You aren’t required to pass a formal scuba class before you jump into the underwater sport of scuba diving, but no responsible dive shop will fill your tank with air if you don’t have at least an open water certification card (C-card).
Dive operators want to see that C-card showing a minimum level of diving competency before giving you the air you’ll breathe while diving.
Every dive shop provides training for open water certification and higher levels that increase your knowledge and skills of various scuba diving activities and safety techniques.
For your swimming pool sessions (where you get familiar with handling yourself, and your equipment), the dive shop provides, as part of the course tuition, the scuba equipment that maintains your life support while you’re underwater. You won’t need that equipment during the first in-pool event, but you will need the basic gear.
Your local dive shop helps you select the basic equipment before you start your certification class.
Basic scuba gear includes your scuba mask, dive fins, and snorkel. Use these tips for choosing the right basic diving gear:
- The mask helps you enjoy the beauty of the sea life and the brilliant colors of the reef. (The colors depend on the lighting, and you’ll learn about that later.) You don’t want a mask that leaks, and you want the widest field of view possible. Experience teaches that any mask you choose will leak to some extent, and as the mask ages it leaks more. Clearing water from a mask is one initial skill you practice during your class. To fit the mask properly, put the mask on your face without using the strap. Take a short inhaling breath to form a vacuum inside the mask, hold your breath, and remove your hand. If the mask stays against your face and doesn’t fall off, you have a good fit. (Here’s a special tip when wearing your mask: Make sure the strap isn’t too tight. When the mask is too tight against the face it applies pressure to the forehead, and you’ll have a headache all through your underwater visit.)
- You need dive fins to move through the water. They control your speed, direction, and position. Fins come in a lot of different designs, and each style has a following of divers who swear by that particular type of fin. Much of this is a matter of personal choice, but each style does have its own pros and cons concerning ease of use, comfort, and speed of propulsion. Whether an individual feature of any style of fin is a pro or a con is another matter of a diver’s attitude, diving technique, and personal desire. I have two sets of fin the same make; one set is an earlier model than the other. The second-generation fins have slightly longer and narrower blades than the first generation. I find that the longer, narrower blade causes leg cramps if I try swimming too fast. That set of fins works best for casual touring over a reef. The first generation set never caused me any cramping, and are great for high speed cruising across barren areas.
- One piece of equipment you don’t require for scuba diving (it’s more of a “nice-to-have” than a must have) is the snorkel. You probably won’t go without it. When you float at the surface of the water waiting on your dive buddies to ready themselves for the dive (this happens often, and at times those buddies will float and wait on you), breathing is much easier with the snorkel than without. Also, while you wait the snorkel allows you to study the reef and sea life from the surface. You get a look at what’s waiting below.
Follow the dive shop recommendations for picking your basic gear, but don’t overspend. You want basic level equipment to learn on, and start practicing with. But every diver changes and upgrades equipment over time. I currently own three fin sets, four or five diving masks, and a number of snorkels.
Talk with other divers, get their opinions of various types of gear, and even borrow different styles over a number of dives before you settle on the diving weapons you stock your scuba gear arsenal with.
It’s helpful to join a dive club to meet fellow divers. Most divers happily trade equipment for try out purposes, especially when they are fellow dive club members. That way you’ll find the specific diving equipment you’re most comfortable with, and the gear that fits your personal diving style.