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Like the New York Times travel show, I barely knew what to expect when I bought my ticket for the . 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. Yet my foul demeanor 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, and , 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 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 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 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 in Indonesia. Without a doubt the most luxurious liveaboard boat I have ever seen, it makes quite a contrast to the 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 . 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.

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• 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 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 seminar, where 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).

The best part? All seminars were all included free in my $18 per day day-pass. The worst part? Figuring out which of the four simultaneous lectures to attend at any given time! The offerings were split somewhat evenly between destinations, photography/videography, conservation, and tech diving. I spent most of my time at the photography lectures, though one was a last-minute swap out after the much-anticipated Lionfish lecture was rescheduled. You already know how worked up I am about that, so maybe it’s for the best that I missed it.

Instead, I snuck into a conference room and heard an enthusiastic voice cutting through the crowd behind me, breezing up the aisle with a rolling suitcase behind her. For the next hour I sat entranced as the most bubbly and enthusiastic person I’ve ever met told us about her amazing career in underwater video. is a member of the Woman Diver’s Hall of Fame, producer of the Dive into Your Imagination children’s series and a seasoned underwater filmmaker. The seminar was Top Ten Shots you Need to Master, but I was far more interested in learning how I could replicate this woman’s life! I left the room floating on air and this isn’t the last you’ll hear about Annie….

Next I headed to Underwater IMAX Film Production, which was a fun and interesting little presentation. Having seen quite a few underwater IMAX movies at the Boston Aquarium, I was curious to lay eyes on the filmmakers. The female half of the husband and wife  team was smaller than me- making it all the more amazing that she helps operate a camera weighing over 1,000lbs! I was also interested to learn that three minutes of filming costs over $9K in film and processing. That makes for a pretty pricey feature film! The husband also spoke a bit about an eye disease he has contracted from spending so much of his life underwater. I don’t think the average diver has to worry- these are people that stay down as long as 6 hours on rebreathers to get a shot.

My last stop on Saturday was the standing room only State of our Oceans panel given by the first family of scuba, the Cousteaus. I can confidently say this was the most inspired I have ever felt to make a change my behavior in order to change our environment. Jean Micheal Cousteau is an engaging, composed public speaker, but about halfway through his speech he stopped, pointed out an infant in the audience, and stated simply that if we do not act now, if we don’t each make a change in our lives, the oceans will be irreversibly damaged, within that child’s lifetime.

The entire family took turns speaking, and the mood shifted from sadness over the deterioration of the ocean (especially visible to long time divers!) to hope over how we can help. They encouraged the audience to stop blaming corporations, stop blaming governments, and stop blaming other countries and simply take responsibility for yourself and live as an example.  The warned us not to be overwhelmed, that if we can change our habits we can help others do so next.

I have a big post planned about how I plan to change my actions, and what I’m hoping to do to help with cleaning up the oceans. But if you’re eager to be informed today, visit the Cousteau’s for more info.

Sunday I attended three photography seminars of varying interest, but before heading home I saw one more seminar on the list by Annie Crawley. I had been thinking about her story since the day before and I decided to go to her second presentation as well, as the last one put me in such a good mood. The effect was the same. At one point during the hour Annie pointed right at me and said “and you young people, you need to do this all while you can! Sell your car, buy a plane ticket and go chase the dream!” Being at the show on my own, I had been battling shyness all weekend but at the end of the hour I forced myself to go up and introduce myself and tell her I was in fact planning to do just that. We had a great conversation in which Annie told me to please keep in with her and update her on my career. She ended by pulling me aside and telling me she wanted to support me in a career in underwater video and giving me a free copy of her Camera Coach DVD, something I had considered but shied away from due to the $30 price tag. It was such a touching gesture and combined with such warm words of support, I walked away from the weekend feeling hopeful and excited for the future.

To divers at any level, I encourage you to go to a show like this in your area! You’ll meet like minded people, get ideas for new trips, and if you’re lucky, you might walk away ready to become an oscar winning filmmaker and singlehandedly save the ocean.

Stay tuned!

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