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Confessions of a Lifestyle Image Maker

Pioneered by Patagonia, lifestyle marketing is all the rage in sports and active lifestyle circles. Meet Luke Inman, the man who’s bringing lifestyle image-making to diving and titillating buyers along the way. He says we need more industry solidarity, and a lot more women divers. Interview by Michael Menduno.

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Forty five-year-old British ex-pat Luke Inman has carved out a unique niche in the diving industry working as an award-winning filmmaker and photographer, and a dive shop owner based in La Paz, Mexico. Having graduated from the London International Film School, he has shot film and photographs for The BBC, Castle Rock Entertainment, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, Lucas Films, the Mexican Tourist Bureau, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, and National Geographic, as well as major brands like American Express and Playboy. He also won an MTV Latin America Best Video award.

Inman is also a passionate diver and dive educator who been teaching scuba for 22 years. In addition to being a PADI course director and Tec instructor trainer (IT), he is an IANTD, RAID and TDI mix and rebreather instructor, a DAN instructor trainer, HSE commercial diver Part 3 & 4, and is now training to become a GUE Fundies instructor. He has owned and operated Cortez Expeditions, a Five-Star Dive Centre in La Paz since 2015,

In the last few years, Inman, has turned his attention to “lifestyle” image making working with diving brands like Apex, Fourth Element, Neptunic, Halcyon, PADI, and others. If you are reading this blog, you have likely seen some of his compelling diving lifestyle images. We asked him to talk to us about his newly found focus on lifestyle and its importance to the business of diving.

Photo of Charlotte Holmes by Luke Inman for Fourth Element’s new Ocean Positive Collection.

InDepth: So, let me get this straight. You’ve recently completed three major diving “lifestyle” shoots and all of them are with women. No men at all. How did that come about? Are vendors just going to focus on women divers now, or is this, in fact, like your new dream job?

Luke Inman: Ha ha! Maybe a bit of both. First Jim Standing, at Fourth Element said that he wanted to empower women with their new line. PADI, whom  I have been working with, wanted me to shoot a film for Women’s Dive Day. And then I was approached by Mark Messersmith and Lauren Fanning at Halcyon who wanted me to do a lifestyle shoot to promote their new back plate and colors for women, and or for men who fancy pink and teal. It was equipment-based but there were no diving shots involved.

I’m guessing your pretty comfortable working with that other gender.

It goes back to my early days of recreational diving. I think being small in stature, and always being the youngest, gave me a lot of empathy for the women. I would comment or give an opinion, even as an instructor, and the old, chauvinistic, macho divers would class me with the women. I would get sort of pushed aside. “No, you go with the females. You’re too young, and you don’t know anything.” Of course, the reality is I was already a commercial diver with hundreds of hours before I ever did my PADI open water, much less instructor course.

You had your baptism of fire in high-end lifestyle photography in the surf and snowboarding industry working with Quiksilver. How does that translate to diving? Do you find that lifestyle marketing is beginning to resonate with the diving industry?

Lifestyle photography is something new that has emerged with social media and has quickly become an essential part of marketing and promotion for many companies. I think that the dive training agencies from PADI to GUE are just beginning to realize how important it is in branding, that is promoting the lifestyle rather than just training. And you’re starting to see that with some of the manufacturers like Fourth Element, Halcyon and others as well.

Photo of Ivonne Arambula and Charlotte Holmes by Luke Inman for Fourth Element’s new Ocean Positive Collection.

As an example of the power of lifestyle branding, I think we could walk out on the street right now, and find somebody wearing a Patagonia or North Face T-shirt or jacket that has never climbed a mountain. You could also likely find someone wearing a Quiksilver Tee that has never surfed or seen snow. Social media helps with that as well.

Conversely, I doubt seriously that you could find anyone wearing a PADI, or GUE, Scubapro, Sherwood or Poseidon T-shirt, or any article of clothing from the diving industry who wasn’t a diver, because people that aren’t divers just don’t think it’s cool enough. Fourth Element may become the exception.

Why is that?

