Full disclosure: I was there for the original stage bottle toting, trimix breathing, nitrox and oxygen decompressing, deep diving technical revolution in the late 80's early 90's. In fact, my magazine aquaCORPS Journal covered the revolt—from the first shots fired in places like Wakulla Springs and Key Largo, Florida, to later developments that enabled explorers to splash down on wrecks like the U-Who or HMHS Britannic, and PADI was not in the mix!
But don’t get me wrong. Privately held PADI Inc., the self-proclaimed “Way the World Learns to Dive”, is indeed fomenting a revolution! But it’s not about tech diving. It’s aimed at PADI’s traditional base of recreational divers and instructors, so call it what it is: a “Rec Revolution”. Furthermore, 2012 may well represent the tipping point.
Historically, PADI has been slow to adapt to technology innovations. While enriched air nitrox (EAN) diving was introduced to sport divers in the late 1980s, PADI waited until 1995 to introduce its own EAN program. Similarly, throughout the 90's the company watched the development of tech diving from the sidelines, but didn’t launch its TecRec program until a decade later, and then only after several tech-training agencies launched competing recreational courses.
PADI was also one of the sponsors of Rebreather Forum 2.0, which I organized with Tracy Robinette in 1996, but essentially has remained out of the loop on rebreather technology, which until recently, had been for the most part an exclusive tool for high end technical divers.
But now the marketing juggernaut, which boasts nearly 6,000 affiliated dive centres and more than 135,000 members, is taking the lead in helping to create a market and aggressively promote rebreather diving recreational divers. Granted, PADI is also offering a tech diving program, but it does not represent a notable change from what’s already available.
Conversely, the coming of recreational rebreathers has been prophesized for nearly 50 years—ever since Walter Stark invented the “Electrolung” in the late 60's. Judging from history, it’s a task far easier said then done, and not without controversy!