Delving Into Technical Diving

Trying to get into the uber macho world of Technical Diving can be intimidating and difficult for girls.  Here Sze Wei share’s her experience and challenges.

When I was asked to think about writing about my experiences getting into technical diving, especially as a girl (and one that is a liiiittle bit size challenged – 160 cm/5’3” isn’t that short, is it??) I have to admit I was a bit nonplussed.  Who would want to hear about me?? Surely they’d be more interested in hearing about technical diving – the facts, the skills involved, the different stages of the course, why it’s super cool etc. But ninjas can be insistent, so here goes…

Technical Diving – So What’s the Hype All About?

Let’s first talk about what technical diving is.  According to PADI, technical scuba diving involves going beyond recreational scuba diving limits and includes one or more of the following:

  • Diving beyond 40 metres/130 feet
  • Required stage decompression
  • Diving in an overhead environment beyond 40 linear metres/130 linear feet of the surface
  • Accelerated decompression and/or the use of variable gas mixtures during the dive
  • Use of extensive equipment and technologies
PADI Sidemount diver course in Cabo San Lucas
A female tec diver practicing during a etc 45 course in Los Cabos, Mexico

So, technical diving involves exceeding the limits defined for recreational scuba diving, doing it in a safe, controlled manner, and hopefully having some fun while you’re at it.  Sounds good to me! However, when I first started hearing about technical diving, it was almost like a mythical club, one that only elite, hardcore divers should even think about applying to.  Elite, hardcore, big tough male divers, that is…

So How Do I Fit In?

A little bit more about me… I grew up in Southeast Asia, although I now live in London.  And yes, while there was a lot of gender stereotyping while I was growing up (women were definitely expected to look after the house and babies for example), in Asia, I never felt anyone thought I lacked ability just because I was a female.  For example, in school I was science and technical minded, and because of this I was always encouraged, even expected to pursue technical path – and so I did, throughout my education and working life, in what might be a male dominated area in the west.

Trying to get into technical diving though turned out to be difficult, and seemingly full of roadblocks that I just couldn’t understand.  I’d go to stands at Dive Shows that advertised technical diving, and just trying to get someone to pay attention to me was hard. I got told many things – that technical diving may not be suitable for me, and that I probably wouldn’t enjoy it.  I got told to do my divemaster and instructor course first, before coming back to talk to them (just to clarify, DM and IDC is not a prerequisite). I got told that it’s really hard, and they weren’t sure I can take it. And yes, I got told all this by big tough looking guys.  Maybe they really did mean well, but it’s hard not to conclude that I wasn’t being taken seriously because I was a girl who was a lot shorter than them.  

And I really couldn’t understand where this was coming from.  I was technical minded, loved mathematics, had a degree in physics, been a middle distance runner all my adult life (and therefore reasonably fit), been a recreational diver for 10 years at that point, and was willing to work hard – why won’t they give me a chance?  Of course, few of the big tough guys actually asked questions to find this out about me, and none ever saw me underwater. I kept trying on and off for a few years with no real progress – some responses were better than others, but I was never made to feel welcomed, and there always seemed to be reluctance.  It never felt right, and every time it just dented my confidence that bit more. 

sidemount diving course in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
A female tec diver practicing skills in Los Cabos, Mexico

Technical Ninja!

It was really refreshing to meet Dive Ninjas and Jay – as soon as I asked about Tec the immediate response was – “I can teach you!  Tell me more about your dive history”

And yes readers, I signed up to get Tec-ed! TEC40, 45 and 50!!  And well yes, the courses weren’t a walk in the park – they were hard.  But, I’ve always believed that if I want to learn and develop, I need to be challenged – you’re not learning if you’re finding everything easy, so finding things hard is not a bad thing.  I had to hover at the right depth and get the perfect dive profile, while at the same time dealing with (simulated) emergencies such as getting my mask ripped off or regs blowing up, or an annoying buddy who is constantly out of air.  

But I also really enjoyed the course and found it rewarding.  I learnt a lot about diving, and knowing how to deal with decompression makes me a lot more confident as a diver.  I am now more aware of my depth, how my gear works, and what my abilities are. I learnt more about myself, and how I react when dealing with multiple emergencies, and that I can stay cool(ish) under pressure.  And yes, it was fun to go down to 50 m and check out what few other people have seen – there’s some strange landscapes down there! I’m always reminded that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the depths of our own oceans.

And So, How Was It?

So where the big tough guys right?  Was I was unsuitable for technical diving because I was a girl and smaller?

To be fair to them, there are some considerations to be taken into account – mainly because of size (I honestly can’t think of anything that’s just specific to me being a girl!).  Having a shorter torso and a narrower shoulders means that there’s just a lot less room in the chest area to fit in the multitude of D-rings, clips, bungees and tanks that I need to.  With four tanks on me, there’s hardly any room to maneuver, which means I need to be really sure exactly where I’ve placed everything, so I don’t waste time and effort fiddling to figure things out.

Having smaller fingers and hands also means that manipulating clips can be hard – particularly when you’re already weighed down with a lot of gear, there’s not much room to maneuver, you’re wearing gloves, and oh your hands are cold.  I had to focused on getting the right technique, and clipping things exactly the same way each time – and sometimes it’s still not easy!

A female diver learns technical diving in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Learning to tec dive in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico