Divernet

ASK THE AVERAGE PERSON if they have heard of any scuba divers, and most will look a bit blank and go um... French bloke... Cousteau And thats pretty much it. Diving is not
a particularly high-profile sport. If you ask the average person to name any women divers, theyll probably just snort with laughter.
A few years ago, I set myself the task of compiling an A-Z of women divers. At the time it was a toss-up between that, and a diving version of Rock Family Trees - showing who knows/sleeps with, and therefore currently dives with, who.
The second project started to get way too scary once I had placed myself on the map, so
I threw my energies into the first. I deliberately included characters such as Ocean Barbie and Xena Warrior Princess to convey that the list shouldnt be taken too seriously.
After the A-Z of women divers was published, I received angry emails and complaints from a couple of men demanding to know why I hadnt put their girlfriends on the list. Perhaps the two projects werent so entirely different after all.

Show me the women!
Is there a really a problem with the profile of women in diving Diving used to be an overwhelmingly male sport, but it has come a long way. Women diving instructors are far more common, and there is definitely a female presence and influence in the world of diving.
But are women treated with equal respect and regard A quick flick through a selection of diving magazines shows that very few women write the articles, and even fewer women divers are written about.
Women mostly appear as models in ads and diving features. An entire page of what
I thought was an advert for a push-up bra turned out to be a feature on BCs. And that was in DIVER.

The beauty contest
So how do we determine which divers, women or not, deserve a high profile Theres a fundamental problem here: unlike in freediving, we dont have champions in diving because we dont hold competitions or championships.
The nearest thing we have is depth records, and even these are distinctly dodgy. There are no formal rules, nobody can agree on the categories and there is no authorising body.
Unlike Cousteau, todays divers are not necessarily high-profile because they have achieved anything. Profile is determined largely by media presence, so those divers who come to our attention are often the ones who are good at exploiting media opportunities.
Of course, it helps if you have done an amazing dive, discovered something new or solved some mystery, but all too often the situations being filmed or written about are commissioned - created for the media. So they need to be presented by someone suitably appealing, and not by some hairy-arsed tekkie.
Ironically, while this requirement to look good and perform could be seen as an opportunity to promote the profile of women in diving, the impact is questionable.
There are, for example, a plethora of attractive young women in skimpy bikinis presenting travel features about diving in the Caribbean on cable TV. Good on them. But does it really assist the average woman diver struggling to get a diving project together, or to advance in her qualifications, or just to be given a bit of respect within her sport
Imagine that wed like to make a TV programme about ice-hockey, so we find someone who scrubs up well in front of a camera - preferably a presenter with a bit of experience - then give them a few ice-hockey lessons and expect them to take part and hold forth. I suspect that ice-hockey fans would be less than impressed!
This is why most football or tennis programmes, for example, are presented by people with a track record of achievement in that sport.

The US solution
Americans have their own particular take on this issue, and have set up the Women Divers Hall of Fame. Which is fine, but as I guarantee that you will never have heard of 90% of the people in there, it seems like a bizarre and rather arbitrary exercise.
The criteria are confused, its very US-dominated, and it often seems to mark worthiness rather than achievement.
But however imperfect, its still an attempt to raise the profile of women divers using some kind of rationality. A shame then, that nobody pays any attention!
So what really makes a difference to a womans profile in the world of diving I can tell you from experience how various people have got ahead, sadly, but it is likely to resemble the diving version of Rock Family Trees - so I refer you to the Top Tips panel below instead.

A BRIEF WHOS WHO (AND WHY)
There are and have been a number of prominent women divers - this is my own,
non-exhaustive choice of some of those who have, or should have, earned a place in the public consciousness.

THE A-LISTERS

Lotte Hass
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The only woman in diving who could genuinely be described as a legend, Lotte wowed the world more than 50 years ago with her diving exploits alongside husband Hans Hass. Hass was already an established scientific figure with a project to make films about the underwater world.
I was originally given a job as his secretary, and I went off and learned to dive secretly, Lotte explained when she was honoured at
a British Sub-Aqua Club conference in 1998. Then, when the opportunity arose, I revealed that I could dive.

Tanya Streeter
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While not strictly a scuba diver, Tanya is the most high-profile woman in a wetsuit, and a genuine achiever. Nobody can question that she has earned her position as Queen of Diving after consistently breaking so many records. Not womens records, outright records.
However, women who break records dont always manage to establish the profile that Tanya has achieved. Looking amazing, and having an assertive husband for an agent, has undoubtedly helped her career. She is now moving away from competitive freediving and into the role of TV presenter/star in her own programmes. Go Tanya.

hspace=4 Dr Ann Kristovich
This diver became a legend after her cave-diving exploits and womens depth record were featured in the long-defunct US magazine AquaCORPS. Ann Kristovich specialises in decompression medicine and has been an indispensable member of Jim Bowdens team; in fact it is her partnership with Bowden that enabled her to come to the fore. She is highly respected and has been around for long enough to gain the status of quasi-diving royalty.

