Written by Shawndra Russell | Photos by Evan Anderson
Kevin and Christie Merrill want to let you know why your next Western North Carolina outdoor adventure should be river snorkeling.
When I found out I’d be snorkeling in a river with Kevin Merrill, owner of Transylvania County’s Oxbow River Snorkeling, for this article, I asked all my outdoorsiest friends—ranging from serious mountain climbers to laid-back tubers—if they’d ever done it. Most looked at me dumbfoundedly, and I quickly discovered that no one in my circle had ever heard of river snorkeling, much less done it. They immediately peppered me with questions: “How will you see anything in that murky water?” “Won’t it be really cold?” “What can you really see when the water is moving that fast?” “Do you really think it will compare to ocean snorkeling?”
For that last one, I can say that, no, you can’t really compare ocean to river snorkeling because they are two completely different experiences that have their own thrills and distinct ecosystems to explore. And sure, river snorkeling doesn’t come with palm trees or the array of tropical colors found on and around a coral reef; yet some of the 45 available fish species in this area certainly have brilliant swipes of colors (like the male river chubs’ streaks of blue) and funky silhouettes (like the sculpins), and many sections of the river were crystal clear. I certainly can’t wait to go again, and it was truly fascinating to see so much life teeming below the surface.
There was much to learn during our three-hour tour (most Oxbow trips are half- or full-day outings), like that the hairy growths I’d always mistaken for moss on underwater rocks during my childhood years spent playing in creeks and rivers in Southwest Ohio were actually water insects that make intricate homes to help protect them or capture food. And I was pleased that the three-piece wetsuit kept me warm the entire two-mile journey, as that had been high on my list of concerns, pre-snorkel. The getup included a tight hood that cups your face, full-body wetsuit, and water booties that require a sturdy pair of boots or tennis shoes worn over top. (I wore water shoes, but they weren’t tough enough to help me dig in when I needed it and they slipped off several times, meaning I had to chase after them down some Level II rapids.)
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