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January 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 27, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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This Year’s Batch of Dive Gizmos

my picks and pans of the annual DEMA show

from the January, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) held its annual trade show in Orlando. As has become the rule, it was open only to businesses that have something to sell, and dive stores and instructors who want to buy. I suppose it's a good thing it's not open to run-of-the mill divers, because every afternoon between 3 and 4 p.m.. a few exhibitors started passing out free beer or rum punch and the lines grew long quickly. You wouldn't want a bunch of non-buying, thirsty sport divers clogging the queues.

At times, the lines were even longer at Go Pro, where people were buying up the HD Hero2, a 1,080 video and 11-megapixel photo camera (10 shots per second) for $299, with a 170-degree, wide-angle lens and a depth rating of 60 meters. The size of a Marlboro pack, it can be mounted on hood or helmet, or strapped to one's forehead. While perhaps more applicable to surfers or bikers, the remarkable hi-def footage display enticed hundreds of divers to pull out their credit cards to get one just for themselves.

Liquid Image puts its camera right into the mask ($399), and is soon coming out with a 1,080, depth rated to 130 feet, with LED mode readouts visible inside the mask, and crosshairs on the mask lens to help you line up shots. It's a unique product, but the versatility of Go Pro and the pizazz of its booth gained most of the attention.

Nearly 50 other booths offered cameras, housings and accessories, illustrating that, second only to travel, underwater photography is driving the scuba business. In the last decade, film, filters and leaking Nikonos cameras have been replaced with digital equipment producing brilliant images that can be easily photoshopped, letting every rank amateur produce proud images. No more toting 40 canisters of $8-a-roll Ectachrome through X-ray machines, thank goodness. Today, if you have a camera and an eye, there is no such thing as a boring dive. When you come to realize what might just look like a squiggle of snot on the sand is something quite the contrary, you can shoot the bizarre little critter and show your spouse. And if you prefer photography-lite, Sea Shell produces a case for under $300 that it claims will fit 800 different digital cameras, so you can fiddle around with your existing camera before you spring for bigger bucks.

Scuba Diving magazine has even introduced a new print publication, The Advanced Guide for Underwater Photographers, which makes me wonder what they think they know, given the host of similar publications -- Fathoms, Wet Pixel, etc. -- that are dead and buried.

Speaking of shooters of a different ilk, the nasty introduction of lionfish into the Caribbean has created a new hunting industry, with Lion Fish Busters, Lion Fish Eradicator, Lion Fish Paralyzer and the Eliminate Lionfish tool offered to all the ecologically-minded divers who couldn't bear to spear fish, but now have a free conscience to kill in the name of saving the reefs.

For my money, the emphasis on environmental issues relative to divers never gets enough attention at DEMA. I'd go so far as to say it's shameful, given this is an industry that makes it's living from nature. The effort to give back is nearly negligible. But one booth caught my eye. The Roddenberry Dive Team - - and Trekkie fans, they're for you -- sponsors a "trashy diver" contest, giving away some nifty prizes for divers who pick up underwater trash. NAUI, TUSA and the Oahu tourism bureau support them. Join in by going to www.roddenberrydiveteam.com

Overall, the show was understated, the booths smaller, the money spent for displays reduced, and even the number of resorts displaying was down. I uncovered no new resorts or liveaboards that struck me as candidates for my bucket list. As I walked past booths from Indonesia, I noticed they were all heavily illustrated with photographs of fish and reefs and critters. When I walked down the Honduras aisle, dominated by Roatan, the booths mainly featured photographs of resorts and beaches, which is perhaps how one has to sell the Bay Islands these days, give the dwindling number of fish.

At DEMA, one always finds marginal products hoping to catch on, but most would really have to sell by the busloads to be profitable. A couple I noticed:

* VizSecure is a dive mask retainer you attach to your mask strap and BC so you won't lose your mask. Good, I suppose, for going through surf, maybe in a current, but it's one more strap for sport divers.

* The Vindicator is a replacement hand wheel for your tank. On the market for nearly two years, it is color-coded so you know your tank valve is turned on when green shows, and it's off when red shows. I've not seen one on a dive boat, but I suppose it would make sense to have knobs like these at resorts like Sandals, where scores of newbies jump into the water one after the other, sometimes with their air turned off.

Of course, one gets a chance to see the big names in the diving industry, some of whom have gained celebrity status only because their photos appear in their ads. Actually, I've only met a couple, since I've spent my life in the shadows so that I can travel anonymously. Some who I passed by: Stuart Cove, smartly dressed in a neck brace, healing from an injury and surgery; the always nattily-dressed Jean-Michel Cousteau, signing books for the few who patiently waited; Paul Humann, the king of marine ID photographers, who was willing to talk about his palm garden as he was about diving; Neil Watson, who looks like he could still swim a mile underwater, which he once did; John Bantin, who has written more honest equipment reviews than anyone in the history of diving (this I know, because he writes for me), and was always in serious conversation with representatives of any new product.

And then there was me, Ben, a noncelebrity, wearing a badge with my real, unidentifiable name instead of my nom de plume, snooping around as usual, and recognized by no one. Which meant I could end the day by going to the hotel lobby bar, read the New York Times and sip a beer, undisturbed.

- - Ben Davison

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