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January 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Diving, The Rich Person’s Sport

a stroll through the DEMA convention

from the January, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Walking the floor of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s annual show, held last November in Orlando, I was struck by an interesting contradiction. On one hand, there seems to be increasing growth in the things that cost divers the most money: technical diving, photography and travel. On the other hand, the number of new divers entering the sport, at least in this country, has been declining for years.

As one walked the corridors, technical diving leaped out: rebreathers, yokes for doubles, new wrecks being sunk, advanced training, BCDs that look like military gear. This is not cheap stuff.

Then comes an array of photography, video housing, lights, not to mention digital cameras, that would baffle Jacques Cousteau.

And of course there’s dive travel. Where not so long ago the booths were dominated by Caribbean venues, it seems today that every island in Indonesia is hosting a luxury lodge. But the prices in that part of the world, once a great bargain, reflect the slide of the dollar and the belief that divers can pay far more than honeymooners. To get there, you give up half a week traveling in both directions, not something the average Joe can readily do.

It seems we’ve reached the age of the $1,000 regulator, the near $1,000 BC, and $300 fins, masks and drysuits. No wonder the young prefer mountain bikes and extreme sports that don’t cost much. Years ago, DEMA and the agencies decided to stop pushing diving as extreme, so it became a safe, family sport. Now it’s an expensive sport, beyond the pocketbooks of many.

DEMA tries to put a positive spin on the decline in certifications, announcing that entry-level scuba certifications in the U.S. remained “stable” from 2005 to 2006. According to its census figures, the 2006 number of 162,605 declined by just 124 “certs” from 162,729 in 2005. The so-called stable numbers are a small consolation, considering the significant decline of entry-level certification since 2000. Totals peaked at 198,241 in 2001, dropped to 183,934 the next year, declined further to 173,225 and are obviously continuing the downward trend. With fewer young people getting certified, the diving population is aging. But of course. They’re the only people with the time and money to go diving.

As we reported in our “How Many Divers Are There?” articles, published in the May and June 2007 issues, DEMA’s census numbers may not be accurate. The training agencies are suspicious of each other and secretive about their membership numbers. NAUI, which supplied data for every census until the current one, apparently bailed out for political reasons. And the agencies themselves question the numbers and how they’re calculated.

If you’re employed in the industry, this lack of growth may seem troubling. However, if you’re just a sport diver out for the best dives, you might not mind having fewer divers hovering over the reef next time you get wet.

But let’s think about China. PADI has 18 training centers there. Compared to the population in the U.S., China could eventually support about 5,000. Good for business, bad for the reefs. Go see the critters while you can.

-- Ben Davison

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