WHEN I FIRST WROTE an article about the future of diving in DIVER 10 years ago, I noted that it’s a terrific way to end up looking foolish. Any lofty predictions about decompression-busting pills or cities of underwater dream homes are likely to haunt you when they turn out to be comically misguided. But maybe that’s half the fun.
So where are we now And what might the future hold

PICTURE THIS
I’m transfixed by the girl sitting opposite me on the dive-boat. She has a box strapped to her head in much the same way that a caver wears a torch.
Now I’ve certainly seen more than my fair share of strange sights – especially on technical-diving trips – but this is a bog-standard tourist dive, in the totally non-tek Seychelles. How very weird.
A quick glance around me reveals that about half of the random group of divers on the boat are carrying little boxes. These are GoPro video cameras.
Head-cam girl simply decided it was too much hassle to carry the video in her hand, and instead is capturing every wobble, twist and turn throughout the entire dive. It’s her personal video/ logbook! Genius, though it leaves no room for any imaginary shark-sightings.
It might seem obvious with hindsight that technology would enable tiny, high-quality videos to become cheaper than the average underwater stills camera set-up. But somehow I’ve been taken by surprise by the speed at which these videos have invaded the diving experience so comprehensively.
My surprise is doubly inexplicable when you consider that I’m among the 50% of divers on the boat who is carrying a GoPro.
Let’s face it, I am the gadget equivalent of a fashion victim. And in the world of diving, I’m not alone. My habit is your habit; we’re driven by the modern obsession with capturing and sharing our experiences.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram… It’s a prime example of how the forces at work outside diving are powerfully shaping the way that we dive.

WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT IT
PADI is running sidemount courses. There’s a recreational rebreather qualification and it’s now possible to become an entry-level diver on a rebreather: no scuba experience necessary.
PADI also offers a series of deep-diving courses that progressively take you down to 100m. That’s quite a leap forward for the organisation that once believed that nitrox and decompression diving were the work of the Devil.
On a recent trip to Yucatan, I revisited some of the caves I’d first dived in the late 1990s. At the time I had expert instruction, twin cylinders and a Hogarthian rig. I’d had to battle my way through jungle paths and over rocks to get to the entry points, laying my own line as I entered the caves.
So in 2013 I was astonished to find how far the legendary Dos Ochos cave system has been transformed. It’s a thriving hub of activity.
There are proper steps and a handrail, on-site toilets and even a café. It’s now a scuba playground, with single-cylinder divers doing “guided tourist dives” through the cavern system.
There’s even a video guy who hangs about near the exit to take shots of your triumphant return. Hell sell you the DVD while you de-kit into your pick-up.
The diving that might seem unthinkably risky today will become tomorrow’s revenue stream – once it’s properly packaged and marketed.
You’ve seen those queues of divers at 30m on the wreck of the Thistlegorm Before you know it they might be down at 80m on the wrecks of the Afric or the Flying Enterprise: taking selfies on the bow, videoing haphazard dance routines inside the holds, and then uploading it all and messaging the link to their mates. Stranger things have happened.

PEOPLE ARE STRANGE: THE BRITISH DIVING PERSPECTIVE
You don’t have to stray very far from these shores to realise that the British diving scene differs radically from the international picture.
We are coldwater divers, so many of us have drysuits. We dive in tidal waters with not-so-great vis, so we like to develop the skills to dive independently, and value the discipline of following a plan and sticking with our buddies.
We’re surrounded by two world wars’ worth of wrecks, so we tend to like metal on our dives. We have a British club system based on voluntary effort, rather than an industry of paid professionals.
And while most of us remain single-cylinder air divers, British divers have never shied away from depth or decompression diving. It’s our tek-friendly culture and attitude to risk that has seen us become the cheerleaders for rebreather technology.
Frankly, we’re odd. But our uniqueness is dwindling. British divers – or more accurately, divers who dive in Britain – are facing extinction.

