Picture this… Noisy splashes all over the water’s surface. Bubbles and silt clouding your vision. Coral that’s bleaching because too many folks have stood on, kicked, and grabbed at it. Not a pretty image, is it? And yet, this is what the vast majority of snorkeling tours look like. None of this would be a problem, though, if folks learned how to kick when snorkeling.
If you’re snorkeling, here’s how you should kick: Like a frog. Yes, I know it’s unconventional. But I believe that this kick from the SCUBA diver’s arsenal should be taught to snorkelers too. Why? Because it uses less energy, creates less turbulence, and keeps your fins away from the coral and sand below you.
The flutter kick is the go-to choice for almost every casual snorkeler because it’s all they know. Simply move your legs up and down in short, rapid strokes, right? We learn this kick in our first swimming lessons as kids. The frog kick, on the other hand, is much more like the whip kick used in breaststroke, but with a few key differences.
Before I get into the mechanics of the frog kick, though, let’s get one thing out of the way first:
Yes, you need to use fins when snorkeling
Even if you’re a strong swimmer, fins are a mandatory component of a proper snorkeling kit. This is not because they allow you to move faster (though that’s certainly true), but because they allow you to move more efficiently.
Your primary goal as a snorkeler should be to safely and comfortably observe the beautiful underwater ecosystems around you while also respecting those ecosystems. You will not achieve that goal unless you can move through the water in a controlled and precise manner. Sorry, flutter kicking and freestyling as if you were in a pool lane just won’t cut it.
Many folks make the mistake of believing that fins are all about power and speed, but that’s not true. The biggest advantage fins give you is control.
With the right fins, you can maintain control even through strong currents and errant waves. But with the right fins, you can also quietly and gently observe reef fish, corals, and other animals without harming or disturbing them. With a few flicks of your ankles, fins allow you to pivot in place, turn corners, and even move backwards all with your hands loosely by your sides. No frantic arm flailing or turbulent kicking necessary!
Sadly, these skills are only emphasized in SCUBA training, not in casual snorkeling. Personally, I believe tour operators have a responsibility to teach these useful skills to casual snorkelers too, not just SCUBA divers. No one wants to deliberately harm reefs by kicking and grabbing them (at least I hope not!) And simply telling folks that doing so is harmful isn’t enough. That’s kind of like treating a symptom but not the underlying cause. And when it comes to snorkeling, the underlying cause of destructive behavior is a lack of skill. If you don’t know how to control yourself in the water, you are far more likely to do unintentional damage.
Until more tour operators get their act together in regards to training their guests, it’s up to us to teach ourselves; to be proactive about developing our skills on our own.
Related Post: 5 Reasons To Wear Fins While Snorkeling
How to frog kick when snorkeling
The frog kick looks a lot how it sounds. Rather than continuously moving your legs up and down opposite each other, both your legs move together in a wide scoop that displaces the water between your fins out behind you. Your rhythm is one of push and glide, not constant kicking.
Most folks new to snorkeling will find the frog kick most similar to the swimmer’s breaststroke, only without the arm movements. The breaststroke whip kick usually involves the knees kept close together while your lower legs bend up at the knee. Your lower legs rotate at the knee joint before coming together again to streamline the glide phase. However, the most critical component of the whip kick is the position of the ankles. As you execute the whip, your feet must be rotated outwards.
Many of us may remember how difficult learning the whip kick was as kids. Getting the feet and ankles right was a huge part of that for me. But those rotated ankles are also key to mastering the frog kick with fins.
Starting (Neutral) Position
Your starting position, like the whip kick, is streamlined with your legs straight behind you and your feet pointed.
To initiate the frog kick, draw your knees forward slightly. Unlike the whip kick, which requires you to bring your heels almost to your butt, this movement involves only slight bending at the hips and knees.
As you bend your legs in preparation for the kick you must also keep your toes pointed behind you. This will ensure the fins experience minimal resistance as you draw your knees forward.
Like the whip kick, the key here is to flex your ankles and rotate your feet so your toes point outward. Then, widen your knees and push backwards by straightening your legs. The correct ankle position ensures the broad side of the fin blades will be facing behind you as push your feet backwards.
As you finish the kick, bring your ankles back together and your toes back to a pointed position. Give your ankles a bit of a twist so that the soles of your feet face each other. Think of it as if you were sitting in a chair and tried to use both your feet to pick up a baseball on the floor.
All together, the motion of your legs, ankles, and feet will cause the blades of your fins to “clap” the water behind you. You will then end up back in a streamlined, neutral position.
Glide and Repeat
A major benefit of the frog kick is the easy glide phase it gives you. You will get the most from the glide if you keep your body streamlined and ride it out without initiating a new kick too early. Remember, snorkeling is all about relaxing!
The frog kick feels pretty intuitive once you get the hang of it, but it certainly takes practice.
If you have access to a pool (e.g. at the hotel you’re staying at), take some time to practice kicking with your fins before you go on your snorkeling tour. Wear your mask and snorkel too! Play around with the frog kick and experiment with different degrees of leg bending and power during the kick. You’ll quickly notice that even very subtle movements of your shins and ankles will give you a lot of positional control!
As you practice, work on keeping your arms at your sides or gently clasped in front of you. Resist the urge to rely on them for steering and balance. If you find this difficult, start by training with a flutter board. Hold it in front of you for extra stability (and getting your brain away from your hands!)
If you have access to a plain sandy beach, challenge yourself by practicing your frog kick in very shallow water. How shallow can you get before you start kicking up sand or bumping the seafloor with your knees?