THE TEKETTES

hspace=5 Teresa Telus
Currently the hottest woman in technical diving after her talks and presentations about diving the Britannic and other famous liners, Teresa is certainly helped by the fact that her partner, Kevin Pickering, is an established videographer and she has access to film footage of many of her spectacular wreck dives. However, this in no way takes away from the fact that she is an outstanding diver.
Teresa has been a figure within the UK technical diving community for several years, and has an established track record of achievement upon which to draw. Not unpredictably, she received little recognition in technical diving publications before being brought to public attention through DIVER and its Dive Shows.

hspace=5 Adina Ochert
Frustrated by being side-lined on projects by other divers, Adina and her partner Nick Gilbert set out to initiate their own diving expeditions with remarkable success. After their project to dive the submarine Vandal and discover why it sank, they set off to dive the ss Maidan in the Red Sea and HMS Victoria off Lebanon. She has claimed the womens deepest wreck dive record with a 144m dive on Victoria. Adina shows no signs of slowing up, and has overcome serious injuries to continue with her diving projects. Top girl.

hspace=5 Helen Rider
Helen has been cave-diving for many years, but has only recently come to attention after joining forces with Martyn Farr. This partnership has given her new diving opportunities and allowed her to take part in projects for which she may not have been considered previously - not because she lacked talent, but simply because she didnt have the clout. Fortunately, she now has the chance to get some of the recognition for her diving that she deserves.

THE RECORD-BREAKERS

Verna van Schaik
Vernas website www.xtremedreams.org states that she has three world records - deepest dive by a woman, deepest cave dive by a woman and deepest altitude dive by a woman. This was all achieved at Boesmansgat Cave in South Africa on a 220m dive. While Im sure its true,
it was the first time I was aware that anybody even measured the category of deepest altitude dive by a woman! If only she had taken an ironing board, she could have had the extreme ironing record as well. She has also dived with Nuno Gomes and David Shaw.

hspace=5 Rizia Ortolani
After diving 140m on a submarine in the Mediterranean, Rizia was surprised to learn that she had achieved the deepest wreck dive by a woman (since claimed by Adina Ochert).
Did the Italian technical diving fraternity celebrate
No! She was thoroughly slagged off on the Internet forums as being pushy and undeserving.
She seems to have made the mistake of organising the trip herself, and had no male partner to lend credibility to her efforts.
In reality there are plenty of women diving in the 100m-plus range on wrecks, and its probably a mark of how little regard women pay to these kinds of diving records that nobody can be bothered to make a claim for it.

THE PRESENTERS WHO DIVE

Miranda Krestovnikoff
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She crashed onto our collective horizon in the series Wreck Detectives, and weve certainly watched Miranda progress in her diving career. Shes also written a fabulous new book telling
us all how to dive! A regular and popular speaker at the Dive Shows.

Kate Humble
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Lovely, lovely Kate - living proof that being posh and enthusiastic are far more important than actually having something interesting to say. She does look smashing in a wetsuit. Noteworthy recently for having battled it out with a cod on TV. The cod won.

THE SCIENTISTS

hspace=5 Marguerite St Leger Dowse
The first woman to point out that you should actually carry out some scientific research and have some data to back up your argument before telling women that their bodies arent suitable for diving and that they are 400% more likely to get bent than a man (authors of Diving and SubAquatic Medicine: take note). Marguerite is the pioneer of scientific studies around diving and the menstrual cycle. She has had to face being undermined and ridiculed by the many misogynists in this field and has maintained her composure and good grace throughout. Respect.

hspace=5 Steffi Schwabe
Shes scary, German, and was the partner of the late Rob Palmer. Steffi is a highly motivated cave-diver and scientist who speaks her mind and does not suffer fools gladly. She works in tough conditions and has a reputation for fearlessly taking on challenges - whether in her diving, or in taking on corrupt bureaucracies to protect the environment. A fighter.


THE FALLEN

Polly Tapson
Spare a thought for the woman who pioneered technical diving in the UK. Polly Tapsons groundbreaking expeditions to the liner Lusitania in 1994 and 95 set both the UK and US diving communities alight. After a serious bend, she had to abandon deep diving, and went into film-making, producing Swept From The Sea with Vincent Perez and Rachel Weisz in 1997. Its a romantic story with a shipwreck - but no, its not Titanic.She died in hospital in 2000 after a suicide attempt. For someone who contributed so much to the advancement of diving in the UK, she has been all but expunged from history.

hspace=5 UP AND COMING

Susie Coombes
The next challenger for a womens - and possibly mens - depth record is currently based in Denmark and causing a buzz in the diving community. I look forward to seeing how she gets on.

FURTHER INFORMATION
  • Women Divers Hall of Fame: US-based initiative to recognise the achievements of women in diving (www.wdhof.com).
  • Neutral Buoyancy by Tim Ecott: Contains great interviews and analysis, and includes many pioneering women divers.
  • The Darkness Beckons by Martyn Farr: A comprehensive and useful book that includes many details about the contribution of women cave-divers.
  • Cenotes of the Riviera Maya by Steven Gerrard: Comprehensive guide that includes many of the women who discovered and mapped these Mexican cave systems.
  • Dive Girl magazine: An occasional free publication and website that celebrates the role of women in diving - without taking itself seriously (www.divegirl.com)
TOP TIPS: How to raise your profile as a woman diver
  • Look good. That way, you are far more likely to get your photo published, and far more likely to get on TV or in films.
  • Sleep with someone who is in a position to advance your profile. Madonna didnt invent this ploy - how do you think Lotte Hass got her first diving break She married the boss! All the women that I know who are invited on diving expeditions have male partners involved in the team.
  • Be pushy. Male divers will unashamedly bombard magazine editors with articles about themselves and demand speaking slots at conferences. Most women divers, however accomplished, would never dream of behaving in this way, and will lose out.
  • Be good at something else that will allow you to gain a high profile within the sport - such as writing articles, presenting TV or radio programmes, acting in films (see all of the above)
  • Be a really good diver (ha!) Well it might help, but we certainly have the video footage to show that its not essential. In fact, in my experience, being a not-so-good diver can give you far more material for articles and columns...