Divernet

JACQUES COUSTEAU WORE A RED WOOLLEN HAT and had a distinctive yellow stripe down the side of his wetsuit. The hat was a visual reference to the traditions of hardhat diving - a DIVER wore a red hat to stand out on deck, an identifying sign and an alert to others that he needed assistance getting kitted up.
Cousteau's team dived on scuba, but Cousteau was astute and image-conscious enough to retain the symbolic red hat. The yellow stripe on the black wetsuit It looked good on the underwater footage. From the start, diving and fashion statement have gone hand in hand.
Every time I see a bright red OMS wing puckered like a fancy, bolstered cushion by loops of restrictive bungee, I have to smile.
If ever there was a triumph of fashion within diving, this is it. The look is iconic. There is no mistaking this kit for anything else. You might as well wear a banner with Wow! Im a technical diver stuck above your head.
Dont get me wrong, some of my best friends dive an OMS wing and it is, undoubtedly, a class bit of kit.
What I love about it, the red one in particular, is that it has a strong visual impact. It provided a new look for a new generation of DIVERs. Its brash, bold, and a design classic.
While the DIVERs who purchase this item will argue vehemently that they were interested only in the stonking amount of lift, or the scientifically quantifiable support it provides for their bulky twin-set, I know that this isnt the whole truth.
If the OMS wing possessed the same amount of lift, and the same twin-set-supporting characteristics, but looked much like a standard recreational BC - well, it just wouldnt have the same appeal.
An important part of becoming a technical diver is the need to think and act in a new way, and this encourages you - even requires you - to differentiate yourself from other (recreational) divers.
The joy of a bright red bungeed-up wing is that it is a clear symbol of your new status. Technical divers may hate to believe that they could be so shallow when its all about depth but then, perhaps fashion and identity arent such frivolous matters after all.

Dive gear v Top Gear
Women are usually fairly upfront about the importance and influence of appearance, fashion and self-image.
Men, however, tend to resist the idea that they are influenced by anything other than logic and rationality.
Perhaps the best way to get blokes to understand whats happening is to compare choice of dive kit with choice of car. Most men care deeply about what type of car they drive, and judge cars by far more than price or performance. For many, what car you drive says something about your status. It says something about your priorities and who you are. Your choice of dive kit can be viewed in exactly the same way.
So lets just unpick the unique selling point of the OMS wing - the signature bondage bungee. Whats that about Do you really need a complicated system of elastic to help you empty the buoyancy from your wing or BC
No. Arguably, its over-complicated and that ruffled effect is just as likely to trap pockets of buoyancy. So lets come clean and admit that it looks cool. If a piece of kit can make us feel special, surely thats a great benefit! It certainly appears to be one that were prepared to pay extra for.
As for myself, of course, I wouldnt be seen dead in an OMS wing because Im a Dive Rite Classic kinda girl. While that may mean nothing to the casual observer, its exactly the type of discriminating, tribal behaviour that marks out the relationship between what you wear and how you define yourself. Its not just about brand, its about philosophy and thats the very essence of a fashion statement.
Amusingly enough, it is precisely those divers who feel that diving is an important part of who they are - the hardcore, the serious, the committed - who are most firmly under the influence of fashion.
We may laugh at yachties in their matching Helly Hansen jackets, but diving is the only sport I know in which - if you chose to dive with a self-selected elite - you can be ejected from the dive boat for wearing the wrong brand of kit. Think on!

What makes kit iconic

Drysuits became cool the moment that 007 stepped out of one wearing a dinner jacket.

Every so often a new piece of equipment comes along that looks completely different and challenges our perceptions.
But just looking different is no guarantee of success. Different could be regarded as ugly, clumsy, fussy or downright weird. There is no shortage of revolutionary failures when it comes to diving equipment design.

Kit has to be regarded as desirable to become iconic. It must also be fit for purpose - fulfilling a genuine need, or providing a useful enhancement.

