Last year we spotted an article in the Daily Mail that hailed a revolution in snorkelling equipment. A mask that let’s you breathe through your nose! In all honesty we paid little attention at the time. Full-face snorkelling masks are not revolutionary; they have been around since the 1950’s in various forms but have never caught on, mainly because they didn’t actually work. Now however we’ve noticed that the Internet is awash with articles, blog posts and images of this new mask. So we thought we’d better have another look, just in case someone really has come up with a full-face snorkelling mask that works. In hindsight, we really shouldn’t have bothered.
The Easybreath Mask is designed and manufactured by the French company Tribord and came about as a response to the problem of people wanting to snorkel, but not being able to because they couldn’t breathe through their mouth. To explain this problem the company released an advertising video where we were introduced to three wannabe snorkellers. Jean-Marc had a terrible problem, every time he put a snorkel in his mouth he felt “oppressed” and found it impossible to breathe. “It just didn’t feel natural” he bemoaned. Yang on the other hand, had leaned his head too far forward, when he first tried the sport, and consequently swallowed the water that entered his traditional snorkel. Yang was so panicked by this event he never tried snorkelling again. Finally there was Catherine. Catherine had dreadful trouble with both putting on and wearing a mask. “I tended to breathe through my nose and therefore suffocate”, she said despondently. “Then it fogged up, I couldn’t see anything, it was too tight and therefore I was really scared”. All of these snorkelling-preventing problems were solved instantly when they tried the new Easybreath. Jean-Marc stopped feeling oppressed and started feeling more at ease. Yang could move his head as much as he liked and thought that this was just great. Catherine was equally gushing in her praise. “I saw fish, starfish”, she said joyfully. “It’s really great, I felt incredibly free”.
It was not just Jean-Marc, Yang and Catherine who are impressed either. In December last year, the Easybreath Mask won the Oxylane Innovation Award for 2014. Impressive you might think, until you realise that the Oxylane Group is the new name for French sports company Decathlon and Tribord is one of their brands. In a rather tacky ceremony, with dancing girls and overexcited Frenchmen prancing about everywhere, the people who make the Easybreath were presented with the 2014 innovation award by the people who…. Err… Make the Easybreath. Doesn’t look that impressive now, does it? So let’s go back to that advertising video with the oppressed Jean-Marc, Yang with his head issues and the “prone to suffocation” Catherine and see if we can solve their problems without inventing a brand new, revolutionary mask.
Is it really too difficult for Jean-Marc to learn to breathe through his mouth? All divers and snorkellers have experienced the same issue when they first try the sport. Breathing through your mouth using a demand valve or snorkel takes practice but we would hardly call it an oppressive experience. It’s something that you get used to the more you do it. As for Jean-Marc’s suggestion in the video that breathing through the mouth is unnatural, we imagine that he must never have undertaken any strenuous exercise. Anyone who has ever exercised, run for a bus or had to take the stairs because the lift was broken will know that, as your muscles demand more and more oxygen, you stop breathing through your nose and switch to breathing through your mouth in order to increase the amount of air getting to your lungs. The same thing will happen if you exert yourself when snorkelling. Then there is Yang and his water swallowing issues due to immersing his head too much. This is not an uncommon problem and is easily solved by using a snorkel with a dry-valve purge system. These valves are available in a variety of makes and models. In fact the Easybreath uses exactly the same technology itself! Now we come to Catherine and her problem of suffocating herself and her mask fogging up. We’re worried about Catherine, very worried and here’s why. If every time that Catherine has difficulty getting air through her nose she starts to suffocate, how on earth does she cope when she gets a cold? We don’t want to sound rude here, but open your mouth Catherine and breathe! Seriously, even premiership footballers have mastered mouth breathing so it can’t be that hard. As for mask fogging, this is due to a number of reasons from variations in temperature between the outside and the inside of the mask to the inside of the mask being contaminated with microscopic dirt which moisture can attach to. There are a number of ways to stop fogging from using commercial de-fogging spray to the old tried and tested method of spit and rinse. However the best advice we can give you here Catherine is that when you buy a new mask make sure you clean it thoroughly to remove any remaining contaminants left over from the manufacturing process. Many people claim rubbing the lenses with non-abrasive toothpaste works but we prefer a simple solution of washing up liquid and water – works a treat. There you go Tribord, de-fogging solved without having to design, develop, test and re-test a revolutionary new mask.
Besides, the suggestion made by the company that the Easybreath eliminates the problem of fogging does not stand up to much scrutiny anyway. In fact the Easybreath designers state that their exclusive anti-fogging concept (yes it’s only a concept) is based on the principle of ventilation used on car windscreens (and they never fog up do they?) and only actually works properly in water temperatures over 18 degrees. Umm… That means if the water temperature is below that optimum, the anti-fogging concept stops working. This means snorkelling in the UK and most of the Mediterranean is out of the question.
There are other problems too. The Easybreath cannot be used for breath hold dives, even short ones, due to the fact that you cannot equalise pressure since you can’t get to your nose to pinch it. The volume of air in the mask is also considerably larger than traditional designs and diving down to even the relatively shallow depth of one metre means that the increase in pressure is going to make your face look like a squashed tomato when you surface.
Apparently no one at the company bothered to tell Jean-Marc that. Nobody at the company seems to be aware either, that not all snorkelling consists of simply bobbing about at the surface. As some of our other posts have highlighted, snorkelling has some inherent dangers and the ability to be able to swim quickly is damn important. Swimming quickly and being able to breathe too is even more important.
All in all the Easybreath seems to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist outside of the mind of the designers. At £35 it’s cheap and unfortunately, with its garish colours and child’s toy-like appearance, it looks it too. The size and shape makes the whole thing unwieldy, the tightening strap has a tendency to break and the entire design limits your snorkelling activities to simply viewing the underwater world from the surface – you could do the same thing from a glass bottom boat. If, like Catherine, you can’t master the survival skill of breathing through your mouth or like Jean-Marc you want an oppressive free snorkelling experience, then the Easybreath will probably suit you – if it fits. If however, you want to experience the underwater world closer up, if you want to be able to swim and breathe at the same time and generally go snorkelling rather than laying dead still, face down in the water, like a drowned fisherman than we think that you, like us, will come to the conclusion that the makers of the Easybreath haven’t come up with anything revolutionary at all. Instead they have re-visited an old idea that didn’t work and come up with a new idea that doesn’t work either.