To me, Fourth Element is the only brand that reaches outside of the dive industry in terms of fashion and lifestyle. They are in like some 200 FatFace active lifestyle stores in Great Britain and that buyer doesn’t care that there’s not even water in some of the photographs. The store buyers just want to know that Fourth Element divers don’t model bikinis for Billabong. Obviously, we go with the aesthetic. So on a very small scale, Fourth Element is a featherweight boxer fighting in the heavyweight division.

Ha! I like that! And I think Fourth Element’s imagery is always James Dean cool. Why haven’t other manufacturers picked up on that?

I think one of the problems is that the manufacturers seem so hell-bent on just producing and selling products rather than lifestyle. You can see that at DEMA [the annual diving industry trade show]. I think that the equipment should almost play second fiddle to the lifestyle and the clothing.

It’s clothing that saved the surf industry. They don’t make any money on neoprene and fiberglass surfboards. The surf industry is a billion-dollar industry because it’s become a fashion industry.

Now I don’t think the dive industry needs to become fashion driven, by  any stretch of the imagination, but we do need to add lifestyle to grow. And I think it’s become important to the agencies, because the training is more unified across agencies.

Meaning its harder to differentiate training among agencies? I certainly see PADI moving in the lifestyle direction.

That’s been part of my work as well. I’m responsible for some of that.

Video by Luke Inman for PADI’s Women’s Dive Day 2017. Divers/Models: Morgan Sanchez, dive instructor, Gemma Smith, Cave and Technical Diving Instructor, Afrelandra.

On the three lifestyle shoots we’ve been talking about, you used some of your staff as models. How did that come about?

I was consulting with Fourth Element. And I’ll be perfectly honest with you, Jim [Standing] turned around to me one day and he went, two of the women that work for you have got a lot of credibility as divers. They’re both tech divers. Karla is PADI divemaster. Afelandra is a PADI Ambassador and she’s has taken Fundamentals. They’re both also very photogenic. Do us a favor and don’t charge us too much money, but can you produce something with them within our budget?

And it kind of snowballed from there because we wanted to make sure that the models that we were using were credible as divers.  And as I was saying, there also has to be an aesthetic to satisfy buyers outside of the dive industry. So we tried to kill as many birds as we could with one stone and also to do it as cheaply as possible.

Photo of Karla Rodriguez by Luke Inman for Fourth Element’s Thermocline Collection.

And store buyers have been happy with the result?

It’s been very positive. Funny story. One of the Fourth Element reps called on a buyer in the Midwest. The female buyer pulled out the catalog and pointed at a Fourth Element photo and said when are you going to stop using these skinny models? Women in my store don’t associate with this girl. It’s not fair. She’s like a perfect 10.

And the sales rep was like, “that’s Karla. She’s a crossfit champion and a divemaster. She’s got a Master’s degree in fish ecology and regularly dives to 200 feet.” And the buyer was just blown away by this information and said,  “why aren’t you promoting this?” Slowly and surely we are; Fourth Element is trying to get that message out.

They’re not just pretty faces; they’re accomplished people in dive world. Do you think it comes through that these are real divers and not just models?

I think that we need to start telling the girls’ stories a bit more, and that’s the beauty of social media. However, what’s very important and does come across is the camaraderie of us all working and shooting together. Everyone is happy and most important, the girls are comfortable wearing the gear because they are divers. With some of the mainstream brands, you can tell that the models are not divers or at least very inexperienced ones.

I really like the idea of showing real people doing real things. But unfortunately, I think we are still at a stage where they have to be very photogenic for it to be a hook. Still the emphasis needs to be on the product, the diving and the lifestyle, and just cool people using the product as opposed to, here’s a pretty girl, let’s slap a jacket on her.

Photo of Charlotte Holmes by Luke Inman for Fourth Element’s new Ocean Positive Collection.

It has to inspire!

It’s very important that we inspire people. We had a young dive master candidate approach us and her whole motivation to get into diving was seeing what these girls do for a lifestyle; you can be a strong woman and still look good. I think that’s helped with Fourth Element making equipment and clothing that can stand up and compete with Patagonia and North Face, although on a smaller scale.

