Are Hoods Really Needed?
I seem to have a problem with claustrophobia, but from past experience snorkeling I think I can deal with wearing a mask. What I don't think that I can deal with is wearing one of those thick rubber hoods. I've watched divers trying to deal with them, and it looks terrible, especially when wearing wet suit gloves. Watching one student who was fumbling with her hood, I even overheard the instructor say that hoods were hard to use and get used to, and made equalization difficult. I can't imagine how wearing a hood must feel underwater with all the pressure. I'm wondering do I really need to use a hood to dive locally if I limit my diving to summertime? Or, am I just making too big a deal out of this?
Hoods are probably one of the least favorite equipment items for most new divers, but they really don't have to be. I taught diving for many years in environments where you couldn't even think about getting into the water without wearing a 7-mm hood. I've found that the problem often isn't the hood itself, but when students are introduced to them. And they're typically introduced to them too late in their training, most often not until they reach open water and are already stressed by the new environment. In my classes I always required my students to wear both hoods and gloves during their last two pool sessions. Granted, it looked more than a bit odd with everyone wearing bathing suits yet sporting neoprene hoods and gloves, but it did the trick. Students got used to the fit of the hood, and became familiar with how to seal their mask around it using bulky gloves. So, by the time they got into open water, it was no big deal.
Another trick is making sure that the hood isn't too small. In fact, if someone has trouble clearing because of their hood, as the instructor you witnessed indicated, then it's definitely too small. Equalization should never be a problem with a properly fitting one. Also, the idea of going without a hood is probably not possible in a place like northern Alabama, even during summer. The reason is that the temperature below the thermocline (a phenomenon you'll learn about in your training) is likely to be in the 50s Fahrenheit even if the surface temperature is in the comfortable 80s F (27-31 C) range. Water that cold absolutely, positively requires a hood.
I'll tell you one more story that may come as a surprise. I haven't dived in water below 70 degrees (21 C) for over two decades. Yet, on probably 30 percent of my dives I still wear a hood. In fact, I commonly wear a 3-mm hood-attached vest under my 0.5-mm wet suit. Because of the disproportionate amount of heat we lose through our head, wearing a hood is the best thing that you can do to stay warm. Don't worry, you'll get used to it.