Plus Size SCUBA!!!! by Velvet d'Amour
I found @plussizescuba when I saw this adorable, unique illustration that @Edull.ardo made of her on Instagram. Speaking of which, if you want a custom portrait by him, just write him here email@example.com At any rate, I was psyched to learn more about scuba diving from a plus size perspective and I hope you are too...
How did you get into Scuba diving?
I’ve always been a fish and loved the water but never really considered diving. I’m not sure why! My sister was traveling in South Africa and got certified during a super rainy week, and when she came home she wanted a scuba buddy! So I got certified 10 years ago when I was 26. Looking back I can’t believe we didn’t get into it sooner!
Were you involved in other sports previous to diving?
Growing up, I was a competitive swimmer, then got into water polo. But I was nothing special and that ended in high school. I’ve never been a runner, even when I was in good shape in high school & swimming 2x day and lifting weights, I could never run a mile! I’ve done some other things since then from time to time for fun (ultimate frisbee!) but that got harder and less fun.
Did you have any concerns about how size may affect your ability to Scuba dive?
Sometimes! My size kept me from diving much until last year - things like arbitrary “weight limits” on diving excursions on cruise ships. But that was really only because of low self-esteem & internalized fat phobia. In reality, I’m still a fish in the water and diving is mostly pretty effortless. My size did limit my ability to find appropriate exposure protection, so I could only dive warm water Caribbean until last year when we found a wetsuit guy who makes them over XL! That has opened up a whole world for us! The area where I struggle the most is carrying all the gear on land. But that’s not really about size at all, cause lots of thinner people struggle too. That gear and tanks and all is heavy!! So sometimes I have to make extra trips, and often on charters there are staff that help the entire group a bit. And I mostly prefer boat dives to shore dives cause you suit up and roll right in!
What are some of the positives and negatives when it comes to scuba diving when plus sized?
Most of the positives about scuba diving are that it’s incredible and amazing for everyone and not really related to being fat! You feel weightless! But the extra insulation keeps me warmer - in colder water, on longer dives, with repeated diving, or even on the boat on the way home. So that’s nice. Also, I float so so easily that surface intervals (the time you are above water between dives) and the time before you descend and after you come back up (and are waiting for the boat!) is super easy. It takes no additional effort to float or tread water so it’s very relaxing and helps me save my energy. It also feels great to be off my feet not fighting gravity like always.
The negatives? You might need to buy your own gear sooner to make sure you have something that fits. You either have to dive warm water or buy a wetsuit and carry it with you. Which is especially annoying when you travel. But most dive shops don’t have sizes that fit us, and if they do it’s for a 6 foot man so all the arms and legs are way too long. BCD (the vest you wear to float and carry your air) needs to be a consideration too, depending on how big your body is, you need to check if the dive shop has something to fit you. We recently went to Fiji & dove with a very small dive shop— they had BCD to fit but only 2 and what if someone else at the resort was renting one? So we bought BCDs.
Also, sometimes people are mean (or you are afraid they will be!) - both my sister and I have had people make comments about how we might negatively affect the dive (based on our ability and air use) and then we end up being way better divers than they are! These people are not the norm though - the dive community is surprisingly inclusive. Almost everyone seems excited to have more divers in the world and are very helpful. The fear is more in my head than anywhere else. I used to care about being in a swimsuit and try to hide my body or how I look in all the gear, but I don’t care anymore. No one looks good in neoprene! Spaces on dive boats can be really cramped & getting kitted up (putting gear on) in a tight space is hard enough for anyone, but worse for those of us who may take up more space… I ask to be on the end and tell them why.
The worst part is probably the amount of extra weight we have to wear to descend underwater, because we float so well. It can be really heavy above water & while some people are wearing 2-4 pounds, we might have 20! Once you are in water it is ok, but carrying it to dive, climbing back on the boat after the dive, fitting all the lead on the belt- can all be a pain. Sometimes even the belt you wear isn’t big enough… that was the first thing we brought with us even when diving in warm water… a longer weight belt saved us in a lot of cases. So now we mostly dive integrated (weight goes in our vest) and bring our own belt for backup. There are harness options too that can be great for people who need to carry a lot of lead.
