Like the New York Times travel show, I barely knew what to expect when I bought my ticket for the Beneath the Sea Dive Expo. I knew that the website was impossible to navigate, and so is New Jersey, where the show was located. Luckily I had use of a car that weekend so I had a way to attend, but I have such a complex about driving through the Garden State (Seriously, have you ever been on those highways?! Who designed them?!) that I basically burst into tears the second I drive through the Holland Tunnel. Finally, I spotted this car ahead of me. Calculating the likelihood of anyone with more than 10 diving related decals on their car not attending a dive show happening in a 10 mile radius, I threw the directions on the floor and followed them bumper to bumper. Two minutes later, I arrived.
When I finally arrived forty minutes past what mapquest predicted the trip would take, I was not in the best of moods. My foul mood chipped away as I entered the show and was greeted by two smiling mermaids representing Scuba Radio.
Anyone who has attended a convention knows the chaos and excitement that fills the cavernous expo centers. At Beneath the Sea, booths were occupied by everyone from tourism boards, dive resorts and liveaboards to regional local dive clubs. The major certification agencies, PADI and SSI, were there (and PADI was selling the e-learning HARD) as well as the major equipment and camera manufacturers and several merchandise lines selling clothing, jewelery and art. It wasn’t all business and consumerism though, as several groups were there promoting conservation and special interest diving, like Dive Heart, which helps amputees and veterans regain their sense of independence through diving.
In contrast to the New York Times Travel Show there were nowhere near as many giveaways and contest but diving is a fairly low profit business (from what I understand) so I’m not too surprised. In the same vein, the booths were, in general, a bit less splashy. It took me about two hours broken up between different seminars to see the whole show, stopping to chat to a few camera people, conservation groups and my old buddies the Cayman Islands, Bay Islands, and Blackbeard’s Cruises. It’s always fun to talk to people who live in a place you’ve visited and compare notes.
With the exception of a roofing contractor (seriously?) and some sort of asian ballet theatre group, every single exhibitor had something that drew me towards it. These were my highlights:
• The Women Diver’s Hall of Fame booth was staffed by a lovely and friendly group of women who told me all about some fantastic scholarships that I’m hoping to apply for next year, especially if I ever go for my instructor. They were very excited about me (I was one of very few single women I saw at the event) until I let it slip that I was taught to dive by my instructor boyfriend, yay for me! Then their eyes glazed over a bit. Not that I blame them, there’s a huge misconception about diving that women only get into it to make their husbands/boyfriends happy, and I kind of fit right into that. Better a diver who got into it to impress a boy than not a diver at all right? Right? That’s what I keep telling myself, and yet I’m pretty sure every time I repeat that story a feminist angel loses her wings.
• I stopped by the Sea Shepherd booth hoping to meet some hard core pirate members of the group famous for ramming and sinking whaling and shark finning boats violating international law. Their mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the ocean- and they clearly aren’t sitting around writing letters to senators and waiting for results! But there were no mean pirates to be found- just some super nice New Yorkers who let me in on how easy it is to be a part of the organization. I have a fantasy of someday getting involved on the boats here or at Greenpeace, but I’m guessing they are primarily looking for crew with the ability to lift more than 12 pounds at a time. So I’ll keep you posted.
• If I could have picked one destination or trip from the many that were being promoted at the show, I would hands down pick the Arenui Liveaboard in Indonesia. Without a doubt the most luxurious liveaboard boat I have ever seen, it makes quite a contrast to the Blackbeard’s trip that I recently took and loved. However luxury alone wouldn’t be enough to make this my top pick, in addition it is beautifully designed with an Indonesian style and has a true boutique feel. At around 6K a trip this is going to have to rest at the bottom of the bucket list for now.
• One thing that surprised me at the show were the number of artists displaying their diving and underwater inspired art. Most were not really my style but I fell hard for the paintings of Pascal Lecocq. His tongue in cheek interpretations of classic paintings with a diver’s twist really felt to me like a perfect way to show how all consuming diving can be for the true enthusiasts… to the point that they can see nothing else! I’m kicking myself for not buying some of his postcards.
• Into the Drink is new show about scuba diving and the lifestyle that often accompanies it (note the double entendre). These guys have incited quite the controversy over at Scuba Board for their heavy focus on the ahem, surface interval activities rather than hardcore diving, so I had a feeling they’d be a fun crew. The host and the producer were the ones at the booth, and they were not only passionate divers and friendly guys but also excellent salespeople, as I walked away from the booth with both the Season One DVD (okay, I wanted that anyway) and a t-shirt. Sigh. I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but when I do, you’ll be hearing about it!
As fun as the exhibitors were, the most rewarding and exciting part of the show were the seminars. Stay tuned for part II to hear about how I was starstruck by the Cousteau family, learned where iMax movies come from (not two iphones taped together in a plastic bag, as one panelist predicted), and appointed myself a new life mentor (I’ll fill her in soon).