Poseidons Cyklon and Jetstream regulators are distinctive, streamlined and have a cult following among many committed DIVERs. The shape is classic, and the regs have a reputation for effortlessly delivering huge volumes of gas in challenging circumstances - making it a favourite among deep DIVERs (and big breathers).
Published photos of cave and expedition divers using the distinctively shaped reg helped to build the brands reputation. Poseidons newer Xstream reg has retained the sleek, minimalist design style and shamelessly pushed the deep diving allure by publicising that it is tested to 200m.

A new piece of kit has to establish a reputation, or brand recognition among divers to succeed.

The quickest route to brand recognition occurs when people regarded as opinion leaders champion the kit and lend cachet to the brand. Which is why smart companies sponsor high-profile divers and diving expeditions.
Fourth Element was just another T-shirt company until it started marketing thermal clothing made in performance fabrics. Suddenly you couldnt get on a dive boat without seeing people wearing the sleek and distinctive Fourth Element-branded thermals - a triumph of good design and the ability to spot a gap in the market.
Drysuit divers, diving in cold UK waters, instantly recognised the importance of thermal protection and found the garments to be a stylish way to identify their serious diver status to others. And when Tanya Streeter was photographed in a sexy Fourth Element tight black rubber vest and shorts, the companys reputation was sealed. The Fourth Element logo is now one of the most recognised on the UK diving scene.

Club classics
The brands new divers encounter when they learn to dive will have a lasting influence. divers are more likely to buy a known, trusted brand than to splash out on something unfamiliar, so instructors play a major role in kit choice.
Professional instructors attached to dive shops will tend to adopt and recommend whatever brands of diving equipment the shop stocks in order to boost sales.
Unpaid club instructors are free to dive and recommend whatever equipment they prefer, but many will adopt a club-approved or diving officer-approved approach. The role and influence of clubs has resulted in the dominance of certain brands that have come to be regarded as UK Club Classics, such as the Buddy BC, Apex TX reg, Mares Plana Avanti fins.
It is also no coincidence that these brands came to the fore after being highly rated in DIVER Tests.
With the weakening of the British club-diving scene, the proliferation of newer brands, and the universal standards in diving equipment brought about by CE marking, the influence of clubs on divers choices of equipment has waned considerably.
To add to the confusion, more scientific forms of equipment-testing have demonstrated that some of the cheaper, newer brands can match the performance of more established, expensive brands. DIVER has sometimes upset manufacturers - and advertising schedules - by failing to rate the established brands more favourably. New kids on the UK diving block, such as Tigullio, are producing quality kit at bargain (Italian) prices.
When it comes to a shake-up of the market, the EU is providing a consumer-friendly price challenge for British retailers. The Internet provides DIVERs with an easy mechanism for price comparison and a wider choice of suppliers, including those outside the UK.
Now, more than ever, dive gear needs to have an appeal that is above and beyond performance or price.

Fashion and diffusion
; The point about fashion is that it changes. It changes to reflect, and sometimes even to influence, our changing ideas and lifestyles. If dive kit were purely functional, we would need only one, or maybe two, optimum designs of each item of kit. Instead, we have an increasingly bewildering range of gear from which to choose.
A cynic may say that all this variation is simply a marketing response from companies trying to find new ways of selling kit to DIVERs, and there would some truth in that. But it is probably more significant that diving as a sport has become increasingly specialised and varied. Individual divers are likely to choose kit that best suits their style of diving - or diving aspirations.
Take BCs and wings: on the one hand, the wannabe factor has resulted in a plethora of scary-looking black kit, smothered in D-rings and boasting the word Tek. On the other hand, the increasing importance of dive travel has led to the development of lightweight, packable kit such as Cressis Aqualight BC and Dive Rites Travel Wing.
If youre a girly DIVER - and proud of it - you can even find BCs in cute colours and womens sizes, designed to flatter your sensibilities (or, as everyone else would have it, your boobs).
Could Cousteau ever have imagined things turning out this way
I suspect that he would be right in there, setting the trend. And, being French, making sure that he got a close-up of some cleavage.

