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Scuba Tech Tips: Your Most Important Scuba Purchase

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Alex Peirce holds antique mask

By Alec Peirce

Today we will be talking about things that aren’t in the book to make your dive safer – and certainly a whole lot more fun. 

Today we are going to talk about the single most important piece of equipment a scuba diver owns; not the tank, not the regulator, it’s your mask.  If your mask doesn’t fit or doesn’t work well for you it may not be safe and you won’t have any fun so what’s the point. So, the mask is the single most important piece of equipment.

Now a lot of you know I have been diving for a very long time and have a lot of old equipment. I am holding in my hands one of the oldest masks in existence. This is the very first mask made in North America. This is from 1949 to 1950 roughly. It is a homemade mask in semi production pieces made by a wonderful man named Charlie Sturgill. In fact, it’s called the “Sturgill mask”. It was made for members of a very old skin diving club in Southern California. Charlie made about 50 of these masks. We only know of three in existence. I was very happy to acquire this mask with the help of my good friend Doctor Sam Miller in California and I am very happy with it – but it is an old mask with a piece of stiff rubber that fits your face. It is really simple. It has a piece of glass, not tempered, and metal band around the outside.  

Interestingly, the masks that came from that first production model look a lot like it. Black skirt, glass, metal around, and a strap. Very similar but a little bit better design: they use tempered glass and it does fit a bit better and it has a softer rubber. These masks are still available – I sell some of these reproductions to vintage divers. 

Modern masks made today have big advantages. The biggest difference besides the styling and so on, which is obvious, is the material. Rubber masks deteriorate with time, they dry up and crack. New masks are now made with silicone. I picked this particular mask because it’s an inexpensive black mask you can get anywhere. You can feel it is sticky – the silicone sticks to your face and doesn’t leak. It has modern strap clips. This mask is also very close to your face – it sits on the bridge of your nose and has great vision. The same mask is available in the much more popular clear silicone – it is very popular because it allows much more of the light in around the skirt. It is a beautiful mask and comes in a wide range of colors. 

Another mask, one that I prefer, is this particular one and in my opinion one of the best masks. Many divers pick it because they see the windows in the side of it. With all that extra glass, it does stick out so far and some people may not like it. Another mask is made from Cressi – one thing you may notice is the nose and the glass are not perpendicular. The glass slopes and the skirt is close to your cheek. This offers great vision.  It seals really well and has easy adjustments. Another benefit of this mask is for those of you who have less than perfect vision they can snap on corrective lenses. There are even reading lenses available. Lots of options even sticky lenses are now available. 

The options and accessories available for a mask today is unbelievable. You can also get a strap pad for the back of your head which keeps the mask from sliding off for folks with little hair or for those with maybe too much hair – is it possible to have too much hair?  This keeps the mask strap from sliding up and down. 

What you need to do is go to your local dive store and get expert advice and even give the mask a try in their pool. Go to your pro shop and see all the different styles and colours of masks. 

Visit your local dive shop for a mask bag to protect it especially for those with valuable prescription lenses. We have such a variety of masks because there are so many different faces. Your dive store pro will suggest a good fit – ask them why so you can better understand what you are looking for. Scuba diving is all about what you see.