Tripping the light fantastic at the Boat Show in Duesseldorf with IAHD


In January each year for the last 40 years the city of Duesseldorf, Germany hosts the world’s largest consumer boating and watersports recreation show, known as the Boot Show.  This global event, running 10 days, and covering 15 halls at the Duesseldorf Convention Center, dwarfs any other event in the industry.  Hundreds of thousands of visitors come from lands near and far to take in this show.  For an idea of size, picture one hall full of nothing but superyachts in the 100 to 140 foot range!  Then multiply by fifteen!

The scuba industry is huge here in Europe, and it is truly eye-opening to see the many different products and other offerings they have here, versus what we typically see in the U.S.  For the last 5 years the International Association for Handicapped Diving (IAHD) has staffed a booth and shared the news about their handicapped diver programs with the public.  This year IAHD’s top dog in America, our own Dave Valaika, traveled east to join his comrades in spreading the good word.  He headed over Thursday, enduring a near-Australian flying day of 16 hours overall, arriving in Germany at 7:30 Friday morning.  A quick cup of “coffee in a can” (diet Coke) and he was ready to have at it for the day.  Dirk Wondred, his counterpart in IAHD-Germany, picked him up and they headed to the show.

Once inside the massive event, it was non-stop meetings and introductions as Dirk showed Dave the inner-workings of the tremendous support network the IAHD has developed over the years in Europe.  From equipment manufacturers to dive centers to indoor diving facilities to destinations, the IAHD program is significantly more mature on the European continent than what we have in the U.S. right now.  Lots of great information shared, ideas to implement here, and new friends, even some guys wearing traditional Liederhosen as the dress of the day (No, not Dave!).

After the long day, more meetings, and finally the long drive home to Dirk’s house, Dave was running on an empty tank for sure.  Falling asleep at the dinner table, he opted to head to bed for the night.  Up two flights of railing-less concrete stairs (oh those German building codes!) to the third floor and we found Dave’s room, Daniel’s room, and two identical doors, one leading to the bathroom and the other back down the stairs.

Dave crashed into bed, exhausted, and began to recharge his batteries for the next day.  Getting up once during the night to visit the facilities, our blearry-eyed leader headed into the hallway, opened the door, and stepped into…….yes, the open staircase to downstairs!  Head over heels he tumbled down one flight, then, as if that was not enough, rolled over the edge of the landing and headed down the second flight of stairs, finally coming to a rest in a bloody heap on the first floor foyer.

Dirk and the rest of the gang jumped up at the noise but not quick enough to slow Diver Dave’s descent, and they arrived on the scene to assess the situation.  The good news is that Dirk’s day job is a fireman / paramedic for the city, so he was right into action making sure the vital signs were intact and then address the injuries.  Once Dirk determined that Dave was alive and could move most if not all of his appendages, they lifted Dave up and of course he refused a trip to the hospital, preferring to have a little time to self-assess the damage.  So an hour or so of cleaning up the various wounds on Dave’s body, and hosing down the staircase, they put him to bed and decided to let him sleep for the night. For an added measure of safety they opted to lock the staircase door for the night – nothing like closing the barn door after the cows are out! Monitoring Dave’s vital signs were not too much of a challenge, as the moaning all night ensured that he was still breathing, and also that no one else could get any sleep in the house!

Finally Saturday morning dawned and the severity and variety of pain helped Dave know he needed to visit the local Krankenhaus, as the German hospitals are called.  So, the troops hauled him downstairs, folded him (with great protest) into Daniel’s Volkswagen, and off they headed to the hospital.  Of course, Daniel is Dutch, and so Dirk’s wonderful wife Angie jumped in too so she could help smooth the way at the clinic.

They arrived at the hospital, peeled Dave out of the car, and walked him into the emergency room.  There, the three young frauleins on staff were quited surprised with their first american visitor, so knowing Dave, you can imagine the laughter starting and fun beginning, inspite of the reason for the visit.  Right off the get-go, they speak no Dutch, and Angie speaks no English, and Dave, neither, so every bit of discussion, including the jokes, sarcasm, and punchlines, went from German thru Angie to Dutch thru Daniel to Dave, then back to Dutch, and back to German.  What a laugh fest for all involved.Of course the translations made the visual aspect of facial expressions and hand signs greatly delayed, so you can imagine the scene. 

We started off with the girls being completely out of admittance forms, and so they ended up searching every single cabinet and desk in the area to no avail.  So out came a pad of paper, and they started taking notes, and through Angie’s interpretation, typing the information into the computer.  Of course they had never seen an American insurance card like mine, but they dutifully copied it and stapled it to the paperwork.  A ten Euro co-pay and we were finally off to see the doctor.  So I go to the waiting area, then the examination room door opens, and who are my nurses?  The same girls from admissions!  So the laughing and giggling continues and of course I need my posse there to continue to interpret, but it turns out that Daniel gets real queasy over blood and anything medical, so he is not holding up so well in the exam room.  What a team!