TRENDS, CLASSIC KIT AND GORGEOUS GEAR
Regulators
Regs that are unreliable or which simply dont perform have been all but eliminated by the standards imposed by CE marking. So do we all buy the cheapest but best-performing reg No! We perceive certain brands as high value, we are swayed by over-specification - our regulators can perform dives we would never dream of doing - and we respond to reputation, status and look.
Regulators have been marketed by including jewels (Mares Ruby) and precious metals - the latest Cressi reg contains titanium, the latest Apeks boasts tungsten, chromium and zirconium. Or is that the capital of Azerbaijan
Bulky, heavyweight regs are out, and streamlined, low-profile first stages combined with high-performance, smaller and lighter DVs now dominate the market.

Fins
Fin design has rapidly moved from nondescript to highly varied, with buckets of personal choice. The old-fashioned heavy black rubber Scubapro Jetfins with a spring at the back are total classics. At a time when fin designs are becoming increasingly involved, its Back to the Future for the Jetfin - many divers still swear by them.
The revolution came when Force Fins hit the scene with an iconic V-shaped, shorter and stiffer fin (as seen in our intro picture). The design requires a different finning technique, but has been adopted by many technical divers comfortable to pay extra for a high-quality product and happy to look different. As a side-benefit, climbing boat ladders and walking across decks in a lot of kit is considerably easier.
Suddenly fin design became sexy again, and manufacturers brought out new styles and ranges. Cressi Space Frogs pushed those fashion buttons with a range of juicy colours.
Split-fin designs exploded onto the scene, with manufacturers bringing out their own versions, and Funky Fins pushed the fashion envelope with super-girly gorgeous designs.

Wetsuits
From made at home on the kitchen floor to a one-size-fits-all mentality in the shops, wetsuits have come a long way.
Italian styling from Mares and Cressi upped the game when it came to wetsuit design. Bodyglove used sex appeal in its ads to push the desirability of its brand. OThree and others responded by adding Lycra and making genuinely flattering wetsuits to measure.
More recently, there has been a move away from neoprene, with companies such as Chill Cheater and Fourth Element using modern, stretchy, warmth-retaining fabrics that dont change buoyancy at depth. Lightweight, with no cumbersome zips and a sexy, body-hugging rubberised finish, theyre ideal products for the dive-travel market.
As for iconic fashion moments, the pneumatic Angelina Jolie, playing fantasy figure Lara Croft, appeared on film in an eye-popping fitted silver wetsuit. This was matched by real-life freediving icon Tanya Streeter, who appeared in an equally cool, futuristic-looking silver Mares wetsuit.

Drysuits
The classic divers drysuit is the black rubber ex-NATO issue version, much admired by traditionalists and fetishists. Uncomfortable, often leaky, it may have been distinctively stealth-looking but it wasnt stealth-smelling.
Black gave way to a cascade of colour as drysuit manufacturers such as Aquion turned out bright, eye-scorching suits, all in the name of safety through visibility.
By the mid-90s, most divers were busy arguing about shapeless neoprene versus shapeless membrane suits, and wrestling with auto-dumps the size of small skyscrapers.
OThree didnt invent made-to-measure, but it certainly used it to produce some gorgeous suits that were soon turning heads and building market share.
Women DIVERs in particular didnt want to look like a sack of spuds when suited-up for a dive.
Otter latched onto the tech-wannabe market by sponsoring the Britannic 97 expedition with suits and calling the style... Britannic! Both companies got involved with high-profile divers and dive projects to boost brand recognition, with great success.
OThree wearers are typically serious UK divers who like top-quality branded suits and are based in the south of England. Otter wearers are the same but from the North.
DUI took a different route and made its suits inordinately expensive, and compulsory for certain elitist divers - not a bad marketing strategy. If you wear DUI, youre either DIR, GUE, or have a huge amount of money.

Torches
There were hand-held torches that could double as lump-hammers (Sealamp). There were hand-helds that would melt into self-destruction once turned on (UK800).
Then came Kowalski. Sleek, sexy, minimalist design, reliable to a fault, and righteously expensive, Kowalski is the Cartier of the torch world. If you follow the logic of the bling strand of technical diving, why settle for one when you can strap on several
Umbilical torches, popular with US cave-divers, had been hampered by unreliability and huge batteries better suited to a car engine. As battery and bulb technology improved, umbilicals became the new must-have torch for fashion-conscious divers, demonstrating yet again that todays technical dive gear rapidly becomes tomorrows mainstream kit.
The advent of white light HID torches has put the efforts of other lamps into the shade. The white beam is unmistakable, producing the kind of enhancement and wow factor for filming and photos that ensures iconic status.
A new breed of small, high-quality back-up lights is being produced by manufacturers such as Custom Divers. With ample burntime from improved batteries, these could even turn the tide against the umbilicals.

