Britain's "dive tribe" gathered in large numbers for the 1996 London International Dive Show at Olympia. Every year our sport gets more popular as more people discover the thrill of being underwater. This year, more than 13,000 people pitched up at the National Hall over the course of the weekend of 23-24 March.
"I never would have expected such a friendly atmosphere," enthused one first-timer to the show. Another also seemed to be enjoying the 'raptures of the deep': "It's so relaxing being around divers. I've really gone overboard on the purchases," she said, showing me a selection of bags stuffed with T-shirts, books and a lycra suit.
Indeed, there was plenty for people to smile about. Never before have visitors to the London International Dive Show had so many opportunities to win prizes.
A spectacular holiday to the Bahamas, a holiday to Jamaica, a£ 12,000 RIB, a VHF radio, an echo sounder, a Typhoon drysuit, £500 worth of diving gear, a personal locator beacon, an NAS training course ... the list exhaustive as companies clamoured to offer visitors a chance to win their products.
For Geoff Baker from Bracknell, the prospect of spending two weeks at UNEXSO and Small Hope Bay in the Bahamas, was "only just beginning to sink in". How did he react to the news? "I was very surprised to be honest. You don't expect it, especially when it's one of your mates who rings you to tell you."
Steven Etienne of Hillingdon Sub-Aqua Club, Middlesex, didn't realise that the key he had received for pre-booking 10 tickets for his branch had won a £12,000 Osprey RIB. "I thought all the keys would open it, and there would be something else I had to do," he exclaimed.
So how did he feel on discovering he had indeed won the boat? "Brilliant!" The timing of the win couldn't have been better. "Our club has a 10-year old RIB, also an Osprey, which we had been discussing replacing. This happened at just the right time of year."
In other competitions, Danny Hurley from Crayford, Kent, won a 4-night holiday to Jamaica with Dreamscape Dive Tours, and Cassandra James of Liverpool won a top-of-the-range Typhoon Ranger II drysuit. L. Medcalf was the winner of a Swiftech VHF hand-held radio, and E. Allen won an echo sounder. Both prizes were donated by Simpson Lawrence.But the attractions were by no means limited to the prizes on offer. The centrepiece of this year's Show was the BSAC's Try Dive pool.
The British Sub-Aqua Club instructors who had volunteered to take beginners for a quick scuba lesson must have been wondering when they were going to get a coffee break! Over the course of the weekend 150 people donned the gear and took the plunge for the very first time.
The BSAC's new Nitrox Diver courses were being taught for the first time at a public exhibition. BSAC members were keen to get in on the act and 70 people participated over the course of the weekend.
Upstairs on the gallery level, alongside several BSAC branches who were putting on a lively display, was a collection of underwater photography to inspire us all. Sixteen of the world's best photographers had placed some of their most thrilling images on display.
One of the photographers whose work was on display was also taking the time to reveal some of his film-making secrets. Top creative underwater film-maker Mike Portelly explained the thinking and practical techniques behind the commercials he and his team make. The room was packed and the presentation was received extremely enthusiastically.
Mike was also presented with Diver Magazine's Diver of the Year Trophy, which is awarded to divers who have made on outstanding contribution to the sport.
LIDS 96 was organised by Diver Magazine in association with the British Sub-Aqua Club.