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Ask any training agency executive about the growth of diving, and he or she will likely mention the phenomenal growth of diving in Asia, particularly in China. And everybody seems to be chasing it.
In fact, as this blog was being prepared there were two large rival diving exhibitions; one being held in Singapore, the other in Shanghai, both on the same weekend, which were locked in a ongoing battle for eyeballs, attendance, and, most importantly, exhibitors.
Ironically, Edmund Yiu, an accomplished technical diver with over 6000 dives and an instructor trainer who heads RAID China and tech equipment distributor Xtreme Deep Asia Limited, found it necessary to exhibit at both the ADEX and DRT shows, lest his companies concede market share to others. InDepth caught up with Yiu at the last Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) show in Las Vegas to get a perspective on doing diving business in China. Here’s what the man had to say.
InDepth: I keep hearing that, from a global perspective, China is a hotbed of diving right now. Maybe you could explain if that is the case and what’s driving it.
Edmund Yiu: Of course, the world is always looking at China. It’s not just the diving industry; I think it’s the same as everything else as it’s really because there are a lot of consumers that have all of a sudden opened up, and there is certainly wealth involved. Everyone thinks there’s a lot of money to be made there.
Honestly, I am a little tired of hearing about the China market. In terms of opportunities, of course, there are plenty. But I don’t think China is as big of a gold mine as everybody thinks it is. It’s very tough to do business here in China. It’s hard to maintain profit margins and there are lot of competitors. Many are out to try to destroy each other instead of working together to protect the business, and there are price wars, misinformation, and in some cases, a total disregard of intellectual property. These things threaten to kill the market faster than anyone can benefit from it.
Isn’t diving relatively new in China?
The diving industry has only been into China for a little more than 10 years. However, it really only just got started about six years ago. So, you will find very few people who has actually dived longer than six years; most have dived less than three. In terms of age groups, you will not find many older people that dive or have been certified to dive. Everybody is pretty young. I would say 20 to 40 years old, in that range. Demographically, it’s very attractive because there’s a huge population. Market penetration is just at the beginning, and there’s a lot of potential. And people there certainly have money to spend because they have been oppressed for so long and hungry for everything, so they go out trying to buy everything. Not just diving.
So the industry is seeing a lot of growth?
The major agencies are all looking to grow, so over the past few years they have expanded very quickly. There are a lot of course directors and instructors who, in many cases, have barely enough dives or real experience to become one.
It becomes very evident when we do crossovers. We have to teach some of the instructors a lot of the basic diving skills again. Even if they are course directors. There are instructors with just a few years of diving and yet, they are looked up to as idols. But if you compare them to people around the world who have been diving quite a while longer, they really have no idea what the outside [diving] world is like.
Is it true that most of the business is done online?
In China, everybody buys everything online. This is where the majority of purchases come through without any geographical boundaries, so all the dive shops sell countrywide. Surely they will have some locally-based customers, but when I give them stuff to sell, they sell it everywhere, the whole country.
The trouble is when you are selling stuff online, price competition is all there is. So, customers always look around and find the lowest price. As a result, margins are shrinking and it just kills the market for us.
So where do divers go to get a gas fill?
Well, most people in China aren’t in the habit of buying their own tanks and that’s how it is. Everybody uses the tanks provided by dive shops. Nobody really owns tanks unless they are a professional.
What about nitrox?
No, most dive shops don’t offer nitrox. Having and maintaining a nitrox filling facility would be a nightmare here because it’s very hard to get oxygen in China. Compressed gas and other things all heavily regulated. Even knives are heavily regulated. The Chinese government is very paranoid about terrorists. You cannot even buy gasoline unless you’re driving a car to fill it up.
Is there good local diving?
That’s another thing about diving in China, there is really no good place to dive. There is only confined water like pools, which everybody uses for training. For open water dives, most people travel to Southeast Asia. The countries that have benefited the most from Chinese dive travel are probably the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives, and Malaysia. There are also many dive shops that are being opened or bought by Chinese at these destinations. There are lakes and of course the sea in certain parts of China, but they are cold, have bad visibility, and are not very diveable.
Any shipwrecks or caves?
There are plenty of shipwrecks, given thousands of years of Chinese history, but they usually sank into the mud; most of the coastal areas are very muddy and often have zero visibility. Just how fun can that be? It may be worth it for archaeology and historical study purposes. But certainly not for recreational diving.