Undersuits
There was nothing glam about the traditional woolly bear. It was the diving equivalent of a granny boot: comfy but ugly, and useless when wet.
Thermal comfort is one of the most significant limiting factors for UK divers, but thankfully C-Bear stepped up to the challenge, making snug, jumpsuit-style undersuits with a robust lining that kept you warm even when wet.
The hard-wearing, colourful outer fabrics made it feasible to wear your undersuit as clothing. Sponsoring the Britannic 98 expedition pushed the company into the limelight and popularised the jumpsuit look.
Weezle had a revolutionary approach, using lightweight, sleeping-bag-style material that will pack into a small space, wick moisture away from the body and effectively trap air to provide insulation.
In contrast to bulk or puff, Fourth Element used the well-known properties of Polartech and other performance fabrics to create the diving equivalent of long johns.
Astute marketing and the support of leading technical divers meant that the brand achieved widespread recognition in the diving market.

Dive wear
A few years ago, the very concept of divewear would have been regarded as odd. If its not used for actually diving, whats the point
The realisation has finally dawned that diving - like skiing, surfing, and climbing - is a lifestyle choice. This led to an explosion of dive fashion. Where once there was Seven-Tenths and iQ, now a host of cool brands caters for divers.
The influx of women into diving accelerated this trend, with Diving Daisy targeting women divers and most companies launching ranges and T-shirt styles aimed at women.
Now it isnt enough to own a T-shirt that shows youre into diving - you need to own the latest. Rather than going to Blacks, or Snow and Rock, for a fleece to wear on the boat, divers assert their identity through brands such as DNA and Fourth Element.

Computers
The first computers were huge and clunky. Most divers couldnt justify the expense when diving on tables was considered the right way to go.
But just as PCs swept away the typewriter, the dive computer asserted its dominance. Any divers not diving the classic square profile UK wreck dive were better off on a computer, and the increase in dive travel to reef-based destinations brought this home.
With dive computers in the ascendancy, Suunto launched its killer application: the Spyder (and, later, the Stinger).
It looks like a posh watch, and style-wise still knocks the spots off any other recreational dive computer.
The next Suunto innovation, the sporty Mosquito with nitrox capability, resembles a trendy, upmarket Swatch, and the look has now been widely imitated by other manufacturers - the sincerest form of flattery!
As for the tekkies, the cutting-edge VR3 is huge and clunky, possessing its own bling charm. It is also far and away the cleverest bit of kit you could wish to take diving, making it the holy grail of the mixed-gas diver.

BCs and wings
The classic Buddy BC is built to last forever. Which makes it a great buy, but the desire for durability has largely been eclipsed by other considerations.
The average BC now has more features than your DVD player. Special straps, dumps, padding in the back and shoulders, designer inflators, trim considerations, integrated weights, pocket shape and size - the emphasis is on comfort, safety and ease of use.
The key target markets for growth in sales are divers who travel, and women. From virtually nothing, the range of BCs designed for women has expanded rapidly, led by the revamped classic, the Seaquest Diva (LX).
Some would say that a recreational wing is a contradiction in terms, but it didnt stop the runaway success of Custom Divers TBK wing, aimed at mainstream divers.
This has led to the launch of a vast number of scary-looking harnesses studded with multiple D-rings, and cylinder-hugging wings emblazoned with the word Tek.
I could be cruel and say that nobody ever lost money by underestimating the commonsense of the tech wannabe, but this is exactly the kind of value-added marketing initiative that should bring nice healthy profits into the UK dive industry.
That, after all, is the role of fashion - to give otherwise mundane objects extra value and status.

Cameras
The universal availability of cheap, underwater point and shoot cameras means that every diver can take underwater pictures.
OK, mostly they are blue or green, out-of-focus ones, featuring the back ends of fish. But thats hardly the point.
The trend in underwater photography is digital, digital, digital. Purists may insist on film, but digital rules.
For less than£300, good-quality (tiny!) lightweight cameras can be purchased with sophisticated underwater housings, and at the same time the serious photographer can still spend thousands on digital SLR cameras and powerful flashguns. Digital photography triumphs because you can see the shot youve taken immediately. This provides a speedy learning curve that will improve your photographic skills enormously.
At least you now stand a fighting chance that the fishes bottoms will be properly exposed.
Another huge benefit is that images can be shared instantly: uploaded to mobiles, downloaded to laptops for display or manipulation, and emailed to friends. This is an age of instant gratification, and digital photography fits the bill perfectly.




The OMS wing - brash, bold and a design classic. Photo:Mark Brill
Divernet
Tanya
Tanya Streeter wearing the sexy Fourth Element rubber vest and shorts did sales no harm
The
The minimalist looks of the Xstream regulator perpetuated Poseidons depth-associated image
Dive
Dive Rites Travel Wing - lightweight and packable
Cressi
Cressi Space Frogs
Scubapro
Scubapro Jetfins
Mares
Mares fins and drysuit. Photo:Mark Brill
Apeks
Apeks ATX50 regulator
DUI
DUI drysuit
Diving
Diving Daisy T-shirts
Delta
Delta P VR3
Suunto
Suunto Mosquito computer
Kowalski
Kowalski torch
kit

SEEMED A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME...

Emergency-inflation cylinders on BCs
Those baby-sized bottles that tucked discreetly onto the side of your BC are definitely old-hat. Some good, solid reasoning about the safety benefits of having an extra source of BC-inflation was undermined when human nature took over. Who can be bothered to check whether that teensy cylinder is full, or to keep it serviced? Once divers figured out that there is a far higher probability of accidentally knocking the cylinder on during a dive than needing to use it on the surface for safety, the chips were down. How many times are you likely to want to launch yourself towards the surface like a Pershing missile?

Strobes on BCs
At one time, the underwater world around UK wrecks resembled a bad day at the disco. Ease of finding your buddy/instructor was the excuse for the strobe trend. People got over it when they discovered that - rather than attracting your buddy - a constantly flashing strobe was likely to drive him or her away with a headache. These days, the fashionable position for a strobe is on the shotline, a few metres above the wreck.

Pony cylinders
Divers felt so much safer with my little pony of spare gas strapped onto their side - until the chronic back pain started. Regulator mix-ups led to bizarre out of air incidents shortly into a dive, and your buddy got fed up with trying to fish the DV out from somewhere behind your back. Increasing popularity of twin-sets has put many a pony out to pasture.

UK800 torch
Once this was such a Club Classic that you had to write your name on it with a permanent marker to stop it getting mixed up with someone elses on the branch RIB. If you turned it on at the surface, the fierce heat generated by the bulb would melt the plastic casing. Smokin! The UK800 was once the brightest affordable torch around, but now its defunct - replaced in divers affections by snazzy umbilicals and bright-as-daylight HIDs. Well, it had a good run.

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Safety flags
Championed by DIVER and still religiously bungeed onto cylinders by many club divers, the diver flag is being eclipsed by the self-inflating super-sausage. You can now buy delayed SMBs that stand taller than a flag, and come with crack bottles for inflation. Well, somebody had to find a popular use for all those baby cylinders were no longer attaching to our BCs! [Were still for flying yellow flags! Ed]

Wrist-mounted dive slates
Once these slates were a de rigeur accessory for any diver with a decompression habit. But all that mucking about with pencils and smudged run-times was knocked for six by the introduction of mixed-gas computers, notably the VR3. It may look like a metal brick but its a heck of a lot more stylish than having something resembling a sneezed-upon handkerchief wrapped around your wrist.

Ankle weights
Nervous divers with new drysuits popularised the use of ankle-weights, but these days its considered much cooler to chuck them away and have slightly buoyant feet. Parting company with your ankle-weights shows that you feel in control of your buoyancy and - crucially - it helps you to achieve the currently fashionable diving position of horizontal, with floaty ankles that keep your fins well clear of sand and silt.