Star Trek & iPhones
THE MAJOR MANUFACTURERS HAD SAID they wouldnt come because it was getting too expensive, so this years Diving Equipment Manufacturers Association (DEMA) trade show in Orlando, Florida promised to be a much-changed affair.
In the event, apart from a few notable exceptions such as Halcyon (still perhaps reeling from the financial effects of a massive product recall) and Suunto, they all turned up, albeit in reduced form.
However, instead of the usual booth-envy, whereby major players vie to take the greatest space and use it in the most spectacular way, with all the massive costs associated with doing this in the USA, the worldwide recession has proved to be a reality check.
Recessions also tend to level the playing field, so that newer, leaner businesses get the chance to make inroads when otherwise they would be squeezed tight by more established competitors.
At this years DEMA, smaller European brands had the chance to shine alongside international giants such as Mares, Oceanic and Aqua-lung.
Britains Fourth Element, VR Technology, Weezle, Otter and Ambient Pressure Diving (in the guise of its US distributor Silent Diving); Swedens Waterproof, Viking and Si-Tech; Greenforce from Belgium; Beuchat from France; plus Italys Cressi, Seac-sub and Ocean Reef, had the bulk of the major displays.
Otherwise, the show was more about dive-travel destinations, with all the usual suspects present.
This year it was the Philippines that put the most effort into promoting itself. The PADI display stand was huge as usual.
Instead of miles of huge glitzy stands, DEMA was more akin in scale to a British consumer diving show. The aisles were still wide, and all the usual faces were there, but business was done without the usual long hikes between meetings.
I can report that plenty of contracts were written and orders taken, so the show was generally seen as a great success.
There were many newcomers, too. The guys from Midland Diving Equipment, concentrating on tank valves, reported a blindingly good result from their first appearance.
Swiss company Uemis might have found itself in the furthermost reaches of the hall while US manufacturer Atomic was tucked away at the other end, yet both had very interesting new leisure-diving computers featuring bright and colourful OLED displays.
Shearwater also uses this organic light-emitting diode technology in its latest technical diving computer, the Predator. Youll be seeing a lot more about these new computers in the pages of DIVER soon.
English accents were very evident among the crowds, and many old friends from all over the world came to see us. DIVER is held in high esteem by the international diving community, and US visitors raided our booth for copies.
They tell us that they find our style refreshingly different from the advertising-driven reading matter normally available to them, and carried away more than 1000 individual copies of the magazine to digest at their leisure. We were out of stock long before the show was over.
Times have changed, and manufacturers that traditionally waited to launch new products with all the razzmatazz expected at DEMA now release them at their own pace and in their own territories. These days we often see new things at the DIVER offices (and consequently you see them in these pages) long before the trade attendees at this annual show see them. But the show still held plenty of equipment surprises.
One of the most significant developments that might affect British divers was seen on the Si-tech and Waterproof booths, where long-lasting silicone wrist- and neck-seals are replacing traditional latex.
This promises to end the problem of fragility, last-minute puncture damage and lost dives. The technical problem of bonding to the material of the suit is claimed to have been overcome.
Waterproof also demonstrated a novel incompressible thermal lining integrated with some of its drysuits. This makes donning easier, as no undersuit is needed, and it gives simpler buoyancy control, because suits so equipped do not change their volume, and hence their displacement, due to the pressure of depth.
Waterproof also showed a new range of sexy, anatomically cut suits for both men and women.
ON A NEIGHBOURING BOOTH, Otter went the other way, and displayed a traditional neoprene suit at a budget price, together with its now-popular lightweight Travelite membrane suit.
Word at the show was that Whites had big news yet to be released about its Fusion drysuit. Suffice to say well hear a lot more about it this year, when the Fusion arrives in dive shops wearing a different brand mark. In the meantime, Whites demonstrated a novel detachable dryboot, too.
Hunter was bought by the Swedish Trelleborg company some years ago, and it has now rationalised its trademarks, with all its current drysuits sold with the Viking label.
Typhoon demonstrated British cool and a certain commercial confidence with a typically minimal display consisting of one suit on a mannequin, one poster and two chairs.
It may seem a small thing, but Fourth Element had a couple of different-weight wetsuit boots that employ an ergonomic footbed for added comfort when climbing out of the water, plus a new super-flexible glove made with liquid neoprene. This is said to minimise water ingress and aid dexterity.
The company also showed a liner glove for dry gloves made from an eco-friendly material derived from carbonised bamboo.
Weezle displayed the warm drysuit undergarments it had developed specifically for the Roddenberry Dive Team in an appropriate Star Trek style (Gene Roddenberry is the son of the producer of the original sci-fi series, and organises underwater expeditions).
Si-tech also revealed a coldwater-specification regulator designed by owner Stig many years ago but finally in production. It uses an upstream piston first stage with a movable over-pressure valve screwed into any medium-pressure port.
