The 28th annual Scuba Show at Long Beach Convention Center wrapped up on Sunday and it was a diverse and fun show all around. The final numbers haven't been tallied up yet, but last year there were reportedly over 10,000 attendees and they were expecting even more divers this year. The Scuba Show at Long Beach is by far the largest consumer scuba show in the western United States, and is roughly the same size as Beneath The Sea, held annually in New Jersey.
This year's Scuba Show featured over 300 exhibitors - everything from dive equipment manufacturers and travel agencies, to resort operators and dive shops. I even met a fellow who arranges African safaris (his itineraries can include scuba diving as well). There were plenty of seminars, but I stuck to the exhibition floor and barely made it through everything in two full days.
Below are some of the highlights of the 2015 Scuba Show at the Long Beach Convention Center
Specials, Specials, Specials
Early on during the first day I noticed that the veteran divers of the Scuba Show were hitting up all of the dive equipment retailers for the many great bargains available at the show while the getting was good. By the end of the first day many of the "show specials" were gone, though stores like Sport Chalet offered free shipping on items they'd run out of. Luckily I was able to get my hands on an XCEL wetsuit at around 70% off of retail, at the very end of the day. It was one of the last ones left on the rack, which they told me was jam packed at the start of the day.
Pack Your Bags
More than half of the exhibits on the floor involved dive travel destinations. Many resorts and dive operators from around the world were represented at the Scuba Show, including those from exotic "bucket list" places like Palau, Raja Ampat, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea and Micronesia. There were also abundant amounts of exhibitors from more frequently visited dive destinations such as the Cayman Islands, Florida Keys, Hawaii and Belize, and Liveaboard operators who run single boats as well as those operating entire fleets (Worldwide Dive and Sail/Siren Fleet, and the Aggressor/Dancer Fleet).
I was able to spend a healthy amount of time catching up with friends and dive buddies from World's Best Dives and Sam's Tours, and also got a lot of good intel on places I plan to dive soon, such as Dominica, Bonaire, the Florida Keys and Hawaii. Annual dive industry gatherings such as these are wonderful in that you get to see friends from all over the world in one place, and oftentimes realize that folks from distant corners of the world all know each other. It's truly a social event that every diver should experience at some point during their diving career.
The Scuba Show at Long Beach, being a consumer show (as opposed to, say DEMA, which is a convention for those working in the industry) offers a great chance to explore potential dive vacations, try and buy gear, and also to meet other recreational divers with shared interests in wreck diving, underwater photography, critter ID and more.
The other large contingent of exhibitors at the show were the dive gear manufacturers, distributors and retailers, and underwater imaging-related businesses. Let's start with the dive equipment: most of the major players were in attendance, with Oceanic Worldwide and Hollis displays being the most elaborate and covering the largest swaths of floorspace, followed by Aqualung, DUI Drysuits, Dive Gear Express, Apeks and the Huish Outdoors brands (Atomic Aquatics, Bare, Liquivision, Stahlsac, Zeagle and Sharkskin- who they're a distributor of). Noticeably absent was Shearwater Research, in my opinion the maker of some of the finest technical dive computers. There were also a great number of smaller manufacturers from all over the world showcasing their wares and increasing brand awareness. It was truly a fun time to just chit chat with folks from all corners of the industry from product design to quality assurance.
I was impressed with DUI's new warm water drysuit, which is light as a feather and looks well constructed, with silicone zip-seals and a variety of colors to choose from. Various video and dive light manufacturers continue to push the boundaries of LED and battery technology. Atomic showcased a new power-inflator unit, but other than that I didn't notice anything new from them since they unveiled the T3 regulator (which is my current primary reg). Seac Sub's line of core dive equipment looked quite sharp, and Apeks' designs have taken a refreshing turn. I had a lengthy and very informative conversation with Geoffrey from Dive Gear Express in Florida, one of my go-to equipment suppliers who are always cranking out quality product for very reasonable prices.
The Photo Equipment!
As usual, Backscatter had the widest array of underwater photo and video equipment on display. There was a separate booth just for their GoPro Flip Filter systems, which have evolved to be quite complete in everything the action camera enthusiast could possibly desire. Nauticam housings continue to surpass all other housing manufacturers in terms of features and quality for money (and this is coming from a Subal shooter!) for Point & Shoot cameras, DSLRs and everything in-between, including mirrorless. My next housing will definitely have a vacuum seal feature.
Bluewater Photo probably had the next largest selection of housings and strobes, and I got some good updates from Jack Connick at Optical Ocean Sales, whose website is continuing to develop as a fantastic resource for the aspiring underwater photographer. Surprisingly, Reef Photo didn't have much at the show, but maybe they focus on the East Coast shows. SEA&SEA, Light and Motion, Ikelite, Ultralight were all booths I spent a fair bit of time at.
One booth that I was pleasantly surprised to discover was that of Pacific Housing Repair. Just like the name sounds, they diagnose, repair and service all brands of underwater camera housings, and can do the same with almost any strobe or uw photo related gear- a very useful contact to have for us photogs. Another exhibit that turned some heads was that of Samy's camera, which had a section for some pretty jaw-droppingly sweet looking drones. Drones such as these seem to be taking the industry by storm, as much of the marketing material I saw of resorts and ships located in remote, gorgeous parts of the world were shot using aerial perspectives (either that or a reeeeally long selfie stick). There's even a consumer-attainable submersible drone model out now. Soon, we won't need to dive, we'll just plug our brains into a drone API and... nah, won't happen.
Education & Dive Safety
As always, PADI had a healthy representation at the show, as did REEF and DAN. There was a ScubaBoard booth there, but most of the time it wasn't staffed. I answered a few basic questions for curious people wandering by (with the disclaimer that I was just an average SB member). Diveheart was there. If you don't know who they are or what they do, look them up; they're doing great stuff in the world.
Perhaps my personal favorite was the booth of Roddenberry Adventures, where I had the good fortune of meeting Rod Roddenberry (I am a HUGE Trekkie). Team Roddenberry are not only super into diving and adventures, but generously hosted a party at the Aquarium of the Pacific for everyone (gracias!).
In summary, the 2015 Scuba Show at Long Beach did not disappoint. Technology continues to push the boundaries of lighting and underwater imaging gear. The equipment of scuba diving continues to evolve in smart ways, as new materials are combined with decades of design and engineering knowhow. Industry organizations continue to support us all in so many fantastic ways, and the dive travel industry is alive and well, with improving infrastructure that's capable of getting us further and further out into the aquatic wild. So, ditch your cable subscription and start planning and saving for your next great adventure out into our world's oceans. We only live once!
words and photos by Calvin Tang © AtlasOmega Media, LLC
Correction June 9, 2015: an earlier version of this article stated that Mares and ScubaPro were not in attendance as exhibitors at Scuba Show 2015, when in fact both were.