Photo of Ivonne Arambula by Luke Inman for Fourth Element.

I heard that Fourth Element co-founder Paul Strike showed images from your Ocean Positive bikini shoot at his talk at the United Nations World Ocean Day celebration last year.

I was really proud of that. I’m also proud to have been recognized as a lifestyle photographer, because there aren’t many in our industry!

Are there any unique challenges to making diving lifestyle photography?

Within the diving industry, it’s definitely budget. I have shot a bikini special for FHM magazine. I have also shot for Playboy and of course Quiksilver. And the resources you’re given when you shoot for Quiksilver or Playboy or FHM are completely different than a shoot for Aqua Lung, Halcyon or Fourth Element. [Inman rolls his eyes] It’s very, very different!

Ha. Having worked in Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and in the diving business for more than a few decades, I completely understand.

Another issue that we suffer from is this: if you put a diving image online, even if it’s aimed at non-divers, divers are going to criticize it. Someone is going to notice that the low-pressure hose is not connected properly, or a D-ring is too far forward, or her knees are too low in trim position. In almost all cases, the criticism is from men.

Photo of Charlotte Holmes by Luke Inman for Fourth Element’s new Ocean Positive Collection.

There are somes times when dive world feels like a combat sport.

I would like to see more cohesiveness and solidarity in the dive industry and that’s one of the reasons I think we need more women; because they have a far better approach. Men are competitive and are quick to apply ego. They are quick to attack. “Oh look, look at him, his buoyancy is no good. Or that agency is no good.”

Women tend to be more nurturing and I think we need to nurture one another better. As one of my friends and mentors, Paul Toomer [training director of RAID] has been saying to everyone who will listen, we need to stop attacking each other. It’s hurting the dive industry.

I think Toomer is spot-on!

I remember Jim [Standing] saying that he went on a dive boat on the south coast without a buddy and had a standup battle with a diver. I won’t say which agency but they were wearing Jet Fins. He wouldn’t dive with Jim because he didn’t have a long hose. “You know, we are both capable divers,” Jim offered, “let’s just go diving.”

I think there’s quite a bit of competitiveness that is ego driven and unnecessary in our industry, which is one of the reasons I like working predominantly with girls. I just did an instructor course that, out of the nine candidates, seven were girls and only two guys. And the whole dynamic was so much more nurturing and about helping one another.

Some estrogen with that gas mix?

I think we need a big injection of the feminine in the dive industry!

Photo of Charlotte Holmes and Ivonne Arambula by Luke Inman for Fourth Element’s new Ocean Positive Collection.

Overall the diving industry is pretty conservative. Have you any amusing or unusual incidents where you pushed the images a bit too far, where clients or consumers gave you a hard time.

[Inman laughs] There’s been couple of incidents. I was shooting for PADI Women’s Dive Day. The plan was for me to film this beautiful Latina girl, who’s a PADI course director snorkeling in a bikini. And I started filming her and thought, we could never use this because, err she’s, I believe the expression would be, very well-endowed. And I took the footage back to the boat and I was like, we’re going to have to reshoot this with her in a Lycra vest. And the PADI people were like, what do you mean? And I showed them the film and they were like, “Oh yeah, that definitely has to be reshot.”

Hmm, too much cleavage?

Haha. yeah. I also remember one of the images we shot for Fourth Element for Instagram got this huge complaint that we used a sexist image that was belittling to women. It was a photo of a woman in a bikini sitting in the back of the boat checking a gauge. You can’t see her backside, you can’t see anything. She’s just in a bikini. It’s very sporting. The screen grab of this image did the rounds among the Fourth Element women and everyone went, “What? How is that exploiting women?”

Again, I think we come back to the fact, there are quite a few crazies out there. There are a whole lot of people that will bag an image, because it was posted by PADI. I’ve also heard people from other tech agencies reacting to a GUE image with, “They’re the scientologists of the dive world. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid or you will all end up dressing the same.”

Oh yes, I’ve heard that one. However, it feels like things are slowly starting to change.

I think people in the dive industry are finally starting to realize that the competition for GUE isn’t IANTD or TDI. The competition for PADI isn’t SSI or RAID. It’s mountain biking and snowboarding and surfing and everything that is more easily accessible than entry into open water.

Photo of Afelandra Gonzalez by Luke Inman for Halcyon Dive Systems.

Toomer turned me on to that. The cycling market is HUGE! In fact, all of the sports you mention are way bigger than diving, and are generating way more money. However, most of the surface of the planet is water. That’s our conundrum.

The word is solidarity. We need more solidarity and a little bit more acceptance. That’s why I find it really encouraging to see companies willing to collaborate on some big campaigns that went through out the industry. To have, for example, Halcyon say, , we want to be on the Fourth Element shoot, even though Halcyon and GUE have this great relationship with SANTI.

We were inundated with our shoot at TEKDive USA, everybody wanted their products on it, Sub-Gravity, Aqua Lung, and Halcyon. And of course, manufacturers fall all over themselves to get their gear on a PADI shoot. It’s just nice to see that there is an understanding of how all boats float on a rising tide.

What could we do if we all worked together?

I think in the end, it comes down to inspiring people to dive. That’s what I want to do. In his speech at this year’s DEMA show [PADI CEO] Drew Richardson said that PADI and their agency were focused on making diving bigger, making the pie bigger and bringing people into diving. And they are doing it!

Photo of Afelandra Gonzalez by Luke Inman for Halcyon Dive Systems.

Just about everyone that knocks on my dive center door always says the same thing. They say, “I want to do my PADI.” PADI is the brand that’s bringing people in. And I think other brands, like Aqua Lung, Apex, Sherwood, all of the brands, should legitimately be looking at doing that too.

In addition to PADI, I see that you are now offering GUE classes at your store.

I have to say that the two agencies that I have found the most welcoming with less ego and less attitude are PADI and GUE, which is one of the reasons we have decided to  focus on those two. I am very happy and content to teach PADI and I can’t wait to start teaching GUE as well.

Luke Inman with the models and assistants he works with for Fourth Element, PADI, and Halcyon. From L to R:
Emma Baines (Fourth Elmt Brand mgr) Afelandra Gonzalez (model) Nina Moysi (photography assistant), Luke Inman (photographer), Ivonne Arambula (model), and Charlotte Holmes (model).

Solidarity?

Ok, I understand that GUE is not suddenly going to sit around a table with PADI and start cross-promoting, but I do think there needs to be more solidarity when people meet on dive boats, at resorts, or when they are working on projects.

Header Image: Photo of Charlotte Holmes by Luke Inman for Fourth Element.

Models:

Karla Rodriguez – PADI Divemaster, Masters degree in Reef Fish Ecology, Discovered hybridization in Parrot fish, Tech Diver, Fitness Instructor.

Charlotte Holmes – Former Miss England, MTV UK Presenter, Adidas London yoga and cross fit instructor. PADI Divemaster.

Afelandra Gonzalez – PADI Ambassadiver, Marine Biologist, PADI MSDT, TDI Intro to Tec Inst, GUE Fundies, discovered and named new species of Nudibranch.

Ivonne Arambula – PADI Open Water, Free Diver, Mother, Yoga and Crossfit Instructor.


Michael Menduno is InDepth’s executive editor and, an award-winning reporter and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving”(1990-1996), helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving. He also produced the first Tek, EUROTek, and AsiaTek conferences, and organized Rebreather Forums 1.0 and 2.0. Michael received the OZTEKMedia Excellence Award in 2011, the EUROTek Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the TEKDive USA Media Award in 2018.


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Getting Back in the Water with Caveman Phil Short

With local diving slowly opening in the wake of the pandemic, InDepth caught up with British cave explorer and educator Phil Short to see how he navigated his post lockdown re-submergence. And what about those 14, 15, 16 month old oxygen sensors?

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Header photo by Michael Thomas. Phil Short swims under Wookey Chamber 14.

With diving just beginning to resume in various parts of the world after what felt like an interminable shutdown, we thought it would be interesting to check in with some of our friends to see how they were approaching their return to the underwater world after such a long hiatus. 

British caver Phil Short sporting his colours. Photo courtesy of Phil Short.

