Trust the dive shop!
There are a million articles out there about choosing your first set of dive equipment. Many of them are boring, repetitive and entirely subjective and do no favours for the customer or the dive industry. I thought, therefore, it was time to add my own entirely subjective views to the subject!
Somewhere along the line (probably as the result of the Intergalactic PADI vs BSAC wars which claimed the lives of 1000s) the UK diver reached the viewpoint that all dive shops were run in a Glengarry Glen Ross style by mercenary types whose sole purpose for the day was to relieve unsuspecting new divers of their money in exchange for the worst, highest margin piece of tat in the shop.
When I first started diving in the UK online retail was in it’s infancy and the internet forum was just beginning to grow in popularity. Any question about equipment was greeted with the recital of ‘Buddy Commando BCD, Apeks regs and Mares Quattro fins’ all-complete with bearded men chanting ‘Om’ in the background. Without this equipment combination, the diver in question would enter the water, their kit would detonate and they would be torn apart on a wreck. The idea that another manufacturers BCD could be any good was greeted with derision. ‘The buddy is bullet proof’ was often offered up as a reason for purchase. Whether it could stop a bullet or for that matter how many UK divers where expecting gunfire down at the coast was never explained.
Fast-forward to the present day and the Buddy Commando has been replaced by the wing and backplate as the silver bullet of choice when it comes to fixing equipment related problems. If you ask a kit related question on a forum, you may well get good advice but the advice handed out often comes from people keen to reinforce their own kit buying decisions all mixed in with a kind of herd mentality.
Also, a lot of the recommendations for first time equipment purchases filter down from us teccie divers. There’s no question that the equipment we use is simple, hard wearing and well thought out. However tec divers have also been diving and training long enough to be able to get the most from it too. The fact is that most tec divers I know can hover just as efficiently in a BCD as a wing and harness.
One of the more tiresome moans you’ll hear from the armchair divers that populate UK forums is how much they wish that they had bought ‘equipment y’ in the first place instead of being sold ‘equipment x’ by the aforementioned mercenary dive shop owner. They don’t stop to question whether the equipment they bought originally was right for them at the time….
A wing and harness isn’t going to magically solve all your issues. One of my favourite questions in response to those who say that wings are great because they put all the air at your back is to ask them where they think the air in a BCD is when diving horizontally! Also, if you gave a new diver a wing and harness to set up, they’d probably spend all morning putting it together (like I did the first time) only for it to be a complete nightmare to dive in comparison to putting on the right sized BCD, pulling the straps tight and going for a dive.
That’s where the dive centres come in. I visit many centres in my career and none of them are out to stripe you. They simply can’t afford to operate in that manner. The fact is, they can help steer your choices and most importantly make sure the item you’re buying is right for the diving you’re doing and that it fits. Fit is the most important consideration, not the brand or style. If it fits, you can dive.
So if you’re a new diver, don’t just believe what you read on the forums and trust the dive shop. Tell them what style of diving you’ll be doing and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Keep an open mind and you will leave with equipment that will work for you. Remember that quality, well fitting kit is the key to having a good dive. Invest in decent stuff and it will last you for years.
On the other hand, if you’re an experienced diver then remember that what works for you isn’t necessarily going to be right for everyone else. And also remember that not everyone wants to spend their spare hours fiddling about with the position of D rings and making their own stage kits. Some people just want to put on a BCD, wetsuit, A-clamp regs and full foot fins, jump off the boat and go and have a great dive without worrying if their arse is 10 degrees out of trim…..