SAVE OUR BRITISH CLUB DIVER
In 2012, membership numbers for the British Sub Aqua Club fell to below 30,000. Every year, for the past 16 years, more divers are leaving the organisation than are joining it.
This seemingly unstoppable trend started well before the recession, and has continued despite a significant investment in “customer relationship management” systems at the BSAC HQ.
If the British club diver was a species of bumblebee, Greenpeace would have launched a vigorous campaign to save us.
If that sounds grim, consider this: typically, 20% of divers will be doing 80% of the diving. This would put the number of reasonably active BSAC divers at around 6000. Bless and preserve every one of them. It’s their commitment and spending power that is keeping afloat a network of dive shops, suppliers and dive-boats – the very infrastructure that makes UK diving possible.
Instead of British Divers’ Marine Life Rescue, we may need British Marine Life Rescues the Divers.
Because perhaps it’s only by using the allure and appeal of our native marine life that we might persuade enough young people to start diving in the UK to ensure the future of British diving.
Get those seal-pup encounters uploaded onto YouTube now!
PADI stats on global diver certifications show that two-thirds of its market is male. The average age for qualification is 30 for males and 27 for females.
BSAC estimates the average age of UK divers at 38, and while no one is prepared to give firm stats on the male/female ratio, it’s probably closer to 3:1 at best.
To survive, we need to attract younger divers into the sport, and we are still consistently under-selling to women.
Concerned by my pessimistic analysis, and in search of a sanity check, I spoke to Portland-based British drysuit manufacturer O’Three. What better barometer of UK diving than British drysuit sales
With the 25th anniversary of the drysuit design and manufacturing business coming up next year, the company is still profitable and growing.
“Yes, we believe there has been a downturn in British diving,” said a company pokesperson, “but we have a strong brand, good customer service and a focus on exceptional quality.”
Times might be tough, but if people are investing in these drysuits it’s a real vote of confidence in the UK scene. Perhaps the future can’t be so gloomy after all.

FROM STONEY COVE TO KOH TAO
We might be less likely to take the traditional club route to diving, but you’ll still have to start early to queue for the car park at Stoney Cove.
Take a moment to gaze around this “most-dived site in the UK” if you want a snapshot of the diving community at play. It’s a colourful collection of student union dive clubs, dive-shop-based instructors, and dynamic individual operators. It shows the diversity that now exists on the training side of the British diving scene – and it looks far from extinct.
Where once we had the two tribes of BSAC clubs and PADI dive shops, there’s now a rainbow nation of different agencies with a range of tempting training offers.
Perhaps this reflects the pressures of competition and our growing ability as consumers to seek out what we might want through the Internet.
Divers are now more savvy consumers; we’re accessing increasingly sophisticated data with more immediacy. We don’t have to simply accept what’s on offer locally, or even nationally.
PADI is a global brand, with more than 900,000 training courses sold every year for the past decade.
The success of the organisation has seen it grow and expand in leaps and bounds, but more recently that growth has been modest, even flat.
Is it simply economic downturn that’s dented PADI’s growth Or perhaps an over-reliance on the US and European markets Talking to Al Stewart of the SSI Thailand region revealed a fascinating story of opportunity and competitive advantage. The diving market in Asia is growing strongly, with both regional and tourist demand creating business growth of around 50% annually. Wow!
Future success depends on thinking globally, and acting locally. SSI is showing some muscle! And British divers are now travelling further, and appear more willing to explore new locations beyond the traditional Mediterranean and Red Sea haunts.
You can see the evidence in the response of diving manufacturers who are bringing out lightweight travel-friendly kit to fit our shrinking baggage allowances.

SPIRIT OF SHARM
Ah, the Red Sea. Who would have predicted the Arab Spring and the huge, ongoing upheaval in Egypt While tourism has been hit badly, Susie Attfield at Red Sea Diving College revealed some fascinating insights into how Sharm is weathering the latest “storm”.
“Every time there’s an issue here, two things happen,” she told me. “The Italians get on the first plane available and the Brits keep coming.”
Hooray for the famously resilient British dive tourist! “It’s a waiting game for us, waiting for the world’s TV and newspapers to be filled with something more sensational.”
But it’s no hardship for the diving – divers are experiencing some of the world’s top dive-sites in peace and tranquillity, resulting in some fantastic sightings. “The fish are rejoicing… manta season seems to have been extended indefinitely.”
If anything, says Susie, it has shown that the Sharm spirit still exists. The major dive centres are actively helping each other to ensure that guests get the best possible experience.
So now is a great time to go, and offers abound! There may be a shake-out for some of the smaller, more marginal centres, but DIVER Award-winning centres and operators such as Red Sea Diving College are likely to emerge stronger, thanks to the loyalty of
British customers.

