A Guide to Equipment for Underwater Hockey
Here's a top to bottom run-down of what to look for when buying kit, and a few places to look. Any individual items were available at the time of writing but manufacturers have an annoying habit of replacing perfectly good bits of kit in their ranges, so if in doubt just ask a club member.
Hats - The hat serves a couple of purposes - it can identify which team you're on (by hat colour), identify each player (by hat number) and offers some pretection to the ears from pressure damage caused by stray hands and feet. Most people use water polo hats. The club has a small stock of these for sale and new starters can get a free hat when they first join the club. For major competitions you'll need a blue hat and a white hat with matching numbers, for club sessions we're not too fussy about colours and numbers but do insist that everyone wears a hat.
Masks - A good hockey mask is quite small, low volume (ie. the lenses are close to the face) and, most importantly, is a decent non-leaky fit. There are a couple of favourites that you'll see a lot of people wearing - the Aquasphere Sphera mask and the Cress Super-Occhio are two that spring to mind, but it's really down to personal preference. Note they must have two seperate lenses, not the single piece lens, and if glass must (by law) be tempered for safety. Other stuff like a clear or black skirt (the silicone around the edge) is down to what you prefer too. To test the fit of a mask, put the strap around the front of the mask and gently inhale through your nose while putting the mask against your face. If it's a decent fit it should stay there until you breathe out. Steer clear of big 'goldfish bowl' masks, those with stiff rubber skirts and any fancy ones with valves in. If you wear glasses then New Dawn Diving (see below) can fit corrective lenses to some of the masks they sell.
Snorkels - Things to look for in a snorkel are that the tube has a decent bore (at least the size of a 1p piece), and that the mouthpiece is comfortable. Most players also prefer snorkels with a simple purge valve at the bottom as it makes them easier to clear, but avoid anything with fancy water traps at the top. As a new starter it's worth looking at a snorkel that has a flexible link between the mouthpiece and tube as that makes it less susceptible to knocks and bumps. It's also worth making sure that the mouthpiece is replacable (for if/when the bite tabs come off) and that there's room for a mouthguard between the mouthpiece and the snorkel. Finally, a lot of snorkels are designed to be worn on only one side of the head so it's worth deciding if that's an issue for you. Most experienced players cut their snorkels down so they are just above the water when they're swimming - another reason to avoid fancy valves on the top!
Mouthguards - These are a sensible investment for all players. They are mandatory for major competitions but strongly recommended for club sessions. There are two main types - an external mouthguard which fits over the snorkel mouthpiece and an internal mouthguard which is moulded to your teeth. The club has a stock of the external type and can show you how to fit them to your snorkel. There are two ways of getting an internal mouthguard - either a 'boil and bite' type that you can get from a sports shop or a custom one from your dentist. The 'boil and bite' ones tend to be a bit bulkier and can be awkward to use with a snorkel, but are obviously cheaper than a trip to the dentist.
Sticks - As little as 10 years ago most people were making their own sticks from wood, but there are now a range of modern plastic sticks that are effective, durable and maintenance free. You'll need a black and a white stick, but they're always sold as a pair and most types are available in left handed versions too. Plastic sticks are obviously more expensive than making your own so it's worth trying a few types before buying - just ask other club members to try theirs. The main suppliers are Bent Fish, Snorkel Battle Extreme (in NZ) and the BOA Shop (for Dorsal sticks).
Gloves - The glove is there to protect your hand from scraping along the pool bottom and from getting bumped by the puck. It's pretty easy to make your own glove and only takes about an hour. One of our club members sells kits which contain everything you need except food colouring if you want a jazzy colour (for competitions the glove has to be a different colour to the sticks and the puck). Some of the places that sell sticks also sell gloves in different sizes and colours, but ask around before buying as some people have been disappointed with gloves they've bought. It's worth noting that a lot of hockey gloves were built around a simple cotton inner and this isn't the most robust material to keep getting wet. This is now replaced by using nylon or polypropelyne gloves as this gives them a longer life.
Swimwear - Should be designed for swimming in, not sunbathing, splashing around in the shallows or playing beach volleyball. That generally means one piece suits for the ladies and non-baggy shorts for the gents.
Fins - A decent pair of fins will make a huge difference to your game. Unfortunately it can be hard to find a decent pair of fins as most manufacturers seem to ignore the needs of hockey players. Firstly the fin must be a full foot fin with no buckles or sharp edges - that's for the safety of other players. It needs to be short enough to be manoeverable but long enough to give you decent power - free diving fins are far too long (and sharp) and swim training fins are too short. It also needs to be quite stiff to give decent acceleration so a lot of the fancy (and expensive) split-fin designs are no use to a hockey player. A lot of cheap fins are actually quite floppy and while they're good enough to get started they will soon need replacing. A good starting point would be the Mares Plana Avanti HP fin, and probably the best mass-produced fin at the moment is the Mares Avanti Quattro Power. You can also spend a fortune on hockey-specific fibreglass or carbon fibre fins, but if your game is at a level where you're thinking of doing that you wouldn't be reading this! Technisub and Cressi have also made some good hockey fins in the past but their current ranges are a bit lacking. As with other kit, just ask other club members if you want to try their fins or get some opinions on something you've found.
Socks - Some people can get sore feet from places where their fins rub and so use a sock to ease this. The easiest option is an old pair of thick socks, but these can wear through quite quickly so some people use either lycra or neoprene liners in their fins. These are available from Bent Fish and the BOA Shop (links above).
Fin Retainers - These are simple straps that keep the heel of the fin securely attached to your foot. This means less movement of the fin and so more power from the fin stroke, and also less chance of fins coming off during play. These are available from the BOA shop as well as most dive shops.
Local Shops - There are a few dive shops in the area that are worth a visit. New Dawn Diving in Send stock the Mares fins and a good range of masks & snorkels in adult and junior sizes. They'll offer a 10% discount if you mention the club. There's also the Surrey Dive Centre in Ripley and Oxygene near Cranleigh.