With a practiced frog kick, your fins and knees will be kept well away from the coral and sand beneath you, even in very shallow areas. And you won’t be churning up a storm of clunky splashes behind you!
Tip: For a more advanced challenge, focus on becoming more aware of your breathwork while you practice. By adjusting the depth of your breath and where you carry it (e.g. chest vs. belly), you can develop very fine control over your buoyancy and stability in the water.
How to flutter kick when snorkeling
I hope I’ve made a good case for the frog kick while snorkeling. However, I know some folks will still insist on the old flutter kick. I also understand that the frog can be a bit harder on the hip and knee joints. This can be a problem if you have any mobility issues. So, never fear! Just because I believe the frog should be the standard kick for most every snorkeler doesn’t mean the flutter kick doesn’t have its place too. So let’s go over how to do it properly!
As with the frog kick, getting used to the flutter kick while wearing fins takes some adjustment.
If you’re used to swimming strokes like the freestyle, the flutter kick is characterized by very short, rapid leg strokes. In fact, the purpose of the swimming flutter kick is less for propulsion and more for stabilization. Your arm strokes do most of the propulsive work. With fins, you don’t need to use your arms at all (and you really shouldn’t be if you’re snorkeling over a fragile reef).
Flutter Kick Leg Stroke
The key is to keep your strokes much slower than you would without fins. For the blades to snap the water effectively they need time to complete the stroke initiated by your legs. The slower movement will also keep you from generating a turbulent storm of splashes and bubbles behind you.
Be sure to keep your toes pointed and bend your legs at the hip rather than the knees. Some flexion at the knee is alright, but many new snorkelers draw their knees down too far so they look like they’re riding a bicycle. Not only is this very inefficient, but it also increases your chance of accidentally kicking at coral or sand below you.
As with the frog kick, practice your flutter kick with fins in a pool before going on your snorkeling tour. Remember, focus less on power/speed and more on control. Work on keeping your fins just below the surface at all times to avoid excessively splashing. Don’t develop the bad habit of bending your knees too much!
Tip: If you find it difficult to avoid bending your knees while flutter kicking, your fins may be too stiff for you.
What if you get tired?
This is the main reason folks on snorkeling tours end up standing on or grabbing at coral. They get too tired of kicking and have to take a break.
Please, don’t ever do this!
There’s plenty of things you can do to give yourself a break without holding onto or standing on anything! Even standing on the seafloor is a bad idea because you’ll stir up sand and silt. Not only does this ruin the view for everyone else, but it also blocks the sunlight that the corals need to survive!
If you get tired, here’s what to do instead:
Fill your lungs, breathe deeply, lengthen your body and just… rest!
If you keep your body horizontal and your lungs fairly full, you’ll float without much effort, especially if you’re in saltwater! If doing this makes you nervous because you’re afraid you’ll sink, practice it in a pool or on a shallow beach before your tour.
Floating is one of the first things you were taught when you started swimming lessons as a kid, right? If you haven’t swum in a while or it’s your first time in open water, give yourself a refresher on this foundational skill! You’ll find that with a snorkel and fins, you can rest comfortably at the surface without having to lift up your head or flailing your hands.
2. Use a snorkel vest
If you’re still nervous about floating unaided, then I highly recommend you invest (haha) in a snorkel vest. Unlike life jackets, snorkel vests are designed to keep you buoyant while you’re in a front-floating position.
Most tour operators will have snorkel vests available for you to use, but I highly recommend getting one for yourself. That way, you’ll be certain it’s a good fit for you and not damaged/leaky. Click here or on the image below to purchase one at Leisure Pro (my preferred online dive shop for US/Canada shipping).
3. Rely on the frog kick rather than the flutter kick
Remember that nice glide phase I emphasized above? The frog kick is a great option for casual snorkelers because it takes far less energy. See something neat over there? Just give a quick pop with your legs to glide over! Let the glide slow into a restful float as you watch the colorful fish below you.
Sounds peaceful and relaxing, right? That’s what snorkeling should be. Once you’re at your site, you should be expending very little energy to observe, explore, and enjoy.
This is ultimately why I think the frog kick is an essential snorkeling skill. It just fits so much better with the “spirit” of snorkeling.
If this hasn’t been your experience in the past, then do everything you can to practice kicking in a pool before your tour. Believe me, it will make all the difference!
4. Strengthen your legs to improve your snorkeling kick
Swimmers train their leg muscles by swimming with short swim fins, and you can do the same. If you have a membership at a gym with a pool, you’ll likely see other lane-swimmers doing this. The pool may even have training fins you can use.
Even if you don’t have regular access to a pool, there are plenty of land-based exercises you can do to condition your legs as well. You can do leg lifts and flutter kick while lying on a mat or with an exercise ball. Exercises that strengthen your core, such as the plank and its many variations, will also be a big help.
Are you using the right kind of fins?
Make sure that you’re using fins with relatively short, soft blades. Don’t use fins that are designed for SCUBA divers as these tend to be quite stiff and heavy. Especially if you’re in tropical water, stick with full-foot fins that you can wear barefoot or with a thin neoprene sock. If you’re set on using a flutter kick while snorkeling, consider split fins, which are very easy to kick due to the low resistance they experience from the water.
If your snorkeling kick is giving you trouble, your fins may not be a good fit for you. Definitely take some time to invest in a quality pair! Like any other kind of footwear, it’s always more comfortable to have your own than to rent!
For more advice on snorkeling fins, check out these other posts I’ve written:
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