For 2012, DEMA was back in Las Vegas after last year's event in Orlando. The annual conference was held November 13-16, but this time at the Sands and not at the Las Vegas Convention Center. This was the 36th gathering of the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association, and a surprisingly large and well attended one with about 650 exhibitors listed, pretty much filling the large Sands Expo and Convention Center. According to DEMA, more than 8,300 were on-site over the four-day show period. Not bad at all.
DEMA's primary mission is to "promote sustainable growth in recreational diving and snorkeling while protecting the environment," and also to support and promote diving-related businesses. DEMA's promotional efforts include the "Be A Diver" campaign, the DiveCaching program, all sorts of marketing help and assistance, and, as each year's highlight, the annual DEMA show. Despite the still fragile economy, DEMA 2012 was a rather lively event. As is evident from the picture below, there was a good crowd at hand.
Let me start with a confession. Since the last couple of DEMA shows took place in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, I automatically assumed it'd be the same place this year. And went there the first morning of the show, feeling really, really stupid when I realized my mistake. A cab driver was happy to bring me to the right place.
After checking in with the ever-helpful Patricia and Stephanie from Adams Unlimited PR in the media room and getting my press credentials, it was time to see what was new and exciting in the world of scuba.
Almost right off the bat, this year's show felt different from prior ones I attended. It seemed like almost two thirds of the shows floor was imaging, accessories and resort displays, and only about a third "hard" scuba gear. In the past it had felt like the other way around. An actual booth and floor space count may not support my impression, but that's how it felt to me.
As usual at DEMA, everyone seemed excited, milling around, greeting friends. The show floor was well laid out, presented exhibits in an engaging manner, without the bottlenecks and "dead spaces" so prevalent in many trade shows. This meant that traffic flowed well, there was space enough to stop and talk, and even a bit of room to sit down every now and then.
I first stopped by at GoPro. Given that it's been just a year that GoPro finally enabled their world-beating little action cameras focus properly underwater with a flatlens housing, they've sure come a long way.
The new GoPro Hero3 — which comes in a white, silver and black edition (see our first look at the Hero3) — comes standard with a flatlens housing and the top-of-the-line black edition not only has even higher resolution (yes, it can do 1080p/60 and 4k video), but also adjustable white balance for better underwater video. But what did the Rothman's racing Porsche do at a dive show? I'd expect a mini-sub or some such at a dive show. (gopro.com)
Next I went to say hi to our friends at the CocoView booth, where Elizabeth and manager Deb caught me up on all the news at the charming dive resort on Roatan (see our full review), and then I also saw Patty Grier, who runs the dive shop at CocoView, and Doc Radawski, the legendary expert on all things Roatan. Doc and I discussed the underwater fluorescence phenomenon I had first observed during a dive in Roatan. We'll visit CocoView for our next dive product review trip in December. (cocoviewresort.com)
I also stopped by some of the other Roatan resort booths. I wish we could stay at each and review and report on them all.
Nuytco Research makes atmospheric diving suits and submarines, and they also own Diver Magazine, which is available both in print and on the iPad. Their "digital diver" and diving app review features had me sign up for a subscription on the spot. Talked with Donnie Reid, who coordinates projects at Nuytco. Great guy. (divermag.com)
Also renewed my sub for Wreck Diving Magazine. Great mag and very well done. (wreckdivingmag.com)
The Backscatter folks showed a number of nicely designed brackets with LED lights, special GoPro housings, flip filters for GoPro, also filters of different kinds. Their small standard bracket with a foam-rubber encased handle made a perfect addition to my GoPro mounting hardware tool box. (www.backscatter.com)
Next I saw the first of what turned out to be many displays with special housings for iPhones and other smartphones. Watershot, which has extensive experience in housings and lights, created an impressive hard housing for the iPhone that's more than just a dumb case. It includes a custom app that optimizes still shots and video, the lens bezel can accept external lenses and filters, and there's even an add-on sensor/dive computer module that includes depth, temperature, direction, etc. Now the big question with this approach, of course, is whether you want to risk flooding your expensive iPhone and then try to explain to AT&T or Verizon what happened. But Watershot was just one of many trying this, and with tens of millions of iPhones out there, there just may be a market. (watershot.com)
Then it was time for my first scheduled meeting with Sealife VP Sven Harms. No new top-of-the-line camera just yet, but they are, of course, working on new camera models. The next one will have 1080p HD video. Has GoPro hurt their business? Not at all, said Harms, all of GoPro's publicity and visibility actually added to their business.
