GO Diving: You didn’t even need to be a diver

Bigger and better: The Go Diving Show at the NAEC
Bigger and better: The Go Diving Show at the NAEC

If you love scuba diving, chances are you’ll enjoy visiting a dive show. The same must be true for people keen on cycling, interior decoration, tractors or embroidery, but do you ever wonder what it’s like for the family-members or friends of the enthusiasts who get dragged along to these events?

On the basis of the diversions on offer at this year’s GO Diving Show at the NAEC, Stoneleigh, I wouldn’t worry too much about them feeling bored or resentful. I’ve been attending UK dive shows for more than 30 years and, when it comes to engaging a range of people each with their own diverse priorities, this one felt to be doing a pretty good job. 

The venue helps. Fears of local flooding in this part of Warwickshire had thankfully receded as the first weekend in March approached. The sun even shone a bit. With the free car-parking and short walk to the halls, the experience feels that much more relaxed than the old Dive Show days at the monolithic NEC and ExCeL. 

Entering the bubble at the NAEC
Start of a day at the NAEC

Go Diving had started small elsewhere in Coventry, as a pre-Covid era gamble. Then it annexed the Dive Show, emerged from the pandemic with a single hall at the NAEC, in 2023 expanded into two halls and this year burst out fully formed with three, packed with stands, stages and, most importantly, visitors.

More than 10,000 visitors. I heard repeatedly from long-time show-goers words to the effect of: “OK, now this feels more like the old days!”

There might have been that sense of revival, but GO Diving seems well-suited to modern times. There will always be enhancements and refinements to be made, but lessons have been learnt from the past and exhibitors’ and attendees’ needs carefully considered.

As for those non-diving visitors I mentioned, a great deal of thought had gone into keeping them not only entertained but informed. This is no side-issue: whatever their ages, these are potential divers of the future, essential to keep the industry healthy. 

The Try-Dive Pool
Wet areas: the Try-Dive Pool…
…and the Mermaid Lagoon
…and the Mermaid Lagoon

So there was the Try-Dive Pool, which saw divers at all levels dipping in, though mermaids had their own lagoon next door. There was virtual reality diving on headsets for those who preferred not to get wet; and the interactive bouldering wall, close to the popular ropework and breath-hold sessions going on at Marcus Greatwood’s Freediving Challenge. 

Dual VR diving simulator for a buddy experience
Dual VR diving simulator for a full buddy-dive experience
NoTanx freedivers often use lines to reach inaccessible sites
NoTanx freedivers use lines to reach extreme locations such as underground lakes

In a dark corner lay the Cave, which many younger visitors clearly find difficult to resist, worming their way through the subterranean simulation again and again. 

Cave-divers of the future?
Cave-divers of the future?
Sal Cartwright of Midlands Diving Chamber with two pot volunteers
Sal Cartwright of Midlands Diving Chamber with two pot volunteers

The heartbeat of any show is of course the exhibitor presence, bringing the latest diving equipment, the ideas for the next dive-trip, the ocean-conservation consciousness and all the rest.

This year there were more than 150 often-impressive stands, in areas maintaining a distinct mood such as in the Asia-Pacific Pavilion or Caribbean quarter – not to mention the teeming bargain kit corner. 

Apeks’ 50th anniversary hi-rise stand
Apeks’ 50th anniversary hi-rise stand
Conservation was upfront: plastics-awareness pioneer David Jones and his team
Conservation was upfront: ocean plastics-awareness pioneer David Jones and his team
The all-important retail experience
The all-important retail experience

The prospect of dive-gear browsing might not appeal to the wandering non-diver, but chances are that at any given moment there would be at least one or two talks underway with the potential to capture their imagination. 

Because so many of the invited speakers were stand-out instructors – if not TV presenters – it’s no surprise that the standard of presentations should have been so high, both on the isolated Main Stage and on the three other stages set among the stands. 

A master ‘safe-cracker’ gets his reward – a Shearwater computer
A master ‘safe-cracker’ wins one of the prizes – a Shearwater computer

With 42 speakers scheduled – there were three drop-outs but their slots were admirably filled, considering the short notice – I set myself the futile mission of trying to catch at least part of every presentation. 

My Fitbit was mightily impressed by my efforts, but I failed in the task. There were just too many talks going on at the far ends of the halls, but I still would have managed it if I hadn’t found it genuinely difficult at times to tear myself away.

What I did note from this exercise was how much consideration had gone into engaging non-divers as well as the converted. 

An obvious example of this sort of inspirational programming was provided by a long-time show supporter, TV presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff, on stage with her daughter Amelie and son Ollie. They passed the baton easily between them as they ran through the younger generation’s progress into scuba. 

