DiveWithMia review of the Aqualite eLED Pro 100 scuba dive light by Underwater Kinetics

After testing out the Aqualite eLED PRO 100 dive lights on a couple dives, I created this review highlighting the features of the dive lights, the accessories that come along with it and then I included some footage of the dive lights in action with my GoPro Hero 4 at depths between 90-50ft in Turks & Caicos Islands.

 

DiveWithMia unboxing video of the Aqualite eLED Pro scuba dive light by Underwater Kinetics

Underwater Kinetics asked me, Mia Toose, to check out their new scuba dive lights and report back on my scuba diving blog, DiveWithMia.com on how they perform.  I picked up the package today at FedEx in Turks & Caicos and filmed my first impressions.
Stay tuned for the actual test and review of the Aqualite eLED Pro wide angle dive photo light with three included camera mounts.

How did I get here? Part 2 – The Indirect and Complicated Route to PADI Discover Scuba Diving in The Philippines

Last week, inspired by some people asking me about my life and how I ended up where I am today, I posted my initial feature entitled:  How did I get here?  The Indirect and Complicated Route to Scuba Diving Happiness – Part 1.   At the moment, I am spending time in the Turks and Caicos Islands while starting my own Truli Wetsuits business in Canada and almost every time I meet a tourist, they ask:  ”So, how did you end up in Turks and Caicos?”  There is a simple answer (I accepted a job offer as Purser on the scuba liveaboard Turks and Caicos Explorer II), but there’s also a way more interesting and convoluted answer which I’m having a lot of fun writing about.  In my last post, I ended with me taking a job as an English Teacher in Tokyo, Japan upon graduating from university in Canada and now I will continue to tell my story of finding a way to try scuba diving and adventure on my first backpacker’s trip to The Philippines…

Now that I was unleashed on the big wide world as a Truli independent adult, I was determined to follow my passions and do what I had always wanted to do.  1.  I wanted to travel and explore.  2.  I wanted to try scuba diving.  After working 6 months at the language school I was entitled to some vacation days.  All the teachers would talk about their amazing adventures in Thailand and rave about the lovely culture, food, and fantastic shopping, but I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing already.  There was this free magazine for foreigners in Tokyo and there was a page that advertised all of the prices for travel and I noticed that the Philippines was pretty much the same airfare as Thailand.  I decided I wanted to go to the Philippines.  I went to the international bookstore and bought the Lonely Planet guidebook to the Philippines as well as  the Frommer’s guide to South East Asia and started to study where was the best place to go scuba diving.  Although the most famous places for scuba diving were advertised as Cebu Island and Boracay, I fell in love when I read about the island of Palawan in the south west side of the country.  The guide book described this place as “The Last Frontier”.  I booked my flight from Tokyo to Manila and then straight to Puerto Princesa on Palawan and back.  I was feeling pretty nervous about this big adventure all on my own, but it was what I had always wanted and I felt like I finally had the opportunity to do something amazing and bold and I did not want to let that pass me by.  But luckily for me, I think my enthusiasm inspired some excitement in my co-worker because just at the last minute she decided to join me on my trip!  I was stoked!

People had warned me about Manila being super dangerous and I was quite anxious considering I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I had booked one night in a little hostel near the airport before we flew the next day to the island, but we needed to call and confirm when we got there.  But neither of us had any money or coins for the phone.  We were standing by the phone trying to figure out what to do when a man who looked like he was in the military (they were all over the airport) and with a very large gun walked over to us.  He generously offered us his phone card so we could use the phone.  This was the first of hundreds of positive cross cultural encounters I would make in my life.  Although I was still on edge of my new surroundings, the kindness of the “scary” stranger breathed some life and confidence into me as we hopped into a taxi to head to the hotel.

That's Mia snorkelling for the first time off a boat in The Philippines!

Palawan, The Philippines

Over the next week we took a Jeepney across the island, which fell off the road at one point.  We paid some local guys to travel even further up island by water.  They caught us some fish and put us up in a hut on a deserted island with no electricity.  But more importantly, they lent me a scuba mask.  This was the first time in my life that I swam in an ocean and looked beneath the surface to see the colourful wildlife below.  I remember being absolutely enthralled.  It’s interesting to think back to that moment and wonder if it relates to how much I love introducing people to scuba diving.  I love that I am the one that gives others the opportunity to see all the amazing things below the surface of water.

Our final destination was El Nido, which is on the northern tip of Palawan.  We arrived by boat and I faintly remember a light drizzle with rainbows as we arrived with a back drop of tall craggy cliffs jutting out of the ocean amongst the multitude of blue hues of the sea.  We immediately signed up for a PADI Discover Scuba Diving course for first thing the next day.  I was so elated that not only was I going to get to try scuba diving, but it was going to happen in this exotic little village in the South Pacific!  The next morning we went to the dive shop and travelled by boat to a secluded white sandy beach on some island.  There were three of us girls and one instructor.  Besides my friend and I, the other woman was a Filipino from Manila who, much to my surprise, had never tried scuba diving.  She told us her brothers were all instructors and she loved the water, but just never had the chance to go.  I could totally relate, but couldn’t believe with all the beautiful waters that surround her country that she could wait

That wetsuit is exactly the reason I decided to design my own Truli Wetsuit line!

El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

so long!  Our instructor made us some lunch and then briefed us on the skills and dive we were about to do.  We walked across the white sandy beach and into the ocean to do our “pool skills” and then we swam off together!  I felt like a natural and was so excited to see a black and white sea snake!  It looked so amazing as it slithered through the water column.  I don’t think in all the diving I’ve done since then that I’ve seen anything like that again.  So that was the day that opened a whole new world to me and started a journey that has taken me to where I am today!

We desperately wanted to stay longer in the village and do more scuba diving, but alas, I had very responsibly booked a return flight from the town all the way at the southern end of the island and needed another day of travel to get back there, so off we went.  As soon as we got back to Tokyo, I was on a mission to figure out how to become a certified PADI Open Water diver as soon as possible, which you can read about in my next blog post!

Have You Ever Seen These Crazy Scuba Dive Entries?

