You don't have to have salt water for great snorkeling.When people think of snorkeling, the images that may first spring to mind are of people sporting wet suits and tumbling off the sides of yachts into blue tropical waters, but you don't have to travel as far as the Caribbean to try your hand at this sport, nor do you need to spend thousands to get a rich snorkeling experience.New Hampshire is home to a surprising number of great snorkeling spots, one of which you can find at McKinney Park in Wolfeboro, right on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Located adjacent to Wolfeboro Bay, "Clark's Point," as it's known in the area, is an ideal spot for beginner divers because of its shallower depths and visual rewards of marine life, including species such as bass and perch that would tend to get spooked in more-frequented swim locations.The dive begins off in a shallow, rocky area with some sandy patches, which are great for practicing newly learned snorkeling skills. Once you move away from shore there are various large and interesting rock formations with the depth dropping off to about 30-40 feet.Snorkel and scuba instructor Mike Nalen is a fan of right-off-shore snorkeling and says some of the best experiences can be had right at the water's edge. "We went to Mexico once and saw more fish snorkeling than we had diving," he says. "If you're somewhere where you're right off the beach, you'll see more than the populated places. And if you enjoy snorkeling you'll then get into diving and really see more."Gear BoxThe men's nylon Lycra short sleeve Rash Guard ($19.96) features flat-lock stitching for added comfort and UVA/UVB protection to shield you from the harsh summer sun.High visibility is a priority when snorkeling. and The Tilos Inflatable Adjustable Vest ($43.99) delivers with its neonyellow Denier nylon fabric featuring a neoprene lower back and oral inflator.For the best experience snorkeling you will want need to get fitted properly for a mask. Mask and snorkel sets can be had for a small investment, and the Oceanic Snorkel Set Combo ($29.95-$69.95) featuring Promate seaviewer mask, Promate whistle-dry snorkel, Oceanic V-Flex fins and Oceanic mesh bag is a good fit for the budget-minded.Essential for a safe snorkeling experience, red-and-white dive flags are a must for alerting boaters to where you are in the water. Aqua Nylon Dive Flags ($14.98).Impressive FactThere is evidence from 3,000 B.C. that points to some of the earliest known free divers - sponge farmers in Crete. Before the modern snorkel was invented, ancient divers used hollow reeds to help them breathe underwater.Expert AdviceNew Hampshire resident Mike Nalen has been the co-owner of Aquatic Escapes Dive Center in Londonderry for the last two years. He has been snorkeling for more than 14 years and diving has been his passion since the 1990s. He is an advanced open water instructor, technical dive instructor and extended range diver. He is also a Boy Scout scuba-diving merit badge instructor.What was your very first introduction to snorkeling? When I was a little kid going to the beach with my parents, our family would go snorkeling. I also remember enjoying watching a special with Jacques Cousteau and his underwater dives, and seeing brochures for YMCA classes. I scuba dived a bit before I became certified. There is no law enforcement on it so my friends would kind of show me the ropes. I would recommend doing a class first. Diving is easy to do, but it's easy to get hurt, too. Friends might not show you what to do correctly.What makes snorkeling at Clark's Point a unique experience? There are lots of fish and the water is usually pretty clear. No mud - just a rocky, hard bottom, some sand, so you're not standing in or churning up muck. People can swim a long way and it's a quiet, secluded place, but very limited parking for about six cars, so it can sometimes get a little crowded. Later morning to afternoon is best for snorkeling because of the overhead sunlight.Are there benefits to going with a guide or group on your first attempt? Yes, your comfort level will be much higher if you're with someone who knows what they're doing. You want to be as relaxed as possible or you can hyperventilate really easily. You'll learn how to kick properly. You can also be fitted with a special vest that has a neoprene back that will give you protection from the sun and extra flotation. To keep floating you have to keep moving, and sometimes people start to sink. You need to be trained to do it right. For certification you can come to Aquatic Escapes; the course takes just a couple of days.What should a beginner look for in terms of gear for snorkeling and what are some safety precautions that should be taken on an outing? Masks need to be fitted properly and if you get a cheap one it will likely leak. I've heard countless stories of people who aren't told how to use the equipment and how horrible an experience it is. For most beginner snorkelers, 10 feet is the max depth. You have a breathing instinct and you have to train yourself to improve that and that's one of the things you learn in class. Wear a bright color vest, yellow or orange, to keep boats away or they won't see you. We always anchor dive flags (red and white) so they know where we are. They make ones that you can attach to your snorkel. It's always better to have your own stuff because it's more comfortable and clean. Rental equipment is not always great quality and you don't know how it's been handled or treated.
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine