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August 11, 2006

Buying your diving gear.... some advice

Scuba ain't a cheap sport. Sure, you can get away with just getting your basic mask/snorkel/fins package and rent the rest whenever you go diving, but that's not much fun. Everytime you rent you have to get used to a different BC and regulator, and another set of instruments. No fun. So if you did make the commitment to get into scuba diving, with all the costs of trips and such, you might as well bite the bullet and get your own gear. If you're ready for that, here are some tips from a total noob (well, not THAT total anymore).

RESEARCH BEFORE YOU BUY -- If you're the type who just walks into a store and buys whatever the sales person recommends or whatever is on sale, so be with. It might work. And dive shops generally have very good sales people who'll quickly figure out what might work for you. Still, do some research first! Heck, I did so much that it ended up being an entire website on scuba equipment. Yes, this entire site came into being because I researched and googled until I felt I knew enough to make some informed decisions (and then decided I might as well write it all down for others). Doing research doesn't mean you won't end up buying stuff that turns out to be wrong for you, but at least you didn't go in blind.

BEWARE OF STRONG OPINIONS -- Yes, there's a war going on in the dive industry. Many wars, actually. And if you don't know the sides and players, you may encounter some, shall we say, strong opinions. For those of you who are into cars, let me give you an analogy that may resonate: See, naively asking a dive expert or instructor or sales person about, say, the benefits of ScubaPro versus Oceanic equipment is like asking a diehard Chevy fan what he thinks about a Ford Mustang... Actually, it's even worse. So tread lightly until you get a handle on scuba brand politics. Very lightly.

WETSUITS! -- You need a wetsuit. No doubt about it. Now here's totally mandatory advice: when you go buy one, plan on spending several hours and do not plan on buying anything else that day. That's because trying on wetsuits is a hideous, exhausting, frustrating struggle and you will find that dive shops never have airconditioning in their changing booths. If they do, it's not strong enough. You HAVE to try on wetsuits because it's very important to have one that fits right. But take my word for it: if it goes on easy, it's too big. If you find yourself cursing and sweating like a pig by the time you get one on, it fits just right. By that time you will be so exhausted that you are in NO shape to make ANY other buying decisions. So leave, cool off, and come back for the rest of the gear some other time. And try not to think how many other nice folks tried on the one you settled for...

DIVE COMPUTERS -- Anyone who's taken the basic Open Water course knows dive tables and what a pain they are. You have to understand how they work, no doubt about it. But the prospect of having a dive computer that does all the calculating for you and always tells you what to do is very nice indeed. And with the text books and instructors all gushing on how dive computers have revolutionized the diving industry, chances are you'll want one right away. I sure did. Major Tom to Ground Control: Those things are a bitch to figure out! I consider myself a computer expert, and I've yet to figure out even the very basics of the advanced dive computer I bought. It looks like a very, very large digital watch and it occasionally beeps and shows lots of numbers and icons. The instructions were quite obviously written by someone who assumes the reader is already an expert diver and totally familiar with dive computers. Honestly, do not ever expect to get a dive computer and then do a dive after a five minute intro. There MAY be dive computers that let you do that. Mine isn't. And if you're computer-challenged, you may be better off with old-fashioned pressure and depth gauges and the dive tables. Honestly, at this point I'd PAY for a two hour introduction on how my dive computer works.

BUY LOCAL! -- These days, we buy more and more stuff on the internet. It's often easier and cheaper and much less of a hassle. Don't do that with scuba gear. For two reasons:

The first is that building a relationship with your dive shop means they support you and you support them. Dive shops rely on equipment sales to stay in business. So if you just pick their brains, try on all their gear, and then order from RockBottomScubaDiscount.com, don't be surprised if your shop goes out of business or if they dont like you so much.

The second is that you really and truly need to try out scuba gear before you buy it. You can research masks forever, and all the research won't tell you which one fits your face. Only trying it on will tell you that. Same for snorkels and fins. You need to try them on to see if they feel "right." And , especially if you're new to the sport, you definitely want to try on various BCs and have the sales people explain them to you. And a wetsuit? See above. You absolutely need to try that on (oh joy!).

So there. Advice from someone start starting out. It worked for me, so far. I know I'll make mistakes, and not even the best advice works for everyone.

Posted by conradb212 at August 11, 2006 10:53 PM