As many of you know I was working on the Explorer Ventures scuba dive liveaboard in the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2014-2015 and if you haven’t already done so (or know so), scuba liveaboards are the way to go in the world of scuba diving!  The Turks and Caicos Explorer II is a 125ft vessel that hosts a maximum of 20 scuba divers on 1 week trips where they eat, sleep, and scuba dive 5 times a day.  My job as both Dive Instructor and Purser on the ship was to assist divers in and out of the water 5 times a day (among a zillion other things!).

I did the math the other day and determined that on average, I assisted with and witnessed 540 boat dive entries a week (27 dives/week x 20 divers).   I also worked blocks of 12 weeks in a row, which equals 6 480 scuba dive entries every 3 month period!  On that note, I would like to declare myself an expert in the field of scuba dive entries!

You may think that entering the water from a boat as a scuba diver is pretty straight forward; however, I would like to admit that I have seen some pretty interesting and non-traditional entries on a regular basis.  In this blog I’ve decided to outline the most common types of entries as well as the ones that make me laugh on a daily basis.  Have I mentioned I love my job?

Perhaps a mini-briefing on scuba dive entries before I dive right in to the good stuff, which will be a great refresher for those who haven’t been in the water for awhile.  Depending on the type of boat you are using there are a variety of methods to get into the water and enjoy your dive.  Always inquire from your divemaster and/or captain as to the method that is used for each vessel.  During the PADI Open Water course you learn two types and possibly others depending on the region or conditions you are learning in.  One is called the Controlled Seated Entry, where you are sitting geared up on the edge of a platform (like a dock or edge of a boat) with your fins on your feet as they dangle in the water.  Then you twist your body to one side and place both hands on the edge next to you.  After that you simply need to continue to turn your body as you push away from the platform.  Although we teach this method and, in my opinion, it seems like a safe and easy method of entry, I can’t say I’ve really seen anyone use it outside of the training.  Not sure why…

The other method of entry we teach in the course and is the most common scuba dive entry I’ve seen, is called the Giant Stride Entry.  With all of your gear on, including fins, mask and regulator in your mouth, you take the palm of your hand (usually the right hand) and put it on your regulator while your fingers are on your mask.  This helps hold them in place when you hit the water.  Your other hand can do one of three things depending on you and your situation.  Originally you were told to hold the buckle of your weight belt, to avoid it from opening upon impact with the water.  But these days, most people are using integrated weights, so it isn’t necessary.  Instead,  what many of those divers do is gather their console and alternate and hold those with their other hand.  This avoids the potential for a dangling hose to be caught on something on the boat while you are dropping into the water.  The third option is what I recommend as I see masks slipping off all the time.  You should take your other hand and hold the back of your mask strap so it doesn’t slip off and you lose your mask once you hit the water.

Okay, so we’ve got one hand holding your regulator and mask in place and the other holding the back of your mask strap (or your weight belt, or your gauge), now you need to look straight out towards the horizon (try not to look down once you have checked that the area is clear).  When you are ready, you just need to take a step and you will have completed the Giant Stride Entry!  We tend to move in the direction we are looking, so by looking out at the horizon, you will step far enough away from the boat not to hit the back of your tank on the boat.  Don’t forget to signal to the boat that you are okay by putting your fist on your head or giving the okay sign with your hand.

This is a fantastic example of a Giant Stride Entry off of the Turks and Caicos Explorer II in 2014.

A perfect example of a Giant Stride Entry

West Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands

Okay, so now you know the standard, but what I really wanted to talk about here today are the out of the ordinary, extraordinary, where-did-they-come-up-with-that-technique, styles that I have put into 4 categories.  I’m not sure where these have evolved from, but I think they are ultimately the result of each scuba diver’s unique individual style…or lack of coordination!  Either way, they have provided me with an endless amount of amusement throughout my days on the boat!  For each scuba dive entry, I will rate it with a Splash Factor between 1 (not much splash) and 5 (big splash!).

The Torpedo

The first scuba dive entry I’d like to talk about is my favourite.  According to The Torpedo-ites, this style seems to have come about due to scuba diving in locations that have a significant drop between the platform and the water and/or a negative entry was required.  To perform this entry, the scuba diver approaches his exit point, steps off the platform and brings both feet together in one smooth action resulting in a streamlined entry like a torpedo plummeting straight into the water.  This tends to be a very clean and tidy entry with no flailing arms and dangling gear.  The Splash Factor is a 2!

This scuba dive entry is neat and tidy!  They enter the water just like a torpedo!

West Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands

In a Guitar Hero's mind, this is how he thinks he looks!

Photo taken from the Air Guitar World Championships

Guitar Hero

This type of scuba dive entry is super fun.  I’ve only ever seen men do it and it is reminiscent of those guys in your life who totally wish they were rock stars.  You know the types – they are the ones who are playing the air guitar like there’s no tomorrow.  Technically speaking, they are performing The Giant Stride Entry just as it says to do in the text book, but these guys have simply added some style.  They lift their leg just a little bit higher and reach for the stars as they leap from the vessel probably with some rockin’ AC/DC or Dire Straits internal playlist happening in their heads.  I’ll never forget the first one I ever saw by Mike Swisher and then more recently from Tim Tetlow!  Rock On Scuba Divers!!!  The Splash Factor is a 3!

Tim Tetlow - a true scuba diving Guitar Hero!

West Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands

Froggy

This is one of those scuba dive entries that is so strange and unusual that the first time I ever saw it, I thought it was one of those once in a lifetime happenings.  I remember genuinely enjoying the show and shaking my head in wonder at all the funtastic things I get to see in my job.  But low and behold, The Froggy seems to be some strange, but common scuba dive entry.  Let me try to explain how one goes about doing this entry.  The diver will prepare himself as usual; approach the platform wearing fins, mask, regulator in mouth; and when they are ready and it is clear they will bend at the knee and spring up and outward bringing both legs up towards their chest as they jump out.  I feel fortunate that I was able to snap this fab photo because this is definitely the type of scuba dive entry that you need to see to believe it.  The Splash Factor is a 5!

The ultimate Froggy!

West Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands

Free-Style

The Free-Style category is an anything goes division in the rating of scuba dive entries.  Some divers tend to be performers.  They like the attention and want to try things a little out of the ordinary and always with a touch of shock value added to the list.  I remember watching anxiously as this young girl did a flip in the air from the edge of the boat to the water wearing all of her dive gear.  I do not recommend that at all as it looked just like an accident waiting to happen!  I also remember this fantastic little bearded Russian man who would gently fall into the water like a tree that had just been cut down.  He’d rotate slightly in a log roll so he’d hit the water just right.  I wanted to yell “TIMBER!” every time he went for his dives.  We also had the pleasure of hosting Dave Smith and his dive shop, Blue Horizons Dive Center in Pennsylvania.  Dave is a performer too!  I was able to capture him doing an awesome cannon ball as his entry into the deep blue sea.  The Splash Factor is almost always a 5 for a Freestyler!

Dave Smith is a true Freestyler with his Cannon ball scuba dive entry!

West Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands

 

So, what have we learned here?  There are a number of takes on the traditional Giant Stride Entry.  As long as  you are safe, the added style to each entry will generate giggles from your divemasters and dive buddies.  My personal favourite is to jump in and put my fins on while I’m underwater already.  I love the gentle free fall on my toes!  Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about these or any other scuba dive entries!  Happy Hopping!

Some Musings on Scuba Diver Portrait Photography

I love my new GoPro Hero 3 camera!

GoPro Hero 3

This week I bought my first underwater camera, which is the GoPro Hero 3 with all kinds of assorted add-ons including filters and a macro lens (I didn’t know GoPros had macro lenses!).  With my travels about to begin again, I sadly depart some beloved and talented dive buddies who have been so kind in sharing their incredible underwater photos on my website.  I recognized the need for me to possess a scuba dive camera that will be suitable (and affordable) as a compact travel companion able to document in HD quality the wonders of the ocean in photo as well as video.  That being said, although this is my first purchased camera, I do have some considerable exposure and experience to the art of underwater photography via my 1 year stint aboard the AquaCat scuba dive liveaboard in The Bahamas not to mention that photography class I took in high school (actually it helped a lot!).

Working on the liveaboard, I was responsible for shooting, editing, and displaying a photo CD for passengers to purchase.  The vessel provided all of the equipment (Nikon D80 SLR camera along with Ikelite housing and strobes) and I had some valuable insights from the talents of Captain Ron McCaslin whose underwater photography experience extended from the pre-digital age when photographs were taken with film and developed on the boat during the weekly trips.  How impressive!  He’s the one that taught me to “avoid the wave” when taking photos of divers. Waving is great for video, but a no-no in underwater photography.  I also had the opportunity to be advised by the super proficiency of Aleks Bartnicka who has been able to capture some of the most alluring and award-winning images I’ve seen to date.  In addition to my own personal training, I also paid special attention to the intense photographic fanaticism from the passengers.  At an average of 22 passengers each week over a year, that’s a lot of underwater photography lovers!

These days, virtually all scuba divers have entered into the realm of underwater photography.   With the advances in technology, underwater photography has been made much more accessible and the ability to produce quality photos even by non-professionals is within reach.  However, in spite of all this, the act of actually capturing those utterly illusive moments in nature is immensely challenging, highly addictive, and damn hard!  And if you are successful in capturing that moment and also are able to somehow portray the marine animal as possessing human-like characteristics, well, that’s just…Magic!

But do you want to know what’s even more difficult than trying to capture that perfect fish portrait?

How about a bigger challenge or maybe you are interested in dipping your toe (fin?!) into unchartered waters?  I would suggest you start taking some underwater photos of your scuba diver buddies!

I find it interesting that despite the fact that these days there are so many enthusiastic underwater photographers, there seems to be a lack of underwater photos of scuba divers.  Even more so because who doesn’t want a photo of themselves doing such a cool thing like scuba diving?!

Thinking about my own personal experiences of taking photos of the passengers on the liveaboard and of attempting to be an underwater scuba diver super model, I can see two main reasons why scuba diver portraits are not in the mainstream of underwater photography.

Claudio of Coral Reef Divers in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico taking an underwater "selfie"

La Sirenita, Cabo Pulmo, Mexico

First and foremost, it is virtually impossible to take an underwater “selfie”.  Well, not impossible, but depending on your camera, it’s not as easy as on the surface to reach around and press “click”.  Those buttons on underwater camera housings require a good and steady push in order to capture those magic underwater moments.  My fingers don’t always bend that way.

I’d love to see your attempts at underwater “selfies” so please send me your snaps and I’ll post them on my Facebook page!

The other main reason I see as to why there isn’t an abundance of underwater scuba diver portraits lies in the fact that if we can’t take a selfie, we’ll need to get someone to take our picture for us.  That means either convincing our dive buddy to devote his entire underwater time to being our personal photographer or hiring a professional.  I’m not sure about you, but I don’t have a lot of scuba dive buddies who are interested in doing that!

While working on the liveaboard, I was aptly advised to take as many photos of the passengers themselves for exactly that reason.  Finally these divers would be given the opportunity to possess photos of them while they keenly chased after turtles, rays, and colourful fish with their own cameras.  And for me, well, I certainly had some…let’s just say “interesting” experiences that taught me a thing or two about underwater scuba diver portraits that may be of interest to you if you are venturing into this challenging avenue of photography.

It’s funny when you think about it for a moment, as a scuba diver diving underwater one can feel so…angelic…floating and feeling so effortless.

But as soon as you ask a diver to pose for a picture underwater all kinds of strange things happen!

Buoyancy – Gone.  When you point a camera at a diver, they will most definitely float, sink, stir up dust, bump into overhangs.  Suddenly they have no sense whatsoever of what their bodies are doing!  I’ve seen it all.

Your best bet is to prep your underwater model before the dive.  Tell them how you would like to see them and how you will communicate with them so that you can get the shot you are looking for.  For example, I always want to take photos of scuba divers and a cool animal underwater.  It’s so frustrating to have a scuba diver there looking at the animal and not taking a moment to look up and into the camera for that awesome waiting shot.  The best positions for your underwater model will be in a horizontal pose, fins behind, all gear streamlined (i.e. nothing dangling) and either arms crossed or wide open depending on what you want to convey.  Tell your underwater model to pay attention to their buoyancy during photo taking and to be aware of their body positioning.  If you’ve mastered the art of positioning, you should then take it to the next level and ensure that with every scuba diver portrait there is a nice marine animal with him or her in the photo.  Take a look at this awesome photo of myself in my early days of diving while on a scuba adventure in The Maldives.  Can you say “Awkward”!!??  The next one is of a very talented diver who seemed to immediately strike some awkward pose as soon as the camera was pointed in his direction (wasn’t there a Friends episode about this with Chandler??!!).  I’ve also included one of my favourite scuba diver portraits I took of the lovely Laura who enjoyed the groupers on The Austin Smith wreck in The Bahamas.

