Aloha, Lanai: Snuba Diving in Hawaii

by Chris on February 12, 2011

Snuba diving in Hawaii, on Lanai’s Hulopo’e Beach and Marine Reserve with Trilogy Excursions.

Snuda diving, Hawaii

One of my favorite activities during my time spent as a New Media Artist in Residence on Lana’i was the chance to go snuba diving in Hawaii’s calm, clear waters.

What is snuba? Essentially, it’s a cross between snorkeling and SCUBA diving, designed to give people who aren’t quite ready to really swim with the fishes a chance to try breathing underwater. Instead of carrying a tank on your back, your regulator that you breathe through is attached to an air-filled raft that floats upon the surface. You’re tethered to the raft by the tube, so you won’t go down too far – and you’re with an instructor the whole time, just in case you start to panic.

Snuba diving, Hawaii, Trilogy Excursions

For me, all these precautions sounded perfect. I’m an avid snorkeler, but I have an irrational fear of the bends that has prevented me from going deep. SNUBA sounded like a great alternative – at least until I met Jill of Trilogy Excursions a few days before we went out. She told me that people often freak out when they put their heads underwater with the regulator, mainly because our survival instinct kicks in. “Our brain knows we’re not supposed to breathe underwater,” she said. “Some people panic.” I assumed that “some people” would include me.

Trilogy Excursions, Snuba diving, Hawaii

Trilogy has an area of Holopoe Beach set aside for snorkeling and other water activities. We met our guide, a Chace Crawford lookalike who had the best tan I’ve ever seen. He explained to us how snuba worked and assured us that it was impossible to go lower than 20 feet, which is nowhere near bend-inducing depths.  He also promised we’d see some fish, even if our fears kept us clinging to the boat the whole time. This made me feel better.

It takes quite a while to set up snuba equipment, so I had a lot of time to practice breathing through my regulator and think what I was getting into. Although as the sun beat down, I found myself thinking less about the logistics and more about how great the cool water would feel. When we were finally ready to drag our rafts out, I couldn’t wait to get wet.

Snuba diving Hawaii

And just like that, I made like a mermaid and went down. Breathing through a regulator creates bubbles, which seemed mildly disconcerting at first. But whenever I felt uncomfortable, I told myself to just keep breathing and focus on the wonderful underwater world around me. It helped.

snuba diving hawaii

Young Chace (not his real name, but I couldn’t help calling him that) gave me the big Hawaiian thumbs up and released some weights from my dive belt so I could go deeper. (I had warned him that I might freak out so he was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t). My husband wasn’t adjusting quite as well as I was; the pressure of going underwater does affect those with sensitive ears. But soon he was floating along beside me, pointing out green parrot fish, black and white striped angel fish and yellow tang. I even saw a ray floating by in the distance!

The drawback to snuba is that you can’t stay down that long. Our under-the-sea odyssey only lasted 20 minutes and the time went by quickly. I didn’t want to get out, but I also didn’t want to mar my experience by gasping for air.

Now that we’re back, I’ve spent time scouting out dive sites around the world. If anyone has suggestions on places to learn how to SCUBA, I’m all ears. Now that I’ve tasted a bit of life a la Jacques Cousteau, I’m hooked.

Thanks to the Lana’i CVB for sponsoring the #VisitLanai New Media Artist-in-Residence program.


| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Arndt February 12, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Getting SCUBA certified involves some classroom study and actual time diving.

Here are your best SCUBA options:

1) Do everything in Seattle. The upside is you don’t have to waste time doing classroom stuff when you do get to warmer climates and want to dive. The downside is that it will probably be more expensive to do it in Seattle and you will have to dive in very cold waters, probably with a very thick wetsuit.

2) Just do classroom stuff in Seattle. You can just do your classroom and pool stuff in Seattle, then take a signed letter from the dive instructor to the dive shop when you visit a warmer place. There you can do your open water dive and finish your certification.

3) Do everything in the tropics. This probably a cheaper option, depending on where you go. Some places like Thailand and Fiji are very cheap. Palau was very expensive. I did my course in Maui and we did everything in the ocean. There was nothing done in a pool. You have to take time out of your schedule to do the classroom work, but it shouldn’t be more than a day.

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Chris February 12, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thanks, Gary! I love your idea of Maui :) I’m looking out at Puget Sound right now during a windy rainstorm….there’s no way I would want to go out there, no matter how thick the wet suit was.

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Rease February 12, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I had no idea this existed but I love it! I too fear full on scuba diving. Drowning would take so long! I would love to try this some day. I’m glad you liked it!

