Starting the SCUBA Journey

A friend of mine has been considering getting into SCUBA and taking a certification course. He asked me to send him a request for recommendations for a mask, snorkel, fins, and booties. If you’re on the fence or just starting out, this article is for you.

First, let’s talk about certification courses. The major ones are PADI, NAUI (National Association of Dive Instructors), and SSI. For disclosure, the author has undergone the NAUI curriculum. I have experience with PADI but no experience with SSI.

When it comes to picking a curriculum, usually you don't have many options. You pick a dive shop that's closest to you and go with it. That is understandable, but there may be some additional considerations to think about.

One of the bigger ones is who the instructors are, what their qualifications and experiences are, and ultimately, whether you trust them with your life. This may be a bit dramatic, but truly, when you’re on your own and the instructor is not with you anymore, you will know or not know if you have been trained well. It’s not just the technical aspect of diving the instructor teaches you; it’s also a mindset that is very important. Is the instructor teaching a student to go out there and just hope for the best, or is the instructor focused on teaching a strong foundation that may save the diver's life? To start, visit the dive shop's website and read some profiles of the instructors. Are these people that you would look up to and trust to teach you? Go into the dive shop and talk to whoever is working there about the curriculum. Does it seem like they have everything well-organized?

How long is the curriculum in terms of hours? At an all-inclusive resort, PADI offers a course that is approximately 4 hours, with a check-out dive. The curriculum the author went through was two weeks, 8 hours per day, for a total of 80 hours. Do you think there will be a difference in the quality of a diver on the back end? Absolutely.

Lastly, where are they teaching you? Is most of the class in a classroom? Is some of it in the pool? How many open water dives are required to graduate? One thing to consider is that the goal of SCUBA divers is to dive in the ocean or a freshwater lake. It’s never to dive exclusively in the pool. The more dives in open water, the better. This is a complicated topic, but the author thinks that this will give you an idea when choosing a dive shop, with (hopefully) options.

Gear theory: SCUBA diving is not the sport where you want to skimp on cost. It is an expensive sport. The nice thing about SCUBA products is that if they are bought from a reputable company and taken care of, they are durable goods that will last a long time and withstand a lot of abuse. They will literally keep you alive underwater. You want this relationship to be a good one, so carefully consider what you purchase. Try out a few models if you can. Down the line, when you get comfortable with your gear, it is also important to not introduce too many new items on a dive too soon. Maybe just try one new item on a dive until you get comfortable with it. I know this can be tough for some people, but do yourself a favor and do not let price be the primary consideration when buying SCUBA gear. Buy something excellent; it will last, and you will be far better off for it. What’s the price worth when it comes to your life?

Now let’s get into some gear to get prior to many courses. The basics often include a mask, snorkel, fins, and booties.

The author will fully endorse the brand SCUBAPRO for building legit professional products that are SCUBA diving-specific and will hold up if taken care of. The author will recommend SCUBAPRO as a starting point for all divers as a brand. This may come off as a bit of a fanboy option, but the reality is that there are many brands out there, and this is the brand the author is 100% comfortable with. They build SCUBA-specific products that are meant for the sport. For example, picking a random mask brand could be risky. If you get down to depth and the mask cracks because they cut corners or lied in the product description, it could be very dangerous. Truth be told, if any of the equipment you take with you underwater fails, it is going to be very bad. When you're sitting in 100 feet of water, you don't want to have the thought of "I wonder if this mask I bought on Amazon is actually rated for this depth" running through your mind. Please, buy good and reliable equipment; it will serve you extremely well over the years.

First, one of the most important pieces of kit you will buy is a mask. This is not something to skimp on. If you get a crappy mask that does not fit well, it’s not only going to be unenjoyable for the dive, but it could also be dangerous. If you spend a lot of time on your dive trying to get your mask to sit right, you're not fully focused on your dive.