What's new is Sealife's very serious looking Fisheye Wide Angle Lens that's especially matched to the DC1400, but works with most DC series cameras and can be easily attached and removed underwater. Sealife also introduced the very useful AquaPod underwater monopod for GoPro (or other cameras). Love it. Very light. It's an extendable stick for when you don't want to get THAT close. And it even has a self image mirror. The latest ReefMaster Mini in its rubber integrated housing offers super simple usage and new firmware for better color and sharpness. It can now handle 200 feet, yet still costs only US$249, including a wide angle lens.
Scubapro had begun celebrating its 50th anniversary, 1963-2013, with a nice large display at the center of which was a display with every one of the regulators the company has ever made. Judging by how well my old MK25/S600 is holding up, I bet most of what ScubaPro ever made still works. ScubaPro showed some new travel bags, and the Seawing Nova now comes in a full-foot version as well. It's amazingly light. The standard Nova can now be had in gray also and I had a good conversation with a rep on some of the issues they had had with the first few Novas (including mine). (www.scubapro.com)
Right opposite ScubaPro was SubGear, which has the same parent (Johnson Outdoors) as ScubaPro. According to a booth person, SubGear and ScubaPro use different manufacturers, but while ScubaPro targets the high end, SubGear is more price-conscious. They often have an equivalent to a ScubaPro model, but it seemed to me that their products tend to be more stylish and playful, with colorful wetsuits, etc. Still, I feel the marketing message as to how the two companies differ should be clearer. One thing that's different is the warranty. Whereas ScubaPro has lifetime warranties, SubGear's is "only" 30 years. (www.subgear.com)
i-divesite.com is a Hong Kong-based company. What caught my eye was their large selection and variety of i-Torch divelights going all the way from small plastic 180 lumen lights to the 1,300 lumen FL-448 blaster running off a 5,500 mAh battery and having both white and red light. They also showed their i-Das aluminum arm system with numerous practical components, and the new i-Pix IPhone underwater case in many colors. (www.i-divesite.com")
Beneath the Surface, too, showed lots of helpful accessories for underwater photographers, including arms, whole arm packages, trays and components, balls, extensions, etc., just all the stuff you need to build your own custom rig. Also plenty of stuff for GoPro. Their web site is still a bit limited; they really seem to have a lot more cool stuff. (beneaththesurface1.com)
Intova, as usual, had a smallish but busy, bustling display with tons of cool, innovative underwater stuff, including their incredible 10,000 lumens Terranova light, new lights with zoom, wide-angle zooms, their own GoPro-style little camera, but one with an integrated LCD and more buttons for a very user-friendly interface. Unless the GoPro, though, the Intova camera is fixed in housing. It retails for around US$200, and can do 1080p video. (www.intova.net)
Underwater Kinetics, generally known as UK, too, had an arm with divelight for the GoPro. It's a little different, but seems very well made. Also a nice black box for a whole GoPro, light, arm and accessories set. And, of course, all their dive lights. (www.uwkinetics.com)
iGills was another exhibitor who feels that extending the use of a computer tens of millions of people already have — an iPhone — makes more sense than getting a whole collection of dedicated devices. So their US$329.99 iGills housing converts the iPhone into a full dive computer with air, nitrox, gauge modes; a full underwater camera for stills and video; a full multimedia dive log recorder; an electronic compass; an emergency flashlight; and a seamless way of sharing everything in social media. Sounds compelling enough; the question will just be how many people will want to take their expensive iPhone underwater. (www.igills.com)
I always love the annual New Product Showcase! This year it included interesting new stuff by the likes of Beneath the Surface, SeaScub SPA, Polar Pro, Edge Design Lab, Aeris gear, Oceanic, Hollis, Lavacore, Oceanpro, Snake River Prototyping and many more. I do think that this year DEMA perhaps deviated a bit too much from showing truly new, prototype stuff under development in favor of just showing some of the new products vendors had for this year's DEMA. Both have their place, of course, but since the new products are already on the showfloor, I'd rather see coming attractions in the no-photography new developments displays.
