While driving home from the great Reefapalooza event that Lou and Victor of World Wide Coral put together in New York last weekend, I began thinking about how much events like that one had evolved on my way back to Pittsburgh. Up until last year, I had not gone to MACNA, ReefStock, Reefapalooza or even a frag swap for several years as I redid my tanks and basically went into old curmudgeon mode.
But last year I began attending them again, and quickly realized how much they had changed in that short time span, and for the most part for the better. So while I was driving back I realized that unlike in the past, before the internet and social media , the reasons to attend these events needed to be more than just to find out what is “new”. I also realized that the majority of people attending are relatively new in the hobby and unless you’ve been to one, you really don’t know what to expect, nor how to make the most of going to one.
The first thing that impressed me about these events now was simply the sheer size of them. For the first 20 years of MACNA, it would be a good turnout if 500-600 people attended. Now I have been to small frag swaps where double or triple this amount of people were in attendance. Amazingly just the number of vendors at the last MACNA was over 120, there weren’t that many hobbyists, let alone vendors who attended the first few MACNAs. However, this large attendance is beneficial for several reasons. First because attendance is so good, at the large shows, just about every vendor of every piece of equipment you can imagine attends.
This is great for both new hobbyists and old timers alike as it affords everyone the opportunity to not only see and touch equipment they are interested in, but more importantly ask the vendors directly the questions they have. I know new hobbyists are often hesitant to ask what sound like newbie questions, but besides showing off their equipment and trying to sell it, most vendors are really there to address their customer’s needs, and they can only do that by having questions asked of them.
In addition, hobbyists need to take advantage of having access to these equipment vendors and tell them what their needs are and what they would like to see in the future. I am happy to see that much of the “new” equipment I have seen at these shows seems to be the result of what I heard hobbyists asking for 5 years ago. Obviously, LED lights in all shapes, sizes and colors were present, and that no doubt came about because hobbyists kept asking manufacturers to give them lights that were more efficient and produced less heat.
The impact of this request was dramatic in that at the past few shows there was not a single metal halide light on display nor any chillers. By the same token protein skimmers with smaller footprints and greater efficiency were also widely displayed, again the result of hobbyists conveying to manufacturers what they wanted. So obviously what we have wanted and asked for has had an impact so I hope this will continue by having the attendees continuing to tell the manufacturers what they want.
By the same token, hobbyist demand has also led to an unprecedented number of “coral farmers’ being present at these shows. For everyone who wants to see everything from rare chalices, zoos and sps, the number of fellow hobbyists fragging and growing everything possible for our tanks is impressive. If for no other reason, other than to be overwhelmed by the variety of animals we can now propagate, everyone in the hobby needs to go to at least one show just to get an idea what’s out there. And just as important as seeing what is available, most of these vendors being hobbyists themselves are happy to share what they are doing to grow and maintain these animals successfully.
So unlike when something is bought online or in a shop, these shows provide the opportunity to find out what and how exactly conditions are being managed to maximize a coral’s growth by simply asking the vendor what they are doing with a specific coral. And unlike at a county fair, where the guy growing the prize winning pig does not want to share his secrets, most coral “farmers” will. So needless to say there is a wealth of information that can be obtained simply by asking the guy or girl growing your favorite coral what they are doing.
Similarly, at these shows there are usually a lot of well-known hobbyists, who are either speaking or just attending the show, and again these individuals can provide a wealth of information. Amazingly most of these individuals are quite happy to answer everyone’s questions. I have never seen anyone whether it is Julian being asked for the 1000th time what something is, and he almost never gets stumped, or Sanjay being asked what light to use on a specific tank, they have always been happy to do so. And at most of these shows the talks these individuals give should be attended, especially now that they no longer schedule too many talks during the shows. I am always amazed at how many new things I learn listening to the numerous experts give a talk or just hanging out with them. Lastly during these talks many of them include lots of pictures of tanks and corals. So this is not only a good source for new ideas, I also find it motivating for me to try and get my tanks up to the standards I see in these talks. So even if you are starting to feel a little lethargic about the hobby, attending them can produce a lot of benefits.
So if seeing more beautiful corals than you ever could have imagined along with the latest technology as well as getting to talk with the experts in the field isn’t enough there is another reason more important than those for which you should attend: the camaraderie. After being in this hobby for most of my adult life I still find it great to get to hang out with people I’ve considered friends who I’ve met through the hobby who have been my friends for 10, 20 and some almost 30 years.
And luckily I am not alone, as one of the things I see at these events is that just about everyone gets along and everyone seems to share the same addiction, err passion for the hobby. As a result these events are a great opportunity to just sit and bs about different aspects of the hobby for pretty much the entire time. Granted if you did this all the time it would wear you out, but for most of us spending one or two weekends with other people as passionate about the hobby as we are is kind of refreshing. Because let’s face it, most of our families and friends do not share this passion, it would be great if they did, so going to a show, even if it is just a frag swap, can really energize us about the hobby. And from what I have found, once you start going to these and making friends, the friends you make usually end up your friends for a long time. So if you go to one or two a year, you immediately feel comfortable, because your friends are there.
Please understand it is not my job to tell anyone what to do or how to spend their money, even though all of these events are relatively inexpensive. Far less less than the price of most frags let’s say.
However, if you are serious about the hobby, and I’m guessing you are if you are reading this, then you should save up and go to MACNA, or Reefapalooza or ReefStock or the next local frag swap if for no other reason than to make friends that you may have for life. But getting to ask Sanjay for the millionth time why he hates blue light is just an added bonus. And if you see me at one of these please don’t be shy, and introduce yourself I’m always happy to talk with other people as passionate about the hobby as I am. One last thing, you should prepare ahead of time to bring something home. Despite my best intentions not to, I still always find at least one thing I want to bring home and I expect you will too.