We will always be grateful to The Little Mermaid for introducing us to the world under the sea, but let’s be honest—as heroines go, Ariel falls a bit short. Whosits and whatsits are fine, but there’s just something so much cooler about a human lady with a wetsuit and a scuba tank. All over the world, inspiring, real-life mermaids are brandishing spearguns, exploring shipwrecks, wrestling sharks, and pushing the limits of diving. But according to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), only one-third of all certified divers are women. In an effort to celebrate the growing female dive community and inspire more women to give diving a try, PADI held its first annual Women’s Dive Day three years ago; it has now become a regular event that takes place each July.
One of the incredible dive women leading the charge is Szilvia Gogh, a PADI Ambassador, newly inducted member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame, and breast cancer survivor. Gogh, who grew up in landlocked Hungary, has been an avid diver since she was 14. By the time she completed her first ocean dive a year or two later, she’d already logged over 500 dives in various lakes and quarries.
These days, Gogh lives in Los Angeles and works as a PADI Course Director, dive trip leader, and jewelry maker. She founded the Miss Scuba website, an online resource for dive women everywhere. “When I first started diving, it was very male-oriented,” she says. “I wanted to make it easier for the next group of women.” The site features a forum for travel tips and dive site reviews from the Miss Scuba community, organizes female-friendly diving trips, and links to dive equipment made specifically for women (rather than the shrunken, token-pink versions of men’s gear that dominate the market). “Diving will change your life, it will open your horizons,” Gogh insists. “Seventy percent of the world is covered by water. Once you start diving, you’re no longer stuck with that 30 percent; you have 100 percent of this world to explore. You’ll actually find yourself venturing to places that you probably would not have otherwise.” Her recent trip to Sudan is a perfect example. The country isn’t a popular tourist destination, but she claims that the Red Sea is diving’s best-kept secret.
In honor of PADI Women’s Dive Day, Gogh is sharing seven of her top dive sites for women. They’re spots that should be on every diver’s list—whether you’re practically a mermaid yourself or you’re diving in for the first time.
1. San Diego, California
“California is the dream. There’s great surfing, diving, and beaches. And San Diego has one of the best year-round climates in the world.” In fact, she loves the area so much that for the 2017 Women’s Dive Day, Gogh and Miss Scuba hosted a Women’s Dive Day weekend near the La Jolla shore.
2. Guadalupe Island, Mexico
“Great white shark diving is definitely a crazy-cool bucket-list item for many women—and Shark Diving International on Guadalupe Island does some of the best great white shark diving in the world. They do regular cage diving, but they also have a big cage without a top and you can sit up on the top edge, above the sharks, which makes it feel more like you’re swimming with them.”
3. Beqa Lagoon, Fiji
“Fiji is known as one of the coral capitals of the world, which is reason enough to go. But the Beqa Lagoon Resort also offers a great shark dive, which you can do without being in a cage. The resort itself is great; after a day of diving, you can enjoy beautiful sunsets while sipping cocktails.”
4. South Africa
“I just love diving on the east coast of South Africa. It’s one of those places that just wows. You can go to Kruger National Park one day and see all the animals on land, then go diving the next. And it’s almost like there’s a jungle underwater—there’s an incredible wilderness and tons of fish. It’s also pretty undisturbed because the diving there is not easy.”
“I think South Africa and Antarctica are two of the most adventurous dive sites. Antarctica is so pristine and beautiful, you just feel like it’s the last place on Earth not polluted by humans. It’s so clean underwater, and you can see penguins swimming around.”
“This medieval island is where Italy meets Africa, so you can really feel both cultures when you are there. Everything is sand-colored and there are beautiful churches. [Underwater,] there are some cool shipwrecks and some great wall diving, but you won’t find many fish. If you want to see fish, don’t go to the Mediterranean.”
“Go island-hopping in Thailand. It’s a safe country to travel as a single woman and the diving is fantastic. I prefer the less-populated and off-the-beaten-path places like Ko Lanta to the popular dive spots of Ko Tao and Ko Phi Phi.”