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Chris February 12, 2011 at 8:55 pm

@Rease – I think it’s a good way to see if SCUBA is for you. Another couple went with us and the woman just did not like breathing through the regulator at all. And that’s OK! Better to find out close to the surface, I say!

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Natalie February 12, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I would love to give that a go. I can not do scuba diving as like the instructors says, as soon as my head is under water, I just begin to panic. Shame because some of the best sights in the world are under water.

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Chris February 13, 2011 at 3:18 am

@Natalie – I think snuba might be a good way to see if you can face your fears without too much pressure. As our guide said, even if you don’t like breathing underwater, you can always use your snorkel and just float on the water instead of going down.

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Sean February 13, 2011 at 6:59 am

Snuba is a waste of money. It’s actually a lot less safe than scuba diving. I have no idea what kind of certifications are required to lead snuba tours and that concerns me. I have done snuba and enjoyed it. I have since done nearly 1000 dives and I wish I knew enough to just go scuba diving. Scuba diving try-outs like discover scuba diving require a professional insured person leading your dive. These people dive all the time and are watching you every step of the way making sure you don’t have any issues. They also give you a quality orientation and are right by your side during the dive.
Snuba is fun no doubt if you have never been underwater, but let me tell you scuba diving is FAR more fun and in my book safer. These operations like Trilogy are huge cattle boats taking out perhaps 100 people at a time or more. When you’re going underwater, I have a lot less confidence with the supervision of a cattle boat operator especially if you consider the ratio of leader to snuba divers.
I have never even heard of snuba since I became certified. It’s not even on the radar. I think it crosses the danger threshold when they submerge. You really need proper training for the dive leaders and a quality 1-1 orientation of issues involved. You could easily blow out your ears or even get an embolism if you surfaced too fast with a lungful of air or didn’t clear your ears properly. Snuba is a huge money maker (1 tank for 1-5 people for 80 bucks or so), but you are safer and will have a more enjoyable time scuba diving. Divers die, but it’s usually their own fault due to poor training or poor health. If you have a dive guide right by your side, you’re unlikely to have any issues. Of course we have all types of people in the industry. Just go with a reputable company and you should be ok.

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Chris February 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

@Sean – You raise valid points here. There were 5 of us diving to one instructor. He had a tank on and came around to each of us. And I do think that Trilogy Excursions is better than a “cattle boat operator.” The instructor did give us quite a bit of information before we went in the water, including how to clear our ears. His main concern was to take it slow and remain safe. But yes, people should always think about what they are getting into and go with a quality operator. Thanks for commenting!

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Sean February 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm

When you do scuba diving, you go on a boat with a max of 12 divers and the staff. Compared to 100+ people you can see why they call them cattle boats. Trilogy may do a good job but they are a cattle boat :)

I hope you try out scuba. I think you will never look back!

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Jim Mayfield February 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Chris, Thank you for writing about your SNUBA experience. I am the founder of SNUBA, which was started back in 1988 (first locations to open were Maui and St. John). SNUBA has since grown to nearly 100 locations throughout the world, providing an excellent option for snorkelers who want to take the next step of breathing underwater with safety, guidance and convenience. It’s always fascinating to read the perspective of someone who knows nothing about SNUBA (Sean), yet is willing to share unfounded opinions. Over 6 million guest experiences have been conducted since we started the company. All tours are guided under the supervision of trained, certified and professionally insured SNUBA Guides. Our safety record is unparalleled in the industry, with zero claims. SNUBA is not proposed or offered as an alternative to scuba diving. Our market is snorkelers, couples and families. It just so happens that SNUBA has made a significant contribution to open water certifications, something we also encourage and are passionate about.

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Don February 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Jim,

I never once felt unsafe during our Snuba outing. As Chris mentioned, we had 5 participants and one guide. He was very thorough in his guidance, and as we were in the water, he swam to each participant to get the OK signal. At no time did he suggest that anyone had to go down to the bottom, which was a max of 20 ft, – if you were only comfortable being 5 ft below the surface, that was fine. Everyone took their own pace.

I’m not so sure that I would have felt as confident trying a first Scuba dive, even after certification – too much equipment to think about. This gave me the important intro to determine that I WOULD like to learn how to Scuba after giving this a try, after getting over the initial jitters of learning to relax and just breathe.

I would also recommend it to others who need to find out for themselves if they like that sort of thing or not.

