DEMA is the world's biggest diving trade show, where the equipment you're supposed to use tomorrow gets its first outing. Mike Busuttili went to New Orleans to do some window-shopping
I arrived at DEMA 1999 to see members of the board of directors being driven around the show, accompanied by a jazz-band. They were throwing beads to the natives. I was amazed, but later learned that this was a tribute to New Orleans' famous Mardi Gras Parade, when the ladies decorating the floats throw bead necklaces to the throng of spectators.
The DEMA (Diving Equipment & Marketing Association) show has changed. Over its first 23 years, as it grew, major exhibitors habitually took large-acreage stands to impress their customers. This trend halted last year, and the latest show confirmed that budgets are tighter, and downsizing the rule.
This was Diver's first year as an exhibitor, and we were delighted to meet so many visitors from around the world telling us that Diver was their favourite magazine and endorsing our policy of "telling it as it is". In many parts of the world that is clearly a novel approach to diving editorial!
One of the first companies to introduce nitrox rebreathers to the sports market, Draeger, was back with a new model, its name the subject of a competition at the show. Following on from the Atlantis/ Dolphin range, this semi-closed-circuit nitrox rebreather is aimed squarely at the sports market and costs just over half the price of a Dolphin at around £1100.
For about £315 more it can be fitted with the Oxygauge PPO2 sensor and gauge. It comes with a proposed depth limit of 20m and duration of one hour, suiting it well for training but I'm not sure what else. It doesn't look to be the set to put open-circuit nitrox out of business.
Well hidden on the Mares stand was a new departure for the Italian manufacturer. The Azimuth is also a semi-closed-circuit nitrox rebreather, but its two 4-litre cylinders give it a duration of up to three hours at depths to 30m on Nitrox 40.
The components are well protected inside a polyethylene shell fitted to a back-mount BC which incorporates weights at shoulder level.
Mares Vice-President Gianni Garofolo told me the set has its origins in a rebreather manufactured by an independent Italian company, and was originally aimed at the military market. The sports model uses a number of mainstream Mares components and is expected to retail at around £2500.
There is increasing movement toward fewer, larger manufacturers. Mares' parent group HTM recently bought the US Dacor company, marking the end of Dacor's 45 years as an independent. In future Dacor products will be made not in the USA but at Mares' Rapallo facility in Italy.
The idea is to improve Dacor's strength in Europe, and Mares' position in the USA. They say that together this will make them the largest diving equipment manufacturer worldwide, though this claim is also made by other groups.
The first-born of the marriage is the side-exhaust Viper regulator, also available as the Viper TEC, which incorporates a Trim Efficiency Control system in the second stage. This involves a spring-loaded lever in the mouthpiece deflecting air arriving down a "high flow air control tube", which is effectively the Mares Vortex system.
Its first stage seems to share parentage with the Mares V16 balanced diaphragm unit. The standard Viper has a first stage more akin to the V12.
Mares' new range of integrated-weight BCs, the Frontier, includes a ladies' model, the Frontier Vera (see Diver Tests).
A new fin from Mares always attracts attention, but the Rapida is lower down the range than the famous Avanti models. This lightweight fin with simpler blade design is said to increase stability by reducing "waffling". Can't wait for John Bantin to see if it lives up to that promise!
In recent years we have seen the "technical diving" training agencies grow and stabilise, while the mainstream agencies have brought nitrox and mixed-air diving into their programmes. It is clearly time for revenge, as the tekkie agencies are starting to cover basic training. TDI was at the show as the latest to enter this field, with its SDI (Scuba Diving International) training programme.
Significantly, it makes no attempt to teach use of decompression tables, explaining only that these were used before computers became standard equipment.
The Mares Airlab air-integrated dive computer adds some interesting features to improve a diver's bio-feedback.
A lower and separate LCD screen summarises all you need to know about your gas consumption, including not only "time remaining at depth" but also "consumption in surface litres per minute".
This enables you to identify your high-consumption periods and calm yourself down. Side panels flash when your tank pressure is low.
The Airlab also features a quick-disconnect so that you can stow it apart from your regulator. This and other Mares models come with two push-buttons to allow easier and more complete pre-dive programming.
Manufacturers confirm that there is little point introducing air-only computers these days; demand is for air/nitrox models - even for first-time buyers, who are clearly looking ahead.
Tekkie computer manufacturers such as Cochran and Dive-Rite allow for three gas combinations, while the planned Abyss Explorer from Abysmal Diving will hold details of up to nine pre-set gas mixes.
Oceanic's Datamax also gets an air-integrated version, the Pro Plus, with extended user-programming possibilities. Using two push-buttons allows a wider choice of display features and the user can design his own set of values for the button-operated alternative screen. The smaller Dataplus 2 has also gained this alternative screen feature.
As John Knight of Oceanic pointed out, his is now the largest full-range company making all its own products.
We can usually expect innovation from Uwatec, but this year all they were undertaking was delivery of items presented at last year's show, the Oxy2 and the Neverlost.
Parent company Scubapro has put its main effort into a new range of two and three-piece layered S-Tek suits. The idea is not new, but a suit that allows a mix and match of components can be a good solution if you dive at many different locations with a variety of water temperatures.
Lost and found
Underwater location systems such as Uwatec's Neverlost indicate that there is demand for improved certainty in finding the boat at the end of a dive, or returning to a fixed point. But the smallest, most compact system on offer is the Scout from Desert Star Systems. The hand-held receiver is only 122mm long and 25mm in diameter, the transmitter 137mm by 38mm.
A set costs around £155 and will help you find your way home with-in a 300m range at depths to 300m.
Instrument specialist Suunto of Finland once more came up with an innovative model. The Vyper dive computer is easy to read, easy to use, and easy to programme for your personal preferences. Using three push-buttons brings perhaps the most useful set of programming functions yet seen. The new decompression algorithm incorporates Bruce Wienke's Reduced Bubble Gradient Model, for dives that bend the rules of a standard Haldanian model.
The Mode button allows you to pre-plan your dive, simulate a dive and even set it to gauge mode when being used as a backup unit. It accepts nitrox from 21 to 50 per cent and displays an Oxygen Limit Fraction bar graph (a combination of CNS and OTU tracking).
Pressing a button during the dive creates an Event Marker that can be read back on your post-dive profile. The algorithm favours a three-minute safety stop on all dives, and counts down to zero.
Just when you had found the perfect fin, along come new theories. Apollo's Bio-Fin makes bold claims: "Reduces air consumption by 25-40 per cent", "Reach and sustain much higher speeds".
How? By splitting the fin blade down the middle, each half acting like a separate wing hinged on its side rail. There are two models, the moulded rubber Pro, and the composite moulded Eco.
On the Force Fin stand the big news was another split-bladed fin, though this one is non-moulded. The materials used are like those in a BC, so it can be made with a sewing machine or heat-sealing press!
It is "flexible" in every way, because with no costly tooling the maker can constantly change the colour or design. Does it work? Ask Force Fin's Bob Evans; no one really believes his designs work until they try them!
Another new fin is the ART from Ocean Master. The novelty is that the foot pocket and blade are separate entities connected around the level of the buckles, just below the ankle. This allows the blade to pivot around that axis, letting your leg rather than your foot take the strain.
Different materials are used which do not have to be bonded together during moulding.
TUSA has taken a different approach to give extra shaping to the fin blade on the power stroke. A separate, rigid sub-blade stiffens the inner part of the blade and enhances the channel effect of the softer main blade. This Dual Acceleration System is built in to its Platina fin.
Dive bags are expected to survive the rigours of long-haul travel and increasingly to fend off pilferers. Stahlsac already makes some of the toughest bags but the paranoid can now put theirs into a Pacsafe stainless-steel mesh. This will resist any attempt to get into pockets and zips and can be secured to lamp-posts or railings. The mesh can be used for different bags or back-packs.
Another approach is used by the Aqua-Lung Traveller 1500, a pull-along back-pack on wheels. All but one zip is internal, so when you pack you stow everything into one of the five compartments, zip them up, then pull the twin cursors on the main zip together and lock them using the padlock included.
When driving a fast RIB, it helps to be able to see where you're going. A dive mask impairs breathing and fogs up, so Technisub/Aqua-Lung has come up with a beautiful solution called the Seal, which fits like a wrap-around face mask but does not cover the nose. You can use it for all surface water sports and swimming, and it has an anti-fog treatment.
Another fun idea from the Aqua-Lung family is the Sidewinder snorkel, which has a tube made up of articulated sections so that it can be bent to any shape to wrap around your head, or to stow in a BC pocket.
A neat idea for carrying snorkels is incorporated into Seac-Sub's mask-strap clip. Leave it open on your strap and it simply snaps shut when you press the snorkel into place. Seac-Sub has an equally good idea on its top-of-the-range mask models, which feature a vertical push-button on the buckle that releases the strap for easy adjusting.
Finally, decent illumination now comes in smaller, stowable packages. I've never liked the idea of committing a hand to a lamp on a wreck dive, so the range of lights now offered by Princeton Tec fits the bill well. The Miniwave is a compact 4 C-cell pistol-grip light that comes in rechargeable 6.6W (about £105) and cell 10W (about £49) models. Its big brother, the 8 C-cell Shockwave comes in rechargeable 20W (about £170) or cell 12W (about £58) models.
Appeared in DIVER - March 1999