Point a camera at a diver and watch them go from graceful o awkward!

Kandooma, South Male Atoll, Maldives

Do your best to keep yourself streamlined and horizontal when posing for a photo

Danger Reef, Exumas, The Bahamas

Ideally you will want your scuba diver portrait to include some marine life in addition to the diver

The Austin Smith Wreck, Exumas, The Bahamas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facial expressions – Blank.  The wonder and amazement that we express when we are out of the water often evaporate.  It’s as if the diver feels the mask and regulator is hiding their face, but in fact the mask and eyes are what draw us into a solid scuba diver portrait!  I once showed a non-diver friend some of my photos and he remarked, “Wow, those scuba dive masks sure don’t make a person look attractive, do they?”  I beg to differ, but I could be biased in thinking that any piece of scuba dive equipment is sexy…

I always tell my divers to smile with their eyes and/or to think of something funny and it definitely makes a big difference.  Tell your model to smile even with the regulator in their mouth because it will be reflected in their eyes.  If the diver feels comfortable, they can even remove the regulator from their mouth for a nice natural smile, but be sure to advise the model to point the mouthpiece of the regulator down so bubbles don’t free-flow and ruin the photo.  I also really think that scuba dive masks with the clear skirt make better facial portraits than the dark ones, but I think that’s just a matter of opinion.  Look at the differences in these photos.  The contentment in the eyes of Thiago on the left completely draws you into the photo whereas the blank stare from the woman on the right creates a stale, uninviting photo despite the excitement of the sharks!

A scuba diver's eyes are the key to a successful scuba diver portrait

Danger Reef, Exumas, The Bahamas

Think of something funny and smile with your eyes to create an engaging portrait photo

Split Coral Head, Eleuthera, The Bahamas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enter Mr/Mrs Bubble-Face.  As we all know, the number one rule of scuba diving is to never hold your breath, but an awareness of your breathing is essential in underwater scuba diver portrait photography.  And timing your breaths with the taking of a photo is vital to avoid the inevitable bubble-face syndrome!  Again, just communicate with your underwater model prior to the dive and remind them to time their breathing.  This photo of me was taken during my PADI Open Water Diver course in Guam and take a look at this funny photo of a scuba diver I took during a shark feed dive in The Bahamas.  One breath of bubbles can make or break a photo!

Hello Mrs. Bubble-face!

Mia's PADI Open Water Diver course in Guam 2001

Hello Mr. Bubble-face!

Split Coral Head, Eleuthera, The Bahamas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Comes The Sun. This is the easiest mistake to fix and it’s the same on land so nothing really technical about this one.  Simply an awareness of where the sun is will enable you to create a great photo even without strobes.  The sun should always always always be at the photographer’s back.  It’s helpful if your model also knows this simple rule, so that he/she may position themselves in the appropriate location.  Take a look at this photo our dive guide took of Justin and me on Justin’s PADI Discover Scuba Diving experience on my latest trip to Mexico.  Could have been a lovely portrait, but the light behind us created shadows right across the most important part of a scuba diver portrait – the eyes!  I think we were too excited about his first dive to pay attention to where the sun was!

Always remember to keep the sun BEHIND the photographer's back otherwise you end up with shadows over the face of your underwater models.

La Sirenita, Cabo Pulmo, Mexico

An underwater photo shoot to boot in Curacao!

Recently I had the opportunity to view some incredible photos by some former scuba dive colleagues of mine who are now working and living in Curacao.  Leticia Duran and Arne Richter own and operate Turtle and Ray Productions over there and ran an incredible photo shoot with Erin R of A Munchkin Abroad.  I really hope to see more of these types of photos from them in the future!

 

Stunning photos by Turtle&Ray Productions featuring underwater models.

Turtle&Ray Productions, Curacao

On that note, I look forward to seeing some new and improved underwater scuba diver portraits!  I really do love those beautiful underwater creatures, but why not explore a new challenge and snap some shots of your buddy!  Send me your favourite underwater scuba diver portraits! I want to see them!

 

Does the Image of Scuba Diving Reflect Your Style?

What is the image of scuba diving today?  Looking at campaigns recruiting the younger generation it reminds me of an old guy putting on “hip” clothes and trying to act like he’s young again with the end result being the people not really wanting to be affiliated with him.

Obese Scuba Diver

Is this the face of scuba diving today?

Like many sports, and thanks to the “Old Guys’ Club”, diving has historically been gender-biased, reeking of machismo and exclusivity. This attitude towards the sport, which may have been generated by the old school navy origins of diving, still has some surprising remnants existing in what I would consider a pretty progressive and forward thinking society.  For example, have you ever been around scuba divers and heard (like I have) them use such expressions as “Be a Man”, “Don’t be a pussy”, “Put Your Big Girl Panties On”, or for example, the heading used in the Men’s Health magazine article on scuba diving (if anyone can find a link to this article that would be so appreciated) and promoted at the PADI Member Forum 2014 in Victoria, BC, Canada by PADI Canada Regional Manger Randy Giles on January 22nd, 2014:  [the diving industry is] “A Man’s World”?  I’ve even heard of DEMA shows where female employees weren’t invited and male employees were given cash for strip shows and lap dances.

Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle: Legendary Scuba Diver

No wonder the dive industry’s style department has only recently been pushed to the forefront.  Female scuba divers’ only option has been to push through and fit their lovely bodies into dive suits that made them look like men, so that they could do the sport they loved.  I imagine a scuba diver back then who expressed any interest in style or fashion (male or female) would have been castrated…Sylvia Earle remains every water woman’s hero for the incredible contributions she has done to ocean research in addition to have survived through all of that nonsense!

Now, that’s definitely not to say all scuba divers are like that – quite the contrary.  Today things are changing as equipment manufacturers are starting to recognize that females make up a larger percentage of the diving industry (34% in 2012 according to the PADI Worldwide Corporate Statistics for 2007-2012).  Industry leaders are beginning to create gear and marketing campaigns specifically for women.

However, as a female scuba diver, I feel the scuba dive industry has missed their mark in identifying what I really want.

The items on offer are totally unappealing and even lingering on (dare I say it??) sexist.  Simply adding the colour pink or swirls and flowers feels condescending and doesn’t reflect my personality and style.  Why aren’t there still any other options? I wonder if I’m alone in my opinions on this one.

Is this image of an unstylish, gender-biased dive industry all just in my head? Looking back at my career as a professional dive instructor serving recreational divers in hotels, on charter yachts, in dive shops, and in private lessons, here’s what I’ve observed about people who dive.

First and foremost, all scuba divers are incredibly passionate about the underwater world.  I’ve taught diving to fantastically excited Arab women in private women-only swimming pools in Dubai, enjoyed underwater adventures with determined male and female divers in their 80s, and communicated emphatically with non-English speaking Italians about the most amazing dive we had just done together.  The passion and enthusiasm in scuba divers is evident, not to mention contagious!

Divers are wildly (or sometimes timidly) adventurous.  They are curious people who enjoy feeling the thrill of exposing themselves to a vastly different environment.  Many love swimming out to the deep blue to hover in the water column without the bottom or surface in sight and be humbled by the great space that exists down there.  Others are fascinated by the enormous number of animals both large and small to be seen and the excitement of chance encounters that render the diver feeling like they’ve just won the ultimate jackpot.  Whether they’re diving the same lake or reef each time, or they’re traveling to the far corners of the world, desire to explore is a common thread among all.

Divers are social people.  Dive shops are always a hub of activity and function as a place to gather and to talk diving (which divers LOVE to do!).  Oftentimes, small bars and cafes will pop up inside a dive shop as divers enjoy a cup of coffee before their first dive of the day, and then of course the “post-dive beer alongside log book signing” is almost a mandatory part of scuba diving.  Dive professionals become immediate friends, ready to provide a valuable source of information, and usually some of the coolest people on the planet.

So, if divers are passionate, adventurous, and social – how is it that the scuba diving market is just so damn lame?

Some of you may know that I’ve been working on a business idea for a women’s wetsuit, researching the market and paying particular attention to the scuba diver persona along with his/her lifestyle. What I’ve noticed is a huge disconnect in how they are represented by diving brands around the world.

The dive industry really started to gain momentum in the 1970s, cultivated primarily by men.  It was defined BY them and designed specifically FOR them and as decades went on, these pioneers of scuba diving aged, leaving old guys with big beer bellies, a legacy of dated attitudes, a misrepresentation of who scuba divers really are, and an overall dowdy image of the sport.

This may be a bold move, but I’d like to make a request -

I’d like to invite all those active, fun, and healthy individuals (both male and female) who have a thirst and yearning for living a life less ordinary to fulfill my dream of re-inventing the image of scuba diving.

My goal is to give a voice to all scuba divers from around the world of all ages, genders, and various cultural and economic backgrounds on this topic in order to determine the following hypotheses with solid concrete evidence:

  1. There is an un-represented population of scuba divers.
  2. It is possible to re-invent the image of scuba diving, showing who we are and inviting future generations of fit, healthy, confident scuba divers into our sport.
Fit, Active, Healthy, Female Scuba Diver

Is there room for style in the scuba diving world?

I want to hear from you – women, men, young, old, beginner and expert!  Please let me know what you think about the image of scuba diving today and if you feel you are being accurately represented.  Just drop me a personal email or leave a message on the DiveWithMia Facebook page.  Your feedback and that of your scuba diving friends is absolutely invaluable, so please share widely.

Yours truly,

Mia Toose

 

Part 5 – Your Lungs & Scuba Diving: Easy, Breezy, Breathing!

What’s the most important rule in diving?  Never hold your breath!  If you remember one thing from your dive course, that’s usually it; but do divers really know why it’s so important?

This is the final post in a series on air and its relationship to 5 key areas in diving that I’ve been writing about.  If you haven’t already done so, take a peek at the introduction for some important background notes to ensure you understand the basics about air and pressure.  These are directly related to what we’ll be talking about here and I encourage you to explore any of the other topics as well to expand your diving knowledge!

Understanding Air and its Relationship to 5 Key Areas in Scuba Diving

Part 1 – BCD Air Inflation/Deflation and Buoyancy: A Balancing Act!

Part 2 – Equalizing Your Ears: Let’s Get Popping!

Part 3 – Equalizing Your Mask: Don’t Squeeze Me!

Part 4 – From Tank to Breath of Fresh Air: The Journey!

What happens if I hold my breath while scuba diving?

Do you remember when I talked about how the air inside your BCD will expand as you swim up, even just a metre or a few feet?  And the need to let some air escape to maintain your position?

What would happen if you didn’t let that air escape?

Well, you would continue to float upwards and the air would continue to expand and cause you to float up faster and faster – a potentially very dangerous situation because divers need to ascend slowly from every dive (no faster than 18m or 60ft/minute).

Just like your BCD, your lungs have air inside and if you don’t let the air escape as you ascend (even just a metre or a few feet) you can do some serious, if not fatal damage to your lungs and body.  Considering that, let’s get back to that #1 rule in diving again – Never hold your breath and always keep breathing! If you do hold your breath and you ascend, the air in your lungs will expand and keep expanding until any of these life threatening possibilities might happen:

1. Lung over expansion injury where your lungs over stretch from the expanding air that is forced into the chest cavity, otherwise known as pneumothorax (collapsed lung).

2. Lung over expansion injury where your lungs over stretch from the expanding air that is forced into the space between the lungs and around the heart, otherwise known as mediastinal emphysema.

3. Lung over expansion injury where your lungs over stretch from the expanding air that is forced under the skin, otherwise known as subcutaneous emphysema.  I saw this once when a teen was goofing around on his safety stop and the surge brought him up while he held his breath.  The sound of his voice sounded strange and he told us what he had done.  We gave him oxygen and he stayed in the hospital for observation for a day or two, but was okay.