Where do you find scuba suits to fit?
We exclusively use wetsuits by TommyDSports. They are incredibly affordable (under $80) and go up to size 6x in both men’s and women’s. The owner, Greg, has been awesome. He has even taken feedback on the measurements and fit of the wetsuits in the bigger sizes and made adjustments in later models to make them fit better and easier to get on. You can absolutely get a custom wetsuit made for hundreds and hundreds of dollars, and many people do, but since I dive in a variety of conditions that need a 3mm short suit (pretty light weight) up to a 7mm long suit (decent protection in cold water) - I need multiple suits and custom is not worth it. I want to spend my money on the actual dive trips!!
There are some other companies that I’ve heard from other fat divers that can wear their XL etc, but they are on the smaller end of “plus-size”. Even I am on the low end (US size 22-24), and my guess is the current wetsuits at TommyD could fit up to a women’s 28 perhaps? After that, custom may be the only option right now.
What is #embraceyourinnerwhale all about?
So I know everyone is all about mermaids and the dive community makes references to scuba diving getting one step closer to being a mermaid. But for one thing, mermaids can breathe underwater & scuba divers eventually need to come up for air. Just like our beautiful, majestic whale friends. They are incredible creatures, graceful swimmers and very powerful. And super loud (like me)! The blue whale especially is just gorgeous and They were almost extinct (like practically non-existent fat scuba divers) and are now growing in numbers! So to us, we are powerful and amazing whales in the water. And they like traveling in pairs of 2 :) oh and they are real. Shout out to my sister for the hashtag
Your sister, @plussizescubadivebuddy seems to be your dive partner, how did she get involved and how important are dive buddies?
Dive buddies are so important!! First of all, you can’t really scuba on your own- you should always have a buddy as a recreational diver but also, having a regular dive buddy makes it fun and safer. You get to know each other so well, you can communicate way better underwater and can quickly spot the early signs of any problems on a dive. You know you can trust them and that you can agree on a dive plan. I’ve had some amazing random dive buddies when I have dived without her, but I’ve also had my share of buddies who don’t do safety checks, swim away without alerting you, have no regard for sea life and touch things or knock into walls (no no’s!) etc. But when I dive with my buddy, I know we have the same goals and respect for each other. Plus it’s way more fun! You get to show each other stuff underwater and if it's something really cool you can see her smile leaking water into her mask and it makes you laugh. You plan trips together and practice and sharpen your skills, and there is someone to talk to and focus on when there are 20 year-old boy divers on your boat giggling and you're afraid they're talking about you. And I have someone to go dive random lakes and quarries whenever we feel like it without having to coordinate with a group or dive boat etc.
plussizescubabuddy was a huge driving factor in finding a way for us to dive more often and in cooler water. I’m so lucky to have her in my life!! And she’s a better and more experienced diver than I am.
The most important thing for any dive is safety. That you both come back from the dive safely. Sometimes that means calling a dive (choosing not to dive) if you decide it is too challenging, or you aren’t feeling well or just something feels off. It’s a tough call to make but I know I never need to feel guilty with my divebuddyforlife at my side. She will support my decision to skip the dive and never guilt or shame me.
Where has your best dive experiences taken place, why and where is your dream dive location?
I don’t know how to answer this!! I have a ridiculously long list of dream dives. There is Silfra in Iceland (space between the 2 continental plates), a decommissioned missile silo out west that seems amazing, I’m dying to dive the kelp forest in California, the underwater sculpture park in Oslo, and dream of Egypt - a live aboard on the Red Sea!!
Best dive experiences? Also tough call. In January we did 9 days in Fiji which was more incredible than I could have imagined. The coral was phenomenal and we dove with dozens and dozens of sharks. There was a dive in St Maarten with all these cannons that were shoved overboard in 1801 when the ship got stuck on a high reef - and a half a dozen big reef sharks. I also loved this limestone sinkhole in Florida with amazing tree root systems and total blackness at 100 ft. I really enjoy how different dives can be!
