River Snorkeling: A New Use for Paddling Drysuits? February 10 2017

river snorkeling in Mythic Gear drysuit

Drysuit river snorkeling

We’ve been surprised at the range of non-paddlesports uses to which people are putting our drysuits. Wildlife biologists are using Mythic Gear drysuits during waterfowl and migratory fish surveys. An energy engineering company has equipped more than a dozen of its workers with them for installing cooling systems in chest-deep river water. And we heard from a maintenance professional at a trailer park who wears one when repairing plumbing while lying flat on his back in puddles beneath manufactured homes.

Another unconventional use that we learned of recently is river snorkeling. We weren’t even aware river snorkeling was a thing, but Keith Williams spends hundreds of hours face down in rivers, wearing Mythic Gear drysuits to stay warm and dry.

Keith Williams, river snorkeler, in Mythic Gear drysuit

Keith Williams, river snorkeling pioneer

River snorkeling is a fledgling river-based sport that a handful of us started to do recreationally about 10 years ago,” says Williams, who is the author of Snorkelhead, Adventures in Creek Snorkeling, the first book on the subject, and one of the founding administrators of the River Snorkeling Facebook page. He runs an outdoor education program for underserved kids, much of it involving river snorkeling; has written a curriculum and implementation guides for the US Forest Service in an effort to get river snorkeling programs established in National Forests; has presented at major outdoor/environmental education conferences; and is, he says, “on a mission to get as many people face down in rivers as I can because it is a perspective changer.”

Snorkelhead book jacket

Snorkelhead is the first book about river snorkeling.

River snorkeling isn’t “diving.” Williams doesn’t wear diving weights, and even after burping the suit, the fleece layers trap a certain amount of air, so he stays on the surface, or submerges only briefly and shallow.

“One of the beauties of river snorkeling is I can see tons of life in knee deep water,” he says.On cold winter days, with air temperature highs in the 20s Fahrenheit, water temperatures at freezing, and ice on the water, Williams wears two fleece layers under the drysuit, and this keeps his core warm. He also wears a neoprene hood and neoprene gloves. “I'm good for 30 minutes before my hands stop working,” he says. In slightly more humane temperatures, he often stays in the water for hours at a time.

“Snorkeling rivers gives me a completely different view of features common and taken for granted in our landscape. That change in perspective opens the door to discovering a different way of thinking about rivers. Snorkeling rivers turns them into much more than conduits for water or resources to be managed. They become communities to experience, places to meditate, reflect, heal. Snorkeling rivers enables me to digest and process life, as I watch unexpected life unfold around me.”

River snorkeling fish

Williams concludes, “River snorkeling connects me deeply to places that are often overlooked and abused by society, places that we depend upon for food, water and sanity.”

River snorkeling with salmon

Caveat: Think of this blog post like those ads on television in which SUVs go power-sliding around deserted city streets at 100 mph, and then the text appears, “Professional drivers under controlled conditions” – implying that even though the car can do it, you really shouldn’t drive that way. Mythic Gear drysuits are intended for use in paddlesports; any other use is outside of our expertise and not covered by warranties express or implied. We make no claims regarding the suitability or safety of our drysuits for snorkeling. If you give river snorkeling a try, get experienced guidance, approach it with caution, and test your drysuit thoroughly before exposing yourself to possible danger.

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