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July 2001 Vol. 16, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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High Art or Abysmal Hype?

Equipment to die for

from the July, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

There’s been a bit of rout over a recent advertisement placed by Abysmal Diving, a technical diving company located in Boulder, Colo. The ad, which depicts a forlorn teen-age boy kneeling beside a gravestone, with the headline: “Because You Keep Your Promises” — was pulled from future issues of Dive Trade International, a UK based trade magazine, after the publisher reportedly received scores of reader communiques protesting what some deemed a pestiferous display.

The fact that Abysmal’s ad would anger some people whose business depends on attracting consumers to diving, comes as no surprise. As one dive veteran suggested, “They might as well run a picture of the grim reaper with a dive flag flying from his sickle.” Indeed, the company’s shock jocks, founder and president Chris Parrett and vice president Joel Silverstein, told me that they hoped the ad would stir up controversy. Of course, in this regard, censorship is usually its own reward. Thank you Dive Trade.

“They might as well run a picture of the
grim reaper with a dive flag flying from his sickle.”

Whether the ad has some kind of redeeming social value — that it could be deemed high art masquerading as commerce, and therefore could justify its continuing presence in the august publication — is irrelevant. For example, this ad doesn’t touch the level of advertising for “the United Colors of Benetton.” So we’re left with the question that every advertiser must ultimately ask itself: Will it sell it more gear? In this case: the oxygen analyzer, regulator and mixed-gas computer were highlighted in the ad. And at what price?

Promise Keepers

I, for one, was at first confused by the ad’s premise. As the copy explains, Abysmal makes gear to help you keep your promises. And what promises would those be: “I swear I’m going to bring back some first-class china or diet rying”? How about, “If you join that rival agency I am never going to speak to you again”? No, but now I get it. The creators meant to imply that the poor stiff used the wrong (and deadly) dive gear — so that consumers will be dying to try Abysmal gear, and keep their promise just to return home from the dive.

Unfortunately, this is a sore point in a diminutive, yet vital industry that can’t afford to lose any customers. All joking aside, every time a diver dies diving we all lose a little. Of course, diving will never be risk-free. And that’s the rub. For a long time, the industry tried to paper over the dangers, believing that by pretending that diving was as safe as bowling, they would attract more customers.

Then came technical diving, which is downright dangerous. According to Divers Alert Network (DAN), technical-level diving accounted for 28 US deaths in 1998 and 1999, out of a total of 161 US diving fatalities. That’s 17 percent of the total, although certified techies represent less than 1.5 percent of the overall diving population. As a result, the dive industry, has been forced to present a more realistic picture of the risks — to do otherwise would be negligent, not to mention irresponsible.

High Art or Abysmal Hype?

The Right Stuff

However, to imply that experienced divers are more likely to be scotched from the gene pool if they’re not diving Abysmal gear, is a fine bit of hubris. It even pushes the limits set by the Woodville Karst Plains Project’s director and world record holder George Irving who once described the 50-odd group of Florida cave divers as the “silver back gorillas of the sport.” Their video “The Right Stuff” describes the ONLY correct way of rigging dive equipment — no exceptions. At least they’re not selling anything !

Equipment failures don’t kill experienced divers — well-trained divers plan for the possibility. Attitudinal failures do kill divers. That includes attempting dives beyond one’s experience level, complacency, panicking in an emergency, and the lack of a healthy sense of fear.

Perhaps that’s what bothers me about the ad. I’m afraid that some deep diving wannabe will be emboldened by the company’s haughty claims and make a promise they aren’t skilled enough to keep. For my money, that would be an abysmal shame.

Michael Menduno was the founder and ex-publisher of the now defunct technical diving magazine aqua Corps ( 1990 - 1996), once described as the “sea geek’s bible.” He also coined the term “technical diving.” Check out his website:

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