Like any other sports, scuba diving costs money. Mention the word diving to a friend and you would most likely get a grin, followed by the question "So how expensive a hobby is it?"
Of course, most people I know would dismiss the query with a gentle smile, then come up with a thousand and one reasons why diving is so much fun, that no other place on earth has the mystery of the deep sea, that you should give it a try, etc., etc. In other words, the response is usually one that gives the impression that money is not an issue. Well, let me seriously dispel that myth once and for all because I tell you that for most divers, money IS an issue.
Granted, dive equipment can be quite expensive. In addition to the basic equipment used for snorkeling - mask, fins and snorkel - you will almost certainly need a wet suit, a buoyancy control device, a breathing apparatus, a depth and pressure gauge, a weight belt, a knife, a flashlight and a scuba tank.
You would also need those cute watertight pelican cases (preferably yellow or orange) containing your cell-phone, watch (a dive computer is not a watch, okay?), makeup kit, lipstick, comb, chewing gum and all that "essential" stuff. And don't forget that your dive gear, accoutrements and accessories must all be color-coordinated - talk about having good fashion sense.
Kidding aside, diving expenses will be the greatest in the first few months after your certification as an open water diver. That is the time when you start weighing your options in buying equipment. Buying gear is the act that says you've decided to become a serious diver and have committed to really enjoy the sport.
BusinessWorld got in touch via e-mail with several dive professionals and nonprofessionals who offered advice on buying dive equipment. Most of them agree that while there is no "correct" answer as far as equipment choices are concerned - it's really a matter of personal choice - there are helpful guidelines to follow in making intelligent decisions.
It helps to think of buying gear in two phases. The first consists of basic gear you need for your class - mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit. Even then, some people defer any purchase until they have been certified. Besides, dive gear rental is usually included in your open water course.
The second phase involves buying life support equipment - regulator, buoyancy compensator (BC) and dive computer.
I bought a P2,000 Cressi Sub mask for my certification course and the thing did not last a week. The shop I bought it from replaced it with a new one, which gave me flooding problems during a weeklong live-aboard trip.
Right after the trip, I bought a P1,200 mask that did the job just well. The moral of the story? Don't buy mask based on price or brand alone. Diver Ernest Perez noted that there had never been a significant technological breakthrough in the make of these items. "So most important considerations are price, fit and aesthetic design."
"In a mask, fit is important. A common newbie mistake is over- tightening [something I have thankfully already gotten over]," said divemaster Paolo Figueras.
This means that when you shop for a mask, don't just look at it. Try it for a snug fit. Dive instructor Guenter Taus noted that aside from fashion (this had to come up) "You should try the mask and make sure it fits properly." Mr. Taus also suggests that you do what he calls the "suction test" - place the mask against your face without using the strap and inhale through your nose. A properly fitting mask will stay on as you inhale.
A neoprene mask strap is clearly superior to the plastic ones. They don't pull your hair at all so I highly recommend them.
Arvin Simtoco, a marketing manager and a NAUI diver, has two masks - one is a Tusa Liberator X and the other is a Tusa Hyperdry with a purge for clearing water.
"I use the Hyperdry when I used to wear contacts because I lost a contact lens once. Now I use it when I am doing underwater photography because it allows hands-free mask clearing."
Diver Vinson P. Yap said a low-volume mask - less space between your eyes and the water - makes it easier for photographers to look at their camera's viewfinder while a high- or medium-volume mask is for those who would like to see things from the top, below and the side.
A low-volume mask also makes it easier and faster for you to clear water out, diver Sue McMillan of Atlanta, Georgia, said.
A mask can cost anywhere from P1,200 to P3,000.
"Snorkel - what's that? I vaguely remember using one during diving," said Joe Pianpiano, a rescue diver who runs a nongovernmental organization in Hong Kong and who dives in the Philippines about once a month.
The snorkel is used primarily to conserve tank air when on the surface. Since you will only use it when resting on the surface, it's less important than the mask. Get one that has a mouthpiece that feels good in your mouth.
I rarely attach my snorkel to my mask since I believe snorkel is for snorkeling; if you want to conserve air in your tank while on the surface, better do a back swim. There are places, though, especially abroad, where a having a snorkel during diving is mandatory.
A snorkel can cost anywhere from P500 to P1,500.