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Todd Winn February 16, 2011 at 2:35 am

Sean,

I think your definition of “cattle boats” needs addressing. After 16 years working boats i think your average client and crew member defines a cattle boat by wether or not they feel crowded or cramped on a vessel. Better stated, the number of passengers vs the size of the vessel. There are many six and twelve pack dive boats that are cramped quarters at best with no room to move or personal space. At the other end of the spectrum there are large snorkel and dive boats that in order to turn a profit run at their maximum USCG capacity to the same effect. In Maui that is usually around 149 people for various reasons. At Trilogy we are truly proud of our customer service and despite the fact that some of our larger boats are rated and equipped to carry 90 people we have a self imposed limit of 60. This provides seating and and room to spread out for all our guests. We must be doing something right as most of our business is repeat and we’ve been at it over 38 years. I won’t even address your warped perception of SNUBA. Thanks for sharing your opinions.

Todd Winn DSO
Director of Diving and Risk Management
Trilogy Excursions
SNUBA SRC (personally conducted 64,000+ SNUBA divers)
PADI Open Water SCUBA Instructor
IANTD MIx Gas Closed Circuit Rebreather Instructor

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Stephen February 15, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Sean how many years ago did you try Snuba and where did you experience it? I know its been around awhile. I have lived in Maui for 7 years now and as a now more than 25 years certified SCUBA diver (geez, I don’t want to date myself too much!) I have had the opportunity to observe Snuba on a variety of boats here at Lanai, world famous Molokini ;-) and occasionally right off the beach at Kaanipali or Wailea. Snuba seems to be EVERYWHERE on Maui. I also know a couple guys who are Snuba “guides” and they are all either SCUBA Divemasters or Instructors and they really seem to love their job. These guys and a few gals seem every bit as professional as most of the Instructors I know and apparently they have to go through even more training after finishing their PADI courses to qualify as a Snuba “guide” as they call it. As to the ratios, no doubt some of our larger snorkel boats out here in Maui can accommodate a lot of bodies but the snuba tours are conducted with 6 persons or less if they are going down to 20 ft. That’s pretty close to PADI/NAUI standards and with the 20 ft hose as the limiter to depth that seems pretty safe. Apparently the biggest cause of serious injury or death in SCUBA diving happens as a result of getting separated from your Instructor underwater and that can’t happen with Snuba for sure with a raft (floatation device) and a hose (doggy-leash?? ;-) I know all this cause I checked into becoming a guide myself and found out that Snuba has an impressive safety record compared to open water diving and they have been around more than 20 years with locations worldwide. Wondering how many links to Snuba on Google or if they hit the radar on yet on YouTube but the one thing I get from the folks that lead these tours is the job satisfaction and gratification they get taking novices who really ARE afraid and helping them succeed at it. I hear the pay is better too cause there are so many snorkelers out there who won’t go near SCUBA gear but are seemingly willing to take a chance on this activity. Bottom line is I sure wish this would have been around when i was a kid. I had to wait till I was almost 15 years old and now days with Snuba you only have to be 8. Lot cheaper and quicker way than the DISCOVER and INTRO programs you mention and more convenient time-wise when you’re on vacation too. I know you’re a hardcore diver but have i convinced you Snuba has something to offer the masses who are not?? Alohas from Sunny Maui~

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Jill February 17, 2011 at 12:51 am

Aloha Chris and Don!

I’m so glad you enjoyed SNUBA diving with Chance (Marko) :) I hope that you get certified! Im happy that you didn’t freak out :) I like people to know that is okay for them to feel a little bit scared and overwhelmed because after a few minutes they feel more comfortable and have a great time. And some people like yourself take to it right away which is awesome! If you come back to Lanai I can certify you! I would definitely recommend doing your class work at home, which you can now do online at PADI.com and your pool dives at a local dive shop. That way you can maximize your time in a warmer climate! For more in for about diving lanai visit scubalanai.com.

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Chris February 17, 2011 at 1:47 am

Jill – I didn’t kinow you could do certification work online. We’ll have to look into that. It was so great to meet you on Lana’i and we had a great time doing SNUBA with with Trilogy!

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Dave (Hawaii Holidays) January 13, 2012 at 4:26 am

Hi Chris,

I went scuba diving in the summer and I found the conditions excellent. I was in Kauai and went diving in Tunnels Reef and Ke’e Lagoon. I have never been snuba diving but i took my girlfriend and she tried it out and loved it and would recommend it. Although after an attack with a Great White cage diving in South Africa recently i am a apprehensive about my next dive.

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Dave (Hawaii Holidays) January 13, 2012 at 4:28 am

P.s I have it all on video if you would like to see????

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Chris January 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Dave – I think I’m OK as far as video. But if I’m ever asked to do a story on shark cage diving, I’m emailing you!

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Dave (Hawaii Holidays) January 18, 2012 at 6:50 am

Hi Chris,

Thats fine you know where i am :)

Dave

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