By Â Yvonne Press
Take a look at recreational day dive boats and the ratio of male to female divers is almost 1:1. Now take a look at technical diving courses or trips and the picture changes dramatically.
Technical diving attracts a largely male following, but the reasons may not be clear at first glance. What is preventing female divers from taking the plunge into greater depths and overhead environments? Here weâ€™ll examine a few possible stumbling blocks in the path of female tec divers.
One hindrance for potential female tec divers could be the sheer amount of equipment required. Take a look at a full set of recreational diving equipment. Now double it and then add some more for contingency, and youâ€™re looking at the average tec diverâ€™s gear bag. Overkill? No. Sensible technical divers simply plan for (almost) all eventualities. Most women I know love planning and are not exactly devoted to packing light, so itâ€™s unlikely that this is the main reason. The equipment can be heavy, however, and undertaking operation of so many moving parts can be intimidating to newbies, men and women alike.
Lack of role models
Female tec diving instructors are in short supply. In Southeast Asia, leading technical diving agency TDI lists only a handful or so of active female technical diving instructors. TDISDI SEA representative Alex Yeo confirms that less than 10 percent of the agencyâ€™s qualified technical instructors are female, and not all of them are actively teaching.
While the quality of any diving course shouldnâ€™t be affected by the instructorâ€™s gender, prospective students might find it easier to relate to someone similar to them â€” and in many cases thatâ€™s not a 6-foot tall, burly male with a shaved head â€” no offense to my tec instructor colleagues.
I believe most technical instructors would agree that they would like to train more students. My first student after qualifying as a technical diving instructor with Davy Jones Tech on Koh Tao was female, and she mentioned that one of the deciding factors for her was the fact that she would be trained by another female.
Simply going on personal, anecdotal evidence, around 50 percent of those enquiring about training with me personally have been female. Sheer chance? Perhaps, but seeing a girl on the boat gearing up and running through checks for a technical dive has certainly helped break down barriers for prospective students.
Finally, you donâ€™t need to search far to find truly inspirational role models: simply take a look at videographer for extreme underwater environments and tec instructor Becky Kagan Schott in the US; Canadian cave diver, photographer and filmmaker Jill Heinerth; Tekstreme Diving co-owner and instructor Cat Braun in the Red Sea; or South African cave-diving record holder Verna van Schaik to see how far techie girls can go underwater.