Every once in a while, an innovation comes by that changes the world. Perhaps that’s the reason why great ideas are represented using an innovation that changed the course of human history; the light bulb.

A few years ago Decathlon designed and produced a wonder. The world’s first, full face snorkelling mask that allowed a whole lot of them to splash into the sport. It made breathing easy, almost like humans had gone back in the evolutionary timeline to get their gills back. It was a real game-changer. But, they say good ideas go far into the future, and that’s exactly what happened with the humble snorkelling mask.

At Decathlon we believe in the power of innovation. We know that a big idea can reach the far corners of the earth. While we chase our dream to make the benefits of sports sustainably accessible to the many, innovation is the fuel that runs this machine. We call it innovation for access.

Our inspiration comes from our love of sport and from everyday people. By creating top-quality technical sports products and making them available at the lowest possible prices, we serve our common mission: bringing sports to everyone.

Fast forward to 2020, the world is fighting an unknown and unseen enemy in one of the largest global pandemic after the Spanish Flu. Everybody is scattering to find a solution. Everything is being shut down. Humanity hits a dead end, well almost.

Health workers were running out of protection kits, there was a surge for respirator kits because production had stopped. To stop a pandemic of this scale, the medical community who were the frontline soldiers needed protective gear. And that is when an innovation that let thousands breathe easily underwater came in like a breath of fresh air.

On the 16th of March, 2020, the very first request came in from ISSONOVA to our production team to create an adaptor to connect our mask as a respirator for COVID patients in Italy. The same day news came in from our Poland team that an open source design for 3D printing the adaptor was now available. Although it was not intended for this use, innovations were made to adapt it into a useable respirator system. The news broke out and that came in as a ray of hope.

An idea that stayed underwater had now risen way above the sea level of water sports lovers.

The Easy Breath however innovative, is still intended to be used only as a snorkelling equipment. We had to make that clear. On 20th of March, 2020, Decathlon released the following safety message.  

“Our easybreath mask has not been designed to protect against any virus. This Product is a PPE category I for eye protection and to be used for snorkeling (intended use of the Product), and absolutely not a PPE category III respiratory mask, nor a medical device. We are not medical practitioners and cannot guarantee the use for any other purpose than snorkeling and any factual protection for the virus.” 

The news had broken out already and had gained a lot of international media attention. The global demand for the mask soared. Taking this into account the sale of the mask was stopped to make it available for Hospitals and personnel in need. Technical data about the mask was shared with the scientific teams working on converting the snorkel mask to a respirator.

We saw the rise of local heroes during this global crisis. Almost 990 masks were given out to hospitals across India, several more made available at a discounted price. With the right tool in hand, our heroes were ready to take on the virus head-on.

During COVID 19 crisis in India, we had done a survey on the internet for PPE for health workers. We came accross news ites about Italian doctors using Decathlon Snorkel Mask as full face mask. We then approached Decathlon India to provide a few for trials. We converted them to full face masks using bio compatible adopters and suitable HEPA filters for use by surgeons. A few numbers were donated to surgeons in Hyderabad for extensive trials. They used it for 8hrs on stretch and found it to be comfortable. They also tried other 3M products but were not comfortable with it for long stretches as compared to the Decathlon masks. What was also an addition was that these Decathlon masks were easy to sanitise, said Dr A P Dash, Project Director at K5 hospital, DRDL, Ministry of Defence, Hyderabad.

The masks were used in two ways. As PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) by attaching the easybreath with a viral filter to protect the health teams. NIV (Non Invasive Ventilation) by connecting the easy breath to the ventilator for infected patients. 

A simple idea had changed the course of history again. A simple innovation had paved the way forward and given us hope. The Easy Breath mask is no more a simple sports product any more. It has become a symbol of what is possible when we work together.

Emergency calls for innovation.. I will say using snorkelling masks as a protective gear against covid 19 is a masterstroke.. Amidst the huge deficit of N95 masks during the first phase of the pandemic, these snorkelling masks provided the doctors a much needed safety. Best part was these were reusuable and serves the purpose everytime, said Dr. Debasis Mukherjee, Chief Specialist Consultant, Swawlambi multispeciality Hospital, Hazaribagh.

Several international organizations like Standford studied the Easybreath mask and scrutinized it’s usage. The results however said one thing unanimously; an innovation that was durable and affordable. 

The crisis is far from over, but this is not a losing battle. Several teams worked together to make the Easybreath available to the masses. New local supply organizations were created and the shipment was expedited. Stores worked closely with the Police and local authorities to get the masks to the hospitals on time. 

The humble snorkeling mask is now available online for it’s intended use. Perhaps you could get your hands on one and think of how it allowed thousands of people breath outside water while you explore new waters in your next trip. 

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