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What Every Female Diver Should Know

“Finding their power builds confidence and self-esteem.”
By Annie Crawley | Published On January 26, 2021
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What Every Female Diver Should Know

Diver navigating underwater

A female diver navigates underwater.

Annie Crawley

From my first experience breathing underwater in a pool, I remember looking at my instructor and thinking, I could do your job. Traveling and exploring our world while teaching others to scuba dive sounded perfect. When I descended into the ocean a few days later, I knew I had not only found my vocation, I had discovered a world full of unlimited possibilities.

I immediately booked a boat dive. I was buddied with an advanced diver who had more than 50 dives, so we decided he would navigate and I would follow. Like many women, I had great air consumption, so I was surprised when my more experienced buddy signaled he was low on air while I still had more than half my tank. We surfaced more than 400 yards from our boat, and the captain chose not to pick us up, even though we were his only customers—essentially punishing us for being bad divers. We had to surface-swim back in rough seas because my dive buddy was lost, had sucked his air and did not communicate, and I was too novice to understand my responsibility.

I learned so much from this experience. Immediately, I signed up for my advanced class, taking navigation, communication and dive planning extremely seriously. It also made me want to strive to be the best diver I could, vowing to help other beginners along the way.

Our sport has come a long way in the past three decades, with women often leading the way. The journey of becoming a PADI dive professional and working around the world as a photographer/filmmaker in many extreme circumstances has given me great insight into diving and dive training. One of the most rewarding things about teaching women is to get them to take control—of their equipment, navigation and their own bodies. Women are amazing divers; finding their power builds confidence and self-esteem.

Young diver waves topside

Elize Foot Purchalski, 15, is a PADI Master Scuba Diver who learned to dive in a drysuit at 12.

Annie Crawley

In all sports, new practitioners can experience psychological barriers; everyone learns differently. As a beginner or intermediate scuba diver, we have to figure out how to feel. Scuba diving is all about a feeling of neutral buoyancy and how all of our equipment works together—embrace the power of understanding your equipment, neutral buoyancy, navigation and asking for help because you want to be a stronger diver.

Each of us has a variety of reasons why we like scuba diving, whether it’s to get close to nature, seek adventure or meditate. To do this we also need to achieve a skill level that makes us safe and comfortable in the water. There’s no better payoff than looking into the eye of a baby humpback whale, schooling in a shiver of sharks, or drifting along a reef, becoming one with the ocean. In order to be comfortable underwater, we must be warm, and women have a tendency to get colder than men. When a tour operator recommends a 3 mm suit, I wear a 5 mm. Get a dive or boat coat. If you get cold in warm water, consider investing in a heated vest, or heated undergarments for cold-water diving.

Gone are the days when we spread body oil or conditioner all over to try and wiggle into a stiff suit. Suits now use materials that stretch in all directions, fitting many shapes. If you have a much different size top and bottom, I recommend going with a two-piece suit or a custom-made one. Companies like Fourth Element have created a variety of layering options and care deeply about our environment, with eco-conscious materials made from ghost nets and recycled ocean plastic.

Work with your local dive center so you can experiment in their pool with equipment based on comfort and fit. Equipment needs to fit your body strength, shape and size. Depending on the strength of your legs and whether you have bad knees or hips, you’ll need to figure out what style of fin works best. In today’s diving world, color has made a huge splash, for women and men—go for what you like.

Manufacturers have created a variety of adjustable products as well, with integrated weights leading the way. I’ve fallen in love with the Aqua Lung Rogue BC. It’s streamlined, and you can adjust it to fit based on the lift you need and your shoulder and waist sizes. The streamlined system allows you to add a dive knife, extra weight pockets for cold-water diving, and D-rings to clip your SMB and slate.

In warm water, I love the feeling of the ocean flowing through my hair. Always use reef-safe shampoo and conditioner and skin products. If you have long hair and wear a hood, start your ponytail at the base of your neck and then add bands every few inches.

Find a strong female role model. As a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, I’m blown away by the power of the worldwide female diving community. Whether you want to explore science, technology, medicine or photography, diving unites us. All you have to do is reach out.

Pro Tip

Whatever kind of diving you prefer, knowing how to navigate reduces stress underwater and gives you freedom to explore with confidence, something female students can struggle with. Spend time with your instructor to master your compass and learn about the environment. Pro divers use natural navigation and a compass on every single dive.