Dive Gear Review: Hi Tech Makes for More Fun

Posted on August 7, 2006

I returned late Friday night from my week long annual family camping trip. For me, the high point of these trips is a chance to do some much needed diving… or, given that I don’t take tanks, more specifically “snorkeling”. Given time constraints, money constraints, etc, I’ll take what I can.

This year I finally refreshed my dive gear. When I moved into my current residence everything was present except for my old Tusa mask and snorkel. I finally replaced them this year. Additonally, last year my brother-in-law really spoiled me by getting me a pair of new fins for my birthday, which I’ve just fallen in love with. So I thought I’d share whats in my new-and-improved hi-tech dive bag for other interested divers.

Atomic SplitFins: Widely considered the best split-fin on the market. These fins are, imho, the best design around. I’ve looked at the ScubaPro split-fin but its way harder that I think it ought to be. Tests this week proved results far beyond my expectation. They are easy to use, significantly reduce strain, provie far greater power than my old Tusa blades, and are a lot more fun to use. I found manuvarbility to be exceptional, allowing you to turn on a dime like an Otter might, no matter what turn I tried the fins just made it happen seamlessly. The big pickup with these fins, of course, is the power. You definately have a reduced selection of kick styles with a split-fin design, but the other advantages are worth it.

I personally found my best performance was attained by simply rolling slowly side-to-side and kicking with my roll… it was fun, effortless, and very efficient. The best test was diving in the Yuba River against the current from the rapids, these fins made it more than a fair fight which is more than I can say for other blade fins I’ve used in the past.

My only negative comment on them would be with reguards to boyancy. Swimming on or near the surface was difficult because my fins kept bobbing up out of the water and these fins really require full immersion for a good kick, this ment that I really only stayed on the surface to breath and then dove back down to get maximum speed. When swimming on your back, such as heading back to shore, the angle of your body made this less of a problem and I found return trips more relaxing and enjoyable than the normal trudge back with my old fins.

Pinnacle Aquatics Orca Boot: Given that I was diving in rocky areas, Tahoe and Yuba River, a really sturdy boot was needed. I didn’t want to be switching back and forth between tennis-shoes and boots all the time, plus I wanted to run through the water (after my kids) without slowing down due to pain and sharp rocks. The Pinnacle Orca boot was my answer because its got a full boot-like sole. Very comfortable, I kept these boots on all day.

This boot is particularlly well suited to be used with the Atomics fins because of the very large and very hard foot hole in the fins. The top rubber lining of the boot ensures there is no slipping at all, and the size of the boot well suites the size of the Atomics. If you’ve got these fins and are frustrated by slipping, wiggling, or pain, definately consider these boots. At $60 they are expensive but well worth it in any rocky area or in places where you’d normally reach for shoes a lot.

The only downsides to this boot are the old obvious ones… they retain water very well, so your will marinade in foot-warmed water all day untill you take the off and dump it out, and they don’t breath, so you may be a little uncomfortable during extended uses or high strain outside the water. Despite those, I think this is the finest boot you can buy.

Aeris Dry Snorkel: My first dry-snorkel. Early designs were large, clumsy, restricted air-flow, and just generally crap. This snorkel, however, has finally made me a believer. The airflow is excellent, its light and feels like any normal snorkel would be. Its ability to stay dry was really impressive; although I still instinctively clear my snorkle while surfacing, it was never needed. Especially when snorkeling in large waves, rather than getting a mouth full of water, I simply couldn’t inhale for a second untill it was above water again. The Aeris is inexpensive and an excellent performer.

Mares X-Vision Mask: Mares is a new name to me. I still have a tendancy to lean toward ScubaPro and need convincing to go elsewhere, but the Mares mask fit both my needs and my budget. The vision quality is excellent, and my only real nit-pick was that the area at the outside-top of the mask indents slightly which does cut into your vision slightly, although you typically tune it out. Larger masks can offer a greater viewing angle, but my perference is still to go with a smaller lighter mask and this one has made me really happy. Based on this mask alone I think I’ll tend toward Mares gear more and more in the future and leave the ScubaPro markup out of my dive-bag.

…and so, there you go, my dive bag. I’m really happy with my new setup and expect it to last for years and years to come. For the record, in the Silicon Valley, I buy all my gear at The Wallin’s Dive Center in San Carlos. The guys and gals at Wallin’s are friendly and professional, they know their stuff and even though I only come in every couple months, normally just to browse, they always seem to remember me (the kilt might help) and really are nice to Nova when she runs around trying on fins and masks. Two big thumbs up for everyone at Wallin’s.