There are few benevolent organizations in scuba as pro-active and well organized as the Women Divers Hall of Fame dedicated to recognizing and honoring the contributions of women divers. In a sport often challenged with the reputation of being bit of a boys' club, WDHOF does a super job of highlighting women diver's presence and efforts as well as making available scholarships, grants, fundraisers, publications, etc. I bought their 2013 calendar showcasing the work of women photographers. (www.wdhof.org)
DAN, the Divers Alert Network, is another organization with a hugely positive impact on our sport. Their dive insurance service is absolutely mandatory for any diver (and many resorts or liveaboards require it). DAN had a large, very professional display, showing all their diving safety related products. It amazes me how slick and polished their lifesaving packages and kits have become. (www.dan.org)
And while mentioning dive-related organizations, NAUI's booth was a bit at the end of the big hall. It was small but nicely done. NAUI, the National Association of Underwater Instructors, predates PADI by several years (1959 vs 1966), but despite their meticulous emphasis on technology and dive training, they just don't seem to get the recognition they deserve these days. (www.naui.org)
PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, on the other hand, had a large professionally done booth right next to the entrance, with dozens of redshirted staffers, plenty of seating, and bustling crowds. (www.padi.com)
Duke Dive Medicine was there as well, the Duke Center for Hyperbaric Medicine and Environmental Physiology. Good conversation with the staff there, including Dr. Hunter Sutton, an intern at the Center and also an avid cave diver, and Dr. Bruce Derrick. (www.dukedivemedicine.com)
I also stopped by REEF.org. REEF stands for Reef Environmental Education Foundation, and their mission is to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. Among their current programs is one on the Lionfish problem. Registration to REEF.org is free. Do it! (www.reef.org)
The folks at Ships 2 Reefs weren't very happy. That's because their organization's mission — to support the sinking of retired vessels as artificial reefs — is in serious jeopardy. The problem is that the Navy often has concerns, most recently about PCBs, and they now need to lobby to be able to continue the process. I signed their petition. (www.ships2reefs.com)
The Georgia Aquarium was there with two people from the diving operation. I showed them our extensive coverage of our dive in their awesome aquarium (see here), which though we had emailed them repeatedly they had apparently never seen. I also told them of our whale shark expedition off Isla Mujerez and our whale shark video work (see here), and of our concerns about whale sharks increasingly wounded by ship props. They are a bit of an odd lot; very proud of their awesome aquarium, but difficult to stay in touch or communicating with. (www./www.georgiaaquarium.org)
The PangeaSeed is a grassroots organization dedicated to educating and raising international awareness on the plight of sharks and the destruction of their habitat. They have artists do artwork and sell it, originals and prints. There was also a petition to protect great whites in California (which I signed). (www.pangeaseed.com)
Dry suit specialist DUI was there, of course, and this year, their 50th anniversary, the big news was the new silicone zip seals that have superior ozone/UV resistance, are more comfortable, and also eliminate latex allergy. DUI also showed heated undergarments with an externally worn battery (see in picture below) to keep you nice and toasty. There was also a redesigend ActionWear Pro line with stretchier, more comfortable, lighter insulation options. Also impressive: the new DUI TurboTec boots with Keflar overlays and new types of neck seals with larger diameter so that they are easier to put on.
The competition at Whites also had a large, impressive display with all their latest drysuits, including the new budget-priced back-zipped US$999 FusionOne consisting of an inner shell and then a nice stretchy lycra/neoprene layer on top. Add US$230 for undergarment.