Since man is not really made for the water, he needs fins to translate power from the large leg muscles into efficient movement through water. Like masks, it's very important to look for comfort and efficiency.
"Your choice of fins will depend on how strong your legs are and the kind of diving you prefer doing," explained Vlad Bravo, senior systems analyst by day and dive instructor by night.
Mr. Bravo noted that open-heel types have an advantage for shore diving since you wear booties with them. Full-foot fins, on the other hand, have a better energy transfer from foot to fin since they hug the whole foot.
"You also have the paddle type fins which are more sturdy and work well with different kick styles and diving in [strong] current. Split type fins are good if you have weak legs and cramp easily," Mr. Bravo said, even as he noted that the latter are not as powerful as your ordinary paddle fins.
Full-foot fins don't require dive booties while the straps of open- heel fins can be adjusted for the different booties you may wear. Open-heel fins require less effort to put on, especially if a pull-tab is added to the strap.
Rodale's Scubadiving suggests that when trying on fins, look for a snug fit that doesn't pinch your toes or bind the arches of your feet. If you can't wiggle your toes, the fins are too small.
I use the ForceFin brand and I always get a curious look from fellow divers since my fins really look more like "space fins." I don't necessarily swear by them but they have so far served me well.
Whatever your choice is, it's important not to skimp on fins. Choosing the right pair is important to prevent muscle fatigue and cramping. Good fins will enhance your enjoyment of diving; bad ones can ruin it.
Fins can cost anywhere from P2,500 to P12,000.
EXPOSURE PROTECTION SUITS
Exposure suits are usually made of foam neoprene rubber (wetsuits) or spandex-like materials (skins). Wetsuits reduce heat loss by putting a layer of insulating foam neoprene over your skin. You get wet but your body quickly heats the water and you only lose heat as it radiates slowly through the wet suit material.
The thickness and type of exposure protection you need depends on dive conditions. Simple Lycra suits provide little thermal insulation but do help protect from scrapes and stings.
Like your mask and fins, fit and comfort are still the first things you should look for in your wetsuit. Your wetsuit should be neither too loose nor too tight and it should fit easily without restricting movement or breathing. Rescue diver Patrick Uy-Tioco also cited the importance of proper seals in the neck, arm and leg cuffs. For tropical waters like in the Philippines, a 3mm thick wetsuit is enough to reduce heat loss.
Cost of a wetsuit? From P4,000 to P7,000.
As soon as you get certified, it's normal to get excited about dive equipment and your family will most likely think you're bizarre or downright crazy.
The regulator is one of those major buys that you would have to undertake once you decide to get serious as a diver. It converts the high- pressure air in your tank to ambient pressure so you can breathe it. A regulator must also deliver air to other places, such as your BC inflator and alternate second stage.
You will want a high-performance regulator for effortless breathing. The best regulators have knobs that you can adjust to deliver a high volume of air as you go deeper. When you get ready to buy, try models above and below the price range that you are considering. If the difference in performance between the model you are considering and the next model up isn't noticeable, you are probably on target. If the next model up breathes much easier, you might want to save a little longer to get the better model.
Mr. Figueras stressed this when he said: "If you are to buy brand new, save up for the best." His preference is the Mares Abyss and Aqua Lung Legend LX. Mr. Taus agrees, adding that one should think long term when buying one. "Buy the best you can afford," he said, adding that airflow rates are a major consideration in choosing a regulator. "For good, reliable results, one wants to look at balanced diaphragm regulators."
Chester Lee, the in-house instructor and store manager for OceanColors Dive Shop in Makati, compares looking at regulators with looking at the engine of a car. Where the car has torque (acceleration) and horsepower (speed) specifications, the regulator has cracking pressure (equivalent to torque) and airflow rate (horsepower).
Mr. Lee goes on to explain that the cracking pressure is represented in joules/liter, it's unit of measure for energy level. This determines the amount of effort it takes one to open the valve to give you air. "The less effort it takes to open the valve, the less air you consume," Mr. Lee said.
High-end regulators, he added, have a low cracking pressure (around 0.95 joule/liter) while low-end ones have a high cracking pressure of about 2.15 joule/liter. Mr. Lee said the airflow rate is represented in liters/minute. "Like the horsepower rating of your car, it determines how deep the regulator will allow you to breath comfortably."
