I've spoken to at least five dive shops in the past two years, and talked to divers about what they liked and didn't like. My primary goal was to purchase the right gear initially, to avoid re-buying better gear later because of my lack of knowledge and experience. Some shops teach NAUI, others PADI, others SSI, and I'm pretty sure there was another classification I've since forgotten. A common theme among all shops is to get you "open water certification," and hopefully you'll be educated properly to avoid making mistakes due to panic when literally 'in over your head'. Common sense seems obvious, yet each person goes in with their own philosophy and way of thinking. The instructors have to somehow get the bad advice out of your head, earn your trust and hope you are paying attention. That instruction will be the difference between life or death; that is no understatement.
During MACNA New Jersey, the keynote speaker was the author of the book Shadow Divers. His book was about a german submarine discovered off the shore of New Jersey, and how wreck divers were trying to ascertain the exact name of the sub to identify the men that died within during WW II. It was an interesting read, but the irony was not lost upon me that many divers lost their lives due to their underwater obsession... and I was wanting to become a diver myself. I've read about nitrogen narcosis, aka the bends, and heard many stories about the drunken feeling that occurs at certain depths when caution wasn't heeded. I've read posts by divers sharing dangerous experiences and how they survived them - fascinating stuff that really should be shared and reflected upon to avoid making similar mistakes. I'm looking forward to both my classes as well as learning from others personally what they've lived through and what to expect.
There's no doubt I'll be a recreational diver. One or two dives a year will be nice, and pretty much what I'm expecting I can afford since I'm in a landlocked area. One local dive shop is about to fly to Cozumel for a few days, and that trip was about $1000 per head. Another trip on their books next year costs over $4000 per person, so I'd sit that one out. My dad once said I have champagne taste on a shoestring budget. I tend to prefer to purchase expensive quality gear over used or cheaper products that won't last. If I have to save up longer to get the better choice, that's what I do and what I did today.
I purchased a prescription mask since I wear glasses. The dive shop had the mask and the corrective lenses, and assembled them on the spot as I'd brought my prescription with me. I'm looking forward to trying the mask out in the water. Hmmm... I have a reef tank; I wonder what Spock may think. The snorkel is a little nicer than what I had as a kid. It has a very soft latex bend, and the riser drains out any water that it holds when coming up from submerged dive. Even the mouthpiece has a port to blow out the trapped water within, so my days of imitating a surfacing whale emitting a geyser of water are over. I got a pair of boots, which fit comfortably. I was told when they fill with water, they will feel a little looser. And I purchased some high end split fin flippers. No matter how often I go diving or snorkeling, I want to be comfortable and swim effortlessly. Because I'd saved up money for this new hobby, I didn't get sticker shock as I expected to pay more. The flippers have a spring-loaded strap that wraps behind the ankle, making it easy to pull them on and off.
Aqua Lung SuperZip Ergo Dive Boots - these allow me to walk in from shore dives, and the flippers fit over them. The velcro covers the zipper, and the material is flexible. The rubber soles should help when walking/wading into or out of the water, as I'll end up walking on sharp rocks and possibly glass (trash). I'm sure they'll be just as practical from a boat dive, when climbing aboard.
Apollo Bio Fin Pro Split Fin Flippers - I wanted something that allows me to not have to work hard when moving through the water, and these have a very natural feel when in motion. I chose a bright color as others had pointed out on dive boats everyone has black flippers; I wanted to know which ones were mine at a glance. The spring clasp at the back makes it easy to pull them on when treading water.
Deep Sea Dive Mask with prescription lenses - The mask has removable lenses, and the dive shop installed the ones matching my prescription. Another diver told me his visibility with a regular mask was vastly improved (that he didn't need correction even though he wears glasses all day long), but I want to spot nudibranchs, tiny seahorses, etc... This mask will be very useful for snorkeling as well. It comes with the hard case to protect from damage during luggage handling. The bright color should help locate it if it gets knocked off accidentally.
Aqua Lung Impulse 3 Snorkel - The ancient J-tube has improved. It won't be used all that much, but when I need it, it'll be available. And useful during snorkeling of course. The color matches the mask.
Additional stuff - Free reading material, and a small bottle of defogger for the interior of the mask. When I was a kid, spitting in the mask was all you needed to do, but what the heck, I bought a bottle of this elixer.
I was told all my gear should be rinsed off. On a dive boat, dunk the gear in a barrel of water, and when back on shore, rinse them off and hang them out to dry. Some climates are quite humid (hello, Cozumel!), so they bring their SCUBA gear home, rinse it off well and give it a day to dry out. It is then stored in a closet in the house where it is climate controlled. Keeping gear in the garage, the attic or storage is a big no-no because it ruins the material. And for pet owners, puppies love chewing in the rubber so keep it safe.
If it wasn't for the advice of my friends, going into a dive shop may have been overwhelming. Gear everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, can make it hard to know where to start, and hoping the shop owner will sell you the right gear is being optimistic when so many stores are struggling to stay open and hope for the quick sale. The people at this particular dive shop were very kind, answered many of my questions, and let me know that classes resume in February. I'm in a bit of a time crunch because I have a trip to Hawaii scheduled for Thanksgiving, and I really want to get SCUBA certified now. I have friends with pools, so the availability to get in extra practice is possible.
Gear that I'll still need to get if I can't borrow or rent would be the regulator, the buoyancy compensator, and a dive computer. Those three run about $500 each, if not more. Classes vary in price, but at the local dive shop that teaches SSI, you get 45 hours of education for $220. A wetsuit and a drysuit may be in my future as well, some day. For now, I'm just trying to get the basics taken care of.
Wreck diving can wait.