Breathing underwater was a strange sensation. It was even stranger because I've never been scuba-certified. Stranger yet that my wife — who is reluctant to even duck her head under water — was happily swimming 15 feet underwater behind me as we plumbed the depths off the island of Roatan, Honduras.
We had discovered Snuba, a hybrid of snorkeling and scuba diving that was an exciting way to experience breathing underwater while not having to go through hardcore training. It has its limitations — namely, a 20-foot airline attached to a raft above — but for a new way to experience watery depths, it can't be beat.
Snuba has been around since at least the late 1980s, when a group of California divers started Snuba International to export the sport. It still isn't offered in many places in the U.S. beyond a few beaches in California, Florida and Hawaii. But it's also caught on in the Caribbean, where tourists go Snuba diving from Aruba to Turks and Caicos. Other destinations include Cancun, Mexico, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
My wife and I tried it in Roatan, Honduras. Our Snuba experience on this tropical island started with a training session on safety procedures. We were then outfitted with flippers, a weight belt, a mask and a regulator linked to a long, snaking tube. It was all surprisingly light, mostly because the tube is connected to an oxygen tank that rests comfortably on a small raft.
We practiced for a few minutes in shallow water, getting a feel for our newfound ability to breathe underwater and the strange, almost tickling sensation we got when we inhaled.
We were told to try our best to breathe normally, as our oxygen tank only had a 45-minute reservoir of air and gasping can deplete it more quickly. And we were also taught to hold our nose and breathe every few feet so we could equalize our pressure as we plummeted.
The experience itself would be nothing new for certified divers, and probably a little frustrating. But for an avid swimmer like me who has always wanted to get scuba-certified, the ability to skim new depths was exhilarating.
Our guide went with us as we waded deeper into the water. The moment we got there we took advantage, plunging as deep as we could, skimming the tops of coral reefs and tracking the colorful fish darting in and out of our paths.
The water wasn't that deep, so our 20-foot rope never seemed to block us from going deeper. It was also nice to know that even if the hose somehow malfunctioned we were still shallow enough that we could make it back to the surface within a few seconds.
There were some problems, though. For one, you have to go at wthe same pace as everyone else tethered to your raft.
The tubes can also be a hindrance. If you don't watch out while you're swimming, you could be part of an elaborate knot that must be untangled. And you can feel a tug at your mouthpiece if you're too far ahead or behind the others, or if a stiff wind or heavy current pulls the raft above.
But my biggest problem with Snuba is that it left me wanting more. I wanted to go faster, deeper and stay underwater longer. And my only cure might have to be graduating to the next level: Scuba diving.