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Pride Runs Deep at These Queer Dive Clubs

These dive clubs specialize in organizing safe and inclusive trips for LGBTQ+ divers
By Joshua Pramis | Published On June 18, 2024
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Pride Runs Deep at These Queer Dive Clubs

Everyone is all smiles on a dive trip with Barnacle Busters.

Courtesy Barnacle Busters

Dive clubs let you easily maximize your experience on a trip without having to do any of the heavy lifting yourself, since they take on the task of booking everything—usually at a discount, thanks to bulk-booking rates they can score. Even solo travelers can fly to far-flung destinations and rest easy knowing that built-in camaraderie (and a dive buddy) awaits.

But for divers who identify as queer, traveling—particularly to an unfamiliar international destination—can come with additional hurdles and concerns about safety. And with a surge of political agendas that challenge the legality of queer existence in recent years, an entire experience can rest more heavily on the attitudes of fellow divers.

Enter: queer dive clubs. Now, one potential misconception to put to rest right out the gate is that queer dive clubs are somehow exclusionary by nature. These organizations may cater to LGBTQ+ travelers, but divers from all walks of life are welcome to join, provided they are open-minded.

These groups were born from the need to provide a safe, inviting atmosphere for queer divers to explore the world back when being openly queer was dangerous in most places. While years of progress have been beneficial for queer travelers, and today we can more freely be our authentic selves in myriad global destinations, there is still a lot of work before many can feel truly safe, particularly among strangers. And so the need and demand for specialized groups still exists.

Adam Preston, founder of Rainbow Scuba and Tours, acknowledges that “these days, there is far less prejudice than in the past,” but it’s still important for groups like his to remain active and continue planning trips. “When you’re spending a week or longer with a group of strangers on a boat,” says Preston, “it’s nice to know your sexuality will not be a problem.”

Related Reading: 8 LGBTQ-Friendly Dive Destinations

“Part of the magic of diving is getting out of your head,” says Niko Kowell, founder of Narwhal Divers. Knowing that the people you are diving with unwaveringly accept and embrace you as you are can help put you in the right headspace for safely exploring the sea.

And isn’t that what diving is all about? We all just want to dip below the surface to explore and experience the beauty and vast diversity our world offers.

Barnacle Busters

Barrier Busters might be a better name for this group that has organized queer-friendly dive trips since 1989, when tolerance in many places was tenuous at best. R.A. Buck, the organization’s dive coordinator, has been there since the start. Those early years weren’t always easy. Buck recalls, “ Some resorts and dive boats refused to accept our reservations.” Despite the unchecked discrimination Buck and his team faced, they chose to persist rather than give up—and it paid off. “It’s taken a long time, but we are now welcomed wherever we dive,” says Buck.

Memorable Moment: With such a storied history, it’s hard to choose a singular moment, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the collective early trips Buck remembers most fondly. “The first few were extra special since there hadn’t ever been an all-gay dive group before us, and we were happy to shatter people’s expectations.”

Destinations: There’s virtually no limit to where Barnacle Busters will go. From unexpected domestic spots like the Colorado River to the far-flung remote island of Yap in Micronesia, there’s a different flavor trip for all tastes.


Undersea Expeditions

When Greg Hamman first began diving as a recently out gay man in the ’90s, he experienced his fair share of antigay sentiment among the dive community. “Scuba was still somewhat of a macho sport,” reflects Hamman. He eventually connected with Undersea Expeditions, and shortly after, he purchased the Honolulu-based company. Now a PADI Divemaster, Hamman and his club host about 15 trips annually.

Memorable Moment: Previously, the Red Sea was either avoided by queer travelers or visited with caution. That’s not the case today. “It’s eye-opening for guests to experience hospitality where they may have previously feared hostility,” Hamman reflects, “and for our hosts to get to know us as human beings who just happen to have been born LGBTQ+.”

Destinations: Leave your dry suit at home. Trips with Undersea Expeditions happen around the world—if the water is warm. Expect dives in locales like the Caribbean, Asia Pacific, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.


Related Reading: Perks of Exploring Socorro With a Dive Club

Narwhal Divers

A relative newcomer to the dive club scene, Narwhal Divers founder Niko Kowell hosted his first trip earlier this year. As a queer trans man, Kowell saw the need for a group that paid closer attention to an especially marginalized group: trans people. Drawing inspiration from “my own desire to find more queer—and especially trans—dive buddies,” Narwhal Divers was launched.

Memorable Moment: Before Narwhal Divers’ inaugural trip, a mother of a trans woman reached out to ask about a safe place for her daughter to learn to dive. Kowell provided recommendations and an invitation to book spots on his first hosted trip—they accepted. “To see a mother so supportive of her daughter, and for her daughter to be able to learn and be surrounded by other queer and trans people… I’m so excited and honored to be able to create those spaces.”

Destinations: All currently planned trips are based in Mexico, where you’ll mostly experience calm water, but Kowell plans to expand to other destinations as he grows his club.


Niko Kowell, center, hosts trips focused on trans divers' needs and safety.

Courtesy Narwhal Divers

Rainbow Scuba and Tours

The effects of COVID are still lingering for this dive group that has been planning queer-friendly trips for the last two decades. Rainbow Scuba and Tours are planning trips again, but for now, expect to see just one each year. However, you can expect that trip to be one for the books. “Most trips are on liveaboards,” says owner Adam Preston, adding that bringing queer divers together in such a close-knit situation “is a great basis for starting friendships.”

Memorable Moment: Every trip is a unique experience, and there’s something to take away from each one. But Preston recalls, “In the Galapagos, we experienced some of the most challenging conditions, which gave us a heightened sense of adventure.”

Destinations: Based in Thailand, Rainbow Scuba primarily organizes dives in Southeast Asia, but the group has planned trips as far away as Cocos Island and the Galapagos.