Building a Better Diver: Gear Aware

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Image By Tracy Donaldson

It is a little embarrassing to admit, but there was a time when I didn’t know very much about my gear. I didn’t know the name of the components, what they did, or why they did what they did, and I didn’t care to know. It was at that same time that diving seemed like more of a chore than a passion. I hated my gear. I struggled with my gear. As soon as I put it on I couldn’t wait to take it back off. Andy and I would arrive at our dive site, I would piss and moan while he assembled everything, and then I would bitch some more as we were getting into the water. If you had asked me what a first stage was, I probably would have said it was where the headlining band played.

The vest BC was always riding up. It was unbalanced and in no way, shape, or form could I have achieved, let alone maintained, trim. My buoyancy was okay despite all of the many accouterments that hung off of the damn thing. Back-up regulator, primary light, back-up light, computer/compass, and knife all decorated my BC like a Christmas tree. My wetsuit always felt like it was choking me and never fit quite right. As I am 5’9” and 130 lbs. no wetsuit was ever my size. In addition, I have long, skinny feet. Keeping with my feet, my yum-yum yellow fins seemed to strangle them to the point that halfway through the dive I felt nothing but pins and needles below my ankles. Not that I needed to feel anything as I flailed about. Remember this was before I became a bona fide frog-kicker. And did I mention that I absolutely loathe wearing a snorkel unless I am truly snorkeling. So why did I have this gear that I hated so much? Because that is what I was told I needed by the nice lady at the dive shop.

Andy was the first to state the obvious, there has to be a better way to dive. After doing some research online, he decided to order a Halcyon backplate and wing. I can still remember my thoughts when I first saw it: 1. What the hell is that thing? 2. That looks way too complicated. 3. That looks way too uncomfortable. Dive after dive I would see improvement in his trim and buoyancy. He would tell me how incredible his new BCD was and that I should try it, but I bulked. Until one day I finally gave in. As he adjusted the webbing to fit around my waist I was skeptical at best. I thought that this would only lead to the always-present anxiety that I already had while diving. And what was up with this crotch strap? With the backplate and wing synched snuggly around my body there was only one thing left to do, go dive the sucker.

Once we reached depth I could barely believe the way I felt. Unlike my vest BC, the backplate seem to cradle my body. It put me in the perfect position. There wasn’t anything hanging off of plastic hooks, simple a few stainless steel D-rings holding a SPG and back-up light held in place by stainless steel bolt-snaps. After a 45-minute dive we were back on the surface. Not only was I eating my words, I was also informing Andy that I wanted one.

Part of building a better diver is having well-made, no-nonsense gear. Equipment arranged in a way that made sense. If I do not readily need a piece of gear why do I need it hanging off my BCD? The answer is simple, I don’t. I realized that if I am not constantly fighting with my equipment I could actually have fun. Imagine that. Another important aspect of good gear is consistently. If you are diving with a buddy and their set-up is completely different from yours, how are you going to be able to react appropriately in an emergency? Even a delay of a few seconds could possibly be the difference between preventing or facilitating a serious dive-related injury. Suffice to say, Andy and I, along with all other GUE divers, utilize the same gear in the same set-up.

The following is my gear list that I currently dive:

-Halcyon Eclipse stainless steel backplate with 30 lb wing

-Worthington LP 85 steel cylinders

-First stage- Hollis DC3 with DIN valve (Once you go DIN you never go back)

-Second stage: Primary and Back-up Regulators- Dive Rite RG3100

-Small SPG with plain white face

-Wrist –mount compass

-Scuba Pro Aladin 2G Computer (Used ONLY as bottom timer and depth gauge)

-Light Monkey Canister light (9 watt LED) with Goodman-style handle

-DGE Hand-held back-up light (600 lumens LED)

-Stainless steel blunt tip knife and sheath worn on waistband

-Titanium Shears and sheath (stowed in right leg pocket of dry suit)

-Scuba Pro Wet Notes (stowed in right leg pocket of dry suit)

-Halcyon 3’ SMB closed circuit (stowed in left leg pocket of dry suit)

-Dive Rite ABS 50 foot plastic finger spool (stowed in left leg pocket of dry suit)

-For extra weight, when needed- Halcyon 6 lb. Keel weight and Dive Rite trim weight pockets

-Primary mask- Ocean Ion 3 low volume

-Back-up mask- Scuba Pro Frameless mini (stowed in right leg pocket in dry suit)

-Scuba Pro Jet fins with stainless steel spring straps

-Santi Ladies First dry suit

-Santi BZ400x and BZ200 undergarments with BZ200 socks

-Santi Bergen Merino wool baselayer- medium weight

-Icebreakers Merino wool baselayer- lightweight

-Santi 9mm hood (when applicable)

I can honestly say that I know my gear. I mean I really know my gear. I know the function of each component. I know what things are supposed to look like and how they are supposed to feel. Important for knowing when something needs serviced on communicating to my buddy when an item doesn’t feel quite right. Not to mention, one of my favourite parts of the dive is assembling my gear.

So what changed? I love my gear. I understand my gear. I feel comfortable and competent in my gear. This doesn’t just make me a better diver, but dive buddy as well. I’m now having fun in the water and look forward to the next dive.

Below is the full gallery of my gear.