4. The most dangerous of all, Arterial Gas Embolism where the expanding air pushes its way through the tissues of the lungs and into the blood stream where it could cause a blockage to your brain or elsewhere.

To learn more about these and other news and research in diving, check out the DAN website and these articles I referred to when writing this:

Decompression Illness:  What is it and What is the Treatment

Mechanism of Injury for Pulmonary Over-Inflation Syndrome

So, if you are ever in an out of air situation and you need to get to the surface in order to breathe (and your buddy is nowhere to be found or also out of air), remember to swim no faster than 1ft/second and look up while making an “ahhh” or humming sound with the regulator still in your mouth.  The air that is in your lungs will expand as you go to the surface but will be able to escape as you swim up.

Breathing and Buoyancy

Ensuring that you are always breathing during scuba diving not only protects you from fatal injuries, it also allows you to enjoy a more comfortable dive.  Let me explain how your lungs and breathing contribute to buoyancy in scuba diving…

At first thought, it may be difficult to imagine your lungs like a big internal balloon that gets bigger as air goes in (inhale) and smaller as air goes out (exhale), most likely because we don’t actually think about the act of breathing as it happens.  However, the image of a balloon is a perfect example of what our lungs are like.  Just like a balloon, when it is inflated, the balloon floats and when it contains very little air, it sinks – just like our bodies in diving!

Maybe you’ll remember a time when you were VERY excited about a dive…or maybe even a bit nervous and no matter what you tried to do, you could not descend at the beginning of your dive.  You probably didn’t realize it, but you were most likely breathing very quickly with short breaths in and out.  This would have caused your lungs to stay very full of air – which would have made you float!  Remember – Breathe out! Your body won’t forget to breathe in, but by thinking about your exhales:

1. You will feel more relaxed and in control of your breathing as you deliberately push air out of your lungs after each breath in.  If you are excited/nervous, this is also the way to regain control of yourself and feel calm.

2. You will be able to descend more easily as you remove air from your lungs by consciously pushing a nice breath out as you go down and then continue to breathe naturally once you are underwater.

3. You will use less air by producing nice long exhales with every breath in and not have to end a dive early due to low air.

So, if you’d like to descend a metre or a few feet, a nice slow exhale out will cause your lungs to deflate and your body to drop down in the water.  This works the same if you would like to rise up a little – just take a deep breath in, exhale a little bit out, and then another big breath in, and you are likely to start to ascend.  In order for you to keep yourself from ascending more, breathe out completely and to maintain your position in the water (not go up, or down), a steady rhythm of inhale/exhale will keep the volume of air in your lungs consistent to keep you hovering in the same spot.  It is important to note here that while you may not be breathing in a regular rhythm while you are adjusting your position in the water, you must never hold your breath – even just for a few seconds – to maintain your position.  This is called “skip breathing” and can result in carbon dioxide levels which are not being expelled properly to become elevated in your body and may result in you passing out underwater.

Using your breathing as a tool to manage your buoyancy is a technique divers are always trying to perfect.  Practice every time you go out diving and don’t forget the number 1 rule in diving!

I’d love to hear from you – Please don’t hesitate to send me a message here, or on my Facebook page and let me know what you think or if you have any questions!

Safe and Happy Diving

DiveWithMia – PADI Scuba Diving Skills, Experience, and Passion for Life!

Part 4 – From Tank to Breath of Fresh Air: The Journey!

Air, air, everywhere!  I think it’s interesting to meet divers and non-divers of various levels and to listen to their interpretations of how scuba functions.  I can’t tell you how many people refer to breathing the air from their tank as “breathing oxygen”, which is incorrect.   In this section of the 5 part series on air and its relationship to diving, I’d like to offer a summary of what actually happens when you take a breath through a regulator underwater!  If you’d like some other insights into air and its relationship to diving, please check out the other parts of my series here:

Understanding Air and its Relationship to 5 Key Areas in Scuba Diving

Part 1 – BCD Air Inflation/Deflation and Buoyancy: A Balancing Act!

Part 2 – Equalizing Your Ears: Let’s Get Popping!

Part 3 – Equalizing Your Mask: Don’t Squeeze Me!

Part 5 – Your Lungs & Scuba Diving:  Easy Breezy Breathing!

Air and the Scuba Tank

Before I begin, here’s a little information about the air that is in your scuba tank.  First of all, the air that we breathe underwater, is the exact same as what we breathe on land (21% oxygen, 79% nitrogen); the only difference is that it is compressed to fit inside a tank.  You may have heard divers talking about the size of their tanks:  80 cubic feet/ 12L; 63 cubic feet/ 10L; 100 cubic feet/ 15L; but, what exactly are these numbers referring to?

In the metric world, divers refer to the size of their tank based on the internal volume, for example, as if it was filled with water.  When we talk about a 15L, 12L, or 10L tank, it is with reference to how much water it can hold.  In fact, it actually holds 2265L of compressed air to a working pressure of 3000psi/210bar.  Considering the average person is breathing about 12L per minute on the surface while at rest, it’s good to know that there is more than just 12L of air in your typical tank!

In the imperial world, divers also refer to the size of their tank based on the internal volume, although they make reference to the capacity it has to hold compressed air to a working pressure of 3000psi/210bar as opposed to how much water it can contain.  So, you may hear a person refer to a standard tank as an 80, which means it can hold 80 cubic feet of air (the equivalent to 2265L).
So now we know that the air inside a scuba tank is the same as the air that surrounds us only that it is compressed to fit into a small container.  Just like a little backpack of air!  We also know how much air a typical scuba tank is able to hold.  What’s next?

How does the compressed air in your tank become the air you breathe underwater?  As you may remember from your scuba diving training, your regulator system is made up of 2 stages:  The First Stage, which is the part you attach to your tank and the Second Stage, which is what you breathe from (otherwise known as the Regulator and Alternate).  If you remember from my previous blog on air, as you go underwater, the air becomes denser; however, the air that’s protected by the walls of your tank is not affected by the increasing pressure underwater.  It stays the same.

