Seems that many people seem to believe a snorkel is a safety device rather than a convenience. Maybe it would make sense to carry one when practising other watersports where one might spend some time in the water: sailboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, water skiing and PWC riding. I've taken wipes and had to swim 40 feet wearing a PFD. Not the most comfortable thing to be wearing trying to swim, but obviously wouldn't be doing any watersport (other than scuba) without one.
Would I have wanted a snorkel? Perhaps. If I wanted to watch the fish as I tried to swim to my craft. Of course then there would be the following problems: not being able to see what I was swimming to, not being able to see other traffic around me, etc.
Oh, and I've done this off the coast of NJ in much higher than 5-6 foot waves. With goggles, but not a mask.
I have an analogy to this snorkel debate. I hate to see people preaching from a religious stand-point in either direction. Both arguments can be very flawed. I'm a little tired of people treating George Irvine of GUE like a god. Give it up already. DIR has some good ideas, but it's not like others didn't have them first.
Anyway, here goes... This happened today on the way home from work. It's a cycling and HELMET story. I see a guy on a very nice mountain bike (perhaps in the $1000-$1500 range) wearing good shorts, good jersey, nice clipless cycling shoes and a helmet. He approached a red light and slowed right down. He creeped and crawled to avoid having to stop completely and take one foot off the pedal (trivial with a clipless system). He starts to turn the corner ever so slowly. I could tell that wasn't his intended route. After I went through the green, perpendicular to the direction of the red obviously, he proceeds to ride right through the red - I can see him from my rear-view.
So, in this instance (cycling) a helmet is indeed a safety device. But when some moron has complete disregard for road safety what does that say? I suppose the helmet might come to use for anyone, but he's putting himself in some areas of danger the helmet will not save him from. The fool could also barely balance his bike at the slow crawl.
In any case, though I believe a snorkel is a valuable tool for some people, for others it is a possible source of danger. And not because they are not capable divers (the silly plastic comments above in another message).
Just don't let the snorkel be your crutch. And I see some people in this thread talking out of their rears just because they're passing the line they've heard for ages. Learn to think and don't rely on any crutches. Learn not to need a snorkel, even if you plan to use one. Likewise, learn how to function without the use of your mask if you should lose yours. Be prepared either way.
And going back - waaay back to the original message that started this thread...
Masks: take a look at TUSA and Cressi. Some of the best models I have seen and tried on. Fit a wide variety of facial sizes and profiles.
Snorkel: TUSA makes some nice ones and they're priced decently. If you plan to use it, the Platina hyperdry is one of the nicest I've seen, period.
Fins: do *NOT* buy split fins until you have tried a variety of more traditional fins. Do your cert with a more standard fin. Move to a split once you have learned various finning tehcniques and are able to adapt to splits. Having two sets will probably work well at a later date anyway. Don't spend a huge amount on your first fins, you will more than likely get a better feel for exactly what you want only after some experience.
Wetsuits: don't buy one before getting certified. Above all, don't get suckered into paying any more for anything claiming it has any type of metal in its contruction, inclusing titanium. None of them do anything more than a regular neoprene/poly suit. When it's time to look, get proper thickness for climates you'll be diving and make sure the fit is RIGHT. Snug but not constricting. And style and function when it comes to wetsuits do count for something. Make sure any padding or protection is anatomically placed for comfort and make sure you like the way it looks - dont want that factor to be a ditractor from you going diving.