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Appeared in DIVER August 2010
The Stylish Diver
Style, élan, flair - whatever you call it, some have it and some don't.
It may not matter a jot to you, but it may be all-important to your buddy.
Usually it costs money, but not inevitably.
John Bantin considers the kit that makes a diver look cool
On seeing a picture of DIVER'S Technical Editor, yours truly, wearing the Scubapro Fusion drysuit, Bret Gilliam, the American founder of TDI and never short of an opinion, said that I looked like a cross between Mick Fleetwood and the Terminator (see DIVER Tests).
Now that's a scary concept, but I suppose it's a style of some kind.
It's not flying, however. Like Buzz Lightyear, it's falling with style.
The Sunday Times devotes a whole supplement to style. Many sports and activities can allow you to be seen as stylish. Golf, tennis, skiing, surfing - all these activities attract people who not only want to be good at what they do, but want to look good while they're doing it.
Diving is different. Surfacing with a yard of snot hanging from your mask and your mascara running (OK, not all of us go in for mascara) is not conducive to a stylish look. The problem with trying to be a stylish diver is that we have to strap on complicated diving equipment to survive in an inhospitable environment. Let's face it, you rarely see stylish-looking astronauts, either.
The question is this: does the diving equipment you choose impart a certain style, or is style something within you that cannot be easily defined?
Some people think you can buy style by buying the most expensive products, but I would venture that a Porsche in dusty turquoise is less stylish than a shiny black VW Golf.
So here are my purchasing and behavioural tips for the stylish diver.
A 110kg body in a membrane drysuit will never look good unless you happen to be more than 2m tall. Such a suit should be slim-fitting, without unsightly bulges. Those who have a self-donning cross-chest zip design with an extended torso that is neatened with a tuck and crotch strap, such as the Ursuit Heavy Light FZ (£1000) or the Otter Travelite (£790), can look tailored.
Neoprene, like TV appearances, can add 10kg or more to your look. You'll need to be careful if you choose a super-slim Scubapro Everdry 4 (£599), but it will give you a stylish appearance if you have the build to carry it off.
Perhaps you'd be better off paying for an O'Three Ri2100 (£1076), made to measure.
Choose a wetsuit or semi-dry that has contrasting panels let into the sides for a slimming effect. Wear bright colours only if you want to attract attention, otherwise go for subdued tones.
The brightly coloured Mares Second Skin (£255) is exactly what it says on the tin. An Excel Thermoflex (£190) may suit those with bodies less Greek-god-like.
At all costs, make sure that your suit fits you like a glove, not a potato sack.
And if you need a potato sack, the answer is to eat fewer potatoes.
There can be no doubt that a wing-style BC, whether it comes with a stainless-steel backplate or not, contributes to a stylish look. It's the uncluttered front that does it.
A rowing machine is an important pre-season accessory to make the most of your look in such a BC.
The Halcyon Eclipse (£555) represents a certain minimalist good taste, while the Mares Icon (£400) does away with an unsightly weightbelt with integrated-weights, and the new Aqua-lung Zuma (£272) is almost invisible.
If a conventional jacket-style BC is more to your taste, choose one that is not too big. You don't want to look as though you're swimming within it.
And never, ever, be tempted to put anything in those BC pockets. Do you ever see royalty with bulging pockets? We like the slim-fitting Scubapro Equator (£299) on the right person.
Tuck that corrugated hose away.
You won't need it unless you decide to inflate the BC orally at the surface. Tuck it under a sternum strap and it won't be flapping around. You'll find it the moment you need to inflate or pull the hose to operate a dump-valve.
Use your kidney dump to leave the surface, so that you're in a stylish horizontal trim right from the start.
A regulator is like a watch. Each one does much the same thing, but your choice says so much about you.
It is more stylish to have two matching Cressi Ellipse Black MC5 regulators (£178 each) than to mix a Cressi with, say, a super expensive Atomic T2X (£800).
However, it cannot be denied that matching Atomics are the business.
Hoses need to be routed neatly and discreetly, so that they lie close to your body and don't get hooked up on things that you pass by.
