Friday, March 23rd began Beneath the Sea’s 31st annual Ocean Adventure Exposition and Travel Show at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey (aka “The Garden State”). The Meadowlands itself must have been optimistically named by an unscrupulous real estate agent, as in winter, all that is visible to this first-time, out-of-town visitor’s naked eye was swamp, un-zoned urban sprawl, confusing roads and the billowing smoke of petrochemical exhausts. Oh, and overcast 18% gray, gray, gray skies.
Fortunately, however, within the Expo Center and in the hotels associated with the event, the grandest celebration of the living legends and bright lights of the scuba diving community convened for something extraordinarily special. Stanton A. Waterman, whose name and whose work should be well-known among all who dive, was recognized, feted and celebrated as a Legend of the Sea. Stan, who began his underwater career in 1936 off Palm Beach, Florida with the gift of a Japanese Ama diver’s mask, has defined exploration and adventure, always with incredible grace, poetry and panache, for the past seventy-one of his eighty three years. He is the author of “Sea Salt”, now in its second printing (get it while you can). He has won five Emmy awards for his television work with “American Sportsman” and other shows. His film credits include “The Deep” and the ground-breaking feature documentary from 1969: “Blue Water, White Death.” Fortuitously, BTS’s organizers added special value to the weekend by hosting “Blue Water, White Death” collaborators Ron and Valerie Taylor and Rodney Fox – all of them all the way from Australia – as honorees at the event, making for an incredible, unprecedented reunion of the remaining members of the cast and crew of what remains undisputedly as the finest dive/adventure documentary ever made.
The crew and cast of “Blue Water, White Death” Reunion: L to R: James Lipscomb, Rodney Fox, Stan Waterman, Valerie Taylor, Ron Taylor, Tom Chapin.
At a private reception on Friday night, Stan, the Taylors, Rodney Fox (and his delightful wife Kay), were joined by Tom Chapin, expedition folksinger (it was the sixties, folks!) and second cameraman of the expedition (and his wife Bonnie), and James Lipscomb, the director of photography. Never before – and likely never again – would they all be reunited in one room. It was a star-studded event, small, private and personal for long time diving friends. Also in attendance were this reporter, marine artist Wyland, Ernie Brooks, Bob & Ronda Hollis, Wendy Benchley, producer Brent Mills (and his charming wife Julie) and BTS organizers Maria Hults, Bob Ricke, and JoAnn and Armand ‘Zig’ Zigahn. After the private reception, the BWWD collaborators joined the public and other friends for a banquet, live auction at the “Meet the Fish and the Famous” kick-off to one of the greatest consumer shows to be hosted in the diving community. The night was filled with great stories, reminiscences, laughing, and too much fun, oddly and refreshingly without the slightest trace of ego. It was a night of True Love of the Sea.
Hard-working photojournalist and DIVE Magazine Contributing Editor Douglas Seifert interviewing potential interns.
On Saturday, the show began in earnest, with seminars by Annie Crawley, Alex Antoniou, Donald Tipton and others running throughout the day. On the exhibition floor, attendees were overwhelmed by over 300 exhibitors, showing the breadth of the diving world, from non-profit environmental organizations, to major manufacturers, dive travel specialists, and fringe elements difficult to classify. To enter the show, one passed Stan Waterman doing day-long book signings for “Sea Salt”, a display for the Women Divers Hall of Fame and Scuba Radio ranted endlessly, if nonsensically, while blaring tedious ocean related pop tunes that are at best a reminder of how good Jimmy Buffet can be, even on a bad album, while their ever-present scantily-clad, voluptuous and naughty mermaids provided some smiles for the attendees. The Historical Diving Society had a great display of vintage gear (hard hats, double hose regulators, etc.) from back when diving was dangerous and cutting edge.
2007 Women Divers Hall of Fame Recipients
For underwater image makers, the most interesting products appeared to be: the Super Soft Cooler (“As Seen on TV”, mere words which normally makes one cringe and pass on, but…), a line of waterproof bags capable of being used as coolers for drinks or – more usefully – as protection for camera equipment, also able to double as a portable rinse tank; Ryan Canon demonstrating REEF Photo & Video’s remarkable new compact housing for the Canon XTi; and Mauricio Handler of Aquatica showing off a new 9 inch optical glass dome for their line of still camera housings.