The First Stage

If there was no First Stage, the air that came out of your tank would come out with a big blast because the contents are compressed into a small space.  So, to control the amount of air released every time

First Stage Balanced Diaphragm Diagram

First Stage Balanced Diaphragm Diagram

you take a breath, the regulator mechanism reduces the pressure in 2 stages.  Imagine your First Stage in 3 distinct, but interconnected parts.  All of the chambers are connected via a valve running from the first chamber through the second and attached to a rubber diaphragm, which separates the second from the third with a spring connected to the diaphragm in chamber 3.  Let’s look at each chamber individually:  We’ll call the first “The High Pressure Chamber” (Chamber 1).  This one is filled with high pressure air delivered directly from the tank when you turn it on.  It remains closed via the valve until you inhale.  The next chamber, which your regulator hose is attached to, will be called “The Intermediate Pressure Chamber” (Chamber 2).  This one is filled with intermediate pressure air as well as having a very cool relationship with the final chamber, which we’ll call “The Water Chamber” (Chamber 3).    Chamber 3 is filled with water, which mirrors whatever surrounding pressure you are at; whether you are at the surface, 30ft/9m down, or 100ft/30m down.  The surrounding pressure from Chamber 3 determines the intermediate pressure found in Chamber 2.  This is done via the rubber diaphragm.  So, those are your 3 compartments, now let’s see what happens when you inhale!  By taking a breath, we remove air from Chamber 2, thus reducing the intermediate pressure and causing the water in Chamber 3 to apply force onto Chamber 2 via the diaphragm.  But never fear!  This push opens the valve to Chamber 1, releasing a fresh batch of high pressure air and filling Chamber 2 until it is back to the surrounding pressure which pushes the diaphragm back to normal.

Woo Hoo!  Isn’t air and pressure cool?

The Regulator and Alternate

Alright, so we have got the high pressure air from your tank reduced to intermediate pressure in the First Stage, what happens once it gets to your regulator?  When the air arrives at your regulator, the pressure is reduced a second time (hence the name “second stage”) to the surrounding pressure.  The mechanism inside the regulator is actually quite simple.  Underneath the plastic cover you can find a rubber diaphragm which is attached to a little lever that acts like a valve to allow or stop air from the hose.  Underneath the plastic cover, you can find the exhaust where the bubbles go out when you exhale.  When you breathe in, the surrounding pressure is reduced inside the regulator, so the water pressure pushes in on the diaphragm, which releases the lever allowing air to flow in through the mouthpiece and into your lungs!  When you exhale, the surrounding pressure inside the regulator is increased, which pushes the diaphragm out and allows the lever to close the valve and opens the exhaust valve to allow the air to escape.  Pretty neat, eh?

Mia’s Recommendations

There are so many different brand names and a few different innovative features, but ultimately regulators and first stage systems are virtually the same.  If you plan to dive in cold water, you will want to ensure that the First Stage has some kind of environmental dry sealing feature to prevent the Chamber with water inside from freezing.

Some regulators will come with a “sensitivity” lever called a venturi switch which you can set to low (-) while on the surface to avoid free flows when the regulator is not in your mouth and resting on the surface of the water;  or set to high (+) while diving which is supposed to allow for ease of breathing.  In my experience, I always set this feature to low and divers who are relaxed underwater never experience difficulty breathing on that setting.  Sometimes I wish that setting didn’t even exist due to the amount or air lost through free-flows on the surface!  It’s not really needed, in my opinion.

Apeks XTX50 First Stage and Regulator

Apeks XTX50 First Stage and Regulator

The First Stage I use is the first one I ever bought back in 2007 and is an Apeks, by Aqua Lung, which has a reputation for being a good quality cold water diving system while perfectly good in warm waters as well.   The regulator itself is a low end (and super!) XTX50, which has served me well for all the diving I’ve done over the last couple years.

 

 

 

Apeks Egress Alternate Regulator

Apeks Egress Alternate Regulator

Mares Rebel Alternate

Mares Rebel Alternate

As for the Alternate, at the moment I am using a Mares Rebel, which replaced my Apeks Egress.  I decided to switch from the Egress to the Rebel mostly for teaching purposes.  The Egress can be used with the mouthpiece inverted or not, whereas, most regulators only function with the mouthpiece up (otherwise water enters in).  This is definitely a useful function for recreational divers; however, since I was teaching and wanted to represent the most common type of alternate, I decided to switch.

Definitely let me know if you have any questions or comments simply by sending me a message via my Contact Mia page.  Feel free to enjoy my other blogs on Understanding Air and Its Relationship to 5 Key Areas of Scuba Diving, Part 1 – BCD Air Inflation/Deflation and Buoyancy: A Balancing Act!, Part 2 – Equalizing Your Ears: Let’s Get Popping!, Part 3 – Equalizing Your Mask: Don’t Squeeze Me! And finally, Part 5 – Your Lungs & Scuba Diving:  Easy, Breezy, Breathing!

Happy Diving!

Part 3 – Equalizing Your Mask: Don’t Squeeze Me!

The third part in the scuba dive relationships with Air discusses the impact that air has on our masks at depth.  If you haven’t done so already, take a look at my briefing on how air is affected underwater to give you some background information first.

Have you ever wondered why scuba divers can’t use swimming goggles for diving?  Well, there is a very important reason that relates to air and pressure.  Your dive mask covers your eyes as well as your nose (unlike swim goggles) because just like the air space in your ears/sinuses, the air inside the mask becomes denser as you go underwater.  As the air becomes denser inside the mask, it pushes up against your face like a suction cup.  We need to achieve the same goal as with the ears and BCD – maintain a normal amount of air inside the airspace and we do this by pushing air into the space through our nose and into the mask and letting air escape as it expands.  This is called “equalize the mask”.

Mask Squeeze

Sometimes (not all times), if we forget to blow air out our nose and into the mask upon descent, we may end up with a “Mask Squeeze”.  This happens when the mask suctions onto your face so tightly that it bursts some blood vessels leaving a lovely bruise ring around your eyes, perhaps a black eye or two, or more commonly, bloodshot eyes!  This is very easily avoided by giving a puff or two out the nose as you go down.  Don’t worry about expanding air in your mask as you ascend because the air will naturally escape through the skirt of your mask .