We’ve also started volunteer diving with Diveheart, an organization that works with people with disabilities to scuba dive- both for the recreational benefits and for mobility and pain relief. Diving with people the first time they take a breath underwater, who previously thought it would never be possible to scuba, it’s a gift. To see kids have an incredible turnaround in confidence and self-esteem. I could go on and on. Those experiences are up there with my favorite underwater adventures
I would say the two biggest fears involved when people think Scuba Diving are SHARKS sharks s h a r k s and the bends (decompression sickness), how real are these fears?
Sharks are really not anything to worry about. It’s so sad they get such a bad rap. You’re way more likely to get hurt driving to the dive shop than by a shark. They don’t really care much about us and mostly ignore us, but some can get curious. It’s a wild animal so you need to be aware of your surroundings and know what type of wildlife you can expect during your dive, but same goes for racoons! Learn how to appropriately respond to sharks, but mostly just don’t pet them, don’t try to feed them, and you’ll be fine.
The bends. Yes definitely something to watch for, and it’s not always understood why someone might experience it, but you can significantly reduce your risk by planning well. Dive conservatively, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, ascend slowly, don’t push your max bottom times and NEVER EVER hold your breath. I’ve only met a few divers who have personally experienced it, and even then it’s usually minor and responds well to treatment. People with more body fat can be at slightly higher risk because our fat cells absorb and hold onto the nitrogen longer. But we dive conservatively (how deep how fast how long) and always ascend slow and do safety stops to mitigate the risk.
What are your top 3 Plus Size Diving Tips?
1-Bring whatever you need with you. Be aware that “one size fits all” doesn't always work for us and bring the pieces of your kit that you need to make it not just work but also comfortable! Then you are less stressed and more familiar with your equipment which is safer. You will hear most advice is to get your own regulator first. That’s great for people who don’t have to worry about renting gear and fitting in it. Focus on what you need in order to dive. This might only be a mask & larger BCD (vest) or weight belt. Local scuba shops are great but you may need to buy online more than others because they don’t usually carry what sizes we need. Weight belt is a cheap solution (72” instead of standard 60” worked for me… be aware you lose about an inch for each weight laced on). We also wear leggings and sun shirts instead of dive skins. Get a mask that fits your face. Some masks have a more flexible skirt around your face and that helps with the seal especially for faces with extra fat. Check if it leaks when you smile. Get RX lenses if you need them.
2- find a dive shop that has a pool to test new equipment. It’s helpful for anyone and it gives us extra (non-rushed time) to make sure gear fits, learn how to use it, make adjustments, and practice before you’re in a situation where you are rushing to get in the water.
3- if your body weight fluctuates, keep track of your body weight and the amount of lead you use in your dive log. You may be challenged and told you don’t need as much weight to dive as you think. When they’ve done that to me, I end up being unable to descend. Keep your own records and adjust your weight as needed.
One more! just do it! Figure out what you need and start working on the barriers. Start with warm water diving to avoid the wetsuit issue completely (but cold water and fresh water diving is fabulous and different so don’t avoid it too long!). Dive as often as you can to build your skills and confidence. Get creative - we are inland and find flooded quarries so fun! We initially couldn’t find full wetsuits so we used shorties and were just slightly cold or stayed shallow and above thermoclines. But we were diving! And practicing! And now we’ve got wetsuits that are a better fit. It was all the diving in “good enough” situations and equipment that gave us great experience and was a huge confidence booster.
Who inspires you?
My sister! She got initially certified in the ocean (no pool dives to start!) in very tough and choppy conditions. @plussizescubabuddy
Irene! She is a plus-size scuba instagram pal. She is an instructor in Montreal & does not let her size her in her way @Irene_la_sirene
All the people I've found on Instagram that share their stories or contact me saying they didn't know they could dive and are excited to try.
How can people follow your adventures?
Instagram at @plussizescuba !!
I’d love to hear from you. Favorite part of my day is when someone contacts me and I can help them find a wetsuit or a non-diver reaches out to say they never knew they could dive while fat and now they are going to pursue scuba certification. Those moments are incredible!