Ironically, it’s been the longest that 51-year old British cave explorer, scientific diving officer, exosuit pilot, educator and film consultant Phil Short, principal of Dark Water Explorations Ltd. has been out of the water in his entire 30-year diving career. How did one of tech diving’s indefatigable pioneers plot his re-submergence, and what would he offer up to colleagues about to take the plunge? 

We chatted up Short just as he was booking his first dive project trip abroad; this is what the ardent caveman said.

InDepth: Maybe we can start with you explaining a little about the circumstances in the UK. I know you were on lock down as far as diving was concerned, and they are now in the process of opening up.

Phil Short: Basically, when the COVID-19 crisis began, the country went into lockdown for all nonessential activities. So obviously, any type of sport and recreation was included in that. And then, after about two months, they slowly started to reduce the restrictions, certainly for more normal activities and allowed certain sports to take place again. There was a lot of controversy over diving, because COVID-19 is a respiratory or lung-borne disease. So there was concern that it could create additional potential hazards with lung expansion injuries and embolisms.

In the UK, we have a group called the British Diving Safety Group, which is made up of various organizations including diving training agencies: the British equivalent of the Coast Guard, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which is our version of OSHA and the diving industry trade organization, and SITA (Scuba Industries Trade Association). I am a member, and we met to determine what the safest and most prudent, most expedited means were to get people back in the water. We consulted with the hyperbaric medical community, COVID-19 related medical experts, the agencies with the authorities that control charter boat operations, and with the HSE. 

The first permissions were for small groups. Basically, you and one buddy could do shore dives. We adopted recommendations by the NSS-CDS as to how gas sharing should take place, and safety or S-drills so you are not breathing from each other’s equipment. 

So when did you go diving?

As a member of the BDSG committee, I was very diligent not to go in the water until the evening we announced that it was permissible to go beach or shore diving. The next morning, 28May 2020, I left my house at 4 AM to go and do a beach dive on a landing craft from the second world war, a genuine World War II wreck. I descended at 6:23 AM and it was just heaven because I had been out of the water for 86 days because of the restrictions. And it was just great to get back in.

Where did you make your last pre-COVID-19 dive? 

My previous dive had been on the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands off of West Africa teaching a trimix rebreather class. It was a 93m/303 ft dive. I got on the plane, flew home, and the lockdown started almost immediately. And then 86 days later, I was doing a 12m/39 ft dive off the beach in the UK. It was my longest break in diving in the 30 years I’ve been in the industry.

The Wreck of P&O Liner Salsette off U.K South Coast 12th July 2020 (Post COVID Lock Down.) Photo by Marcus Blatchford.

Let me ask you, did you have a conscious strategy or approach to getting back in the water? You didn’t start back in at 90 meters.

Yes, it was conscious. Certainly rebreathers, it’s not just like riding a bike. You do need to keep current. I recommend to my students to be doing at least one skill dive on the rebreather per month, minimum, to maintain currency. 

So I decided that for the first dive, once the permissions had been given, to go make the beach dive on doubles. I’ve got a nice little twin 8.5L set that’s small enough for walking over the beach. It still had the redundancy, but it was simple scuba and a simple depth of just 12m/39ft. Basically, the first thing I did when I got in the water was descend just a few feet and made sure that I was proficient with doing a shutdown and isolation drill on the doubles. 

Then I went for the dive on a good nitrox with a long no-decompression time and surfaced way before I was getting anywhere near decompression. I took it gently. First time back in 86 days, I took it gently, and then over the last six or seven weeks, I’ve started to build up from there.

I know you’ve talked and probably compared notes with colleagues and other divers. Do you think people there are approaching getting back in the water sanely or is it a bit of a madhouse? How would you characterize things in the UK?

I would say, as often happens, it’s mixed. So, based on recommendations of the agencies and their instructors, the majority of people are getting back into it gradually like I did myself. But there’ll always be those who say, “Oh, I’m a good diver. I don’t need to do that. I’ve not been allowed to dive for two or three months. I want to go do what I want to do.” And they go straight out and do a 50 or 60m dive, which I think is just foolish. 