We also have some caves in the western part of China, which are seasonal, tend to be deep, and have minimal facilities. These are not the places that most people want to go —only very experienced “tech” divers. Most people want to go diving in tropical water and see corals and fishes. So, everyone goes on trips. If you go to any diving destinations in Asia and they’re all very crowded with Chinese tourist divers.
How do people there learn about diving? Is information readily available?
One of the problems we have is that people are not able to get good complete information. In China, we have limited information and are not able to easily get access to the outside world because the Internet is blocked. First of all, if you do a search on diving, a lot of the information is in English, but the majority of Chinese don’t speak English. The second thing is that most people don’t have any information about what the outside world is like. So it’s very easy to fall into the trap and idolize and follow the diving “hotshots” or “superstars” so to speak.
The problem is that everyone in the industry wants to be the star, and if they don’t have the knowledge, they just make it up. That’s very typical of Chinese mentality. They will just say anything. And people will believe it. They won’t have any basis to verify it.
It sounds like there isn’t a lot of cooperation within the diving industry.
One of the things that is happening here in China is, how should I put it, factionalism. Basically, there are the existing agencies and so many new agencies and pseudo-agencies in China right now because they all see it as a money-making business and want a piece of the pie. PADI has the biggest market share in China, because they have been going at it for about 12 years, marketing wise, and spending a lot of money building it; however, most other agencies are very small.
What I mean by factionalism is that all the small agencies claiming they are the best and everybody else is no good, and they never cooperate with each other. It’s like Chinese Kung Fu: there are all these different factions, they have different styles, and they fight each other all the time. The Chinese mentality is that your competitor is the enemy and everybody wants to kill the competitor. That’s what business is like there. It is cutthroat. Everyone is trying to kill each other instead of trying to help each other build an industry.
It sounds like a race to the bottom?
Whether it’s recreational open water or technical rebreather training, the problem is that everyone wants to grow [the business] really fast, because that’s how it is in China. They want to do everything quickly, and you can only do that to a certain degree in some industries, but you can’t do that very well in diving. You can only push it so much.
The whole point I think is that we enjoy diving, and we want people to learn it properly so they can enjoy their diving too. So that’s why we’d rather take the time and focus on quality. We believe it’s important to maintain our standards.
So, as much as I want us to grow, we don’t like to just sign everybody off because that’s what everybody else is doing. It’s the easiest and quickest way to make money. But, for me, making money is secondary because we are educators and genuine divers.
You told me at the DEMA, that RAID is trying to “do it right,” in bringing diving to China. What did you mean by that? I’m sure you know that DIR i.e. “doing it right,” was the original name for Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) standards. So RAID also trains new divers to wear a backplate, wing, and long hose?
WE won’t go as far as GUE in term of the “DIR” standard. Yes, we do promote backplate and wings, and we promote long hoses for new divers because it just naturally goes well with our standards and philosophy. It is safer and more efficient underwater. It actually feels more natural when you are streamlined so it’s not just about being more technical. We believe the safest way is probably the best way and it also makes them a better diver. It’s no more difficult than learning the traditional way kneeling on the bottom to do drills wearing a buoyancy jacket and a heavy weight belt. Instead we spend time and effort teaching divers correctly, i.e. properly weighted and neutrally buoyant, which means our costs are higher, and accordingly, we charge a little bit more. So we don’t need to get involved in price wars.
You’re talking buoyancy and trim!
Yes. To be able to hover horizontally, motionless, and have a proper weighting and trim is essential for all divers, not just technical divers. Open water divers appreciate it. It gives them more confidence. It’s also safer and better for the environment.
Header Image: courtesy of Edmund Yiu.
Fiona Sharp, You Will Be Sorely Missed
As you have likely heard, we’ve lost one of the irrepressible and much-loved characters in the tech and diving medicine community, 55-year old Australian anesthesiologist and diving physician Fiona Sharp.
By Rosemary E Lunn
Header photo by Catherine Meehan. Fiona in Sodwana Bay.
One of the colorful characters in the field of diving medicine died tragically in a rebreather diving accident on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Fifty-five-year-old, Australian diving physician and anesthetist Dr. Fiona Sharp, MBBS, FANZCA, was found unresponsive on a reef at 24 m/80 f. She had been solo diving on a rebreather, and she was discovered with her mouthpiece out. Fiona was medevaced but did not regain consciousness. The incident occurred on the last day of Fiona’s diving trip to Bonaire, located in the Leeward Antilles, Carribean Sea. It was the week after Bonaire Tek. Fiona enjoyed deep rebreather diving and was known to be a bit of a maverick.