This reg has few moving parts, and an unusually low intermediate-stage pressure that limits the effect of cooling and freezing water.
The travelling diver has become a more significant market segment, and most major manufacturers had lightweight kit on offer.
Cressi demonstrated its Frog Plus fin. This is made of a technopolymer that has such a good memory that it can actually be rolled up tight, yet instantly reverts to its original shape on release. Cressi also revealed a new version of its Big Eye Evo mask with crystal skirt. It uses a medical grade of silicone that is exceptionally clear and will not, it says, discolour with time.
Mares showed a new fin that is a development of blade-pivoting-technology. Called the X-Stream, it has an unusual ventilated foot-pocket reminiscent of a Croc sandal.
Oceanic concentrated on its technical-diving Hollis brand as well as its dual-algorithm computers, while Scubapro showed its ultra-lightweight BC, the Geo.
Beuchat from France had a full range of products, including a BC for women.
The closed-circuit rebreather market has matured with the APD Inspiration, VR Technology Sentinel, Poseidon Discovery, rEvo, Megalodon and Kiss the established types. Dräger displayed some military units.
Oceanic is still not ready to launch the long-awaited Prism 2. In the past, every manufacturer of technical diving kit seemed to have its own in development, but there was only one really new rebreather on display. The Nautilus eCCR was visibly displayed on the ANDI booth and had a lot of Prism-like features.
Silent Diving showed APDs Divestore and Projection software, which allows complex planning and dive-logging. Its such fun to use that it almost replaces the diving as a hobby in itself. Liquivision increased its market visibility with its X1 tap-switch technical diving computer.
IN THE SPHERE OF UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY, all the usual high-end suspects were present, including Seacam, Subal, Hugyfot and Sea & Sea, but Epoch has now entered the fray in this upmarket sector with a fine-quality low-cost housing for the Canon EOS450D, the worlds best-selling entry-level digital DSLR. This is added to a comprehensive line of affordable photography solutions.
Liquid Image has added an HD video-recorder to its line of dive masks with built-in cameras, so that you can come back and show others everything you saw during the dive. Still images of 5 megapixels can be grabbed from the video footage shot. It is priced at around $300.
The problem of finding an underwater housing for the compact camera you bought last year, and which has since been superseded, has been solved by newcomer Seashell. It launched an inexpensive little Perspex number rated to 40m that comes with a set of parts that allows it to be tailored to fit around 450 different models of digital compact, old and new!
One visitor handed over his compact camera to the Seashell man, and he was able to fit the right parts to make it work in less than two and a half minutes. Expect to pay around £100 when this housing appears, as it inevitably will, in UK shops.
The high-end lamp market was almost left to Greenforce and OMS to battle over at DEMA, together with Irish newcomer Cathx Ocean, which was in evidence with the same products you may have seen at Dive 2009 at the NEC.
There were plenty of lower-end LED lamps on many booths. Fantasea Line typically showed an interesting new interpretation of this theme, with an aiming light bright enough to be used as a primary dive light.
Its Remora underwater flashgun has been adopted by Fuji, so well see plenty more of this soon, and its Big Eyes wide-angle ancillary universal optics are just what many compact camera-owners have been waiting for.
Sea-Doos product line has matured with the addition of a serious technical divers model, the Explorer. And the Pegasus Thruster, a power drive unit that attaches to the scuba tank, originally developed for disabled divers, was finally ready for sale after some years of development models being exhibited. We look forward to testing this soon.
Everyone drooled over the Seabob Black Shadow 730 and the Cayago F7 on the booth
of the German company Rotinor. These models are high-speed DPVs intended for the super-rich, with prices that compare with those of exotic sports cars.
Tech Innovations was proud to show its idea of the ultimate divers RIB, and passing Brits thought: Only in America!
AS USUAL, NOVEL IDEAS WERE INTRODUCED by companies on their first foray into the diving sector. One such is the Buddy Link, which attaches a little sensor to a divers mask. It can tell how far away under water a similarly equipped buddy might be, the visible LED indicator changing colour from blue through green to yellow depending on the distance, red indicating loss of contact.
Another novel idea was an underwater GPS device called Navimate. This links a divers wrist unit via a sonar transmitter to a surface GPS unit installed in the boat. Will these ideas catch on
Probably the most revolutionary product to surface at DEMA was on the Intova booth. This US company, known until now for nice little lamps and inexpensive underwater cameras, is now working with software developers backed by $500,000 from the Turkish government.
The result is a diving application for the iPhone and Windows-driven mobile phones. Intova is in the process of bringing to the market hardware that will allow you to take the massive computing power of such a device under water, so that it can used as a diving computer!
You have the phone, so cost will be minimal. We foresee this putting the cheap cat well and truly among the computer-making pigeons!