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The Diving Industry Is Run By Middle-Aged White Blokes. Our Future Depends on Making Them Uncomfortable.

Ahead of Women’s Dive Day on July 16, UK instructor and course director Alex Griffin examines why the industry appears to have trouble attracting and retaining divers from diverse backgrounds — and what we all can do about it.

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by Alex Griffin

Boyz being boyz at the annual DEMA Show.
Reveling at the annual DEMA Show.

Diving, a bit like the world, is run by middle-aged white blokes. Sure, you might see diversity among divers, but track up the line into the manufacturers, dealers, and training agencies and there we are: Laughing as we brush processed meat sandwich crumbs from our navy polo shirts.

Except we’re not laughing now.

Post-pandemic, we’re all trying to get our heads around how to move forward in an industry that just faced about ten years of change condensed into two. What is immediately clear, however, is the traditional dive centre is waning as a profitable business model, and saving the industry will depend on getting more people to start diving.

In order to make that happen, we need to get uncomfortable. As an industry, we must examine the innate biases that act as barriers and exclude people other than white blokes (“dudes” if you’re American) in order to make the sport more inclusive.

“I don’t care,” I hear you cry, “I just want to dive, and I couldn’t care less about the sex or colour of anyone else who wants to get in the water. Just leave me alone!”

Just hear me out.

If you are a middle-aged white bloke, this can feel like an attack. There you were going about your business, not being sexist or racist, and then someone comes along to inform you that, actually, yes you are. You see, it’s really great that you’re not burning crosses on your lawn — but not being a bigot isn’t quite enough. It’s about examining the biases and prejudices that you hold; the ones that you don’t talk about or even want to consider.

Sexism in diving has a long, rich history. Just consider this paragraph from The Silent World by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, published in 1952:

“On seaside picnics Jean-Michel would go down thirty feet with a kitchen fork and fetch succulent sea urchins. Their mother dives too, but without the same enthusiasm. For reasons of their own, women are suspicious of diving and frown on their menfolk going down. Dumas, who has starred in seven underwater films, has never received a fan letter from a woman.”

Several manufacturers and training agencies are regularly fumbling the ball when it comes to sexism: Bikini-clad women posing besides serious men in dive gear. There’s nothing wrong with women in bikinis or men in swimming trunks. Nor, for that fact, is there a problem with men in bikinis or women in swimming trunks. The issue is the disparity: The implication being that the man is off to do the deep, dangerous dive whilst the woman floats about on the beach waiting for him.

The first meeting of the  Rebreather Education and Safety Association (RESA), 2010.
The first meeting of the Rebreather Education and Safety Association (RESA), 2010. Photo courtesy of RESA.

How many dive centres regularly post images of their (mostly) white, male clientele? How often are successful women in the industry described as “giving as good as they get,” as Jill Heinerth talks about it in this excellent article on sexism in diving from 2015?

Clearly, no one posts pictures of their clients at the end of a course, or talks up the ability of a female diver to be exclusionary. It’s usually done in the spirit of celebration. The problem is there’s an un-said message that anyone is welcome — just so long as it’s on our terms and they are the ones adapting to our culture.

I spoke to an instructor colleague of mine, Trey Atarhe Mujakporue, about why he believes there is a lack of people of colour in diving. He told me that the first big barrier is very much socio-economic. Diving is still a relatively expensive sport with a high-cost barrier to entry that makes it unattainable to a lot of people from disadvantaged backgrounds. If you do manage to get past the socio-economic factors, then you hit the knock-on effect of a lack of representation. In the whole time Trey was teaching in the UK, he said only saw one other black dive professional at the dive site we all frequented.

There’s a common interaction that happens across many white-male dominated activities. The typical format goes something like this: A picture is posted on social media of high-level individuals that represent that activity. Someone comments on the lack of diversity in the picture. The comments blow up, with a regular theme being, “We’d love there to be more diversity. They’re just not interested.”

But it’s not that simple. Take a typical dive boat full of men. There’s “locker room talk,” macho competitions about depth records or gas consumption that can seem intimidating to beginners, maybe even unwelcome touching or comments about people’s gender or appearance. In the end, maybe it’s not the activity that they’re not interested in, it’s the culture embedded in it.

ZZ TECH? 🤘🏻🎶🎶

Instead, I urge you to think about what a new diver learns almost straight away: We teach them a universal sign language and then we take them into a world where their race, gender or sexual orientation has absolutely no bearing on their ability to be a good buddy or to appreciate the incredible experience of moving and breathing underwater. Scuba diving is a supreme leveller, and we should be massively encouraging this aspect of the sport.

Finally, I think it’s important to note that I write this piece not from a place of despair but of
optimism. I personally see more and more positive shifts in our industry in this direction. If
we go back to basics and think more about the elements of diving that transcend background, we could start to market ourselves into almost untapped demographics. Ultimately, the future of our sport depends on each of us examining our own unwelcoming behaviors, intended or not. If nothing else will convince you, it’s costing you money.

