Being a designer, a diver with 20 years experience and a woman, I've always been fascinated by the "gender specific" debate about scuba diving gear.
It's a topic that I find both amusing and infuriating at the same time.
Do we really need gender specific diving gear?
Yes, if it means more choice in sizing and a better fit.
However I’m really not sure we need it if it simply means adding accents of colour and decorative details to make gear look feminine or - I dare say - even sexy.
As divers our lives pretty much depend on it so I would say that a feeling and look of seriousness and sturdiness is not unwelcome.
Women always had a hard time being taken seriously in sporting environments, by both men and other women. Therefore many times we have to go for a much more “macho” look to fit in and to feel that we don't stand out for the wrong reasons. I'm not going to argue whether that is right or wrong but the question is: do woman necessarily "want to" or "have to" feel more like women when they dive?
Do we need the word “sexy” applied to scuba diving?
Personally I couldn't give a damn about looking or feeling "like a woman" when I dive, but I consider myself a tomboy and I'm no longer in my twenties.
The wonderful thing about being a diver is that underwater your gender is irrelevant, so I couldn't care less about having flowers embroidered on the front of my BCD to feel feminine or to retain my identity as a woman.
Diving makes us all equal and I love that.
However what I do care about is the fact that gear should fit me properly and allow me to enjoy diving while performing at best the function it’s been designed for.
Women's bodies are tricky, they come in all shapes and sizes, with a lot more variables than men's. That would automatically advocate for different sizing guidelines and for gear that works as a modular system. This concept could apply to the two pieces of gear that could really be gender specific: BCD's and wetsuits.
To me it's all about size & fit and I would choose any design that focuses more on that, rather than pure style. Purchase should be decided after trying lots of BCD's and not simply on specs and look. I would try a BCD over a wetsuit and with a tank strapped on, checking how my body supports the weight of the tank. Compared to men women have shorter torsos and that can be a problem when looking for the best fit.
I would try both the traditional jacket style and the techie backplate & wing design, deciding for myself which one fits me better.
For example, I am an average body build but have boobs, making the backplate & wing design perfect for me.
I dive with a DiveRite backplate & wing BCD, with integrated weights, front straps that don't squeeze my chest and a harness that moves the weight of the tank from my shoulders (my personal weak point) to my hips. Think about a Baby Bjorn design or a climbing expedition rucksack, both designed to help you carry weight comfortably and for and extended time.
That said, if anyone suffers from lower back pain that might not offer the best fit.
Girls who are rather small and like a "hugging" feeling, will find the traditional 360 degrees inflation jacket style more suitable. Also, if pockets are required, this will be the best style as the backplate & wing design doesn't come with any.
As a designer I would love to see a non-gender specific modular BCD system, with simple designs and great flexibility in terms of size of components. It could come with coloured accessories that would help personalise it without compromising the integrity of the design. I would also love the possibility to replace and update components when & as I need to, with a simpler configuration to start with and a fair, starting price.
This is a really tough one.
Wetsuits are now stretchy, lined with soft fleece and comfy but they're far from being cheap, they vary vastly in sizes and fit and they don't last forever.
A BCD can serve you well for many years but - especially if you work as an instructor or a Divemaster - a wetsuit will only last for a few. Our bodies can change dramatically, so with a wetsuit having to be snug (to give you the right thermal protection) that might be a challenge.
Neoprene is also a very wasteful material and once a wetsuit is rendered useless by heavy usage it will pretty much end up as landfill. There are alternatives to neoprene and although they seem more aimed at surfers rather than divers, it's worth researching the option. Wetsuits are a necessary evil for any diver, there’s no escape...so choose wisely.
As a designer - beyond the obvious choice of a more environmentally friendly material - I'd love to see a split wetsuit for women, top and bottom, that can be mixed and matched even in different thicknesses. I would also like to see wider ankle and arm entry points, equipped with straps or zips to tighten them up. Velcro is also an absolute killjoy that ruins swimwear, rash guards, hair and who knows what else, so please no Velcro.
I would like to see more colour and not because I need to feel feminine or sexy but because wetsuits can indeed look a bit less boring and a bit more creative.
We could for example wear a James Bond style orange wetsuit or yellow BCD straps...although it would require a good measure of confidence to do so.
The real issue with using colours in wetsuits lies more with today’s fashion culture and with manufacturing and stocking constraints. Black is undoubtedly the best selling colour for any category of clothing, ask any fashion or sportswear company and they’ll confirm just that.
We are used to wearing black everyday, we feel safe in black and we are hardly ever out of place in black.
Also, if it’s important to you, black can actually be rather...sexy.
Even within our Divesangha range our black Basic shorts for guys and our black Basic Dress for girls are our best sellers. We only sold a few red men’s and women’s Calypso shorts to some brave, stylish, bold divers...we thank you and salute you by the way!
Of course the colours of our ponchos still remain fairly strong, although we offer black aand grey as well.
From the viewpoint of scuba diving manufacturers black is a safest choice simply because everyone likes it. Stocking colours is a potential nightmare and the risk of unsold stock is simply too high.
At Divesangha we manufacture too and we understand the huge struggle that diving manufacturers have. It’s not easy when you’re serving a niche market.
So, if anyone wants colour they’ll have to grab some crazy looking socks or maybe a funny hood...I recently met a Batman, a teddy bear and a couple of Minions!
To add some colour to my gear I fitted a bright red hose to my second stage, attached colourful Scuba Strapp little accessories to my D rings and changed the back strap of my mask.
That’s it, the rest of my gear is still pretty much all...black.
Dive safely everyone & thanks for reading,