width=100% The DIVER Awards are as much a part of the British diving scene now as a bacon sarnie and a hot cuppa after a dive. The iconic and expensive bronze statuettes are as much sought after in the diving industry as those illustrious Oscars are in Hollywood.
Unlike the Academy Awards, however, it is you, the readers of this magazine, who decide who wins and who throws up into their handbag with disappointment. It’s always good to be a winner and it’s equally sad to miss out, especially when the voting is close.
With the awards decided by democratic methods, the popular choices sweep all before them. You may think that some more esoteric possibility is worthy of first place, but as with government elections you just have to go along with the majority decision.
Inevitably we see many of the same names rising to the top each year, but as the competition is so seriously fought, positions vary as the combatants jockey for position.
Traditionally the awards ceremony has been held behind closed doors but this year for the first time the statuettes are being handed out in public, on the DIVER Stage at the London International Dive Show, by no less a diving celebrity than Monty Halls.
If you’re at the show, come and see the cream of the trade receive their rightful rewards.


TOUR OPERATOR OF THE YEAR
We each have our favourite companies with which to book and entrust our travel arrangements, so it’s no surprise that three arch-rivals with very similar travel products fight it out year in, year out.
Oonasdivers has its loyal customer base that votes for it every year, and the same is true of blue o two. These companies won third and second places respectively, while Scuba Travel, under the leadership of the Mr Nice of dive travel, Tony Backhurst (right), stormed ahead and accumulated the most votes this year to take home the prized DIVER Awards statuette.
When she heard the news, Angela Nordine, joint-owner with Tony, was ecstatic. She told us between joyous whoops: “We’re thrilled to have won back our cherished Tour Operator of the Year award! Many of our guests come back year after year. Why Because from the minute you call us, you notice the difference.
“You’ll be talking to an expert, not just a salesperson. Our philosophy is that nothing is too much trouble. And our promise is that you can rely on us, no matter what. So thank you to everyone who voted for us – we look forward to helping you enjoy some spectacular diving adventures in 2013!”
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DIVING DESTINATION OF THE YEAR
Despite the trouble brewing in far-off Egyptian cities, the Red Sea coast has held up as the premier diving destination for UK divers.
It’s the most northerly stretch of water with coral reef anywhere in the world, unusually heated as it is by volcanic activity deep within it. That makes it cheap and convenient to get to, and it’s not very expensive once you get there either. As usual Egypt took first place as Destination of the Year and Omayma El Husseini, Director of the Egyptian State Tourist Office in the UK, said, “Egypt is a unique diving product and of course we’re thrilled to have gone on winning this award for so many years in a row.
”The fact that we continue to fulfil what divers need in terms of the natural environment, and to keep a close eye on preventing any violations of that, will have helped us to win this award.”
The island nation of the Maldives took second place. It too has its political troubles, but it has so many beautiful islands, many of which are made over to tourism, that there’s something for all.
Almost every tourist island has a dive centre on it, and these serve up diving that is spectacular in its diversity and colour and also in its varying degrees of difficulty. If it was closer, the Maldives might have done better than take second place.
A surprise third place went to the islands of Malta & Gozo. The temperate Mediterranean is sometimes overlooked in our rush to get to tropical sites, but the extremely clear water and wealth of wrecks, not to mention marine life, makes it a worthy recipient.
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BRAND OF THE YEAR
Suunto, the Finnish diving computer manufacturer, has almost come to own this award. Should you ever visit its British offices, take a look at the glass cabinet full of statuettes in reception.
This year, however, it had to content itself with second place. Which brand came first Was it the imaginative Italian manufacturer Mares No, that brand took third place in the voting.
It’s always nice to see a British manufacturer stand out, and it was Apeks, with its factory in Blackburn, Lancashire, that took the glittering prize, a repeat performance from 2010.
The company has come a long way since the early 1990s when, under its then-owner, Ken Ainscough, it first made a regulator that upset the status quo in what was perceived to be the deep diver’s first choice of breathing device.
A giant French conglomerate may now own Apeks, along with its sister company Aqua-Lung, but a visit to its factory, where it also makes component parts for French-made regulators, will prove that this is no bit-player in the world’s scuba-diving industry.
When he heard that his company had won Brand of the Year, Tony Gallagher of Apeks Marine Equipment said: “Great news, we’re really chuffed! Thank you to DIVER and the readers of DIVER. We’re truly honoured.”
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DIVE CENTRE OF THE YEAR
With Egypt and Sharm el Sheikh in particular still the first choice of diving destination (left), it’s unsurprising that this category is dominated by those dive centres in Sharm that are most popular with the British. We’re aware that they do their best to get their customers to vote for them, and why wouldn’t they
The same three winners topped the poll as usual, with only the running order changed. Emperor Sharm came in third place, narrowly pipped to the post by last year’s winner Camel Dive Centre in second – which in turn was only just beaten by Red Sea Diving College. We bet there’ll be some celebrating in Sharm once the news gets out, along with some gnashing of teeth!
Alain Sobol of Red Sea Diving College was exhilarated: “Winning this yet again proves that imitation is futile,” he said. “We are truly ‘still the original and the best’, thanks to the voting readers of DIVER! Now, to extend that trophy shelf…”
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LIVEABOARD OF THE YEAR
When it comes to service and comfort, the standard of liveaboard dive-boat is as high in Egypt as anywhere in the world now, and they simply cannot be beaten on price.
No wonder Egyptian boats are the first choice when it comes to booking liveaboard holidays with British divers and, frankly, they are often very similar to one another. In the DIVER Awards, it was just a question of which vessel could garner the most votes.
blue o two’s blue Melody (pictured) took first place, with a previous winner, Tornado Fleet’s Whirlwind, following closely in its wake. Third place was taken by Red Sea Diving College’s VIP One, just as it had the year previously.
“Wow! What a couple of days I’ve had!” exclaimed Jason Strickland, boss of blue o two.
“To become a father on Sunday and then on Monday to be told that blue Melody has won Liveaboard of the Year!
“Thanks to all our divers for their support in these awards and we very much look forward to welcoming you away with us in the future.”
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RETAILER OF THE YEAR
Retailers hardly compete with each other when it comes to the customers who turn up in person at their shops, because they are so geographically disparate. However, the great information super-highway, the Internet, has given them a nationwide constituency, and it’s in cyberspace that they battle it out.
This year DiveLife in Manchester took third place, overtaken narrowly in the voting by Scuba + Outdoor Pursuits in the Midlands, while Kent-based Simply Scuba, with its sophisticated online shopping site, carried off the first prize.
Gerrard Dennis, owner of Simply Scuba, told us: “We’re over the moon to be voted No 1 in this category of the DIVER Awards yet again, and it’s a great accolade to all our customers and, of course, to our staff, who work so hard.”
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PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
Everyone needs a dive computer, and it’s no surprise that it was a computer from the market leader in this category, Suunto, that took the honour of top prize.
With so many good products, including the entry-level Zoop and the D6i and D9tx computer-watches from which to choose, the voting could have been fragmented, but in the event the Suunto Vyper Air, the winner of this award from 2010, was clear winner again of Product of the Year.
On hearing the news, Ryan Crawford, boss of the British end of Suunto, climbed out of the water where he had been diving and for a while was almost speechless.
After some thought, he said: “What a brilliant start to 2013, with the Vyper Air winning the Product of the Year award again, and the launch of the DX! We strive to provide the best products and service for all levels of diver, and it means a great deal when it’s recognised with an award like this.”
The ever-popular British-made Apeks XTX200 regulator came second, while the equally British Fourth Element Arctic undersuit collected sufficient votes to take third place
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NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
This category is judged slightly differently from the others, because it can be difficult for voters to know what counts as “new” and what doesn’t, so DIVER takes into account the voting in other categories such as Products and Liveaboards, tempered by the expertise of its staff.
The Liquivision Xeo technical diving OC/CCR computer with its colourful OLED display and unique tap-switch caught the imagination and won third place, while the Atlantis Azores, a liveaboard that does not operate in the Atlantic nor anywhere near the Azores, won second place.
This was presumably not only for its twin engines combined with an aluminium hull for added safety when visiting remote reefs such as Tubbataha in the Philippines, but
for wonderful meals concocted in its superbly equipped galley – yes, we’ve been on it too!
Tiny cameras that can shoot both video and stills are turning up wherever people are carrying out adventurous, if not foolhardy, activities in hazardous environments, and the underwater world is no exception. Front-runner in this new and aggressively competed-for market is the GoPro range.
We would have given the award for first place in this category to the GoPro Hero HD2 with its special flat-fronted underwater case, but things move especially quickly in the imaging business.
In the autumn of 2012 the even better, even smaller GoPro Hero HD3 was launched, and went on to take first place as the DIVER Awards Newcomer of the Year.
“The addition of the flat lens to the new Hero3 has taken us to the next level,” said GoPro Brand Manager Rhys Jones.
“To receive this award is great news for GoPro, as it vindicates all the hard work we’ve put in to make such a great product.
“It’s really pleasing to see how many of our cameras are being enjoyed by divers, and the style and convenience of the Hero3 means we are seeing such amazing footage that other cameras can’t compete with. “A big thanks to everyone at DIVER for this award and a huge thank you to all the GoPro customers – we appreciate your support!”
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FIJI TRIP NO WIND-UP!
When a stranger rings to tell you that you’ve won a dive-trip for two to Fiji, your first reaction is almost certainly going to be: “You’re winding me up!”
Ian Balfour was no exception, and he sensibly rang DIVER back half an hour later to make sure that it really was us that had called him.
But it was true – Ian’s name had been drawn at random from among the thousands of divers who submitted DIVER Awards nominations, and his prize is a very special one – a £7000 trip for two to Fiji.
Put together by UK tour operator Original Diving and Tourism Fiji, this holiday of a lifetime includes two nights at world-famous shark haven Beqa Beach, staying at Uprising Beach Resort and diving with Aqua Trek, four nights at Taveuni Island Resort with plenty of reef-diving, and two nights at Matava on the island of Kadava.
Ian, 57, is based in Woking, Surrey and works as a communications systems programmer. A diver for 20 years, he is a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and for the past two years has been a member of Oxygene Diving Surrey, which organises trips at home and abroad. Special interests “I’m trying to become a good photographer,” says Ian. He should find plenty of spectacular subjects on his Fiji trip!
Ian will receive his tickets when the DIVER Awards are presented at LIDS. Find out more about these destinations at www.originaldiving.com and www.fijime.com
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