Additional Resources

Grist: This scuba diver wants everyone — black, white, or brown — to feel at home in the ocean

DIVER: Sexism: Alive and well in scuba diving by Jill Heinerth


Alex Griffin has been diving since 2001, he is a Course Director and Tec Instructor Trainer who loves diving in the United Kingdom but can be happily tempted to warmer climates too. He has run his own dive centre in London, worked for a great many others and now works for a major diving equipment manufacturer.

4 responses to “The Diving Industry Is Run By Middle-Aged White Blokes. Our Future Depends on Making Them Uncomfortable.”

  1. Alex Griffin has been brainwashed. Pretty easy to do these days. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll stand for anything. (opinion)

  2. As an LGBT diver, I’ve developed a strong preference for shore diving. Dive boats tend to be testosterone-fueled, machismo-filled, good-old-boy disasters. I’ve learned not to boat dive outside of CA/WA/BC. I’m not sure if its the political climate outside of the West Coast, or if cold water diving seems to draw a more pleasant group of divers.

  3. Nice article. Just a pitty that you are only looking to your own belly button. My personal experience is not as you write. Of course I’m not in UK nor USA. But in Central and South America the situation seems not to be the one you describe. I’m a dive instructor part owner of a dive school in south america. I share ownership of that dive school with female instructors and dive masters. Popultion here is almost 100 % “white” and we see near 50 % female dive students. We do not ask about sex interest so I cannot relate. There is water all over the world and diving follows. So your article can be good for your country, but the rest of the world is just outside. It would be nice if you look a little.

  4. I want everyone who wants to dive to dive. I don’t care sex or race. But then I come here and I have yet another article in my face about race and gender. You will never get another dime out of me…. and no, I am not a white man. Get woke go broke.

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The Price of Helium is Up in the Air

With helium prices on the rise, and limited or no availability in some regions, we decided to conduct a survey of global GUE instructors and dive centers to get a reading on their pain thresholds. We feel your pain—especially you OC divers! InDEPTH editor Ashley Stewart then reached out to the helium industry’s go-to-guy Phil Kornbluth for a prognosis. Here’s what we found out.

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Helium Technical Diving

By Ashley Stewart. Header image by SJ Alice Bennett.

Helium is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, but here on Earth, it’s the only element considered a nonrenewable resource. The colorless, odorless, and tasteless inert gas is generated deep underground through the natural radioactive decay of elements such as uranium and thorium in a process that takes many millennia. Once it reaches the Earth’s surface, helium is quickly released into the atmosphere—where it’s deemed too expensive to recover—and rises until it ultimately escapes into outer space. 

Luckily for divers who rely on the non-narcotic and lightweight gas for deep diving (not to mention anyone who needs an MRI scan or who uses virtually any electronic device), some helium mixes with natural gas underground and can be recovered through drilling and refinement.

Yet the world’s helium supply depends primarily on just 15 liquid helium production facilities around the globe, making the industry uniquely prone to supply chain disruptions, which this year caused the industry’s fourth prolonged shortage since 2006. The shortage has caused many technical dive shops around the world to raise prices, limit fills, or stop selling trimix altogether, according to an InDEPTH survey of GUE instructors and affiliated dive centers.

Longtime helium industry consultant Phil Kornbluth, however, expects the shortage will begin to ease gradually now through the end of the year, and for supply to increase significantly in the future.

Photo courtesy of Extreme Exposure

While a majority of the world’s helium is produced in just a few countries, a new gas processing plant in Siberia is expected to produce as much as 60 million cubic meters of helium per year, about as much as the US—the world’s largest helium producer—was able to produce in 2020. The Siberian plant ran for three weeks in September, but experienced major disruptions over the past year, including a fire in October and an explosion in January, that delayed its planned opening until at least 2023.

Meanwhile, according to Kornbluth, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Texas closed down from mid-January to early June due to safety, staff, and equipment issues, wiping out at least 10% of the market supply. The plant reopened in June and is back to normal production as of July 10. The supply of helium was further reduced as two of Qatar’s three plants closed down for planned maintenance, a fire paused production at a plant in Kansas, and the war in Ukraine reduced production of one Algerian plant.

With the exception of the plant in Siberia, Kornbluth said virtually all of the recent disruptions to the helium supply chain have been resolved and should yield some relief. And the future looks promising. Once the Siberian plant is online, it’s expected to eventually boost the world’s helium supply by one-third. While sanctions against Russia could prevent some buyers from purchasing the country’s helium, Kornbluth expects there will be plenty of demand from countries that as of now are not participating, like China, Korea, Taiwan, and India, though there could be delays if those countries have to purchase the expensive, specialized cryogenic containers required to transport bulk liquid helium. “Sanctions are unlikely to keep the helium out of the market,” Kornbluth said.

Meanwhile, there are at least 30 startup companies exploring for helium, and there are other projects in the pipeline including in the U.S., Canada, Qatar, Tanzania, and South Africa. “Yes, we’re in a shortage and, yes, it’s been pretty bad, but it should start improving,” Kornbluth told InDEPTH. “The world is not running out of helium anytime soon.” 

THE SURVEY:

To find out how the helium shortage is affecting divers, InDEPTH surveyed Global Underwater Explorers’ (GUE) instructors and dive centers and received 40 responses from around the world. 

The survey’s highest reported helium price was in Bonaire—a Dutch island in the Caribbean that imports its helium from the Netherlands—where helium costs as much as US$0.14 Liter(L)/$4.00 cubic foot (cf) and is expected to rise. At that price, a set of trimix 18/45 (18% O2, 45% He) in double HP100s (similar to D12s) would cost around $360.00 and trimix 15/55 would cost $440.00.

“We have enough to support both open circuit and CCR, but in the near future, if the situation remains, we may be forced to supply only CCR divers,” Bonaire-based GUE instructor German “Mr. G.” Arango told InDEPTH. “We have enough for 2022, but 2023 is hard to predict.”

Not far behind Bonaire was the Philippines, where helium costs around US$0.13 L/$3.68 cf—if you can even get it. Based on the responses to our survey, Asia is experiencing the greatest shortages. Supply is unavailable in some parts of the Philippines, limited in South Korea, and unavailable for diving purposes in Japan as suppliers are prioritizing helium in the country for medical uses, according to four instructors from the region. In Australia, it’s relatively easy to obtain.

Four US-based instructors reported that helium prices are increasing significantly and supply is decreasing. Helium remains “very limited” in Florida and prices in Seattle increased to $2.50 from $1.50 per cubic foot ($0.09 L from about $0.05 L) in the past six months, and there was a period when the region couldn’t get helium as suppliers were prioritizing medical uses. In Los Angeles, prices have reached as high as $2.80 cf (nearly $0.10 L) and one instructor reported helium is only available for hospitals and medical purposes, even for long-term gas company clients who are grandfathered in. Another Los Angeles-based instructor said direct purchases of helium had been limited to one T bottle per month, down from three. 

“Currently, we are only providing trimix fills for our CCR communities,” GUE instructor Steven Millington said. “Possibly this will change, but the current direction for active technical divers is CCR. I agree (and already see) that open circuit technical diving in some regions will go the way of the dinosaur.”

In Western Europe, helium is becoming more difficult and expensive to acquire, 10 instructors in the region told us. Instructors in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Germany reported longer wait times, high price increases, and limited supply. 

Meanwhile, Northern Europe appears to be a bright spot on the map with comparatively reasonable prices and general availability. In Norway, two instructors reported helium is easy to obtain, with no lead time from suppliers. Likewise in Sweden and Finland, though one Finnish instructor told us that in the past year prices have increased significantly.

Three instructors in Northern Africa and the Middle East said helium is easy to get, but is becoming more expensive. The price of Sofnolime used in rebreathers is increasing in Egypt as helium becomes more expensive and more difficult to obtain. Lebanon has minimal lead times, but helium is among the most expensive in all of the responses we received at US$0.10 L/$2.83 cf.

Helium is generally easy to obtain in Mexico, though prices are increasing dramatically and instructors are starting to see delays. In Brazil, prices in São Paulo quadrupled in the past 12 months and by 30% in Curitiba. Suppliers there aren’t accepting new customers and existing customers are having difficulty obtaining supply. Supply is mostly constrained in Canada, with the exception of one outlier: an instructor who has a longstanding account with the gas company and pays less than US$ 0.035 L/$1.00 cf. “I have been hearing of helium shortage every year for the last decade,” instructor Michael Pinault of Brockville Ontario told InDEPTH, “but I have never not been able to purchase it.”

Many instructors around the world said that helium shortages and skyrocketing prices are, no surprise, fueling a shift to CCR for individual divers and exploration projects. “CCR is saving our exploration projects,” GUE instructor Mario Arena, who runs exploration projects in Europe, said. “These projects would be impossible without it.”

Please let us know what helium prices and availability are in your area: InDEPTH Reader Helium survey

Additional Resources

US Geological Survey: Helium Data Sheet: Mineral Commodity Summaries 2021

NPR: The World Is Constantly Running Out Of Helium. Here’s Why It Matters (2019)

The Diver Medic: The Future of Helium is Up in the Air,” Everything you wanted to know about helium, but were too busy analyzing your gas to ask—talk by InDEPTH chief Michael Menduno


InDepth Managing Editor Ashley Stewart is a Seattle-based journalist and tech diver. Ashley started diving with Global Underwater Explorers and writing for InDepth in 2021. She is a GUE Tech 2 and CCR1 diver and on her way to becoming an instructor. In her day job, Ashley is an investigative journalist reporting on technology companies. She can be reached at: ashley@gue.com


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