NICHE NICHE NICHE
While mass market destinations have responded to the economic downturn by cutting prices, there’s a different approach that appears to have a firm hold in diving – the specialist offer.
Whether it’s luxury liveaboard trips to photograph mandarinfish in the Raja Ampat, or technical-diving expeditions targeting a specific wreck, we love to find our niche.
Perhaps all those dives spent scouting around in the hope of seeing a shark or finding a wreck have made us less patient. Dives that guarantee to get us in the water with our object of desire – whether it’s a manta ray, a school of hammerheads or a bait ball of sardines – are on the rise.
In future, there’s likely to be greater use of technology to track and locate the creatures with which we want to dive, because businesses know that we will pay a premium for a guarantee of a dive with that whale shark or dolphin pod.
A quick flick through the back pages of DIVER will reveal the growth in a range of smart, targeted offers for people who want to take part in marine research and condition surveys.
Diving eco-tourism is becoming ever more sophisticated. The price you pay helps to preserve the environment and the creatures that you want to protect, along with making you feel that by taking part, you’re making a valuable contribution. Win-win, ker-ching!

THE KIT THAT LAUNCHED 1000 COPIES
No piece about the future of diving would be complete without a consideration of how our kit is evolving. This change is most acute when it comes to the high end – rebreathers.
You start off with one yellow box and before you know it… I’ve actually lost count of the number of rebreather units that are now on the market. AP Diving’s Inspiration proved to be exactly that – it has inspired a host of wannabes.
Some of the new models are backed by longstanding manufacturers like Poseidon; others, like Kevin Gurr’s Ourobouros, are designed and built by specialists. The remainder appear to have been assembled by enthusiasts in a variety of garages turned into workshops.
There’s great excitement and enthusiasm for rebreathers, but are they the future With all the noise and fuss being made, there are still only an estimated 10-15,000 active rebreather divers worldwide, according to a recent Rebreather Forum 3 event.
That is tiny! Yet these are people prepared to spend a lot of money on equipment and training (and accessories…), so it’s an attractive market for dive manufacturers and training organisations to pursue.
A word of caution; on the web-based Rebreather Forum, the section with the largest number of posts (more than 100,000) is the section that contains discussions about different types of kit.
The section on actual diving – “General Rebreather Diving” – attracts fewer than 46,000 posts. I think you can draw your own conclusions.
Rebreathers are inherently more complicated bits of kit, and the vast majority of divers really need to keep things simple.
If it involves using more than one gas, there’s a need for reliable global supply mechanisms. Many operators struggle to keep their air cylinders and compressors in service!
Rebreathers are fabulous bits of kits that offer amazing opportunities for extended-range diving.
The geeks who worship their kit and the tekkies who want to dive until they drop will continue to lavish huge sums on upgrades and training. But I’m not expecting to see rebreathers taking over the world of diving any day soon.

DIVE DIVE DIVE!
The diving industry has its challenges, but what keeps the diving scene viable and vibrant is the imagination and effort of the people who work in it, combined with the love and enthusiasm of ordinary divers. I can only believe that the future is bright.
It may look a bit weird to us now, but it’s unfolding at an increasing speed. And it definitely has its own Facebook page.

Below: The tiny GoPro Hero3 is the start of a movement towards full recording of every dive.
Right and below: Divers are going to come to expect guaranteed encounters with specific wildlife – but not an aquarium-type experience.
Feed the world with giant sea vegetables Were struggling to regrow the coral thats been destroyed.

5 Future Trends
CHINESE DIVERS China has a huge population and a growing tourist trade. The closer you dive to Asia, the more of them you’ll be bumping into.

GUARANTEED ENCOUNTERS You’ll be able to dive on a “pay per play” basis with a far greater range of creatures – they will have been carefully tracked and/or semi-tamed for the purpose through regular contact.

