The International Dive Expo, Australia 2003

The International Dive Expo, Australia 2003, was held at Fox Studios in Sydney over 3 days. So off I went, with visions of a Pulitzer dancing before my eyes, to find out what goes on in such shows.

After collecting my media pass from the trades counter, "No I don’t have accreditation, but look, I have a DeeperBlue.net t-shirt on", I wandered towards the entrance of the show.

The Royal Australian Navy had set up a display tank outside the hall; a small crowd was waving to the diver inside. Most were fascinated although a young girl seemed perturbed at the sight of a man breathing underwater. A future freediver, perhaps?

Next to the Navy tank was a tent displaying rebreathers, underwater hydraulic tools, and complicated looking diving helmets. A helpful Able Seaman explained the operation of the hydraulic shears: "You connect the air here and we can cut stuff up", he remarked happily. Fascinating…

Further questioning revealed that the display had caused a sizeable number of people to inquire about part-time Defence Force service. Given the enthusiasm level of the ADF personnel I’m not surprised. Where else can you play with gear worth many thousands of dollars, go diving, and get paid?

Once inside I was accosted by several young ladies handing out brochures and was rewarded with a warm smile upon grabbing a handful. I may even get around to reading them, one day. The stands displayed wares ranging from everyday products like fins and masks, to compressors and boats. A profusion of models (male and female) clad in wetsuits paraded around the floor, a Pacific Islander dance troupe performed tribal dances, and the gourmet cafeteria made sure no one went hungry for long.

Of particular interest were the international dive destination displays. Recent events including SARS and the fear of terrorism have hit some dive locations pretty hard. A British lady crewing the Aqua Marine Diving stand, representing a British owned operation based in Bali, remarked: "The Australian Divers are very loyal, but our business from European countries has suffered." Apparently the threat of terrorism has not deterred divers, but the need for a connecting flight through Hong Kong to Bali, still worries many. The spectre of SARS will fade with time, but some smaller dive centres have already gone under.

Dive centres and travel brokers from the Philippines, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tonga, to name but a few, generated a lot of interest with many divers who walked away happily clutching brochures and dreaming of their next holiday. The Dive New Zealand stand promoted adventure tours in the shaky isles, with particular emphasis on combining the incredible diving at marine reserves (such as Poor Knights), with white water rafting, and jet boat fun.

After filling up on travel brochures, I headed for the dive gear stands. Wetsuit brands included Neptune, Aqua Sphere, Mares, Extreme, and XXX. The XXX wetsuits included a very tight, thin, clingy number, probably best suited to a honeymoon dive. Yours truly wouldn’t be caught dead in it. Different wetsuit styles included plush lining, front zipper, rear zipper, and chest zipper, but it appeared the scuba diving fraternity still had not caught onto the comfort and warmth of open cell suits. One exhibitor explained: "The open cell suits are more delicate and can’t stand up to the load imposed by scuba gear."

Draeger Safety Pacific displayed its range of compressors. The most impressive looking unit was the Mariner, a 320L/minute capable of filling 4 tanks at once. The price of even the smallest machines puts them out of the range of the average diver, but dive shop operators were interested. Some, if not all, of the units are boat-mountable, and provide operators with the option of being able to do multiple dives without having to carry multiple tanks.

Of course, what’s a Dive Expo without everyone’s favourite toy, underwater cameras! The cameras ranged from the affordable to the ridiculous with one video camera exceeding $15,000. For that price it had better come with one heck of a set of steak knives.

Sea&Sea had some of their latest models on display including housings, strobes, and video lights. A Nikon Coolpix will be my next acquisition after I got to play with one for a while. And then I had to give it back. After perusing the latest and greatest in multi-jointed strobe arms, high power video lights, wide-angle lenses, and colour filters my old Nikonos is looking very 20th century.

The award for the strangest product goes to Nuytco Research Ltd. Their Exosuit is a wearable life support system capable of depths to 200m, with the Submarine Escape model capable of 365m. Not your average diving suit by any means. It resembles a space suit, albeit a hardcore spacesuit.

In contrast to the "modern" technology on display, the Historical Diving Society displayed the weird and wonderful dive gear of yesteryear. Copper dive helmets, masks incorporating a plastic tube cut to fit the face and some very old regulators made for a nostalgic window to the diving past. The enthusiasm of the exhibitors in charge, and their depth of knowledge were obvious. It was good to see the traditions and history of diving being preserved for future generations.

Enough scuba chat, time to check out the spearfishing gear!

Picasso, OMER, and Esclapez were represented, with both the current Men’s and Women’s Australian Spearfishing champions, Ian Puckeridge and Naomi Spicer, on hand to guide the novice to the right equipment choice. Other famous spearo’s included Rob Torelli, the noted Underwater Videographer, and Andy Ruddock. The new OMER BAT fins caused some excitement. Made from a new composite material they are tougher and better performing than carbon fins. And have a price tag to match. Open cell wetsuits and low volume masks also attracted attention, as did the Bluewater Hunting videos. The exhibitor in charge of the stand, Morris Andreini, reported a high level of interest and customers from as far away as Northern Australia, with most coming from the Sydney area.

The Riffe stand had an attraction all of its own, not only were the premier bluewater guns on display but Jay Riffe himself had travelled to the Expo. Jay is highly regarded in the international spearfishing community, not only as the designer of the legendary spearguns that bear his name but also as an ambassador for the sport. After chatting with him for a while it was easy to see why. Enthusiastic and patient, he was happy to explain all details of the spearguns manufacturing process, design features, and share tips on how to get the big fish. It was truly an honour to meet him and get an opportunity to talk to him.

The Australian Underwater Federation, represented by Len Goldsmith, Mel Brown and Mary-Anne Stacey (eight-time Australian Ladies Spearfishing Champion), were there to raise the profile of sports like freediving, finswimming, underwater hockey, and spearfishing, all of which fall under the AUF banner. Interest levels were high on all three days with many people curious about these fringe sports. The AUF used the expo to launch their Spearfishing Ethics and Code of Conduct Guide, which was well received by all visitors to the stand.

Saving the best for last: The NSW Fisheries stand.

Crewed by James Saker, David Harasti, and the staff from the Threatened Species unit, the stand’s main feature was a tank containing Eastern rock, painted, and slipper lobsters, sea urchins and some monster hermit crabs. A smaller tank contained sea horses, decorator crabs, and a dwarf lionfish. It proved a delight for the little ones and adults alike. But more importantly, the message of conservation and protection was well received by the visiting public. Spearfishermen and scuba divers alike were highly interested in talking to the fisheries officers and walked away satisfied that their tax dollars were being put to good use. On a humorous note: "Spearfishers finally learned the correct way to measure the size of a lobster," laughed David, because, as it turns out, "a lot of divers end up throwing back legal sized lobsters as a result of measuring from the wrong point on the carapace". I can add a personal, "Doh!" to that mess.

All in all the expo seemed a success, with good attendance and industry support.

See you at the next one in 2004!