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March 2000 Vol. 26, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What's New at DEMA

new travel, new equipment, new downsize

from the March, 2000 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

I’m sure the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s annual statement will soon announce that this year’s DEMA was bigger and better than ever, but to me January’s show in Las Vegas seemed a smaller production with fewer exhibitors than last year’s New Orleans venue. Major manufacturers seemed to be downsizing as well. For example, Mares has always had an interesting, well-funded booth — in recent years, a popular espresso bar with uniformed java jockey — but this year, Mares wasn’t even there. Aqualung, which includes the former US Divers (USD) and Sea Quest, had a fairly ordinary booth, in sharp contrast to previous years when large, lavish displays with wine and cheese were common. In the past Sherwood has had expansive theme booths with getaway rooms where deals were done; this year, their booth had less action than an auto parts counter on Sunday night. And Oceanic didn’t bother to display their whole line, only this year’s new products. The shrinkage was understandable in part, because the dive industry has had a couple of bad years. However, while everyone I’ve talked to lately paints a picture that’s gotten rosier over the last year, it seems manufacturers haven’t caught up with the upturn. Maybe they’re just reflecting the widespread trend toward corporate downsizing, or perhaps we’re just seeing the lag factor that always exists between a change in the market and manufacturers’ response to it.

Similarly, travel booths also reflected the world’s political events offset by a few months. Dive operations in Indonesia and Malaysia, both hit by internal unrest that made the headlines in the USA, were keeping a pretty low profile. They seemed to be tired of saying (over and over again), “Not one tourist was injured during the troubles,” but then what else could they do? Still, dive operators from Thailand and other more stable countries were happy to point out that nothing much was going on at home and divers were always welcome. I also spotted what seemed to be a growing representation of African tour operators as well as a couple of new liveaboards serving Cuba, one of them the Ocean Diver from Scubacan (888-799-2822 or, whose land operation we reviewed last January, as well as the Oceanus (011-52- 98-84-9604). This boat went bankrupt last year, but it now has a new owner and will be diving Cuba as well. Another boat that’s been in and out of the dive business for years and keeps showing up in different parts of the world, the Coral Star (800-215-5169 or, will be doing Panama’s Hannibal Bank, Coiba, and other islands on the Pacific side of Panama, as well as special trips to Malpelo, Cocos, the Panama Canal, and the Caribbean side of Panama.

Another continuing trend was Grand Cayman’s coming of age. Despite what you might read in the slick pubs, Grand Cayman hasn’t been the Super Bowl of diving for years. An awful lot of divers still head there, but many don’t go back because of all the hand-holding and strict, inflexible time/depth limits. However, Grand Cayman’s dive operators seem to have figured out the process of natural selection, and several of them told me that divers there can now do what they’ve long since been doing everywhere else, i.e. diving their computers.

There was a big emphasis on dry suits at the show this year, although in the tropical skinprotection arena, the next big thing seems to be thin neoprene, finally giving some serious competition to traditional nylon and polyolefin diveskins. Scubapro was showing 0.5-mm ultra-thin neoprene tropical suits (“the thinnest neoprene N2S suit in the world”), and, according to their reps, “selling the crap out of them.” Other manufacturers such as Harvey and Aeroskin are going with 1-mm neoprene suits that offer a bit more warmth than a diveskin — and a whole lot more protection against stings and abrasions — without adding too much more buoyancy. I often dive a 1-mm neoprene suit in the far Pacific, which has some BAD jellies and corallimorpharians that can toast your hide right through a diveskin, especially at night when it’s harder to avoid those close encounters of the worst kind.

What was New for 2000?

The sublime… The pareddown show still boasted a number of rebreathers, although they were hardly displayed with the fanfare of a couple years ago. They require considerable infusions of maintenance time and money, so, although useful for some, they’re not ready for prime time for most. But one diver I know in Hawaii uses rebreathers to explore the “twilight zone” of 200 - 400 fsw; he says it is “high risk, high return,” and the return he describes includes a good sixty specimens of fish purportedly never described to science. Rebreathers attract the tech guy in me, but unlike the U. S. Navy Experimental Dive Unit diver who told me he had recently dived to 1,000 fsw, I feel no need to emulate the pioneers just yet. I prefer to avoid those arrows in my shirt and hopefully get in more dive years in the process. Besides, I’m still enthralled with enjoying my sport at more conventional depths and sites, and I still have lots to learn there. I guess the sublime will have to wait for me…

. . . . another innovative idea: a fishbowl mask
with expensive optical grinding, all yours for the
low price of only $750!

On the opposite extreme was what I’d label closer to the fringe. While we are looking at lower and lower volume masks for ease of equalization, at DEMA we were presented with another innovative idea: a fishbowl-dimensioned mask with expensive optical grinding that gives us “wide angle” vision and corrects apparent distances to those we are more familiar with out in the less-dense medium of air. Just make a $50 deposit, then wait until the masks are actually manufactured, presumably in June. It’s something we’ll have to take a look at once it becomes available, obviously a spare-no-expense project given the steep MSRP of $750. Still, it’s no wonder the mask looks like something that should be worn by a Star Trek crew exploring a distant planet — even the price is astronomical.

The other attention-getting mask proved Rube Goldberg is still alive and well. This Israeliborn mask (with a slap strap over the center of the head AND another silicon strap behind the head) is connected by tubes to squarish silicon ear cups, the idea being that you can now equalize your ears as you equalize your mask. I had a hard time imagining what might happen if I was wearing such a mask and, say, sneezed, or even cleared my mask forcefully. Would I blow my brains out? How do I clear the whole thing? And how do scuba students learn to doff and don this apparatus underwater? Left ear first? Hello, Rube, can you help me out here?

Knowing that dive gear innovation is a head-to-foot proposition, I moved on to check out what’s new in fins. Nature’s Wing technology has come online with Apollo’s release of their version of the design, one we’re sure to see more of since it’s also licensed to four other fin manufacturers. I spotted other “new technology” fins, including an almost-semicircular monofin that looked like a rudimentary fish tail with two fin pockets positioned next to each other. While the monofin is hardly a new development, it was getting a big push this year in multiple booths. Another booth displayed fins that looked like two dolphin flukes, much wider than they were long. Videos showed the proper way to use both: flex your entire body, rather like — a dolphin! Of course, this whole-body movement thing seems more natural to dolphins, probably because in dolphins it’s evolved over millions of years. We human newcomers to the aquatic realm have a lot of evolutionary catching up to do, but, in the meantime, if you want to conserve air and have long dives, don’t use these fins. However, if underwater aerobics and full-body conditioning are what you’re after, an 80 c.f. tank should give you a great 20-minute workout.

There was plenty more to see, from a new mask-snorkel set with the snorkel running up between the diver’s eyes to a virtual-reality dive mask, a nifty number retailers can take to the mall to invite lines of 13-year-olds to line up and experience the underwater world. The biggest draw may have been the tan-through swimsuits demonstrated by a few nubile young saleswomen. These brought out the scientist in at least half the attendees, who flocked over to learn whether a tan-through suit is also a see-through one, proving once again that the world will beat a path to your door if you build a better — or sillier — mousetrap.

The fanfare is over for now, but early next year we’ll be back at DEMA, stalking the halls in search of icons to shatter, old and new alike. Maybe there will be something really innovative to report on. Hell, I might even get up the gumption to ask the young woman modeling the tan-through suit what SPF it is.

The Editors

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