique benefits. The snorkel was particularly good for sculling drills as I could not only focus on the drill without having to lift my head and disrupt my body position, I could also watch my hands and make corrections.

However, while I mastered the "undergraduate" class on snorkel swimming, I was failing the "graduate" level work - doing flip turns with a snorkel:

  • Water would rush in the snorkel as soon as I began my turn,

  • Water would rush in the snorkel as soon as I pushed off the wall,

  • The snorkel would go haywire and be ripped off the side of my head when I pushed off the wall

... and nothing I seemed to do worked until I dropped into the Mesa Masters one fine mid-June morning and had the great opportunity to be swimming in a lane near Lindsey Urbatchka, a great person and excellent swimmer. She saw me struggling with flip turns in all the ways listed above and, when I ripped my snorkel off before a set that would require flip turns, took it upon herself to coach me from the water. The advice she gave me, in hindsight seems so simple, but it was revelatory - "wrap your streamline around your snorkel as you push off." When I fixated on that single thought, everything seemed to magically work - the snorkel stayed stable and I blew the water out of the snorkel as I pushed off.

Since that day, I have made the snorkel part of almost all of my workouts. I love it for drills, but I also love it for swimming or pulling freestyle at top speeds so I can hyper-focus on the connection between my pull, hips and kick. I have felt my stroke to become more balanced since I really mastered this valuable tool. This is one of those pieces of swimtech that does (at least for me) take some time to master, but the results are definitely worth it.

Final tip - thanks to SwimSwam and Tera Van Beilen for this great #swimhack for keeping your snorkel clean.

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