Oceana.org’s booth staffed by dedicated and smiling environmentalists
Lawrence Groth of Shark Diving International extolled the wonders of white sharks at Guadalupe and Fiji, while across the aisle, Gary Adkison of The Shark Foundation carried on the good fight with the alarming news about the coming extermination of our toothy friends, as did the young lovelies from Oceana who had realistic three-to-five year program plans for shark fishing, deep ocean coral destruction and dirty fishing practices.
Shark Foundation Fundraisers
Annoyingly and alarmingly, a few aisles over, a vendor sold shark teeth, including a few great white shark teeth, which I believe is a CITES violation and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I have no problem with people selling fossilized teeth of megalodon sharks extinct millions of years, and non-protected species teeth are something that is tolerable, if tacky, as it is not illegal, but it is really a poor showing to the industry that people profiting off the death of protected sharks should not be tarred and feathered.
Shark Teeth for sale including great white shark teeth—a CITES violation
Possibly the most interesting “innovation” seen at the show was the Amphibian Dynamic Swim Fin from Omega Aquatics: a swim fin with a hinge/pivot allowing a diver to walk normally and deploy the fin blade at will with the flip of a switch. Attendees debated as to the feasibility of such a design. The idea is interesting, but plastic parts, sand and sun tend to make experienced divers dubious. You decide. Time will tell but is interesting to see someone re-creating the fin. (Passing thought: what ever happened to those snorkel manufacturers that put ping pong balls in the tubes?)
A day in the exhibits passed quickly as the evening’s events began at 5pm sharp. The “Diver of the Year” Awards Reception and Banquet was a black-tie affair. This year’s Women Divers Hall of Fame Honorees were recognized, including Annie Doubilet, Susan Long of DUI, supermodel Lauren Hutton, Animal Planet’s Aquanauts camerawoman Valerie de la Valdene, Holly Martel-Bourbon, Debbie Smith and others. Richard Ellis presented Rodney Fox with the “Diver of the Year” Award and Ron and Valerie Taylor were recognized for life achievements. In attendance in the audience, were, besides the BWWD posse from the night before, Sylvia Earle, Bob Evans, Phil Nuytten, Bret Gilliam and Susy and Gordy Waterman, Stan’s accomplished children. Immediately after dinner was the piece de resistance of the BTS show, the Evening Film Festival. It was hosted by Sea Hunt’s own damsel in distress Zale Parry, still a comely mermaid fifty years after the show’s premiere. Stan Waterman was feted by Bret Gilliam and his peers and surprised with an amazing 1800 pound granite sculpture done by the artist Viktor in a very emotional moment. Stan was taken completely by surprise by his friends and loved ones and is even now wondering where to put the amazing seven foot high likeness of himself (albeit with a bit more hair). Film clips of work Stan and Ron Taylor and Richie Kohler and John Chatterton of the History Channel’s Deep Sea Detectives were shown to great audience satisfaction. A Cayman Islands hosted bash finished out the evening’s festivities and photographer Amos Nachoum was seen charming unsuspecting ladies and trying to give them his all or nothing.
Stan Waterman makes a toast to the late Peter Gimbel,
the producer of “Blue Water, White Death”
For those that had the stamina, Sunday was more of the exhibitions and seminars, but of greater interest was two showings of the current existing print of “Blue Water, White Death” with commentary by Stan Waterman and Ron and Valerie Taylor. The anecdotes are fascinating and some hilarious. For those that do not know BWWD or have never seen it, fear not! It is currently being digitally re-mastered in its original wide-screen full length format from the original print, with commentary from Stan, Rodney, Valerie and Ron that was taped by a three man production crew at the show. When it is available, Wetpixel will be the first to let you know!
BTS 2007 was the most successful show in the organization’s 31 year history, with 15,663 attendees and the greatest assembly of diving’s legends and a who’s who of what makes the industry still relevant. With JoAnn and Zig and Maria and Bob’s continuing effort’s, BTS is the place to be. So what if New Jersey is gray in winter, the feeling is warmer than on the equator! See you next year?
Based in Florida, Douglas Seifert has travelled to underwater sights all over the globe in search of unique marine encounters. Often described as the world’s best shark photographer, the multi-award winner has built up a breathtaking portfolio of underwater images.