Snorkeling History: An Aquatic Pastime for Centuries
Nowadays, snorkeling is a favorite vacation activity for families and friends to take part in during their exotic trips to the world’s most pristine and beautiful coastlines. Depending on the location, snorkelers can swim amongst tropical fish with various pastel colors, dive in and around coral reefs, and experience the majesty of rocky, cave cut coastlines. And as a relatively safe activity, you only need to know how to swim in order to participate.
On the surface, it appears snorkeling began strictly as a leisurely activity, designated for visitors interested in discovering our aquatic world. However, you would be fascinated to find the roots of snorkeling date back almost 5,000 years to the ancient Greeks. What follows is an abridged history of snorkeling and the methods by which humans have been discovering the elusive depths of the ocean for millennia.
3000 B.C.E: Hollow Reeds as Earliest Snorkeling Gear
The sponge farmers of the Greek island of Crete are considered the earliest free divers of the human race. These ancient divers used hollowed out reeds as snorkels to breathe during their time submerged in the Mediterranean Sea. These islands were rich in sea sponges
and local farmers who dove to the greatest depths to harvest these animals pulled in a considerable income for the time.
Assyrian Divers and Animal Skins
From here, ancient records (around 900 B.C.E) suggests that Assyrian divers began using hollowed out animal skins filled with air to prolong their dives into the depths. Though this borders on scuba diving, it is interesting to note the early use of their environment for underwater discovery. Additional evidence also indicates
this method was used for evasive tactics where men would take to rivers and lakes to evade their enemies in times of survival.
The Diving Bell
Anyone who grew up swimming in a pool has probably, at one point or another, created their own form of the diving bell. Well, you can thank Alexander the Great for the inspiration! Around 333 B.C.E, he encouraged the use of the bell to trap air under water so divers could enjoy extended periods of time submerged in their aquatic landscapes.
Da Vinci’s Sketches
Leave it to a renaissance man to draw and design various underwater breathing devices during his day. Many of his concepts led to the later development of modern scuba gear and snorkeling devices. His proposed concept sketches ranged from basic tubes that allowed divers to breathe surface air (sound familiar?) to a full on self-contained diving suit, similar to what you might find in a Jewels Verne novel. We can also thank Da Vinci for proposing swimming gloves with webbed fingers, a distant relative of the modern snorkel fin.
Invention of the Air Pump
Though Di Vinci’s proposed air tube provided divers a way to submerge themselves for extended periods of time, he failed to take into account water pressure. Divers soon found it difficult to breathe at depths greater than two feet. In response, engineer John Smeaton in 1771 developed an air pump that pumped surface air through several pressurized tubes. Now depths previously uncharted were now attained by the diving elite.
Modern Snorkeling Technology
Now, thanks to the pioneering interest of the past, vacationers across the globe can easily participate in the art of snorkeling. In recent years, basic snorkeling gear was developed and enhanced over time. Today, we see snug goggles and masks featuring rubbers and plastics for durability and ease of use. These materials increase snorkelers’ visibility underwater and enhance the overall experience.
We’re lucky to host some of the best snorkeling in the country right in our backyard! The reefs and caves of La Jolla are some of the top destinations for free divers, snorkelers, and scuba enthusiasts. We’re so stoked to have such diverse marine life so close to home and hope you have a chance to join us on one of our many tours here in beautiful San Diego!
Check out our availability here!