Seeing all the numerous dry suit options reminded me how difficult it is to make a decision. You can spend a lot for a top-of-the-line suit, or spend less and compromise a bit. (www.whitesdiving.com)
Heated undergarments seem more common. Taiwanese Petatech has been specializing on heated garments for outdoors, underwater and even healthcare applications for a long time. Their Thermalution heated dive garments are either armless upper body shirts worn under the wet or dry suit, or full-body versions. Two amazingly small rechargeable batteries are stored in pockets under the arms and last, depending on the model, between 1.5 and 4 hours. A small remote allows for three temperature settings. The technology is based on non-metallic heating wires and Far Infrared Ray warming. List for the full body heated suit with a wireless control is US$899. (www.thermalution.com)
When out of the water, a great source of super-comfortable and useful outdoor and dive apparel is Chammyz. There is nothing like the special all-natural fabric they use in all of their products, and there's nothing like climbing into a pair of Chammyz lounge pants and a Chammyz jacket after a dive (or at home, or outdoors, or just about anywhere). (www.chammyz.com)
If a slate and pencil don't work well for you underwater, check out the US$49.95 AquaSketch underwater writing and drawing system. It's a 3 x 4.5 inch little tablet that can be held or strapped to your wrist. It contains up to eight feet of waterproof vellum that you can write on. If you need more space to write, simply turn a knob to advance the scroll and get more vellum (over 40 frames). Writing can easily be erased. If notes need to be preserved, you can scan them with a Pentax DS600 mobile scanner and then file, email, print or fax them. Very clever, and they even have preprinted vellum with forms, logs, etc. on them. ScubaDiverInfo.com is using AquaSketch and we love it. (www.aquasketch.com)
Anyone who wants a better dive log should check out Dive Logz, Inc. They make a unique line of attractively and intelligently designed accessories for scuba divers, including dive log books, snorkel logs, binders, and waterproof bags. (www.divelogz.com)
Stopped by the Turks & Caicos tourist booth. Love the island that we visited three years ago while getting ready for a trip around Providenciales onboard the T&C Explorer. The white sands with tiny red coral specs in it is unique in the world. The booth folks, great ambassadors for their island nation, caught me up on what's been happening, that tourism is doing quite well, and that we should come back! We will!
Stopped by at the Statia booth and talked to the proprietor of the Golden Rock Dive Center, an 18 year US expat. We had been diving from the Caribbean Explorer off St. Kitts and Saba, but the boat had skipped Statia, which we very much would have loved to see and enjoy its low key pace. It's just a short flight from St. Maarten and the airport isn't nearly as scary as Saba's.
And below GoPro again. They really seem to have the magic touch.
OTS, Ocean Technology Systems, is one of the two big full face mask outfits that we see at almost every dive show. They've long been a leader in underwater communication systems, supplying the military and others. At the show, OTS demonstrated its new Guardian series of full face masks for commercial/professional divers that comes in numerous colors and starts at just US$799. Their stuff must be good as some folks had just purchased about all masks they had brought to the show and rolled off with them. They also showed a intelligently done attachment for a GoPro camera as well. (www.oceantechnologysystems.com)
OceanReef, the other big full face mask company, also had a nice display. They've been around for over 60 years and have tons of experience in all sorts of scuba gear, including half a dozen lines of full face masks, both for recreational and for professional use. They also told me of their fun new dive training program with treasure hunting to acquaint divers with their masks. Most have been in Italy but they have one planned for California. I tried on their recreational mask, which had a great, comfortable fit great. Comms, which works over large distances, is optional. I wish we could get review units fto report on! (www.oceanreefgroup.com)
Speaking of underwater communication, the Underwater Technologies Center developed the UDI digital underwater communications technology with a wristmount dive computer/compass/communication device that works with ultrasound between divers, but also with boat that hangs a receiver in the water. Reach is about 500 meters! The ultrasound frequency used by the devices is very different from those of animals and won't harm them. (www.utc-digital.com)
On the dive computer side, it was hard to overlook the snazzy Liquivision display with a full lineup of their eyecatching OLED-based wristmount dive computers. The OLED displays are colorful and very bright, the company offers models from recreational all the way to expedition-grade (660 feet depth rating), and also unusual features such as tank pressure monitoring for up to ten divers, and arrows that show what direction a buddy is. (www.liquivision.com)