The most important aspect of selecting a mask is how well it fits. This requires you to go to a dive shop and try on a few pairs. What are some things to consider? Nowadays, there are goggles known as single, double, and triple lens masks. The idea behind this is that the more lenses, the more visible space you have. I would suggest trying on masks with more visible space, as it is absolutely a good thing. There is a lot of time spent frequently looking down at your gauges. Being able to do this at a glance rather than a full head move is important. Another important consideration is the volume of air in the mask. This may be a personal preference, but I prefer a lower volume mask. That way, the mask sits closer to your face (giving you more vision), has less volume to clear (to get water out), and has less chance of getting knocked off (lower profile). It is really important to buy a mask that is SCUBA specific (not snorkeling). At depth, the weight of the water will be felt on the mask. It's important to have one meant for SCUBA use, it will feel a lot more comfortable on a long duration dive. 

I was hesitant to give just one pick due to the many fit variables that can exist. This item really requires a good dive shop with many options to try on and some guidance on the constantly changing and upgrading models. Here are some that I have used and work well. 

SCUBAPRO Frameless Gorilla Mask - Highly durable and reliable 

SCUBAPRO Spectra Low Volume Mask - Also a good choice 

Snorkels: These are great to bring on every water trip alongside your mask because they are ideal for snorkeling. My biggest recommendation for these is to buy a bright and highly visible color. When diving, you want your surface support to be able to see you when you pop on the surface. This is the model that works well for me, and I have no complaints.

A solid snorkel (SCUBAPRO Escape)

Fins: SCUBAPRO has long been in the fin-making business, and they are often used by professionals. There are two types of fins: open heel and closed heel. Open heel fins are generally compatible with boots, while closed heel fins are normally used without boots and are more for recreational purposes. I am more comfortable using open heel fins because I am a New England diver (the water is cold) and boots are a must. I also think diving with boots, no matter the water temperature, is a good idea for safety on land and in the water (fin security).

Durability is very important when buying fins. If a fin breaks on a dive, you are in for a bad day. If a fin, particularly a rental, does not fit well on a dive, it's going to be super annoying and again, take your focus off the dive.

The two fins that I love are the Seawing Nova and the Go Sport fin.

The Seawings are fins that you will grow to love. They have excellent maneuverability and power vs. effort. They are a bit heavy and not ideal for traveling (suitcase), but they are ultra-durable and have the torque required for diving with a drysuit or heavy gear.

SCUBAPRO Seawings Nova - A professionals choice

For a great pair of fins that will work well for you is the Go Sport fins. They have a familiar shape and plenty of power when needed. They are durable and also work well for snorkeling, even without booties. They are lightweight and travel well. You will not feel at a disadvantage using them. These are an excellent starting point and can work for you for a long time.

SCUBAPRO Go Sport fins - A great reliable set perfect for starting out and traveling. 

Truthfully, I struggle with color selection for fins. It may be smarter to grab a pair that has some color to them for easier visibility by your dive buddy or to locate the fin if it drops into the water. However, black fins just look cool. When you look cool, you feel cool.

Booties: These can come in various thicknesses, measured in millimeters (MM). It's important to get some that fit well, not too tight or too loose for obvious reasons. I have a pair for tropical diving and a pair for cold-water diving. When traveling to tropical waters, I prefer diving in boots (without insulation) for the protection when walking on and off the dive boat (slip resistance/coral rock) and the familiarity of wearing them. As someone who has rarely (if ever) dived without booties, I know I am much more comfortable wearing them, so I always do. It's also important to have a boot that will stay put on your foot. For this reason I prefer boots that close up with a zipper so there is no chance it will slip off in rough water when kicking hard. I have found that SCUBAPRO booties are true to size for the purpose they serve when compared to street shoes.

SCUBAPRO Delta Dive boots (5mm) - great all around boots for New England Summer diving

I know this is a lot of information, but I felt it was all necessary to mention. I come from a professional diving environment in dangerous conditions with zero visibility, and I speak from this experience. With that being said, SCUBA diving is a very safe sport when trained properly, using the right equipment, and staying well within your abilities. It is also one of the most rewarding activities you could ever do. Being underwater and exploring this part of the world is wonderful and will surely provide you with many excellent memories. Stay safe out there!

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