The family that dives together: Miranda, Amelie and Ollie Krestovnikoff
The family that dives together: Miranda, Amelie and Ollie Krestovnikoff

I appreciate that with 42 speakers, with differing line-ups on the two days, and four stages, visitors have difficult decisions to make. A weekend pass is one answer, if hardly practical for everyone. 

Guaranteed attractions are those hi-energy perennials of the dive-show scene, Monty Halls and Andy Torbet, whose professionalism as presenters shines through – reinforced by the Main Stage’s massive screen and excellent sound system. 

Monty Halls with a puffin
Monty Halls with a puffin

Monty, as enthused and self-deprecating as ever, had news of bluefin tuna, baitballs and possible great white sharks in West Country waters that was bound to stir a coldwater diver’s blood. Andy stood before gobsmacking clips of his polar glacier diving, implicitly challenging everyone present to consider whether they would have the nerve. 

Master of ceremonies Andy Torbet
Still working Saturday night: Master of ceremonies Andy Torbet

The tireless extreme explorer also MCs the Main Stage for the entire weekend, took it on the chin to discover that this included the Ocean Film Festival on Saturday night, and complained only mildly that he had barely had the chance to sample the rest of the show for himself.

Another Main Stage hit was powerboat champion Sarah Donohoe, and hers was a slow-burn presentation. The audience might have wondered at first what all this dynamic surface activity had to do with the underwater world – until it all became clear. 

Sarah Donohoe, powerboat racer and powerhouse presenter
Sarah Donohoe, powerboat racer and powerhouse speaker

After suffering a traumatic crash, Sarah and her team had become the first people ever to play themselves when reconstructing an incident for a BBC documentary, and her encounters with rescue and safety diving had led to her own career as diver and marine conservationist. Her powerful delivery brought those experiences vividly to life.

With so many engaging live performances, here are just a few others that lingered in the mind: 

Pascal van Erp, originator of the ghost-diving movement that has become an integral past of the scuba scene, was inspirational but at the same time worked hard to disabuse any diver who might consider dabbling in wreck net-removal a good idea. His teams are doing incredible work, notably around Lampedusa at the moment, but what it isn’t is fun and games.

Pascal Van Erp, looking for divers with the ‘right stuff’
Pascal Van Erp: Only the dedicated need apply

Because of the risks involved, Ghost Diving requires its volunteers to be fully tech-trained and stringent about protocols designed to avoid any incident that might lead to official interference.  

Also on the Tech Stage the indefatigable Leigh Bishop, still regularly exploring wrecks down to 100m, was guaranteed to draw the crowds by dwelling on relatively accessible deeper wrecks along the South Coast that have continued to yield treasures. You could feel the audience making mental notes. 

Then there was Gareth Lock, on his irresistible subject of human factors – psychology, blame, learning from mistakes – who gave the strong impression of sharing the sort of insights people would pay a lot to hear about in seminars. Probably because he was. 

The Main Stage
The Main Stage

I was drawn to the technical talks, none of which would really have excluded a casual listener, whether that was Garry Dallas – “cave-diving is the easiest form of diving” – on sidemount; dedicated mine-diver Kurt Storms or the entertaining Patrick Widmann on cave-diving, his relaxed presentation all the more impressive as he had been parachuted in late on to replace a no-show.

I also enjoyed what I caught on the UK Stage of Jason Brown’s talk on the wrecks of Scapa Flow – this, by the way, is the diver also responsible for the outstanding show photography here.

And I’ll grind to a halt by mentioning a few of the underwater photographers, like Saeed Rashid, a fount of knowledge who over the years has developed the easy delivery style of a stand-up. He ran through the most photogenic critters, while Anne & Phil Medcalf brought it all home by pinpointing those practical photography drawbacks with which everyone could identify.

Finally, Alex Mustard. Awards for the prestigious Underwater Photographer of the Year competition, which he has tirelessly chaired for the past 10 years, are handed out at a separate function these days, but he still offers a glossy presentation of the winners at GO Diving, with the prints also displayed at the show. This year he was also looking back over that successful decade.

Alex Mustard, celebrating imagery with passion
Alex Mustard, celebrating imagery with passion
Underwater Photographer of the Year display near the Photography Stage
Underwater Photographer of the Year display near the Photo Stage

On each of the two days Alex concluded his impassioned talks with different montages of some of the most spectacular underwater photography you’re ever likely to see, standing dwarfed by these imposing images sequenced to the soundtrack of Ed Sheeran’s Bloodstream

I’m no big Sheeran fan but it worked a treat, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to find it an emotional experience watching these natural wonders of the underwater world brought to vivid life far from the sea in Warwickshire. That’s the GO Diving Show – we can do it all again, only probably bigger still, on the eve of the 2025 UK season.

Also on Divernet: Go Diving shows scuba in heartening recovery

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