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March 2001 Vol. 16, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Dive Industry Shares its Wares

Plenty of new gear ... but maybe not for us

from the March, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As an experienced sport diver, I look forward to January s Diving Equipment and Marketing Association trade show, hoping that plenty of innovations will make those trips to Belize and Bali more enjoyable. But, given the distinctly schizy flavor of the show, the manufacturers dont seem much interested in divers like me. With more than 800 exhibit booths stretching through five halls of the sprawling New Orleans Convention Center, the 25th annual gathering of various industry clans was a gumbo of goodies. Yet many ingredients were for the extremes of the diving spectrum: beginners and wannabe techies. After all, these are the emerging markets, one created by a top-down decision to shift the accepted age for certification, the other reflecting the grassroots movement toward Xdiving.

... the emerging markets:
one created by a top-down
decision to shift the accepted age for certific ation, the other reflecting
the grassroots movement toward Xdiving.

Following the move by PADI and other certifying agencies to offer training to pre-teenagers, Scubapro, Oceanic, Mares, Force Fins, Body Glove and other exhibitors were pushing pint-size gear. Scuba Schools International promoted its Scuba Rangers training and club program for 8- to 12- year-olds, and several resorts debuted family dive programs. Broad Reach, a summer adventure program for teens, was also showcased. The concept seems to be: hook em young before they see a rerun of Jaws and get scared off.

Divers at the other end of the experience pool had plenty of toys to lust after, especially high-tech style buoyancy compensators. Seems you cant judge a tech diver just by his D-rings anymore. To be really cool, divers need accessory clips as well, and back-inflated wings with retracting cords that keep wings trimmed until needed. Other tech features included non-ditchable trim weights, depth-compensating cummerbunds and movable belt pockets. All that makes sense at 300 feet or a mile back in a cave, but off the Cayman Aggressor?

Perhaps the biggest innovation for divers came in BCs. Mares Human Underwater Breathing life support system integrates a regulator, octopus, and inflator into a specially made jacket- style BC, so that all the hoses are laced through interior restraining channels to keep them from snagging or dragging. The business end of each device protrudes from its own special compartment for easy access. When ready to go, the diver simply attaches the HUBs first stage to a tank and straps on the jacket. Every thing else is in place, ready to submerge. To market the HUB, Mares is targeting divers who dont want the hassle of putting a lot of gear together, and (despite its weight) to traveling divers who dont want to mess with rental equipment. Complete with everything but a built-in gauge system (coming in the Avante Garde model later this year), is the HUB. It has a dry weight of 14.5 lbs., about three pounds more than my Scubapro BC, regulator and Air II. At $1,795, the HUB costs about the same as buying a piecemeal system. Divers who like the idea, but dont want to give up their existing regulators and inflators, can buy the Mares DragonFly BC (essentially a gutted HUB) and thread their own hoses through the retaining channels .

Hard-to-fit divers who just cant get comfortable in off-the-rack BCs have customizable options, such as those on the IDS Advantage. The back-inflated Advantage offers a series of adjustments to customize the fit, straps to stabilize the tank valve, and has the ability to change the vertical position of the top tank band. It comes in four sizes, with lift capacities from 35 lbs.-55 lbs. These and similar units might reverse an earlier trend: buying separate BCs for tropical or full-wetsuit diving.

The split-fin phenomenon popularized by Apollo Sports Bio-Fins continues to grow, with new models introduced by Atomic Aquatics, Mares (the Volo) and Sherw ood (the TREK). Even Force Fin, whose deep V-shaped models may have pioneered this trend years ago, introduced a bizarre-looking split fin in both Scuba and snorkeling configurations. When Bio-Fins were first tried out in DEMAs Demonstration Pool a couple of years ago, they knocked every bodys booties off. Now that divers have had a couple of years experience with these and subsequent models, theyre generally regarded as more efficient for straight-ahead leisurely kicking. However, for rapid bursts of power (such as kicking up onto a small boat) or for frog or scissor kicks, old-fashioned paddle fins still seem to be superior. These new models also cost about 50 bucks more than the average single-blade fins, probably a surcharge to cover all the advertising. Several companies introduced gloves and other protective clothing using Kevlar, the bulletproof fiber. Sounds great for wreck divers and professional salvos, but arent recreational divers instructed to keep their hands off the marine environment?

Several innovations in diver transportation showed up, as well. Cobra introduced new models, including a three-person kayak in Cobras Glenwa line. SOAR Inflatables exhibited a dual-hulled design they call the ultimate personal dive craft and support platform. A fold-up hard shell craft called the Buddy Boat was put through its paces in the demonstration pool, propelled by a divers fin-kicks.

As for travel, more than 120 destinations, from Bimini to Bikini, were represented. Fiji resorts were in force, hoping to make up losses caused by last years political turmoil. Several dive operations from Baja Mexico were on hand (see the January 2001 issue of Undercurrent for reviews of two of them). We saw fewer Cuban operators than in previous years, but two underwater publishers from Moscow showed up, so Mother Russia may emerge as the next hot diving destination. See you there, comrade.

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