The kit in America
AT ONE TIME MANUFACTURERS WOULD WAIT for the DEMA show to launch their new products. Nowadays they don’t wait, and a lot of products exhibited at DEMA last November had already been revealed in the Just Surfaced pages of DIVER or in the New Product Showcase at the DIVE 2010 show at the NEC in Birmingham.
Ordinary Americans appear to be suffering even more from the economic downturn than those of us in Europe, and for that reason the annual international diving show, held this year in Las Vegas, seemed less well-attended than usual.
We have also noticed a trend in recent years that the big names have smaller booths, while smaller, leaner companies have more of a presence. Most of the usual suspects were still at DEMA but a few companies were noticeable by their absence.
Big news was the launch of PADI’s generic rebreather-training programme. This is divided into two sections, one using equipment suitable for deep divers, and the other addressing the needs of leisure divers who simply want to swim about looking at the fish.
This programme evidently includes diving to a maximum of 20m without any off-board open-circuit bail-out.
The existing Poseidon Discovery MkVI rebreather already meets the criteria, and many other rebreather manufacturers are rushing to provide suitable equipment to meet what appears to be a new market segment.
VR Technology, manufacturer of the Sentinel CCR, is at the forefront of this move, and was exhibiting a hybrid SCR/CCR in bright orange. It uses a single tank of nitrox, and is intended for use in areas in which pure oxygen might be hard to get.
The Belgian manufacturer rEvo showed a concept unit that could be adapted to the varying needs of different divers and, with a view to easier air travel, weighed in on the light side.
APD discussed plans for a simpler Evolution that could still evolve into a machine for more adventurous diving should the owner want it to.
At the other end of the scale, it showed its full-face mask, suitable for use with its Evolution and Inspiration models, along with a new CO2 sensor set-up that sits alongside the mount for the scrubber temperature-stick.
Reducing the weight of products seems to be a continuing trend among mainstream manufacturers, in response to the combination of airlines becoming more difficult and the huge growth in adventure travel, as shown by the fact that the vast majority of exhibitors at DEMA represented diving at exotic destinations.
Every major manufacturer seems to have a new lightweight BC including the original pioneer of this philosophy, Cressi, with its new Airtravel. Another manufacturer, Oceanic, revealed its Biolite, also a wing-style travel BC.
Even bag manufacturers were getting in on this act, with Stahlsac, a company with a reputation for making products of great toughness and longevity, offering a capacious model of lighter weight. We brought one back to test.
On the technical diving front, Scubapro, with the financial clout of giant conglomerate Johnson Outdoors behind it, has entered the market aggressively. It has huge distribution and dealership advantages, and is offering a range of technical diving wings called X-Tec. These are reminiscent of the sort of items that have so far been supplied only wearing more esoteric badges.
Scubapro has covered every eventuality, with a choice of harness styles, backplates and wing sizes to cater for all tastes. Not only that, but on the computer front it has taken the easy-to-understand-and-use Galileo Sol and intends to offer a trimix upgrade that employs the latest trimix research and fully computed calculations, but at no charge to existing owners. There will never be a display of “Missed Stops – Use Tables” with this one.
Other Galileo models can also be updated, and the use of multiple transmitters for the Galileo range means fewer high-pressure hoses to route.
ANOTHER COMPANY CHASING TECHNICAL diving customers is Taiwanese-based IST, which has introduced a range of technical BCs that closely echo the range of a formerly hallowed US manufacturer – one that, ironically, did not appear to be present at the show.
Scubapro introduced a watch-style computer, the Meridian, which is said to be the toughest on the market. It certainly looks it. This was timely, because it is rumoured that the Japanese watch manufacturer Seiko is to discontinue making computer-watches for diving.
To this end, Cressi has its own Cressi Technology RGBM computer waiting in the wings, as will, I suppose, other manufacturers that relied on Seiko in the past. We are still waiting for Suunto to revamp its well-established range.
Liquid Vision introduces two new colourful OLED instruments, one a computer and the other a depth-gauge and bottom-timer, called Xen and Xeo respectively, while Atomic Aquatics announced that its eagerly awaited gas-integrated OLED computer, called the Cobalt, was finally in production and that it would send us one to review.
Oceanic has added more functionality to its range of dual-algorithm computers with modifications to its software, notably demonstrated with the VT-4.0, which can switch between four different independent tank transmitters and has a built-in compass and an improved user-interface with easy settings preview.
Its associate company Hollis, the technical-diving equipment supplier, pressed on with promoting side-mounting of tanks for ordinary leisure diving, and exhibited a new technical-diving drysuit, too. There was no sign of the Prism rebreather this year.
Trelleborg-Viking showed for the first time its easily exchanged latex neck-seal system, while Si-tec, also from Sweden, had a new fitting that made it at last possible to employ tough yet clingy silicone wrist-seals on a drysuit.
Waterproof Wetsuits showed a hybrid drysuit that claimed to have the flexibility and constant buoyancy of a membrane suit combined with the insulating properties normally associated with Neoprene. Seac, too, displayed a new drysuit.