To this end, they need to be exactly the right length. Flexible braided Miflex hoses are now available in discreet colours such as black and carbon-black, as well as in bad-taste garish colours.
Passing a hose under your right arm, tucked under a lamp battery or into a waist-band before looping behind your head and finally into your mouth, may be a stylish solution to rigging a long hose, but it isn't if you wrap it round your throat.
Big Eye Evo Crystal (£56) or an Atomic Subframe ARC (£120), and rinse it in fresh water after every dive. Once it starts growing algae in its nooks and crannies, it's time to kiss it good-bye.
If you need prescription lenses, get them fitted.
Avoid at all costs those tacky stick-on lenses that only serve to remind us of the sort of people who mend their specs with Sellotape.
We don't like to rely on a single computer, so wear two. However, it is not stylish to wear a modern one alongside an older one you previously owned and are reluctant to get rid of. Wear two the same, set in the same way, delivering identical information.
Matching gas-integrated computers operating in conjunction with separate transmitters are very stylish provided they are not too big. A pair of Suunto D9 computers with rubber straps, or maybe one D9 (£1210) supplemented by a similar style D6 (£575), look cool. A D9 alongside a Galileo Sol (£970) does not.
Two Galileo Sol computers may be stylish, but they should be on separate wrists.
Computers that look as if they should be on weightbelts should stay there.
Do not confuse the bling of metal bracelets with style. They should stay where they belong, in the pub.
Wear a hood, even in the tropics.
There is nothing less stylish than a sunburnt head, unless it's a balding sunburnt head.
A hood also gives the impression that you know what you're doing.
But never wear a hood that has an extended collar. No matter how you tuck it under your BC, it will turn up and form a ruff under water, leaving you looking like Elizabethan Blackadder when you climb out. It looks funny, but stylish it's not.
There is nothing more stylish than the diver who can dive successfully without any weights at all.
Alas, I'm not one of them. However, stow weights on a belt using H-clips so that they are permanently spaced to give you perfect trim in the water.
Weights should be encapsulated in plastic, but be thoughtful when choosing the colour. It should match the belt.
The manufacturers of such weights are usually ex-scrap-metal merchants, and not known for their sense of style.
Consider using a weight-harness if you do not have a V-shaped waist. Better still, get a V-shaped waist.
The best lamps are small and concealed until they are needed, when their use becomes dramatic.
The Cathx Ocean Euphos (£675) handheld lamp is a perfect example of this, though the Metalsub XRE700 (£319) does something similar for less money. A Scubapro Novalight 230 (£79) or a TUSA TUL300 (£60) both do a good job for those on a tight budget.
Like the stylish motor car, fins should be black. Do not be side-tracked by those who say that brightly coloured fins are safer. The important thing is what the marine life makes of them.
Brightly coloured fins will flash alternately as you fin. Do fish have brightly coloured fins? I don't think so.
Aeris Velocity (£69) and TUSA Tri-Ex (£67) fins employ a contrasting colour mixed with the black, but just pass the right side of the style threshold. Avoid any fins that have an avant garde design or are not black. You are just trying to attract controversy.
Use stainless-steel spring straps.
They are available for virtually all makes of fin. There is nothing less stylish than a diver in a small boat with a broken fin strap, unable to dive.
Similarly, it's simply not stylish to fumble about trying to get your fins off before climbing a boat's ladder.
Fins take a lot of abuse, so exchange them for a new pair when they get scruffy, just as you would a pair of shoes. Well, you would, wouldn't you?
A late-deployment surface marker buoy that arrives at the surface properly inflated tends to tell people on the boat that you know what you're doing.
A Bowstone extending flag costs only £18. Now that's stylish!
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Let your style speak for you. Never try to convince another diver that your own style is better. That's really uncool.
If you have style, unless they are beyond help they will notice. Sadly, sometimes those without style can never recognise it when they see it.
Don't get too hung up on whether or not you have style. The Sunday Times may have its supplement dedicated to the matter, but it also has another, separate supplement called Culture.
Being stylish and being clever are clearly not to be confused.