“We are shattered.” Bruce and Lynn Partridge, Shearwater Research.
The disturbing news of Fiona’s death rocketed around the world in a few hours. Many people from the diving medicine and technical diving communities expressed their dismay and distress at Fiona’s death. She was gregarious, fun-loving, irrepressible, and generous. Fiona was a friendly colleague and we had dived together a few times. I wrote a heartfelt tribute about Fiona’s bulldozer attitude to life and diving, and this was published by X-Ray Mag. It includes a myriad of voices from around the globe and amply illustrates just how well-loved she was by her colleagues and friends.
“Fiona was an individual. She did what she wanted. She did what she loved. She was very much her own person, and drove us mad at times. Fiona was down to earth, had a massive heart, a huge personality, and was very dear to all of us. She will be greatly missed.”Dr. Catherine Meehan
Fiona Sharp was born in May, 1964, in Perth, Australia, and she was bright! She attended Mercedes College Perth, where she was “Dux” in her graduating year. [Dux: from Latin for ‘leader,’ the term that is now used in Australia and New Zealand to indicate the highest-ranking student in a specific achievement).
After leaving high school, Fiona studied medicine at the University of Western Australia where she graduated in 1989 as a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS UWA). After serving an internship in Perth in 1989, followed by a year as a junior Resident in Sydney, Fiona moved to England where she gained her Diploma of Anaesthesia (DA) in 1992, whilst working as a Senior House Officer in Anaesthetics in Southend, Essex.
Fiona then returned to Australia and commenced specialist Anaesthetics training. In 2000, she flew once again to the UK where she spent five years practicing diving medicine at DDRC Healthcare (Diving Diseases and Research) in Plymouth. During this period, she was awarded a Fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (FANZCA) Fellowship in 2004.
At the time of her death, Fiona Sharp was working at the Fiona Stanley Hyperbaric Medicine Unit (FSHHMU) in Perth, Western Australia. She had been in post since it opened in November 2014. Prior to that, she was employed at the HMU at Fremantle Hospital from 2007 to November 2014. (The department then relocated to the newly built department at FSH).
Whilst writing this, I spoke to Fiona’s family and asked: “why medicine?” They responded,
“If you are really smart at school, you are expected to be an architect, a lawyer, or a doctor. Medicine appealed to her; however, it was possible that she could have become a vet because the family did have a lot of animals.”Fiona’s family
“She was nuts, about everything. But especially about diving.”Dirk Peterson
Fiona got into diving in her late teens after trying skydiving and scuba diving. Water prevailed and she learned to dive when she was 18 years old. She was a PADI Divemaster, cave certified and qualified to dive the Inspiration, Evolution, SF2, Drager Dolphin, Mark VI Poseidon, and JJ-CCR rebreathers.
You cannot ever say that diving was her hobby. It was her all-encompassing great passion. Fiona recently told her older sister that she felt happiest when she was underwater. It was therefore natural that she would take an active interest in diving medicine, and she became a fixture at all the major diving medical or tech conferences. SPUMS, UHMS, EUBS, HTNA, as well as EUROTEK, OzTek, Rebreather Forum 3 and other diving industry events. These helped keep her current and educated in this niche sector.
“Fiona loved the diving, diving medicine, and the camaraderie around the bar. She was regularly first up and last to bed. Most often, Fiona could be heard well before she was seen on land and underwater!! She was well-loved by her colleagues at these events and, as many have said, the SPUMS Conference won’t be the same without her. I think she attended at least 17.”Dr. Neil Banham, Fiona Stanley Hospital
Fiona’s first South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society (SPUMS) Conference was at Layang, Layang island, in Malaysia in 1999, a venue well suited to her type of diving because it was deep. It was at a later SPUMS, in 2008, that Fiona’s diving would change. Dr. Catherine Meehan takes up the story.
“I met Fiona at a SPUMS meeting about 20 years ago. In 2008, I chartered the ‘Golden Dawn’ liveaboard. Ten of us flew into Alotau in Papua. New Guinea. and we sailed and dived our way across to Kimbe Bay, West New Britain, to join the SPUMS annual scientific conference. There was a rebreather on board and Fiona had a guided rebreather dive. She enjoyed it so much that she dived with it for the rest of the week. I believe this was one of her earliest experiences rebreather diving, and I think that she embarked on her passion for diving rebreathers shortly afterward.”
