The Explorer by Hollis
At first glance, the Explorer looks as though it was designed by an avid 'Star Wars' fan. Nick Hollis, the youthful president of Hollis, maker of the Explorer, chuckles at the suggestion. The white, vented shell worn on the diver's back brings to mind the armor of a Storm Trooper, but its appearance was actually inspired by a sports car.
"I was in an Audi dealership with my father and we saw an Audi R8, and we saw the back of it and said, 'Man, that would look really good on the Explorer," Hollis recalls.
It's what's under that cover that most distinguishes the Explorer. As divers and even many non-divers know, with standard scuba you get bubbles. You inhale air from your tank and exhale bubbles into the water. It's an aging system used by millions since it was popularized a half-century ago.
The Explorer is not an improved regulator. It is a "rebreather." As the name implies, your exhalations get recycled and replenished within a closed loop. One advantage – especially if you're, say, a photographer concerned about frightening marine life with all those noisy bubbles – is that rebreathers are virtually bubble free. You can also stay down longer and go deeper, in part because you're recycling much of your air.
But rebreathers require additional training and expertise to use. They're also considerably more expensive (like buying that R8 instead of a VW Beetle). With the Explorer, San Leandro, California-based Hollis's aim is to give standard scuba enthusiasts the benefits of a rebreather, but at a lower cost and with computer-assisted streamlining of a rebreather's more technical aspects.
"What we believe we have is a product that takes a lot of the safety issues out of the equation," Hollis says. "It takes a lot of the guessing out. It's very, very easy to use."
The best news here might be the price, $4,500, which is high but less expensive over time than maintaining tanks and running an air compressor. Just take it for a test dive before you take out the plastic.