The large and nicely done CetaTek display caught my eye with their new and very different AquaBionic Warp 1 fin. They are a new company that developed a new fin technology that employs a very clever double hinge to channel water more efficiently. The design, which is the brainchild of a German engineer who used to develop high-performance snow skis for the likes of Atomic and Völkl, adapts to divers' propulsion needs in any situation. The system requires less energy to create more propulsion with a very intelligent way of changing the width of the fin blade automatically. They said they had showed the concept to the major players who all seemed impressed. When no deal could be struck, CetaTek was formed. We got a pair for evaluation and will report on them in ScubaDiverInfo.com! (www.cetatek.com)
Apollo Scuba goes back to 1965 when Apollo Japan set out to build quality innovative dive equipment. Apollo Australia followed in 1988, and today Apollo is sort of a high-end boutique SCUBA equipment producer. They have a very dedicated following and it's easy to see why. Their split-fin Bio-Fins fins, made of 100% natural rubber, look and feel ... different and come in those wonderfully muted colors, sort of like the paint on some classic cars. (www.apollo-sports.com)
AquaTec was one of the good number of Asian scuba gear manufacturing companies showing their wares and looking for distributors for their BCs, masks, lights, whistles, regs, knives and accessories. Some of these Asian companies have an extraordinary variety of designs and colors, and I wish I knew more about what's going on behind the scenes of scuba gear relationships and who makes what. What caught my eye here were the tiny AquaTec torches that attach to mask straps. (www.scuba-aquatec.com)
Another example of an Asian manufacturer with plenty of styles all bursting with color was Jackdive. They have been been making scuba masks, boots, fins and wetsuits for 20 years, with factories in Taiwan and China. Their wetsuits are far more colorful and varied than all the black stuff we generally get from the major vendors. Their website and presentation aren't nearly as cool as their stuff, and so I wondered how they sell, where, and who to. (www.jackdive.net)
Cressi's medium size display, on the other hand, was as slick and professional as it gets. They concentrated on their latest fins, masks, regs, BCs, etc., and they remain one of the more fashion oriented scuba gear companies. Lots of color accents, and a nice emphasis on style. Cressi's fashion sense has always appealed to those divers who don't want everything in black and with the same utilitarian designs every year. (www.cressi.com)
And speaking of bright colors, Scuba Do Rag was there with their super-bright assortment of do-rags, tube socks, sleeves, leggings, etc. I use their stuff and love it, though it isn't inexpensive. The stretchy material absolutely lasts forever, it doesn't fade at all, and it's a great way for fellow divers to instantly recognize you underwater. (www.scubadorag.com)
Doni, a neoprene manufacturing company from China had a very informative booth that nicely explained their manufacturing process and their goals with various neoprene materials. Everyone should explain their mission as clearly and concisely. (www.shdoni.com)
I already mentioned DEMA 2012's great emphasis on underwater photography and imaging. Loved the Image Resource Center in the middle of the imaging section. Apart from interesting lectures, they also had nice number of chairs for achy feet and stiff backs!
Turkish Innovasub was another company that had an iPhone or Android phone dive computer. It is a wristmount housing with an external computer module. I asked the question that's always foremost on my mind when I see iPhone underwater housings: aren't you concerned about flooding an expensive iPhone with tons of data on it? Answer: If you are, get a cheap pay-as you-go Android phone. They support that as well. How do you operate it under water? No need; the iPhone screen is large enough and has enough resolution to display everything that's needed at once. (www.innovasub.com)
Bonica was there, the Canadian company that specializes on inexpensive underwater video packages, and our main contact Gary Cross showed us around and caught us up on what's new. A new staffer asked if I was familiar with their products, right in front of sea lion video that we had shot. :-) Bonica carries JVC, Sony and Snapper cameras and they now have a nice iPhone underwater case, too.
Mocean Armour is yet another company making an iPhone case, one with a nicely sculpted double set of handles that's good for depths to 200 feet. The idea is for dive operations to rent them out because "everyone has an iPhone". (www.moceanarmor.com)
Epoque World, based in Japan, showed a new GoPro class camera where the underwater housing is actually part of it. The US$250 eDiveCam can shoot at 1080p, has a 2-inch LCD, combines with lights, and they also have high-quality housings for Canon and Sony dSLRs. We have their housing for our Canon Rebel T2i and love it. (www.epoque-japan.com)
The Snake River Prototyping booth was mobbed! The company was one of the first to offer flatlens housings for the original GoPro, to fix the GoPro stock housing's inability to focus under water. They showed some impressive video on how their filters improve color, even compared to the new Hero3's white balance settings. They also have filters for the new GoPro Hero3 and we'll test their BlurFix3 SO that promises consistent color correction from corner to corner in Roatan.