Catherine and Fiona would regularly dive together, at least two or three times a year, all over the world.
“We did a lot of conferences and diving together. We were most recently in South Africa diving Sodwana Bay. She was dressed in her vibrant orange drysuit so it was easy to see where she was, doing her own thing. It was tough cold water diving, but she was very hardy and didn’t miss a dive, even when her suit leaked. It is a good lasting memory of her.”
“It was like she had been shot out of a cannon when she entered a room.”Joanna Mikutowicz, DiveTech
Fiona Sharp never did anything by halves, and this is amply demonstrated by a classic Fiona story that her older sister Donna regaled to me.
“Many years ago Fiona rang me up and said, ‘I have got two tickets to the rugby game on Friday night, do you want to come with me?’ I thought, ‘Why not?’ One of our kids plays rugby at school. I rocked up at the game and she said to me, ‘Here is your ticket. Don’t worry about paying. And by the way, these tickets are not just for tonight’s game. They are season tickets’.”
She goes on:
“We ended up supporting the Western Force, a professional Perth-based rugby team, for the next twelve years and watched them play Super Rugby against New Zealand and South Africa. What I found ironic was that I went to nearly every game. I think Fiona missed more games than any of us because she was away diving so much.”
“Fiona Sharp drew no quarters when it came to life and diving. I only met her a few times, but she left an aircraft carrier shipwreck-sized impression on my psyche and we remained in contact.”Laura James, Environmental Campaigner, Underwater Cinematographer
Many divers have been generous with their Fiona stories. Todd and Tiffany Winn of Silent O Solutions reached out to me with another classic Fiona tale and said I could share it. When Fiona decided you would be friends, the recipient really didn’t stand a chance.
“Fiona’s reputation as ‘difficult’ preceded her, and our first encounter with her was memorable, to say the least. It was in San Diego for an in-water recompression symposium and training event in 2014. She exceeded my expectations. I believe she only told me I was completely mistaken two or three times. I conceded two of three and agreed to disagree on the third. She had an uncanny ability to defuse my ire with a wry smirk. As she had already decided we’d be friends, I had little say in the matter.”Tiffany Winn
“Tiff liked Fiona immediately and loved her unflinching honesty and authenticity. Fiona threatened to visit us on Maui on one of her transits across the globe, but unlike nearly everyone else she called and texted for a month straight, ironing out the details, and sure enough, one day, showed up. We loaded up our little boat for its maiden voyage, and Tiff and Fifi had a girl’s day rebreathering all by themselves. We had a beautiful day and a fabulous sunset. We will remember her fondly and often, and will miss her dearly.”Todd Winn
It is only right that I leave the last words to her family. I was told that Fiona had wanted to climb Mount Everest, but she suffered so badly with altitude sickness, that she just about made it to base camp and no further. Fiona was always willing to take a risk, and push herself. Apparently she competed in triathlons in her early 20’s, and she liked challenges. Everyone who came into contact with her soon found out she had a very dry sense of humor.
“Fiona didn’t like cheap champagne or wine. It had to be good quality and lots of it, and she always brought home two bottles of whiskey from every trip for her father.”Donna Sharp
Fiona was close to her family. She is survived by her mother, three sisters, a brother, and 18 cousins. She was an “oh so very proud” aunt to 13 nieces and nephews. Typically big-hearted and kind, Fiona had planned to take a nephew to Antarctica this November. You mad as a box of frogs lady, you will be missed.
The author is very grateful for the assistance of the Sharp family and Dr. Neil Banham, Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at Fiona Stanley Hospital in writing this tribute.
Dive industry fixer, Rosemary E Lunn (“Roz”) is the Business Development Director at The Underwater Marketing Company. This British firm specializes in providing marketing, communications, social media and event management for the “tecreational” and technical diving industry. Rosemary is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, BSAC Advanced Instructor, Trimix, and CCR diver. Before moving into the public relations field, she worked as a professional recreational instructor, safety diver, and underwater model underwater and appeared on the History Channel and National Geographic documentaries. She established TEKDiveUSA and organized Rebreather Forum 3 on behalf of AAUS, DAN, and PADI. In 2008, Rosemary co-founded EUROTEK, the European advanced and technical diving biennial conference. She is a respected and prolific diving author, an SSI Platinum Diver, an Associate Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and sits on the SITA Board (Scuba Industry Trade Association).
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