KIT OF MANY COLOURS While divers tend to look at how advanced technology might make it possible to dive deeper/longer, the main impact will be to simplify and enhance diving for the mass market. Kit that’s lightweight and strong, with built-in smart applications, available in a wide range of colours – it’s the iPod-isation of dive kit.

INSTANT SHARED EXPERIENCES If you want to know what the diving is like in, say, Bali right now, you’ll be able to view today’s video footage from divers who were there because everyone carries a video. Of course, Google can supply a “street map” of the reef system for you.

MASS PARTICIPATION RESEARCH DAN Europe is launching a research project in which you upload all the dives from your computer. It’s a mass-participation, dynamic data-gathering project that should provide much better intelligence about how we dive and the impact of our profiles. As technology enables easier data-sharing, expect this to be the norm.
6 New Ways Of Diving
Fashion disaster or long-term trend

SIDEMOUNT DIVING Are you actually a cave-diver Or do you just like to pretend Unless you seriously need to squeeze through wide gaps with restricted heights, why bother with sidemounted cylinders
It might be a good configuration for obsessive compulsive divers who like being able to see their first stages, or anyone who expects to be twiddling their gas on and off during a dive. Otherwise, it’s the diving equivalent of preferring a shoulder-bag to a back-pack.

HEADS-UP DISPLAYS Having the underwater equivalent of a Christmas tree light winking away in your mask during a dive is seriously annoying. So you learn to ignore it. But as the whole point is that you’re not supposed to ignore it, the manufacturers build in secondary alarms – such as vibrations in your mouthpiece – to warn you when something dangerous is about to happen.
“Something dangerous” is usually not enough oxygen, or too much. Why not just look at your handset when a beep sounds, and deal with it. Only now, with your funky new “heads-up display”, your view is blocked by a red winking light and your teeth are being jarred out of your face. That’ll keep you calm!

BUOYANCY-CONTROLLING DIVE COMPUTERS (to stop you ascending too fast): Stupidly expensive, and – let’s think about this for a nanosecond – just plain stupid. Diving is buoyancy. If you can’t do that, you’re better off sticking to the Blue Planet DVD box-set. What will you do when the computer says no

DIVER PROPULSION VEHICLES Are you lugging an enormous amount of kit and a huge video camera with football stadium-sized lights Doing a mega-long wreck dive that involves serious distance If yes, fair play. If not, then what is your problem
You’re either a show-off with more money than sense, or you’re simply too fat and/or lazy to fin. In which case you’re an accident waiting to happen. And you won’t be a popular person on the dive boat.

GO-FASTER FINS From early black rubber Scubapros with a spring-loaded strap to the latest multi-coloured, box-shaped, designer types, our fins are constantly evolving. There’s always some new development and an entertaining new name.
Yes, it’s fashion. No they probably won’t make you go faster. It’s harmless fun and it’s set to continue.

SUPER-SMART DIVE COMPUTERS Remember when your dive computer went into a sulk if you went into deco Or changed its mind halfway through a dive without warning and started shrieking at you Those days are gone.
Modern dive computers can already cope with complex issues such as multiple gases. Some already know the time, date and water temperature in your location. Soon they’ll be communicating directly with smartphones and PCs.
The new breed of computer will upload your dive profile to DAN researchers, or Facebook if you prefer, in the blink of an eye. How much cleverer can they get
If only I was smart enough to figure that out.
5 Daftest Diving Predictions
PREDICTION That human beings will evolve gills.
BY Jacques Cousteau and as shown by Kevin Costner in Waterworld.
WE SAY Slightly less likely than the Daleks taking over Earth.

PREDICTION That growing giant vegetables on the seabed will solve world hunger.
BY Jules Verne in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
WE SAY It’s going to be enough of a struggle to preserve our present marine environment.

PREDICTION That man will awaken his inner dolphin.
BY Jacques Mayol, and as shown in The Big Blue.
WE SAY French! Enough said.

PREDICTION That people will live in underwater cities.
BY Verne, Cousteau and others.
WE SAY After a few clumsy attempts in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, we discovered that underwater living is a bit tedious, not healthy for humans, and ridiculously expensive to run.

PREDICTION That humpback whales will travel forward in time to save Earth from an alien probe.
BY Scriptwriters of Star Trek IV – The Voyage Home.
WE SAY Of course! But are these whales French by any chance