Mia’s Helpful Tips!

  1. To select a properly fitting mask, place the mask on your face without putting the strap around your head.  Breathe slightly in through your nose.  If the mask does not fall off your face and you don’t hear or feel any air being sucked in around the skirt – You’ve got a good fit!
  2. If you tend to be a ‘nose-breather’, an exercise you can try in order to train yourself is to wear your mask while you are out of the water (around the house!).  Open your mouth to breathe in and then close it to exhale through your nose.  You will notice the mask popping off your face just a little and the air escaping easily just beneath the skirt of your mask.

Tusa Freedom One Scuba Dive Mask

Mia’s Dive Mask Recommendation!

The mask I am using at the time I wrote this article is called the Freedom by Tusa.  It has an exceptionally soft skirt, a lovely field of vision, and if you have any interest in liberating yourself from unattractive goggle-y eyes – this mask definitely tops the sexy list!

 

 

 

Feel free to send me a message via Contact Mia if you have any questions regarding this topic and definitely check out the other articles in this 5 part series including Understanding Air, Your BCD, and Equalizing Your Ears and Sinuses, Your Tank and Regulator, and Your Lungs & Breathing.  If you “Like” it make sure you let me know on my Facebook page DiveWithMia!

 

Part 2 – Equalizing Your Ears: Let’s Get Popping!

In my introductory post, I explained, in basic terms, what happens to Air when you go beneath the surface of water and in Part 1 I talked about buoyancy and the relationship between Air and the BCD.  In this post, I will describe the part that Air plays on our Ears and Sinuses and how we adjust our bodies to that with some super tips to help you in one of the most common challenges as new divers!

Even if you don’t know anything about scuba diving, there is a general understanding that something happens to our ears when you dive down deep and similarly when we’re on an airplane.  Many people even feel afraid to give scuba diving a try because of some discomfort they felt while free-diving.  Sometimes they think that the discomfort will be worse while scuba diving because typically it’s deeper than free-diving, but this is not necessarily true!

Ear Diagram

Ear Diagram

Let me first explain a little about our Ears and Sinuses… There are tubes leading from our ears and sinuses to our throats and they are filled with air.  As soon as you go underwater, our bodies feel the pressure and the weight of the water on these spaces as the air inside them becomes “smaller” (read my intro for more info on why air becomes “smaller” underwater).  The tubes are squeezed together by the pressure and the result is discomfort.  Our goal is to maintain a normal amount of air inside this airspace and push open the tubes, so we “equalize” it to the surrounding (“ambient” pressure for each depth).  We do this as soon as we go underwater and every 1m/3ft before any discomfort is felt.

It’s so easy to prevent any discomfort simply by pushing air into those spaces as you go down and we do that in 3 common ways:
1. Take a breath in through your mouth, plug your nose with your mouth now closed, and then try to breathe out your nose (while it is plugged).  This will push the air from your lungs into the ear tubes and sinuses instead of out your mouth/nose where they normally go.  Your Ear and Sinus air spaces open up!
2. Swallow and wiggle your jaw.  You can tilt your head from side to side and try to stretch your neck to try to help your body in letting the air get inside those tubes and air spaces.
3.  Do #1 while doing #2!

It’s also important to note that, as we talked about in the previous posts, not only does air change when you go down↓, but it will change when you go up↑.  You will remember that, as you swim up, you must manually release air from your BCD to adjust for the expanding air; however, with our Ears and Sinuses, we are lucky in that our bodies will release the expanding air naturally for us.  There is nothing you need to do with your Ears and Sinuses upon ascent.

So, just before I go into my tips, I want to point out a main difference I’ve noticed between free-diving and scuba diving with regards to equalizing your ears.  Many people (including myself) feel discomfort while free-diving because the descent tends to be very rapid – you’re holding your breath after all!  Whereas, with scuba diving a typical descent is slow and controlled, so you have the time to “clear” even the most sensitive of ears before ever feeling any discomfort.  Just like anything else with diving, it does take practice, so make sure you take your time!

Mia’s Helpful Tips!
1.    Prevention. Remember – equalizing is a preventative measure.  It’s a common misconception that you should wait until you feel discomfort and then try to equalize.  Don’t Wait!!
2.    Having Difficulty. Don’t push too hard!  The tissues inside your ears and sinuses are very delicate.  If you are having difficulty equalizing, ascend up 1m/3ft where the pressure is less and try again.
3.    Cold and Allergies. If you have a cold or allergies, the tubes and sinus air spaces will be swollen and filled with mucous (fluids).  You won’t be able to push air into these areas sufficiently OR the air that does get in may not be able to get out upon ascent.  As you swim up, it will expand inside the tubes and sinuses resulting in much pain called a Reverse Block and possibly permanently damaging these delicate tissues.  Try snorkeling on days that you have a cold/allergies!  Sometimes the salt water is just as good as a nasal spray with saline solution to get those boogies out!
4.    Changing depth. Remember – equalizing is not limited to your first descent along a line.  As you follow a sloping bottom, don’t forget to continue to equalize.  You will always need to adjust the amount of air inside those spaces depending on whichever depth you go to.
5.    Ear Plugs. If your ears are prone to infection, you may be using ear plugs.  My preferred ones are Doc’s Pro Plugs.  Make sure you purchase the ones with a pin hole so air is able to escape upon your ascent!
6.      Cleaning. I usually use a half and half mixture of alcohol and vinegar after I’ve been in the water.  The alcohol dries out all those little crevices in your ear that are prone to infection and the vinegar gives it all a good clean (and you get to smell like fish and chips – Yum!)

As you may be aware, I began this 5 part series with a goal of addressing some common queries I get from various dive students as well as certified divers.  While everyone receives the same training from PADI around the world, a lot of the practical tidbits of useful information are shared pre and post-dive on the boat or over a beer at the end of the day.  I know for me when I first started out diving, I only had the chance to dive maybe twice a year if I was lucky, so my learning curve was slow.  I’m hoping that these blogs will be able to provide some additional insights my divers can refer back to.  I hope you enjoy and feel free to let me know what you think via my DiveWithMia Facebook page or click on Contact Mia!

DiveWithMia – PADI Scuba Dive Skills, Experience, and Passion for Life!