A SCUBA diving beauty pageant. In a million years, I would have never thought I would win a beauty pageant, or better yet, one to do with SCUBA diving. I’ve been diving since 2010 and have always been drawn to the sea. Growing up in the land-locked area of Texarkana, Texas— I would dream of the day I could go for a run on the beach, or even attempt something as daring as SCUBA diving… little did I know, once I got to college my journey would begin.
The University of Texas, Austin, to me, is the greatest place in the world. I’m honored to call myself a longhorn and I know I wouldn’t be who I am today without my time there. During my junior year of college, I saw the option to sign up for an “open-water” class. A SCUBA diving class taught my a world-renown diver, Peter Oliver. I was having a great semester, I was hitting the prime of college, going to class, bartending, but also working as a real estate agent, and a zip-line tour guide. Then, right in the middle of my fabulous semester— My Mother passed very unexpectedly. I was smacked in the face by reality and a feel into a very deep place. I stayed there for a bit—but eventually I needed to return to school… and I had to answer the question go whether or not I wanted to continue my course as a diver. No one would have blamed me if I quit, but the diving relaxed me, kept me entertained, and with the promise of the entire ocean out there, I persevered.
I still remember the water. It was freezing. Our certification course dive was planned out months ago and we couldn’t change the date. December 5th 2010. There I dove in a 5mm wetsuit (borrowed from a friend), and despite my vivid memories of freezing my you-know-what off, I was hooked, and continued to advanced.
Fast forward to four years later. A friend of mine I had met through an online travel contest, Chanel Hanson, competed as in the Miss SCUBA international pageant last year as Miss SCUBA USA and said that they were looking for a representative for this year. She posted online asking if anyone was interested, and I volunteered. It was pretty easy on my part—- but other girls I would soon be competing against had gone through months of training and several rounds of completion to represent their countries.
I soon secured an amazing sponsor through Body Glove/Dive N’ Surf who signed me as their only SCUBA diving athlete. Without them, I couldn’t have afforded to compete. While everything is covered by the pageant once you arrive, you still must pay your way to the location. Thank you to Body Glove/Dive N’ Surf for their support.
When I’m not diving, I do have a bit of a colorful resume. I work as a TV reporter in San Diego, California (Freelance for San Diego 6, and Fox Sports San Diego), a Jetpack Pilot/Instructor for Jetpack America, and a Social Media Director for the sailing Magazine Cruising Outpost. It took a bit of convincing, but I was able to get off work from all my jobs for two weeks and I boarded my plane to Malaysia on November 15th 2014.
Once I arrived in Malaysia, I was greeted by an adorable man with a sign “Tabitha Lipkin, Miss SCUBA USA”. My traveling wasn’t over. Even thought it took me 30 hours to get to Malaysia, I still needed one more flight, a 2 hour bus ride, and a boat to get to Mabul Water Bungalows. There, I was one of 14 girls competing for the title, I was nervous, not because I wanted to win, but more importantly, I wanted to make friends and I wasn’t sure what these “beauty queens” would be like.
They were fantastic. Each girl was very unique and personable. And they came from all over the world. Our first week of the two week competition was spent diving, getting to know each other, and the role we each play as individuals in marine conservation. The Mabul Water Bungalows are the most magical place I’ve even been. Situated over the water, we all were treated to the most incredible views of the island in the lap of luxury. Each day was jam-packed with activities from photoshoots to conservation workshops, and of course, all the joy we could soak up from the sea.
But the diving….
The diving was the most incredible I’ve ever seen. I consider myself pretty knowledge about marine wildlife, but there were creatures I can’t even describe. The majority of our diving took place on the house reef (an artificial reef) just outside the steps of the water bungalows. The main reason was that it was easily accessible, and there way ALWAYS a dive master on hand. The best diving though? Sipadan. Only a 20 minute boat ride away and you were in the center of an underwater metropolis. Sharks, Green Turtles, Bumped Parriot Fish, Barracuda… I mean it was like an underwater postcard. Still my favorite place to dive and a place I’ll be returning to very soon.
The second week was more of what you might imagine from a beauty pageant. We were expected to be on our best behavior, full make-up and hair each day to difference activities. We stayed at Sutera Harbour in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. This is when things got a little more tense, and the girls started to quarrel a bit. It was, after all, a competition. We got out of our hotel each day for a variety of activities including a visit to a cultural village, and to a school for special needs. I loved this part. I loved getting out and seeing what I could of the “real Malaysia”. It was beautiful and the people were very welcoming.
The whole competition and the night of the finals are a bit of a blur. The finals took 3 hours. We had been judged from day one on our diving, knowledge of marine conservation, and our interactions with each other, but now it was show time.
The show consisted of each of us showing our national costume (mine a statue of liberty/wonder woman hybrid). A bikini round (still trying to find and delete all photos related to this one ;) haha), a stage talent (I actually did the CUPS song from Pitch Perfect), an evening gown walk, and finally a Q&A.
I still don’t know how I did it. I almost tripped during the national customer round, I was the least fit of all the other girls in bikinis, I did, however totally rock my stage talent (the one and only time I let good about it after the performance), and finally, I fumbled a bit during my Q&A. I had already won "Miss Congeniality", and then somehow, some reason, some way, 5 minutes after my Q&A... It was announced “And Miss SCUBA International 2014 is… U-S-A”. I was in shock, and still am, really.
Now, I get to travel the world. In fact, I’ve been so busy since I won that I’m just now getting to the point where I can write about my experience. So there it is for many of you asking what it was like. I’m so lucky and honored to be here today and I hope you’ll follow me on my journey this year and beyond.