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I am in the market for a BC and have come across some great deals on last year's models. I wear a size Small and fortunately there are some leftovers from 2001 that some vendors are clearing out (Mediums and Larges are long gone).
In particular I have found both a Scubapro Superhawk NT (2001) and a Sherwood Freedom (2001), both new and priced around $230. As far as I can tell, the Superhawk NT has been discontinued in 2002 (was it replaced by the Nighthawk??). The 2001 Sherwood Freedom seems very similar to the 2002 model with the exception of the weight release mechanism -- the 2001 model uses velcro whereas the 2002 model uses some new "CQR" quick release.
So which of these is better for recreational diving? I tried them both on in the shop and liked the fit of both. The Scubapro seems to be a little more solid but the Freedom has some nice touches, like the folding front pocket. Are either of these suitable for light "tech" diving?
Anyway, if any of you have an opinion or some experience with either BC in the water, please let me know.
I can't speak to the Sherwood, but I've had/used a Superhawk for about a year and a half and have been very happy with it. Pockets are large enough to actually be of use. I've not had any problems with the weight pockets. The D rings are stable and well-secured. Dumps are easy to reach/use and very efficient. Overall comfort is good. With over 100 dives using it, I've been very satisfied. Yes, it was superceded by the Nighthawk.
Leisure Pro (www.leisurepro.com) has these on clearance for $230 right now and they will probably be at that price until they are all gone. They only have the small size left, and thankfully that's what I wear. I figured I couldn't lose at that price, especially considering the BC sold for nearly 3 times that last year. Hell, I can't even find a good used Superhawk for $230...
So, I finally made my decision and bought the Scubapro Superhawk NT. It arrived via UPS on Thursday. I tried it on in the pool on Sunday and was very pleased with my decision. I was a little nervous about how comfortable a hard back-plate BC would be, but the backplate in the Superhawk is shaped just right and the padding that covers it is top notch. When I had the BC on I couldn't even tell there was a hard backplate.
Overall, the BC fits me like a glove. I know that "fit" is very subjective, so the Superhawk may not be for everybody, but the cummerbund and shoulder straps both have wide ajustements so the Superhawk should fit a wide range of body types. The ergonomics are fantastic -- the pockets, d-rings, and dump pulls are all where they should be. And the construction seems very durable.
The only downside I can tell so far is the funky tank strap. For some reason, Scubapro uses a bizarre metal clasp instead of the more traditional velcro-plastic enclosure. My wife has a Scubapro Ladyhawk and it also has the same strap. It grips very well but it is a real PITA to adjust. As long as I keep using a tank with the same diameter I will be OK. But if I switch between tanks of different diameters, I can see how adjusting the strap will get annoying. Anybody else have a comment about this contraption?
Anyway, I'm sure I would have been happy had I chosen the Sherwood Freedom too. Leisure Pro has the 2001 Freedom's on sale for $260.