The 18th London International Dive Show smashed all previous attendance records...
Report by Nicola Tyrrell
THE stereo speakers blasted into life, and onto the catwalk strutted a tall, waif-like model, dressed in a skimpy piece of floor-length blue plastic held together with fine black rope. Underneath she wore nothing more than a pair of black fishnet stockings and stiletto heels.
"Ohmygod! That's like something out of King's Cross," spluttered Hunter the Gladiator, wrenching his jaw off the floor. "I thought this was supposed to be a fashion show!"
Much to the obvious surprise of all present, it was indeed a fashion show, and Hunter was there to present the winning trophies. The model, her face covered in ghoulish blue make-up, hair gelled up to the ceiling, scowled at the audience as the next girl slid into view. Also in fishnets, and armed with a pair of pvc stiletto thigh boots, she was wearing - or rather not wearing - two aquamarine strips of plastic.
The scene may not have inspired so much eye-popping had it not been for the setting - the middle of Olympia's Grand Hall during the London International Dive Show.
Six London fashion colleges had been asked to come up with 30 diving-inspired designs, which sounded like a useful exercise for visitors wanting to reap a few holiday wardrobe ideas. Unfortunately, it was not stipulated in the designers' brief that their creations had to be wearable, but all was not lost - where some failed in practicality they triumphed in creativity.
A panel of judges was tasked with choosing the best collection and best design, both of which were won by Southgate College for an all-silver, mermaid-inspired theme.
Hysterical shrieking could be heard behind the catwalk when 18-year-old Effigenia Yerolemou heard she was the big winner. "It's so scary. I had no idea," she cried, clearly shaking with shock.
Hunter, who had dropped into the Show to prove to Diver readers that he had survived his Bahamian shark encounter intact (See Diver, April), appeared to be the subject of some confusion - with winning trinkets in hand, he politely explained to the eager models that he was not himself the trophy. But he was more than happy to sign a few autographs.
Away from the glitz and glamour, the show was marching on. The hall steadily filled up as the weekend progressed but, being bigger than usual, absorbed a record crowd comfortably. From what exhibitors were saying the crowd was a particularly enthusiastic one.
Holidays were snapped up, kit was virtually walking off the stands, and there was a flurry of interest in dive courses. While non-divers were scouting the stalls trying to decide where to jet off to for their first taste of the sport, the more experienced were being drawn to the tekkie stands. AP Valves was awash with divers wanting to discover the much-rumoured delights of the Buddy Inspiration. The company's Dave Thompson expressed surprise at the number of people booking courses and ordering units at £3000 a go. "We're very pleased," he beamed.
For the BSAC, the show provided a perfect chance to introduce the new branch Club Diver qualification.
A Q && A session hosted by the Club's Mike Holbrook and Alison Boler was helpful for members who were still a little unsure about what the changes would mean and when they would come into effect.
Mike confirmed that the old-style Novice courses would no longer be available to branches after April 1999. Sensing some confusion in the audience, he reassured members that the Club Diver and recently-launched Ocean Diver qualification for schools were equivalent in standing - Club Divers would be warmly welcomed at BSAC schools.
Mike's efforts must have paid off, judging by the speed at which his supply of 500 Club Diver packs disappeared off the stand at £50 a time. By Saturday afternoon, stocks were already in need of replenishing: "One person has just come along wanting 60 packs," Mike despaired.
Tucked away in the seminar rooms, several of the guest speakers were meanwhile holding their audiences spellbound with tales of shark encounters. King and queen of the shark world Ron and Valerie Taylor flew in from Australia with a selection of documentaries to illustrate their legendary lives as underwater film-makers and shark researchers.
The audience was treated to footage showing the time when Valerie tested the first chainmail suit by strapping bait to her arm and offering it to a hungry shark. How did it feel? the audience wanted to know. "Oh, it gave me a tremendous opportunity to be bitten over and over again and learn so much about shark behaviour!" she said.
Nothing, it seems, could faze this couple, but after watching some of their more adventurous moments one had to ask: had they ever felt their lives were in danger?
"Yes, once," said Valerie. "I was almost sucked into a whirlpool." No mention of sharks, but then the Taylors refer to all but a few of these ocean predators as "cuties".
Vic Peddemors from South Africa's Natal Sharks Board showed a film of the new electronic shark repellent, Shark Pod, being tested on great whites. Clearly a technological breakthrough, it has attracted a mass of media attention, but no buyers. Why? "Shark diving has become a major tourist event - attitudes have simply changed," he said.
Proving that Vic was right, Gary Adkison from Walker's Cay in the Bahamas spoke about his "kids" in the Abaco islands: not only are they very intelligent, he said, but they are sensitive souls and are easily bored.
This was not a crooning father talking about his cherished offspring, but a reference to the Abaco sharks. "We've got to stop exploiting this animal," he pleaded.
Elsewhere at the show, budding underwater photographers were hoping to improve their technique in a workshop run by underwater photographer and cameraman Mike Portelly, teamed up with recent Diver Photographer of the Year winner Linda Dunk.
"You've got to aim for the 'oooh' factor, " said Linda, with contagious enthusiasm. She made her art sound easy as she criticised examples of her own work and gave a set of simple guidelines for improvement. But she did warn: "Most of my stuff still goes in the bin - you'll need a lot of film to get just one frame you're happy with."
Mike Portelly insisted that the only way to improve your pictures was through experimentation, and wildlife cameraman Peter Scoones was on hand with a few pointers of his own.
In another lecture room, Les Kemp was meanwhile wowing visitors with his stunning 3D underwater production, Watermark, filmed in the Red Sea.
Wreckies turned up in droves to hear Kevin Gurr's presentation on last year's expedition to the Britannic. There was standing room only as he recounted the ups and downs of exploring the Titanic's 260m sister ship wrecked in the Aegean.
It may have sounded like an exciting adventure, but hearing about the sheer logistics of the operation was surely enough to put off all but the very determined.
If the seminar rooms were for learning, the main hall was for doing, buying and winning. Some younger visitors were disappointed to find that for once the BSAC had decided not to provide its Try-Dive pool for them to splash about in, but all was not lost.
The Royal Navy was on hand to save the day with a real live submarine for the tots to explore. "There are lots of switches and buttons and it's really dark," squealed eight-year-old Stephen Hammil, as he emerged from the hatch.
As ever, some visitors walked away from the show with more than they had bargained for.
Natasha Reilly from Putney scooped the Grand Prize Draw - a two-week trip for two in the Bahamas, diving with Nassau Scuba Centre and Walker's Cay in the Abaco Islands, courtesy of the Bahamas Tourist Board. And John Goodwin-Self, who bought 20 pre-show tickets, won a week for ten in the Red Sea.
Many other holidays and other prizes offered by exhibitors were won too (see News page 96). Alas, many divers went home disappointed that they were not among the chosen few to be jetted off to the sun.
But they did not despair, for there were only seven months to go before they could try again - in Birmingham.
The London International Dive Show was held at Olympia over the weekend of 28-29 March, organised by Diver Magazine in association with the BSAC.
Appeared in DIVER - May 1998