Those that have been following my journey since the beginning know that I had no intentions of heading home to the Unites States just ten months after leaving, but yet I’ve never really gone into my reason for spending the month of March at home. Well, it was a combination of factors, but there was one major catalyst: I won a diving grant from the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame! (More details tomorrow.) The award would be presented at Beneath The Sea, America’s largest consumer dive show, which I attended last year and loved. But unfortunately the show is in New Jersey, and this year I was in Thailand. Looking at my calendar I realized that the show fell on the same month as the New York Times Travel Show, St. Patrick’s Day, and my best friend’s and little sister’s spring breaks from school. I hesitated to break my plan and to come home so early, to upset the delicate balance of my happy expat life, but in the end I was reminded that the point of living my life in this particular manner was having the freedom and flexibility to take opportunities as they come.
So I booked a round trip ticket from Bangkok to New York, and found myself a few weeks later at the Beneath the Sea dive show!
The show is made up of many many parts. The largest components are the showroom floor, the free seminars, and the paid workshops. There are also show-hosted scholarships, an imaging competition, a film festival, and much more. In the showroom, tourism boards, dive resorts, equipment manufacturers and more set up booths to show off their wares and connect with the public. I love walking the floor and discovering new dive products, dreaming about new places to dive, and speaking with people passionate about the industry.
Some highlights from the showroom floor:
• I recently learned that Fidel Castro was a passionate scuba diver and protector of the oceans. This and my general fascination with traveling to Cuba drew me towards a booth that advertised liveaboard trips through Cuba’s pristine reefs. After all the buzz at the New York Times Travel Show about Cuba soon being open to Americans, I feel the need to get there before the crowds! More info: Avalon Cuban Diving Centers, www.cubandivingcenters.com.
• In addition to the scuba media giants like Sport Diver and Scuba Diving, there were a few new start-up dive magazines that caught my attention. As someone who has a strong interest in pursuing dive journalism some day, these newer magazines might be a great place to start pitching. More info: X-Ray Dive Magazine, Dive the World Magazine
• It’s always inspiring to see people take their passion for diving and turn it into a passion for saving the oceans. One group that I always admire is Sea Shepherd, who most famously enforces international whaling laws. A group that was new to me was Shark Angels, a PR-saavy group smart enough to put some beautiful women at the forefront of a cause with a fairly frightening face. They do great work!
• At this point in my life, I’m diving at the budget end of the spectrum. Southeast Asia, Central America, and camping-at-sea style liveaboards. But that doesn’t mean I can’t dream. There were a number of luxurious, high-end liveaboards based in Indonesia and the Philippines that had me pretty weak in the knees. Wanderlust time! More info: Dewi Nusantara, Indonesia’s Coral Triangle / Atlantis Azores, Philippines’ Coral Triangle / Putiraja, Indonesia’s Raja Ampat
• I received a sample of Reef Safe Sunscreen that I look forward to trying out. Traditional sunscreen can be damaging to coral reefs but this brand biodegrades in oceans, lakes and rivers and is non-toxic to sea life. I’ll keep you updated when I’m able to give it a try. More info: Reef Safe Suncare
• Think diving can’t be affordable? I pretty much always breeze by the dive travel agencies, as I am a budget diver and never really believed that they would cater to that or find a better deal than I could. One booth stopped me in my tracks however, with a sign asking “How Far Can You Go For Less than $750?” Consider my curiosity piqued! They advertised packages such as four nights in Bimini with six dives for $274, five nights in Cozumel with six dives and all meals and beverages for $496, and seven nights in Roatan with all meals and three dives a day for $749! Did you have any idea diving could be so affordable? Now, I’ve never used these services so I can’t comment on anything other than the prices, but for those rates I might just have to give them a try some day! More info: caribbeandivevacations.com, pacificdivevacations.com
While the show floor is fun, last year I walked away feeling like the real value of the show came from the amazing and diverse seminars on offer. I was a bit disappointed to see that the schedule this year had not nearly as many photography-based sessions on offer, but my hopes were still high.
With up to ten seminars taking place at once and only a title to base decisions on it was tough to choose which to attend. In the end I made it to:
• Sharks Count- Divers Counting Sharks Because Ever Shark Counts by Samantha Whitcraft. I ended up in this seminar when another I wanted to attend was cancelled and I started chatting to the speaker in the hall beforehand. It was a lucky mistake and I learned a lot about a great new project that is attempting to use divers everywhere to count and identify the sharks that they see on their recreational dives and use that data for scientific research. I also learned about JawsFest, which as an ocean lover, Martha’s Vineyard aficionado and movie buff I am really hoping to attend this summer!
• Ocean Wonders by Micheal Aw. Micheal Aw is an underwater photographer and one of the Divers of the Year being honored at Beneath the Sea. He boasts an impressive resume of awards and appearances in famous publications like National Geographic, so he is very qualified to present his list of eight places to dive before you die. His list included Lembeh, Raja Ampat, Cenderawasih Bay in Papua New Guinea (known for friendly whale sharks!), Hanifaru Lagoon in the Maldives (known for Manta Rays!), The Galapagos, Sardine Run in South Africa, the Antarctic, and the North Bahamas. Considering I’ve yet to make it to any of these locations, I have a lot of diving to do!
• Our Industry: Evolution through Revolution by Edward Hayes. I was really interested to attend some of the industry-focused seminars this year but only one fit into my schedule. Hayes laid out some bleak statistics about the scuba industry- it’s in decline. Hayes argued it’s due to poorly trained dive profesionals, outdated equipment, and too much focus on profit. He quoted a recent study of thousands of divers, 91% of whom said they were still scared or uncomfortable underwater after completing their underwater training. I don’t know if I got any great answers to the problem out of this seminar but it was interesting food for thought.
• The Great Ocean Adventure by Jean-Micheal Cousteau. Last year’s State of our Oceans panel led by the Cousteau family basically made the show for me, so I had pretty high hopes for this. Unfortunately it didn’t exactly live up to my expectations, though Jean-Micheal is still an inspiring speaker. Two points he made that I love- Animals only kill to eat, making them far superior beings to ourselves, and divers are ambassadors to the oceans.
• Reef Retrospective: 30 years of Dive Journalism by Stephen Frink. This was a pretty interesting look at the presenter’s very successful career. Unfortunately I was looking for more meaty insider info about the underwater photography industry and how to get into it, while I think the rest of the audience was looking for a colorful slideshow (they won).
• Palau Shark Sanctuary 8th Wonder of the World by Annie Crawley. Meeting Annie was one of the highlights of last year’s show, and so I was thrilled when I walked into her seminar and she remembered me right away. She is an inspiration and a beautiful example of a woman paving her own path in the dive industry.
Overall I really enjoyed this year’s show. However, there is a lot of room for improvement. Compared to the New York Times Travel Show, another travel-related expo I attended just two week’s before, Beneath the Sea has a long way to go in terms of organization and design of the show. I think they should cut the number of seminars in half and go for quality over quantity, as well as providing descriptions of each so that attendees can better choose which to go to. And I think they should cut the half a dozen non-diving related booths (home insurance, really?) which just clutter things and add confusion.
Still, I will continue to attend again and again because this is an industry that I am passionate about and want to support. I cherish the opportunity to meet leaders in the dive world, learn about topics ranging from ocean conservation to the newest wetsuit technology, and daydream about new dive locations around the globe.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame brunch and the diving grant that I took home!