by Dr. Thomas Powell:
Starting down the road toward becoming a recreational scuba diver can be both an exciting and daunting task. Students are faced with volumes of information, potential equipment needs, and the thrill of gearing up for the water for the first time. Despite these factors, almost every new scuba diver looks into purchasing a mask, a set of fins, and a snorkel. These items are the basic tools that help a diver get started, but they are also critically important with regard to comfort and happiness.
A huge number of masks are available to the scuba diving community. Styles, colors, shapes, designs, and even materials may vary from mask to mask. Each change or difference may also cause the price of a mask to alter. That being said, a diver must be comfortable in his or her new mask. Aside from selecting color or style, fit is the most critical feature of a mask. If a diver spends a forty-five minute dive doing nothing but fidgeting with a leaky mask, the joy that could be found in that dive will likely be lost. The first action a diver should take when buying a new mask is to ignore price tags and try on many different variations. The diver should pull the mask strap out of the way, place the mask upon his or her face, inhale slightly through the nose, and see if the mask remains on the face with no other support. The diver should feel for any leaks or uncomfortable areas where the mask makes contact with the face. In certain cases, a diver’s forehead may touch the center post of the mask, or the nose pocket may press upon the bridge of the person’s nose. Similarly, the person’s vision should be clear and unobstructed. In certain cases, this factor may push a diver toward preferring a mask with a single lens over multiple lenses. Conversely, dual lens masks often offer the opportunity for prescription lens upgrades if needed. There are many things a diver must consider when selecting a mask, so this is not a process through which a diver should rush. Each mask should be tested, tried, and reviewed to ensure that once the mask hits the water, it remains comfortable on the face of the individual joining the scuba world.
Fins can be almost as complicated as masks when a new scuba diver is looking to make a purchase. Countless styles, colors, and designs are out there for the consumer. Despite the unique appearance of many fins, some basic factors can help a person select quality fins. The scuba industry has categorized fins for the purpose of use and selection over the course of many years of product development. The first of these categories are open-heeled fins or full foot fins. Full foot fins are often used by snorkelers because they are easy to slip on and off, and are generally less expensive. Open-heeled fins require (generally) the use of booties but allow an individual to walk over difficult terrain or maintain traction when the fins are not being worn. Next, a person may encounter free-diving fins. Free-diving fins are often long-bladed to ensure that maximum power is derived from fewer kick cycles. Many recreational divers may consider fins of this type to be too long and unruly in the water. In comparison, common sport scuba fins are of average length, and often the most common fin available in a scuba retailer. Technical fins are bulky, often heavy, and short to allow for easy use with reduced room for maneuvering. Different fins may also be made from differing materials for reasons other than appearance. One manufacturer, in years past, signified fin material with color. One color would maintain positive buoyancy while a different color represented negative buoyancy. The diver could select a fin made from the material that would best help him or her adjust and maintain trim underwater. Finally, a diver must consider the straps designed to keep open-heeled fins on the diver’s feet. Spring straps and standard rubber straps both have value, but most divers often switch to spring straps and choose to never use anything else afterward. Spring straps require no adjustment and simply pull over the heel when putting on or removing the fins. Essentially, when a diver selects a new set of fins, there are many factors that must be considered. It is the responsibility of the scuba retailer to understand these factors and help guide the consumer toward a quality item that will ensure success in the water and overall happiness.
Finally, snorkels are centuries old tools that have remained close to their original designs. In today’s scuba market, there are four primary variations on the snorkel. First, a diver could select a standard, old-fashioned tube snorkel. A snorkel of this type has no bells and whistles. Instead, the diver breathes from one end and the opposite end is open to the air. Second, a diver may select a semi-dry snorkel. A semi-dry snorkel often has a cover designed to deflect water on the surface, but will still flood if the diver chooses to submerge. Third, a diver may purchase a dry snorkel. Dry snorkels have floating valves that close when the diver submerges. In many cases, this valve type will prevent the snorkel from flooding. Finally, the roll-up snorkel has taken the scuba industry by storm in the past few years. These types of snorkels can be stored in a pocket and are easy to travel with. Essentially, when not in use, the snorkel can be removed from the diver’s head and tucked away. On each of these snorkel types, a purge valve may also be available near the mouthpiece to help a diver forcefully expel water from the snorkel with minimal effort if flooding does occur. In many cases, companies choose to add purge valves to the majority of the snorkels produced. Standard tube snorkels are the most common type of snorkel that often does not have a purge system. When selecting a snorkel, a diver must try to understand each snorkel type and make the best decision about what design he or she likes best. If flooding does not matter, a tube or semi-dry snorkel may be best. If the diver likes the idea of storing a snorkel easily, the roll-up snorkel may be perfect. Finally, if flooding is a problem or causes discomfort, a dry snorkel will be the best option.
When selecting any scuba gear, new divers often get excited over how “cool” an item may look. “Cool” is often not the best factor to review when purchasing scuba equipment. The form and functionality of these items must be considered to ensure a diver gets the best value out of what is being purchased. That being said, if a diver takes time to understand his or her gear and know why that gear is the best equipment for him or her, that diver will likely generate the greatest level of satisfaction following a purchase.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC