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January 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Serious Dive Gear, But Where’s the Fun?

John Bantin reports from the DEMA trade show

from the January, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

No doubt about it, the dive business is getting tougher for everyone. The annual Diving Equipment Manufacturer's Association (DEMA) trade show, held in Orlando, FL on November 5-9 was showing definite signs of contraction and readjustment. Most significantly, there were none of those one-time DEMA show products planned and exhibited optimistically by ever-hopeful inventors to revolutionize the way we dive. More likely, they would sink without a trace within 12 months.

There were no silly tandem-tube snorkels, no new zany fins that claimed to prove all the other fin-makers have got it wrong, nor were there masks that promised to give you vision that would be as good underwater as your eyesight is on land. There was no sign of those who had invested in the development of revolutionary diving weights or mask-integrated communication systems. Not only that, there were fewer new rebreathers on display, compared to only a few years ago when almost every manufacturer showed its own particular design concept for closed-circuit diving. It was as if the market had matured and been secured by those manufacturers who had sound and proven products, and abandoned by those with offbeat notions.

It seems there's no longer any investment money available for the frivolous ideas -- which of course took a lot of the fun out of writing this DEMA report. Instead, the established brands like Scubapro, AquaLung/Suunto, AUP (which encompasses Oceanic, Hollis and Aeris), Mares, Seac, Atomic/Bare/Stahlsac and Cressi continue to develop, modify and upgrade existing and proven products. Technical and cave diving specialist DiveRite was there but its main rival, Halcyon, also based in Florida, was notable by its absence.

The Latest in Computers

So, that said, what diving equipment on display was actually new? The star of the show had to be the Poseidon SE7EN rebreather. It was formally launched into the market on the first day, and its price ranges from $6,850 to $12,000 for the full bell-and-whistle version. But more about rebreathers next issue.

Electronics continue to move apace, and diving computers are no exception. The rechargeable Atomic Cobalt 2 nitrox-integrated computer with its full-color 256K display has a faster processor that is revealed in its instantly-responding 3D analog compass display that works at any angle.

Other new computers included the watch-like Scubapro Chromis, available in orange and white versions alongside the standard black strap. Its patented lap counter is intended to appeal beyond the diving market to include swimmers. It's a one-mix-per-dive computer watch that is a little less military- like than the Meridian. Alongside it, we saw the new Aladin2 displayed. This is a multi-nitroxmix instrument that uses a predictive multi-gas algorithm with a display in a rectangular format, not unlike that of the former and iconic Aladin Pro. In common with the Meridian, both these computers use a PC/Mac USB interface for downloading dives.

Aeris demonstrated a fine new gas-integrated computer with radio link that featured a colorful OLED display, even if the shiny case was a little glitzy. It's expected to cost $896 for the wrist unit alone, or $1,296 with a tank pressure transmitter.

Fins, BCs, Regulators . . .

Without any quirky fins to amuse us, attendees had to settle for the now-established and performance- proven Cetatek Aquabionic 1, with its water-adapting responsive propulsion, or WARP. These fins have been improved with the option of nicely integrated stainless-steel spring straps. However, their European designer was pleased to show the next generation of these fins, with a foot pocket that snaps onto the blade once you are wearing it, and this also gives the option to alternate between fullfoot fins and strap fins.

There were endless numbers of BCDs on display, but apart from a growing accent on lightweight, there was nothing startlingly different or groundbreaking. Cressi is paying particular attention to the needs of women, with sexy, anatomically-designed wetsuits and color-coordinated gear. Side mounting of tanks continues to be more normalized for ordinary openwater diving. The Scubapro X-Tek range now includes a side-mount harness, while Hollis introduced the SMS75 rig that fits neatly in its range between the SMS50 and 100.

Aeris's Cyanea Micro Frame MaskAs far as regulators go, there have been few truly new models since last year, although many have had cosmetic changes. This includes Scubapro's S560/Mk21 and the Hollis side-exhaust 500SE. The same could be said of most masks on display, with only the Aeris Cyanea Micro Frame mask being slightly different, in that it uses a ribbed skirt to give strength and rigidity in the places where it matters, and a comfortable elastic strap (eschewing more normal silicone) that also features a snorkel keeper of similar material set at the appropriate angle.

Lights, Cameras, Drysuits . . .

MoLi has a new little light that intends to take on the manufacturing giant Light & Motion head-to-head with its compact, high-output LED lamp, very much reminiscent of its original Solar models. GreenForce from Belgium showed a couple of new pocket lights with alternative battery types -- the 600-lumen Diamond 600, as well as a high-output 1200-lumen Monostar head, all three of which give a tight beam and a wide corona. However, if you want the ultimate lamp, the all-new Sea Wolf from the U.K. knocks out an amazing 26,000 lumens. It was originally designed to meet the specification of a BBC underwater cameraman, and it's anticipated to sell for $5,275 plus import tax. If that isn't bright enough, a lamp more than twice as bright is currently in development.

DEMA's photography and video section bucks the trend in that it appears to grow ever bigger. GoPro took the show by storm, as has become its habit, and among its offerings was a unique way to bolt six cameras together and get a seamless 360-degree image. Various companies such as DiveSite and Hugyfot showed deep-rated housings for the GoPro Hero 3, and in each case that included an additional battery-pack for extended operating time, and even an off-board monitor.

iDive's Underwater Case for the iPadNauticam has finally adopted a built-in electronic vacuum-leak test system not unlike that originally pioneered by Hugyfot, but it wasn't well used to promote that Belgian company's products. Nauticam's tests whether the housing is leak-proof by using non-destructive air rather than water, and the Chinese company displayed no fewer than four different evacuation valve set-ups to suit every user. BackScatter showed a similar device that was a little less sophisticated. No doubt, every expensive camera housing manufacturer will offer something similar before long.

Probably the most significant advance in drysuit technology is the continuing quest to use tough silicone seals instead of more fragile latex, and the Swedish company SiTech is at the forefront with a new method to attach the silicone seal to a suit, using a glued flexible frame.

Dive Toys

There were fewer diver-propelled vehicles this time and, apart from the established range of Seadoo Sea Scooters, they were at the cheaper end of the market. Bladefish exhibited a compact version that is more conventional in appearance than its first model and uses a plug-in battery module.

Although it was first conceived to help Wounded Warriors become rehabilitated in the underwater environment, the Pegasus Thruster is finally being discovered by underwater filmmakers who want a steady tracking shot underwater. It fits to the tank, leaving a diver's hands free to operate a camera. Ironically, the manufacturer has found it necessary to introduce a new hand-held version to overcome some conventional diver prejudice. (List price is $3,895.)

For the diver who has everything, the new Shark Marine underwater raft, powered by six Pegasus Thruster units and combined with a sonar navigation system, will be a must. If you need to know the price, you can't afford it.

Another manufacturer that has found selling to divers more arduous than expected is SeaReq. That's because few dive operators are evidently prepared to invest the money needed to provide its search-and-recovery system for a boatload of divers. SeaReq has now developed its ENOS system to meet sailors' needs by combining an automatically-operated beacon with a lifejacket, and using the same combined GPS and VHF technology. The resulting Mobos will find a much wider and cash-rich audience among those who operate leisure craft.

DryCase has a solution for keeping smartphones both dry and usable. Its soft plastic phone case ($40) can be evacuated of all air through its valve via a simple bulb pump. There's a case for a tablet too, around $60.

iDive did something similar with its more ambitious underwater case for iPad (at $599). By pressurizing the housing with carbon dioxide to match ambient pressure as the diver descends to 100 feet deep, the touch-screen feature is retained, and you can use all of its autonomous functions (those not needing Wi-Fi) underwater. The addition of a wide-angle lens adapter means the camera function is retained, and the designers hope to find a way for iPad-equipped divers, especially scientific ones, to communicate with each other while diving. It promises to open up a new world of underwater apps.

The NOGI Awards

The NOGI statuette was modified from an award formerly bestowed at the New Orleans Grand Isle Fishing Tournament, which had an underwater division. The first recipients were world-class spearfishing champions in the 1950s. The Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences was later approached to sanction this award to annually recognize leaders in the field of scuba diving.

This year's winners included underwater photographer Michael Aw, Pelican Products founder, and shipwreck researcher and discoverer Lee Spence. It was especially pleasing to witness Bret Gilliam, who must be the most complete of all divers and a great friend of Undercurrent, step up and receive the coveted trophy -- and not before his time either. Lee Somers received the DEMA Reaching Out Award, although he was obviously ill and made his acceptance speech from a wheelchair. Somers has had a 60-year association with the diving industry, and was a major contributor to the NOAA Diving Manual.

On a lighter note, Bahamian shark diving expert Stuart Cove also received the Reaching Out award, and his somewhat left-field acceptance speech was being talked about a lot the following day among those who witnessed it. But those who knew Stuart were not at all surprised. He gave some personal and candid insights that might have been a bit more personal than some of the audience might have expected. In 1979, he was hired as a diver to help in the shooting of underwater scenes for a James Bond film, and he never looked back. Today, he is considered the premier shark expert by film producers in Hollywood, and the list of divers he has certified looks like a Hollywood "Who's Who."

Because dive operators and manufacturers from all over the world congregate to show what they have to offer, it's a great opportunity to reunite with those you might have met elsewhere. It makes for a great networking exercise. The only downside of this year's show was the fact that the actual attendees at DEMA -- dive store owners and diving instructors -- were nearly as sparse on the floor as were new products.

Next issue: What the DEMA show revealed about rebreathers for sport divers.

John Bantin is the former technical editor of DIVER magazine in the United Kingdom. For 20 years, he used and reviewed virtually every piece of equipment available in the U.K. and the U.S., and made around 300 dives per year for that purpose. He is also a professional underwater photographer, and most recently the author of Amazing Diving Stories, available at www.undercurrent.org

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