Having completed my Open Water on Koa Tao in Thailand and later my Advanced in Fiji, I couldn’t wait to find a UK Diving Club on my return home in February 2015 and jump back in the water. With my birthday that spring fast approaching, I was treated to purchasing a new Diving Qualification and on completing the course, rewarded myself with a new piece of Scuba Gear. That qualification was the PADI Rescue Course and I was dressed head to toe in hired equipment. This included a Semi-Dry Wetsuit, which unsurprisingly warranted my signing up for the PADI Dry Suit Specification later that summer. This was a pattern (of waiting for Birthdays or extended periods of saving-up, to treat myself to a further Diving Qualification and another piece of equipment), which I continued for a number of years, and to be completely honest, it was too slow a process with very little (if any) actual diving in-between.
That first purchase was a Dive Computer and yet I had little-to-no-idea at this point about what style, functionality, wear-ability or type of Dive Computer would be best suited to me and my future dives. Having hunted online for a watch style computer of a specific colour, that first computer not only had buttons way too small to operate whilst wearing thick 5mm Diving Gloves, it also had a despairingly short battery life and is pretty tight around my wrist when it’s layered in thermals and a dry suit. The fact it came with a sixty-page A4 American English operating manual that was so big it had to be uploaded from a CD-ROM, also felt overwhelmingly complicated – was this really for a watch/dive computer, or a Hayes Repair Manual for a Honda Civic?
On choosing a Scuba Mask, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake I had with my computer of picking a less popular brand, simply because they made it in the colour I wanted. A shift in my focus was for a good fitting and comfortable mask. Having located my nearest Dive Shop, I saw a plethora of different types of masks on display. I was offered a range of masks to try and shown how to check the fit by placing the mask onto my face without the strap, inhaling and then looking down to see if it would remain on my face and if it didn’t, that was a good indication it was too big. I picked a no mask frame because for me it felt comfortable and lightweight, and happened to be a mask that has one of the largest fields of view, making it popular with underwater photographers. It’s even perfect as a back up mask that folds and fits easily in a BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), has swivelling easy adjusting buckles and the thick neoprene strap protects my hair from getting tangled. I seemingly bought a snorkel that day too, I guess having always worn a snorkel with my mask on all my training dives and with these being the only dives I’d done, I assumed I would need one, despite not once taking it on my future dives. I reckon the only time it has been attached to a mask, was a spare one on my first liveaboard having been anchored at a snorkelling site, or in the hope someone might spot some Dolphins and I could jump in with mask and snorkel at the ready!
Buying a hood and gloves for UK diving was straightforward for me with trying them on in the shop, but what had been problematic until more recently was choosing a Cutting Tool. In those early days, my first was a Knife with a Lara Croft style sheath and leg strap! Posting a picture online attracted some amusing comments from fellow divers wondering what it was for? “Are you going bear hunting with that?” I also hadn’t thought about what I’d would do if I was going overseas, speaking of which, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else with knives strapped to their legs on guided dives from their hotels around shallow reefs. Once the straps and sheath were on the verge of disintegration, I decided instead on a Scissor/Knife combo. When you’re not using the knife as a pair of scissors, a clip locks the Cissor down as a Knife and the butt of the handle is reinforced, allowing you to use it as a light hammer. Whilst it seemed more sturdy and practical than what I had before, it was also much bigger and needed a top and lower strap to secure to my leg. What hadn’t dawned on me at the time of purchase, was the thought that I might pierce the leg of my suit in trying to put it back in it’s sheath! Sharing my concern with another diver when we were setting up in a UK beach car park for an early morning rib dive, I was shown a small line-cutting tool, which is exactly what I have now. It sits in a harness pouch secured by velcro over my computer strap. It’s small, I’ve taken it abroad in my hold luggage, I can easily take it out of the pouch and put it back in without fear of piercing my suit, it doesn’t protrude, I can see it as clearly as I can my dive computer, and it didn’t come with the same price tag as the knives I’d bought previously.
It also seemed “third time lucky” with my torch buying experience. My first seemed reasonable at £70 brand new with batteries included, but on a trip to the Isle of Man and leaving kit on the boat overnight, the batteries had died (lesson learned here I know!). Fortunately, another diver had the same brand of torch with AAA batteries to spare that morning. Unfortunately, my version of this torch took Cr123a batteries! I now wanted a second torch for all future dives, so I could always have one as a backup. A friend mentioned their family member was selling their torch and I was shown pictures of how it charged straight via wall plug, rather than changing batteries and with the added bonus I could pick it up from my home town. It’s a sturdy torch suitable for UK diving, but far too heavy and bulky to the point where you’d probably need to drop a kilo in weight if you’re carrying it! I didn’t care because at least now I had a main torch and back-up. It wasn’t until I had my first liveaboard booked, that I decided on getting a more lightweight torch.
As UK divers, we’re generally found in dry suits and the boots on mine happen to be pretty big. It’s a neoprene suit I got second hand (a little snug restricting movement, but warm and does the job perfectly). Another diver with the same shoe size as me, let me try their fins on over my suit to no avail – they were too small. I’ve ended up with the XXL version of the same brand and a little heavy on my trim, but at least I had the right size fins for my suit.
Cold water Regulators are essential for UK diving and I was super lucky that in my search for one of the most well known brands, I came across a set of DIN (with SPG included) regs in the box unopened and at a fortuitous discount at the time. In my open water and my advanced, the regs I hired were always international A-Clamp. A-Clamp was very much the first style of connector available, hence why it’s available all around the world. Whilst there is quite a big size and weight difference between the two, (with DIN being much smaller and lighter) the most fundamental difference is the working pressure, as DIN valves are able to take a much higher pressure.
Looking back on all of this, I missed a trick because the UK Diving community and its boundless schools of thoughts and discussions on, and fortuity to engage in all things diving, is far and wide; from UK clubs to diving centres and shops, from beach cleans and shore dives to evening socials, pool sessions to lakes, reservoirs and quarries, hard boats to rib dives, training dives to river cleans, hundreds (literally hundreds) of Facebook Groups and Social Media Pages scheduling talks or film festivals, to Diving magazines and Dive shows up and down the country throughout the year. That said, it takes a willingness, a want and a degree of freeing up of one’s own time in what remains for many an already hectic family/work/social life balance, to commit on some level, to so many of these scuba related opportunities, that all play their part in what could have enlightened me on kit and our eventual, at times seemingly never-ending (but I promise you they don’t have to be) kit buying journeys.