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Our World Underwater Celebrates 40 Years: A look back at this world famous event

Our World Underwater Show President Patrick Hammer looks back at FOUR DECADES of scuba diving and underwater exploration that is OUR WORLD UNDERWATER.

So what have YOU been doing the past 40 years? That is an open statement and we might not know the answer, but those involved with the world-famous Our World-Underwater Show sure know. We have been entertaining, and educating the dive community. What started as a small film festival has grown to be one of the most active and talked about SCUBA Diving shows in the USA if not the world. We are all proud to be celebrating the forty years. But what has taken place in those 40 years, or maybe even more.

When we look back to 1968; not 1970 we can see the roots of Our World-Underwater. The founders of PADI saw a need to grow the dive industry; they developed an interesting idea, “The Great Lakes Undersea Film Festival”. The first one was held Saturday March 30, 1968; admission was a heaping $2.00. With the location at Lane Tech High School Auditorium, almost a 1000 people were able to explore the underwater world, and not even get wet. As the industry grew so did the show and also the responsibility of the PADI founders. They were finding themselves to busy to oversee, and grow PADI as well as work on the show. It was decided to hand of the show to the local YMCA. This turned out to be a fantastic move. But the new management team wanted a different name representing their ideas of a Midwest dive show and so 1970 the name “Our World – Underwater” was introduced. OW-U was now a show to be recognized.  A few years later the Scholarship was formed.

Looking back over all these years we can see many great things that have taken place here in the Midwest. I remember when I opened my first Dive Center even my folks were upset with me. They failed raising their doctor or lawyer; they had a SCUBA nut in the family. But by this time diving was growing and becoming a professional business, what a shame they could not see that, back in 1974.

You see the show was going strong, by this time OW-U had the Out Standing Achievement award and had granted people such as, The Cousteau’s (1971), Doctor Joseph Macinnis (1972), Al Giddings (1973), and Dr. Glen Egstrom (1974). With so many career professionals coming to Chicago every spring Diving was getting to be a very serious business and growing at a rapid pace. With these great names in diving coming to Chicago the Midwest started to grow, and became a strong part of the dive Industry. Dacor formed here, PADI and Demone diving also were critical to diving back then.  There was a BC made in Illinois back in the 70’s STEBCO Corp., and they held strong for many years. We can even say that DEMA got its roots from the NSGA show here in Chicago.

The show was then being held in local hotels and the film festivals had outgrown the local schools and were in professional meeting areas.  The Our world-Underwater Outstanding achievement award is still one of the finest awards one can earn in diving. Looking back over the past 40 years we see there have been 43 awards earned. It would be unfair to mention some of the best, you see in my mind they are all the best. These enthusiastic divers have done so much for diving how to we select a few. So please visit to see what I mean. There is never enough praise in the world, to thank them all for what they have given us.

2010 to kick off the next 40 years we have developed a new achievement award. This is an award to bring honor and recognition to a Midwest Diver that does a lot for the industry but is not in the limelight. We do not have to keep it as a Midwest Award but the intent is to award those people that are helping the industry. So I welcome the” Middle Coast Award”. You won’t want to miss this award presented during the Friday night film festivals.

OW-U is put on every year by over 30 volunteers. These people work hard all year and twice as hard over the show weekend. It is very important that they deliver to you the finest presenters for the Friday night and Saturday night film festivals. They work to bring in the best speakers for the workshops and seminars. It is these people that need to be thanked for all their hard work. So when you see an OW-U volunteer please take a moment to thank them. You should never be upset with such a big production but if you are do not take it out on them; I will be more than glad to help with anything you may not be happy with. You might wonder why volunteer to help OW-U?

As you can expect and see we have out grown the local hotels and need to conduct the show in a convention center. Convention centers and unions add a huge cost to the show. But the volunteers give that back to the show and that money is put back into the industry by helping other foundation. When you walk the show floor you can see a lot of Non profits that can only be here with the support of the show.

As you may know we have our own “TIM EARLY FOUNDATION. This was started to assist Aquatic education and projects here in the Midwest. Grants are given to schools and a teacher as well as many other’s for aquatic education. We also fund projects such as sinking of ships in the Midwest. The Ralph Erickson educational foundation was also started by us to assist in developing dive instructors. We know many parts of the world that have fantastic diving but the locals are too poor to take an instructor course, these folks can apply for an Erickson Educational grant to cover their instructor course.

I have always looked at the dive show as a way to kick off the new dive season. It has always given me the opportunity to see the latest in equipment technology and I have always been able to see new travel destinations. The show has some excellent speakers that are willing to teach us many different aspect of the diving. OW-U has always been a place to go and see old friends and make new ones. It is a weekend full of laughter and enjoyment. I hope the show is as much fun for others as it has been for me over the past 40 years.

It has been a fantastic 40 years with the show growing to over 250 booths and well over 13,000 divers. Lest make the next 40 years twice the size and fun, I hope you can enjoy the weekend and get as much out of it as I have always received.

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