DUI has given a lot of thought to keeping divers warm, and has come up with a heated undersuit that goes a lot further than other such products seen to date. Not only does it heat the leg area, but there are heated socks and gloves too. As anyone who dives in very cold water knows, it is the hands that can really suffer under these conditions.
It all works on a low-voltage (6V) system for safety reasons, so the battery-packs worn at the waist tend to be large, to supply sufficient amperage, and as such are a substitute for lead ballast.
Dick Long, the patriarch of DUI, strutted around in a DUI suit in patriotic American colours (complete with Stars ’n’ Stripes cowboy hat) and said that a British version would be available to anyone who could afford it!
AMONG SEXY-WETSUIT MAKERS, the Italians as ever took the lead through Cressi and Seac, closely followed by the French with Beuchat and the Swedes with Waterproof.
Oceanic introduced a flexible lightweight suit, made in a co-operation between Antipodean manufacturers, called the Lavacore. It does not employ Neoprene but equates in terms of insulation to a traditional 2mm suit when used alone, or adds an equivalent of 3mm when worn under a normal wetsuit. This was another product we brought back with us for testing.
Among specialist lamp manufacturers, Light and Motion, showed the diver’s version of its tiny yet powerful Sola 600 video light, just as we had foretold when we reviewed it in these pages.
As lamp and battery technology leaps forward, so diving lamps get smaller yet brighter, with longer burntimes. Hollis had three new compact lights of this sort, engineered in aluminium; Beuchat introduced a range of mid-sized LED lamps in aluminium; and the Chinese manufacturer Big Blue showed a comprehensive new range of excellent-looking lamps.
That said, at the other end of the scale Belgian engineers Green Force previewed a 4000 lumen lamp, which runs from its standard battery-packs, while Danish manufacturer WiseLED, after an unfortunate misjudgment of the diving market in the past, was back with a couple of better-thought-out Teflon-covered lights, including one that emits a massive 5000 lumens of light. It’s sufficient to guide anti-aircraft fire.
We hope to have one on test soon.
Every manufacturer claims to have the mask to beat all masks, but they all tend to look similar, even if they are improvements on previous models. It was only Atomic Aquatics that wouldn’t allow photographs of its own product, for fear of it being replicated in the Far East before it got into full production.
There was not much to report on the fins front. The migration of people from Mares to other manufacturers based in Genoa has had its inevitable consequences. Gian Paulo, now with Seac, has used the expertise he gained at his former employer to design an efficient-looking four-channel fin that is at the moment available in full-foot guise, but will soon be available as a traditional open-heel design.
Similarly, Alberto, the regulator designer formerly at Mares and now at Scubapro, designed the A700, and his latest work, the C300 regulator, was proudly displayed on the Scubapro booth. We have already used it on a series of dives and a DIVER Test will appear soon.
We’re not sure how the British diving public will take to the white version of the Scubapro Seawing Nova fin, but no doubt the Japanese will like it.
There were plenty of booths representing the underwater photography business, but the largest was that of Nauticam, an Asian engineering company that has recently put a lot of investment into the market and hopes to grow it accordingly.
Its housings are seductively anatomic but enjoy a lot of complicated mechanicals that might cause concern in a remote location. Unlike some other traditional underwater-housing manufacturers, Nauticam obviously does not subscribe to the principle of keeping things simple.
At the other end of the underwater photography market, Red Sea pioneer Howard Rosenstein of Fantasea Line showed his housing for both the compact Nikon P7000 and, even more interestingly, the Fujifilm stereoscopic compact camera.
THERE WILL ALWAYS be what I call the “one-DEMA” product on show, and this year was no exception. One enterprising young couple had taken the trouble and spent money to exhibit the Trim Leveller, a shaped weight that fits around the neck of a tank. It was a pity they hadn’t researched the market beforehand, because they would have found that the majority of BCs now have trim-weight pockets, or that divers habitually strap ordinary block-weights to their aluminium tanks.
I was surprised to see Buddy Link, with its expensive diver-to-diver signalling device previously reviewed in these pages, at DEMA for a second year.
At the other end of the market, Aqua Star Scooters showed its range of expensive self-contained ride-on vehicles, including a two-up version aimed at resort-owners rather than individual divers.
Pegasus Thruster showed the US-made leisure-diving version of its tank-mounted DPV, and Hong Kong-based Sea-Doo promised that its new RS series of DPV would be coming soon, but was not yet ready to exhibit. It did show a jokey kiddie’s plastic version of the fabulously expensive German-made SeaBob DPVs that came to DEMA last year, complete with water pistol.
Probably the most interesting concept product was the Nautilus Lifeline, shown on the Dive Alert booth. This is a completely submersible marine VHF transmitter, combined with a GPS with display. The idea is that, should a diver surface away from his boat, he can flip open the watertight lid and relay his GPS position displayed to the existing marine VHF receiver aboard the vessel.
When open, the unit can still submerge to 1m. In finished form, it will have larger buttons that will allow the user to go to Channel 16, or otherwise use a predetermined boat channel for chat, while a built-in strobe light will help in locating a lost diver after dark.
With the potential of massive pay-outs in US courts to those not picked up quickly by their vessels, we foresee great demand for such a product, employing simple and existing technology.