Even ignoring the COVID-19 situation, if you were out of diving because of having a kid, or experiencing a job change or anything like that, or after a big layoff, I think it would be prudent to get back in gently and then slowly build up. So, my first dive was shallow with open circuit doubles. My next dive was a very limited penetration, shallow cave dive on open circuit, side mount, again with redundancy. A no-decompression dive but back in my natural environment of caves for a little swim around. 

Wookey Hole Cave (The birthplace of cave diving) at the base of the Mendip Hills U.K. (Post COVID Lock Down). Photo by Michael Thomas.

Gradually over the weeks, because I had better access to caves than I did to the sea, I did more and more cave dives and slowly built up in duration and distance, but still on open circuit. I then got permission from the owner to access one of the inland lakes, and we did some pre-official opening work for the owners of the site. I got back in on the rebreather but again, no-decompression, relatively shallow, no more than 30m/100 ft. Next, I integrated stages and my DPV (diver propulsion vehicle). 

My first teaching was a Level one, Mod One rebreather course that I team-taught with a fellow UK instructor. It was a perfect way to get back in gently because we were running 10 hours over 8 to 10 dives of constant skills for the students. So that was a real refresher. And then finally last weekend, a group of us that had all been doing that type of gradual build up got out on a boat off the south coast of the UK, on a 33 m/108 ft deep wreck on Saturday. On Sunday, we dived a very well-known wreck, the SS Salsette, in 45 m/147 ft of water in beautiful conditions. Calm sea, good visibility, and a real wreck. So I had made a gradual buildup over seven or eight weeks to get to that point, rather than jumping straight back in.

Sweet. You mentioned rebreathers (CCR). Currently, there is a global shortage of oxygen sensors underway as a result of the pandemic. Oxygen sensors are being diverted to the medical industry, which is under siege right now from COVID-19. Any concerns or worries that people will go diving with out-of-date cells? Do you think that’s an issue? 

It definitely concerns me. I’ve been a CCR instructor at all the levels, almost exclusively for the last 15 years, and I’ve seen people go out and happily spend five, six, seven, 10,000 pounds on a brand new rebreather and the training and then go out and be cheap on a £16 fill of Sofnolime or a £16 fill of oxygen. And you’re like, what are you doing? You paid £10,000 for this equipment and you’re risking your life on a £16 refill of consumables? People are so desperate right now to get back to their hobby; they feel like it’s been taken away from them, that I worry they may not always act sensibly. 

Short checking the oxygen sensors on his rebreather. Photo courtesy of Phil Short.

It’s been a battle over the last five or six years to get people to really wake up and pay attention to the fact that these sensors are your life support. There was a very high-profile accident that was caused by overrun sensors a few years back with a quite-well-known person in the industry. He effectively died on the bottom, was rescued by his buddy, then was helicoptered to the hospital where he was put into an induced coma. He came out of it several days later and he was very, very lucky to survive. And very, very lucky to come back to actual diving again. But that was all caused by old, overbaked sensors. 

So what do you see happening?

I think what’s going to happen, you know, is that some people ran out of fresh sensors a couple of months ago so now it’s 14 months, 15 months, 16 months. And some may be thinking, “It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay. They’re reading fine, they’re working fine.” Some people might be doing linearity checks, doing oxygen flushes at 6 m/20 ft to check if they read high when appropriate. 

But really, the companies like AP Diving, JJ-CCR, Vobster Marine Systems, and others have put a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money into researching and independently testing these life-support machines for functionality, with certain parameters. Much like car manufacturers do so you can drive your family and your kids in a safe car. [Hammerhead CCR developer] Kevin Jurgenson summed it up once brilliantly when he put out a statement saying, ”Okay, people are questioning the duration that a sensor can last. Some people would say 12 months. Others would say 52 weeks. Some would say 365 days.” And he carried on to include hours, minutes etc. Basically saying, a year is a year. Whichever way you try to stretch it, it’s a year. No more.