He cited the Scubapro MK2/R190 as an example, noting that it has an airflow rate of 2,300 l/min. "That's enough for an individual even to a depth of 100 ft. But if two people are breathing from it [when your buddy gets into an out-of-air situation], it won't be as comfortable."
Cost of a regulator? From P10,000 to P30,000.
The BC holds your gear in place, lets you carry a tank with the least effort, makes you float at the surface, and helps you achieve neutral buoyancy at any depth, which simply means that you neither sink nor float.
Aside from proper size and fit, the BC should not squeeze your body when inflated. It's a good idea to fully inflate it until the overflow valve vents. Your breathing should be restricted by it.
"I don't usually recommend that you buy these until you have tried many different brands and styles," American divemaster Scott Richardson told BusinessWorld through e-mail.
"Some people like vest-style BCs, some like back-inflate BCs. Some like weight-integrated BCs, some don't. Don't let other people's opinions influence your choice. Try them all and decide what is best for you," he added.
Mr. Uy-Tioco said he prefers a back-inflated BC since it's easier to keep a horizontal position and helps him remain streamlined.
Mr. Taus noted that while style and fit are important, so is the BC's lift capacity. For tropical diving (with little or no wetsuit protection), 12-24 pounds lift is enough; for recreational diving (with a full wetsuit or dry suit), 20-40 pounds; and 40-80 pounds for technical diving.
"Bulkiness is also one thing to look at, and not to be overlooked is one's needs for D-rings, the number of pockets and user friendliness of the inflator," Mr. Taus said.
As with other dive gear, you should go for quality when buying a BC. Test as many different models as you can in real diving situations before buying. Rent them if you have to.
A buoyancy compensator costs anywhere from P12,000 to P30,000.
It's virtually impossible these days to find a diver who doesn't use a dive computer. Computers are most indispensable during multilevel and repetitive dives. By constantly monitoring depth and bottom time, dive computers automatically recalculate your no-decompression status, giving you longer dive times while still keeping you within a safe envelope of no- decompression time.
Computers can also monitor the water temperature, your ascent rate and tank pressure and tell you when it's safe to fly. Most allow you to log your dives and upload your dive profile to your computer.
A dive computer helps you know your actual nitrogen absorption level, as opposed to the worst-case dive profile given by a dive table. The computer gives you credit for the lower nitrogen absorption during the time you were well above your planned depth.
Some specific features to look for in a computer: * Audible Alarms. A good dive computer must warn you of a possible violation not only through its blinking lights but also through audible alarms. * Water Activation. The computer goes on dive mode when immersed; you don't have to manually activate it during the dive. * Backlight. It's a good thing to have some kind of illumination so you can see your computer's readings during a night dive or in places where available light is not so bright. * Replaceable Batteries. It's a convenience to be able to replace your batteries once they run out. Some high-end computers (like the Suunto Stinger) still don't allow the user to replace batteries, they have to be replaced at the factory. * Variable Ascent Rates. The computer allows you to ascend at a faster rate in deeper water then requires you to slow down as you reach shallower depths instead of mandating a set speed for your ascent. * Nitrox Capability. Even if you're not into Nitrox yet, buying a Nitrox- capable computer now makes sense. It will save you a lot once you decide to take a Nitrox course (Nitrox is an air mix where there is more than 21% oxygen, allowing the diver to stay deeper and longer underwater). * Data Interface. This allows the user to transfer dive data to his computer via a data cable. It usually comes with software that gives one a graphical display of his dive profile.
Rochelle Cuyco, a free-lance writer and an advanced open water diver, uses the Suunto Vyper for its conservatism. "My instructor says it is the most conservative of all the dive computers he's tried. Since I share his views that if one should err it should be on the side of caution, that's what I bought," Ms. Cuyco said.
But having a computer doesn't mean the tables are useless. "This does not mean that you can forget the tables. Learn them and always know where you are in relation to the tables even if you are diving with a computer," Mr. Richardson states.
Well, the dive tables are there as backup in case your computer malfunctions. And those who spend time to manually compute their dive profiles get rewarded in the end.
"Computers have tons of features. Don't get caught up in the hype. Find one that is easy for you to use and read. Buy one that is Nitrox- compatible. You won't regret it."
Cost of a dive computer? From P10,000 to P25,000.
"WEEKENDER Lifestyle." Asia Africa Intelligence Wire 29 Aug. 2003. General OneFile. Web. 21 Dec. 2009.
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