Literally speaking, in a kind of diving figure of speech, we are almost exactly 4 years down the line - and what a journey that’s been.
We have utterly enjoyed every step we’ve taken. We love serving the diving sangha, the diving community. Still, as we go deeper and deeper down that line and into the diving industry, we are asking ourselves a lot of questions.
Recently I stumbled upon a Forbes article about the future of the diving industry and of course every year at DEMA there’s much talk about the future of dive equipment.
We have always claimed that diving has always had an important role to play. Diving can help people see the world in a different way, inspiring people to truly care about our oceans and our planet. We also believe divers are special, privileged people, ocean ambassadors and guardians.
Still diving is far from becoming mainstream (at least in Europe) and the diving industry always appears to be struggling.
Some key industry players complain that the industry is not growing, they say scuba diving appeals to older people only, that it’s not cool enough to attract younger people.
The problem with that - they say - is that only young people have the power to attract other people - possibly because they’re more social media savvy, better at “influencing” others and generate following.
Some say freediving is growing and scuba diving is shrinking. The global diving market does not seem to be as big as PADI claims it is and a lot of newly certified divers do not become active divers.
A certain type of dive instructor is also to blame for newly certified divers dropping out of the sport. There are instructors who are skilled enough as divers but not skilled enough in the complicated art of human relations and psychology. Some of them become instructors because they think it’s an easy way to travel the world, but they lack training in hospitality and do not understand their true role. Some teach diving military style, giving less importance to the fact that diving should be about enjoying the marine environment. Others simply do not care enough and think divers' safety is not their responsibility at all, so beginners don't feel they are properly looked after. Then there are dive centres that do no follow proper practices and are just interested in churning out new divers - who cares if they stop diving after they’ve paid for their Open Water course. The list can go on and if you had been unlucky enough to have started diving with such people then it’s unlikely you’ll keep going.
Besides obvious business challenges, at the moment the diving industry has also to deal with worries concerning coral bleaching epidemic, declining fish population and plastic pollution.
Although it sounds very dramatic, the issue is not to be taken lightly and the industry will have to find a way to manage people’s expectations better.
This applies to dive travel too, as we know well (see our blog post “diving and disappointment”). There is no point in saying that you will see schooling hammerheads in the thousands if El Niño has been pushing them deeper and you’ll be lucky to see a few, it’s wildlife in its habitat, not a zoo. Of course operators fear losing customers but they’ll certainly not going to win repeated customers by overpromising what nature in its unpredictability can often not deliver.
I’m also tired of classic click bait articles with titles like “the 10 best dives” or “the 10 best liveaboards” of the world. Sometimes its easier to have a glorious diving experience in an unknown spot and an average dive in a famous, possibly overcrowded, site. Sensationalism in diving hardly works.
Once in a while we also hear about accidents, people losing their life diving. Recently the news of a diver being bitten by a Tiger shark in Cocos became big news around the world and suddenly all kind of people - many of them not divers - started scrutinising the safety of diving and making assumptions on shark behaviour. Risk is undeniably a big part of diving but you’re still more likely to die in a car accident than in a shark attack.
When you deny yourself the thrill of adventure because of some irrational fear you have everything to lose. Divers know they can enter unchartered territories and they accept the risk that entails and know the rewards too. There is a very good article on this particular accident by industry veteran John Bantin on Undercurrent by the way.
Technology isn’t helping much either. We all would love underwater maps and GPS, not to mention the possibility to replace the antiquated pressurised tank with a futuristic helmet but let’s be honest, even if that technology exists (it probably does) it will be most likely used by astronauts not by recreational divers. So we’re stuck with what we’ve got, which for some people looks like “a lot to deal with”.
So, is it really so bad for the sport of diving?
We don’t think so at all, simply because we know there are still many, many passionate divers around the world.
However it will not only be up to the diving industry - as in training agencies, equipment manufacturers, dive centres and travel agencies - to promote diving as a wonderful activity, to improve diving practices and to create a “diving lifestyle”. It will be up to passionate, active divers to do so.
We can demand better instructors, better equipment, more realistic experiences, more environmental friendly practices. We still have the power of choice.
I must say, so many of us seems to do so much to spread “diving love” and to embrace mindful lifestyle choices. I just have to look at what my diver friends share on social media to realise how much we all do - from sharing awareness about known environmental issues to inspiring other people to dive.
It might all seems like hard work sometimes but we certainly should not give up.