Personally, I would not violate that because those three simple galvanic fuel cells that represent probably somewhere between $200 and $300 depending on the manufacturer and the unit, representing a tiny percentage of the expense that I’ve outlaid to become a rebreather diver, is not worth my life. 

As I mentioned, I am now back on my rebreather after starting on open circuit, and if my sensors eventually pass their 12-month date, I’m very happy to return to open circuit for as long as I have to while I wait to buy some new cells. 

I have always believed in my educational career of thirty years in the diving industry to lead by example. Those are my feelings. I know from experience when you make comments like that, and it’s effectively the same as raising your head above the trench in a warfare situation. People are going to take shots; but bring it on. If you’ve got a sensible, scientific argument for extending your cells past 12 months, then I’m happy to discuss it. But I don’t think there is one.



So the moral is, if you have sensors that are past either one year, 12 months, 365 days, 8760 hours, 525,000 minutes, or 31.5 million seconds, then you need to go back to open circuit, or not dive until you can get some new ones?

I believe so. The manufacturers whose rebreathers I have dived and taught on over the last 10 years are people that were passionate about rebreather safety. And much like [Sheck] Exley, who focused on improving cave training and cave safety by writing Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for Survival, these manufacturers—people like Martin Parker at AP Diving and Jan Petersen at JJ CCR have gone the extra mile to improve safety.

You know full well from the aquaCORPS days, if you look at the safety record of CCR diving now, versus 15 years ago, we made a difference. It has become safer. Why ruin it, because of impatience and a short-term, relatively short-term, restriction on availability of consumables?

Right. In fact, I have talked to Nicky Finn at AP and also Jakub Sláma at Divesoft who have been in touch with sensor manufacturers regarding shortages, and it seems that the situation may be stabilizing and or easing up, assuming we don’t have a second wave of COVID-19 infections. So hopefully, the situation will improve.

Actually, I’ve heard that from several manufacturers, and I think it will improve quicker than was first anticipated. And that’s even more of a reason for not doing anything foolish and being a little bit patient with this to be safe.

Last question: What’s next for you? Got any big projects coming up? 

I just booked my first flight to travel out of the UK again. This time to Croatia. I’m going to be designing and building a water dredge system for recovering and capturing sediment on an archaeological site for a project that we are going to do in October. This is a follow-up project from one we did in 2017 to recover a US World War II pilot from a wrecked B24 bomber that ditched in the Adriatic Sea. We’re going back to do another recovery on a different wreck. 

The dredge system will be designed to work at the appropriate depth level so that we can basically recover the sediment without losing anything. Specifically, we’re not going to miss any of the crew that are found through that dredging. So, I’ve got a 10-day trip to build that system, test it in the same depth of water, and have it ready for the project. 

“Short suiting up at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) for Nuytco Exosuit pilot training ” Photo by Ed O’Brien, WHOI diving safety officer.

When I come back from that, I’m flying out to Switzerland to train on the Divesoft Liberty sidemount with a good friend and former student of mine, Nadir Quarta. It will be my first sidemount rebreather. I’ve got no intention of moving away from my JJ as my primary rebreather, but I’ve got quite a few cave projects that require a side mount that I can’t do in my back-mount JJ. They don’t offer a sidemount, and because of distance and depth, I can’t do it on open circuit. I put a lot of thought into which unit to use, and am very impressed with Divesoft’s engineering and build. They’re also very courteous and professional to deal with. I like working with people like that.

After training, I plan to attend a Swiss technical dive conference, Dive TEC! in Morges as a speaker, where I will be talking on my 30-year journey as a cave diver and explorer.

Fun times ahead! Thank you, Phil. I look forward to talking to you again soon.

Thank you!


Michael Menduno is InDepth’s executive editor and, an award-winning reporter and technologist who has written about diving and diving technology for 30 years. He coined the term “technical diving.” His magazine “aquaCORPS: The Journal for Technical Diving”(1990-1996), helped usher tech diving into mainstream sports diving. He also produced the first Tek, EUROTek, and ASIATek conferences, and organized Rebreather Forums 1.0 and 2.0. Michael received the OZTEKMedia Excellence Award in 2011, the EUROTek Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the TEKDive USA Media Award in 2018.

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