Sunken treasure hunter Mel Fisher's Treasures was there, enticing show goers with gleaming gold treasure and the promise of taking divers to some of their wreck sites where they could find some if their own treasure, and keep it, up to a limit. Asked if all the gold is real, they said yes. About $300,000 worth. Security not a problem? Apparently not. And they also have no problem flying with it. Amazing. Dive adventure weeks start at US$2,500.
H2Odyssey showed the Torid-Pulse, an underwater tagger that shoots fast, perfect air rings. Pretty amazing. The rings just go on and on. The US$99 Torrid-Pulse can also shoot water to attract attention on the surface or to divers below. Powered by tank or pony bottle. (www.h2odyssey.com)
Three of our favorite live-aboard companies were there. I stopped by the Rocio del Mar booth. The word there on bookings there was that they are pretty much full for 2013 for their Socorro and Sea of Cortez itineraries! Good for them. We loved being on the boat for the Midriff Island trip summer 2012 (see our extensive report). Also caught up with charming owner grandma-about-to-be Dora Sandoval. (rociodelmar.com)
Had a good chat with Jose Luis Sanchez from the Solmar V, one of the most elegant liveaboards out there. We did Socorro on the Solmar V in 2011 (see detailed report here), and it was an unforgettable experience. There are few places on earth where you can see giant mantas and all sorts of other big pelagics like the Revillagigedos. (solmarv.com)
Explorer Ventures was there, too. I've been on two of their ships (Turks & Caicos Explorer and Caribean Explorer) and ScubaDiverInfo.com wrote extensively about the experience (see our reports on T&C Explorer and CEX II) that hopefully got them quite a bit of business.
There was an almost endless number of booths from resorts and liveaboards from across the world, including the most exotic locations. My only regret is that there were so many that it was utterly impossible to get to meet and know them all. Which is a real shame as many representatives traveled wide and far and had stories to tell. As is, al, we could do is pick up brochures and DVDs, talk for a bit with a few and hope we, and you, might get to see and dive some of those marvelous places.
The musicians above entertained the crowds throughout the show. They were a big hit, and great ambassadors.
I was surprised to see how many resorts from all over the world spent a great deal of time and money to showcase their area, facilities, attractions and special flavor and culture at DEMA. Very much appreciated, and I just wish airlines didn't make it increasingly more difficult to make those long trips!
Papau New Guinea Expeditions showed the most incredible whale shark videos! You are allowed scuba, the whales play with you, they circle around, the water is incredibly clear. Wow. The woman who organizes the trips is American, but lived in New Guinea for years. Not easy to get there, but 12 day itinerary makes it worthwhile. Check out! (www.pngdive.com)
The Cayman Islands display area had, fittingly, a Porsche Cayman. Very classy. Talked to the Little Cayman Resort folks who said they had had their best year ever. I wish they'd had had a bit more time to talk as the Caymans are on our review list.
In the Curacao section I was handed a bag that had whatever you want to know about the island in it. Not a bad idea, though all those brochures and catalogs add up! And speaking of catalogs, the best one has to be Caradonna's! Friendly and helpful Donna Yakow, one of Caradonna's dive travel specialists gave it to me, and it's a beautifully illustrated, very informative 116-page affair that simply couldn't be better. Another one that I really like is the one from Roatan Charter. It's much thinner, but also very informative, which is what matters. Roatan Charter probably should change their name, though, as they now offer travel and vacations to numerous other Caribbean locations. (Caradonna, Roatan Charter)
Best product of the show again goes to Scuba Stik for its Vindicator valve handle. The Vindicator addresses the problem of divers, boat crew and dive masters never knowing if the air is on. The Vindicator is a brilliant, patented replacement tank valve handle that mechanically shows if the air is on! It shows green when the air is on, and red when it is off. The Vindicator is inexpensive and available for many tanks. Invented by a rescue diver, it's really just a couple of pieces of plastic, ingeniously put together. But it can, and will, save lives. Very highly recommended. Every dive operator should use it on all of their tanks. (www.scubastik.com)
So that was DEMA 2012, a terrific show. As usual, we were only able to report on a small fraction of all the exhibitors, but the above should give readers a flavor of the show. DEMA 2013 will take place November 6-9 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Check with DEMA for specifics.
Report and photography by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer