Razzmatazz is what American exhibitions are about. Daunting, Id call them. The annual international diving trade show held by DEMA in Orlando, Florida last November was so big and so varied, it was hard to get a clear impression of what was really new.
The equipment manufacturers sat alongside exotic diving destinations that seduced the visitor with visions of what really interests us - going diving!
What grabs you most Diving with humpback whales with the pretty girl from Vavau in Tonga; the seventh heaven provided by a new Worldwide Dive & Sail liveaboard in south-east Asia; or the latest thinking in non-slip rubber
Well, I sacrificed my interest in the destinations and stalked the vast exhibition hall for four exhausting days in search of the latest dive kit. Despite the distractions, this is what I found.
Aqua Lung proudly displayed its latest balanced-diaphragm regulator, the Mikron. It claims it to be smaller and lighter, and better-performing than anything it has made before.
Like the new Pearl i3 BC for women, its also available in pink. The Mikron employs a modern lightweight braided hose. A lot of BC manufacturers have now adopted this as standard.
The Pearl i3 is a hybrid wing/ conventional design that will eventually replace the very successful Diva range for shapelier divers.
The i3 technology dispenses with corrugated-hose technology, but other Aqua Lung BCs will soon be available with the new Air Source breathable inflator, which has a pneumatically balanced second stage hard plumbed to the first stage, just like a normal regulator. It promises at last to be a viable alternative to the traditional octopus rig.
Star of the Aqua Lung line-up was the revolutionary new Slingshot fin from its Italian arm, Technisub. Brainchild of Gianni Beltrani, who insists that his idea was neither derived from fishs fins nor boat propellers, this fin dispenses with the elastic properties found in the blade of a traditional fin and simply hinges from midway along the sides of the foot-pocket.
The efficacy of the blade is founded in its independent silicone twin-spring system, which can be adjusted for snap and return during a dive. They say it gives divers more for their kick. The Slingshot will be with Aqua Lung dealers imminently.
The latest computers from Suunto included the entry-level computer watch, the D4, which will eventually replace the Mosquito and which we showed in DIVER last month.
Big news from US giant Oceanic was its complete range of technical-diving equipment marketed under the new Hollis banner. Im sure many of these products, like the HD100 wing, will be taken up by mainstream divers simply because they look so stylish!
Patriarch Bob Hollis has let his twin sons have their head with this (another son runs the Aeris computer arm) and has also taken long-forgotten British rebreather pioneer Peter Readey under his wing.
This is very good news. It means that we should soon be seeing mass-produced versions of Peters well-established but rarely glimpsed closed-circuit rebreather, revamped and renamed the Prism 2, at dive sites world-wide.
The Prism 2 is now highly finished, with some positive design improvements, and remains the only commercial CCR to have passed both unmanned and manned testing by the US Navy.
Another iconic CCR pioneer from the early 90s, the rangy Texan Bill Stone, has meanwhile joined forces with Swedens Poseidon Diving Systems. His original triple-redundant CIS Lunar rebreather was more suitable as a life-support system for an astronaut than for leisure diving, betraying Bills NASA connections, but the all-new CIS Lunar MkVI is very different.
Based on his experience, which proved that it was easier to teach cavers to rebreather-dive than to teach divers to cave, it is said to be simplicity itself to use.
It uses modern technology and micro-valves to calibrate continuously a single oxygen-sensing cell, instead of using a more conventional three-cell voting system.
This provides the leisure diver with a plug-and-play closed-circuit rebreather good for no-stop dives to a maximum of 40m. So its not for technical diving, but intended to attract the first-time diver straight into the advantages of the long gas duration and long no-deco limits of closed-circuit rebreathers.
Even technical diving guru Kevin Gurr of Delta P has sensed demand for a leisure-diving version of his very complex Ouroboros unit, and so was showing the Sentinel rebreather with its integrated life-support system.
Another Brit, deep-diving record-breaker Mark Ellyatt, was on the stand for Pelagian rebreathers, and showed how one could be carried in a small case. He also displayed a mini oxygen booster pump small and compact enough to be carried by a travelling diver.
APD meanwhile launched a new mouthpiece for its very popular Inspirations and Evolutions, with instant switching to open-circuit should the need arise.
At the other end of the spectrum, Alex Dees demonstrated a very complex closed-circuit rebreather from Safety Compliance said to be suitable for use on very deep dives in water down to -4C.
Originally intended for use in North Sea oil operations, the company says it plans to produce a lighter-weight (18kg) leisure-diving version with up to three hours scrubber duration.
No rebreather is any good without appropriate training, and the people from RAID, which is effectively a new training agency that uses an online database for its teaching materials, and for keeping track of both trainees and signed-up dive-centre activities, demonstrated its facilities.
In answer to the increased demand for high-pressure oxygen supplies, Haskel revealed its latest thinking in booster pumps. Still on the technical diving front, Rodney Nairne of Silent Submersion revealed a smaller version of his highly-thought-of diver propulsion vehicle, in answer to the challenge from X-Scooter and now a similarly small scooter from Hollis.
Cave-diver Lamar Hires of Dive Rite revealed a new seven-gas-mix trimix Divex computer designed to take on the dominance of the almighty VR3, and supplied ready for all diving, including with CCRs.
Not forgetting his core business, Bob Holliss other company, Oceanic, maker of the HUD Datamask, showed an extensive range of less exotic but still very attractive kit.
The Oceanic OC1 titanium computer watch has a modern dot-matrix display for real messages, a digital compass and will work with three different mixes via three transmitters. You can check your buddys gas pressure, too.
There was also a new range of BCs, a revised regulator and a set of diving computers called the Geo in four colour options. Properly co-ordinated colour schemes for conventional kit seem to be a recent discovery of the diving industry.
Cressi-sub, the stylish Italian manufacturer, had a range of mask, fins and snorkel that really were colour-co-ordinated, as well as a new freediving fin, the Gara Professional, available in any colour as long as its black.
The Flight-Control device on Cressis top-end BCs has been moved to a less forward-thrusting position, so that users can be choosier about the new friends they make while lined up to enter the water. A new mask and a new pre-production model of a small diaphragm-style Ellipse Steel/MCS regulator was also shown.
Another Italian manufacturer, Seac Sub, displayed a fine range of continuously evolving products including new BCs and a fin, the Pro Pulsion, that was a dead ringer for a Mares Plana Avanti model - as indeed it was, because the patent for that model had expired.
French manufacturer Beuchat was there with its latest regulators, and a new range of BCs that includes a travel jacket much lighter than its predecessor.
Notable by its absence, Scubapro was unable to demonstrate its up-dated firmware and software, with profile-dependent intermediate stops, for its all-singing-and-dancing Galileo Sol computer.
This update can be downloaded by existing owners over the Internet (see DIVER Tests). But I can also reveal that there will be simpler non-gas-integrated and non-heart-function versions on the way, early this year.
Mares showed a raft of new nitrox computers, including a gas-integrated version of its Nemo Wide called the Nemo Air, the new Nemo Excel computer watch, and a sub-range of hockey-puck-style computers called Puck.
The new Abyss regulator has a tiny first stage but a large metal second stage. The Pegasus back-flotation BC represents good value for a wing, and there was an extensive range of new bags bursting with ideas. Mares has also reintroduced the Plana Avanti Quattro Power slipper-style fin, in response to popular demand.
Drysuits seem to have risen in popularity in the USA. Perhaps travelling divers have spotted that one can go diving in waters colder than the Caribbeans.
Otter, Hunter and Typhoon flew the flag for Britain, supported by undersuit manufacturer Weezle, and Californian manufacturer DUI was there, along with Swedens Waterproof and Viking.
By far the most interesting new product was shown by Canadian manufacturer Whites. The Fusion suit is a double-membrane system with an almost disposable outer shell that is very lightweight indeed. It claims it to be extremely hard-wearing and gives credence to the idea that you could use one suit from the tropics to the Arctic, varying insulation to match.
Not only that, but its so flexible that there is a very short range of stock sizes. I watched a tall young Canadian man try on a suit next to a diminutive Japanese girl. Both seemed to be fitted perfectly. It fitted me too. Well be testing one soon.
There was plenty of light shed on proceedings, especially from the booths of the Swiss manufacturer Keldan, with its superb but expensive offerings. US manufacturers Halcyon, Sartek and Salvo showed highly desirable products and the Belgians were there in force - GreenForce. Tom Leys, with his ever-extending range of products, blasted their light across the hall. TUSA showed some more modest back-up lamps.
Force Fin guru Bob Evans was at DEMA with his latest ideas for improving propulsion through the water. These include Bat Wings, for adding to existing fins.
They reminded me of the successful racing-saloon batwing BMW of the 1980s. Bob is as ebullient a fin evangelist as ever, but I suspect that he is now singing to the choir.
For the diver with everything, the Auto Reeler from Spectrum Diving is battery-powered to give you hands-free use. Completely automatic, it winds in line as soon as it detects a lack of tension, taking up any slack and thereby reportedly eliminating free-spooling and birds nesting, while being designed such that it cannot pull a diver into trouble.
All the usual underwater photography suspects were at the show with housings to fit the latest developments in digital imaging. Japanese giant Sea & Sea has moved away from casting with a machined housing for the Nikon digital SLRs about to arrive on UK shores. This may be indicative of shorter production runs to accommodate rapidly changing camera models.
The Germans exhibited their very efficient Enos diver-location system. Safety is not sexy, and sadly I got the impression that they were not being overwhelmed with interest.
Enos is a localised radio beacon and a tracker system that gives direction and distance between a boat and a lost diver. It would be nice if every liveaboard employed this or something similar.
Verging on the quirky, the Israeli-made UDI computer from UTC not only uses an RGBM algorithm and a tilt-free digital compass but has some diver-locating facilities of its own.
Divers can set off an alarm if they need help, but if they lose their buddies they can set off their alarms too, and use the built-in direction finder to locate them.
How do they know they might be in trouble They didnt answer their text! Yes, this computer allows texting between a network of up to 14 divers under water, and a separate boat unit allows texting to up to four different groups of divers.
Same ocean buddies can share a dive using messages pre-composed on an interfaced PC, such as Where are you now and Isnt it time we went up for lunch You could add the question, How do you feel and the answer Not too good to that!
If you think this far-fetched, Ocean Reef goes further. Its ever improving range of Neptune and Space Predator full-face masks, featuring integrated regulators and diver-communications units, exhibited one option, the ultimate item of kit for the king of oneupmanship - the Alpha UWCP.
This is used with a full-face mask with communications unit that integrates via a small computer with your mobile phone. Make your friends back home really jealous by calling them while youre diving: Hi, Im cruising alongside a whale shark. How are things in the office

Bill Stone with his CSI Lunar MkVI rebreather
Oceanic OC1 computer
Cressi-sub colour-co-ordinated mask
Cressis Flight-Control device on BCs is now less embarrassingly thrusting.
The Aqua Lung Mikron regulator, available in pink
...like the Pearl i3 womens BC
Aqua Lung Slingshot fin
stylish Hollis HD100 wing
Tom Leys of GreenForce, which had some very bright lamps on display.
Light double-membrane drysuit, the Whites Fusion.
Rodney Nairne of Silent Submersion with the new Submerge DPV.
Spectrum Divings Auto Reeler
Mares Nemo Excel computer
with a UTC UDI computer, you can text your buddies!