The junior doctor who is on duty that night takes it all in, and decides that some x-rays might be appropriate, so I am taken up to the Radiation Department, where a note on the glass tells us, in German of course, that the attendent is out making rounds and will be back in a while.  So we wait, and she returns, and the interpretation continues, and we head in for pictures.  Of course, small world, the X-ray technician lived in Houston as an au pair for a year, so she has tons of questions to ask and stories to tell, each one translated twice.  We finish and head back down to the ER, X-rays in hand, and the ER has now gotten quite busy, but we have connections, and the girls bring Dave back into an exam room.  Dave and the doctor study the X-rays, and see the broken ribs along the spine, but it appears that most of the rest of the structure is intact, so let’s get out of this hospital!  OK, you’ll need medication, he says, so one of the girls heads out and comes back with a handful of various packets of pills, in plain white wrappers, no text or warning labels or legal documents, just drugs.  Here he says, take this one three times each day, this one twice, this one at night, and Dave borrows a pen to write this on the plain white envelopes.  We are clearly NOT in America anymore!

So, back into the VW, a bouncy journey back up the highway, and back to bed, preferring to pass on today’s show attendence.  A good day and nights rest and rehabilitation, encouraged by good German chemistry, and we are ready for the next day.  Although operating in seriously slow, painful mode, we enjoy the next three days making plans and developing programs to implement for the IAHD-Americas, and to come back to dive the indoor dive centers in the region.  Overall it is a fantastic week here with our new IAHD friends and family, and we share a special bond together.  Finally, it is time to head back home, and it’s only a short flight to Paris, followed by 10 hours across the Atlantic, and one more flight into Philadelphia, and we’re back home, ready to start planning for next year’s Boot show visit, sans the krankenhaus!


Sylvia, Niki & the Manatees – what a combo!


The IVS gang is, yet again, diving down in the warm Sunshine State, this time enjoying the manatee-filled waters of the western coast. It was a family vacation for Csaba Lorinczy and his family, and as soon as was possible, they headed out to Kings Bay to go see some adorably fat sea cows with Adventure Scuba. The first dive, however, ended sooner than expected, as Csaba decided to break his previously held Shortest Dive record of 9 minutes, this time not even making it down the mooring line before calling the dive. It seems he couldn’t get his youngest daughter Sylvia’s weights right, so she was left bobbing at the surface while Csaba and his other daughter Niki continued downwards. The combination of weightlessness and murky water ended the dive. The new record seems to be about 5 minutes from leaving the boat to… making it back to the boat. The second dive was a lot more successful than the first. Going out to the site Three Sisters, it looked to be more of a snorkeling area, so the three quickly suited up, grabbed their masks, fins and snorkels, and jumped in. The water was crystal clear, so it was easy to see the manatees swimming around, and it was shallow enough to even be able to touch their backs. Some even decided to roll over for a tummy scratch. Continuing on past the manatees’ area, the group of three swam through a channel to get to the three springs that the dive site was named after. The maximum depth was 20 ft, the actual springs being the deepest, so the family did some free diving to check out the fish and plants further down. Even 11-year-old Sylvia swam to the bottom to look around, came up to shoot the water from her snorkel, and then rocketed right back down again. After swimming around the springs for a while, they went back out to the manatees before getting back on the boat.

As is IVS tradition, the second dive was followed by a quick so-called lunch before getting right back to the boat, this time to do a drift dive down Rainbow River. The first obstacle was getting the boat close enough to the dock to board. The current was strong enough that it kept blowing the boat right down the river. But Captain Henry and his son Chris, who would be leading the dive, finally got it tied up so the divers could get on. This dive went along even smoother than the rest; the four jumped in and immediately began drifting down the river to look at the funky-shaped fish and eel grass. There was about 200 ft of visibility, so it was easy to look at every part of the river. And the best part about the dive was that Csaba got the satisfaction of seeing the Dive Master run out of air long before he did.

The second day of diving was all about going deep. Csaba and Niki went out to the Gulf to check out some wrecks in the colder, 65 degree waters. Blue Adventure’s Captain Bob took a group of about 10 divers out to dive two wrecks and a “ledge.” The first wreck was Dock’s Barge, a 100 ft barge about 70 ft down. Going down the line, the first fish to greet the divers was a 500 lb. Goliath grouper. One of the new divers nearly used up all his air just seeing a fish that big. Hundreds of snappers swam around the divers as they cruised over the wreck, checking out the jacks and barracudas, as well as the many sea cucumbers. Two more big groupers were seen swimming inside the barge.

Dive number two, the ledge, was an L-shaped ledge 45 ft down and about a foot and a half high. The only thing worth remembering about the “ledge” was the 600 lb. grouper somehow wedged in between the corral.

As the group was getting ready to go into the water for the last dive, one of the new divers decided to skip the wreck and feed the fish instead. His chumming blew up into countless jokes for the next half hour. He was quickly convinced that his seasickness would go away if he went into the water. Still seeming skeptical, but deciding to follow IVS’s own new certified PADI instructor, he jumped straight into the water. The last dive of the day was a blown up old wreck, much like Key Largo’s Benwood, but with a lot less fish. An unnamed wreck, its pieces were scattered all over the ocean floor in about 40 ft of water. Crabs, sea cucumbers and snappers were the most interesting creatures on the wreck, other than the countless pieces of fire coral. It was like a Jersey wreck on a good day.

 That tour gave Csaba and Niki the chance to meet some new people and to, of course, promote ScubaGearPlus. A week later, they returned back to Adventure Scuba to do one last manatee dive. This time with Mama Eva on the boat as well, the whole family went back out to Three Sisters to swim with the manatees. It was just as crowded as the first day, as people are drawn to these gentle giants of the sea, even on New Year’s Eve. The visibility dropped to about 15 ft, though, and some people seemed to be a bit confused; calls of “I just spent 20 minutes petting a rock” were heard from some. It was the official last dive of the year, and it was an awesome way to close out 2008.