Scuba Queen International
Body Glove Ambassador Tabitha Lipkin is a scuba diver, San Diego broadcast journalist, Jetpack Pilot/Instructor, and all around water woman. While not the type who ever thought she would compete in a “pageant,” Tabitha recently travelled to Malaysia to do just that while helping spread the word about marine conservation globally and catching a few dives in between camera sessions. Below, Tabitha shares about the experience, diving with sharks, and how this unlikely beauty queen came home with a crown.
A scuba themed beauty pageant in Malaysia? Really?
Tabitha Lipkin: Ha, yeah. This was definitely not your average “beauty pageant.” It was much more than ball-gowns and tiaras. I flew to Malaysia where I spent two weeks scuba diving and focusing on marine conservation. I spent the first week on the island of Mabul (a small island off the south-eastern coast of Sabah), where I squeezed in eight dives and saw some of the most incredible sea-life from cuddlefish to schools of barracuda. The second week I travelled to Kota Kinabalu where we focused more on the competition and on the finals of the pageant.
What else did you do in Malaysia?
Tabitha Lipkin: The diving was amazing, but there was also so much to experience at the surface. We had workshops with World Wildlife Fund Malaysia and took time to really focus on the marine conservation issues that effect the coral triangle. We really focused in on the importance of protecting different species of sea turtles and the incredible journey it takes for just one turtle to become and adult. We spent time with the locals and learned about their expansive cultural heritage including the struggle for some women to leave the house and find work. There was also a little free time for golfing and massages, and of course the best time was hanging out with all the of the other contestants. The women were from all over the world: Canada, China, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, UK, and Venezuela. Each contestant brought something truly unique to the pageant with different backgrounds in diving and marine conservation.
Like the Meistrell family, a connection to the water runs in your family. In California and around the world your grandfather (former body guard to Evil Knieval and founder of magazines like Biker, Tattoo, Latitudes and Attitudes) and is a bit of a legend. How did he influence your love of the sea?
Tabitha Lipkin: Oh yes, my Grandpa, aka, “Bob Bitchin,’” is quite the adventurer, and I’ve always looked up to him. I remember when he would visit during the holidays as a kid, he’d tell me stories of his latest journey sailing around the world. I would sit in awe just imagining the day I would have the same chance to travel. He sparked my interest in travel and in exploring our oceans, and he has been a huge influence on my life. Before I was a diver, I was a sailor. And while using the water is a great way to travel, I have become more intrigued by what is beneath the surface.
How was the scuba diving in Malaysia? What did you see?
Tabitha Lipkin: It was incredible! I saw Giant Groupers, Parrotfish, Cuddlefish, colorful flat worms, sea turtles, sharks of all sorts, barracuda, a variety of crabs. I feel like I’ve never so completely filled out a dive log with such an abundant amount of information on what I saw. The variety of life was outstanding.
Okay so now we want to hear about the pageant. You don’t seem like the typical pageant girl. How did you get into this whole thing?
Tabitha Lipkin: So this was the first pageant I have ever taken part in (and it might be my last, ha). I was actually invited to participate from my friend Chanel Hanson who competed last year. She and I met after competing in a promotional contest called “Best Jobs in the World” as we each fought for a killer job that the tourism board of Australia was essentially giving away to six finalist. She and I both made it to the top 25 in our categories, but ultimately neither of us won. What’s crazy is because of that she was invited to the pageant last year and in turn asked if I was interested in representing the USA this year. This pageant is relatively new, so not a lot of women know about it, but as soon as I got the invite, my bags were half-way packed. I’ve been diving since 2010 and I never thought my certification would lead me here!
What did you have to do for the pageant?
Tabitha Lipkin: The pageant consisted two weeks of diving and training for finals, which was ten days later, and they scored us on our dive skills, our knowledge of marine conservation, interactions with each other, and our ability to conduct ourselves daily the whole time On the final night, we had one last chance to show off why we should be chosen. There was a national costume portion, a bikini walk, an evening gown competition, and a final Q&A. My answer about balancing marine conservation and tourism seemed to woo the judges over, and a few minutes later I was handed the crown.
Were you surprised?
Tabitha Lipkin: I was completely shocked. I think the coolest thing was I felt like I was living in the movie “Miss Congeniality.” I was a little out of place not having competed in a pageant before, but I actually had my very own Michael Cain (his name is David) who taught me how walk the walk and talk the talk of a beauty queen. By the end of it all I felt like I fit in!
Any funny moments or memorable moments?
Tabitha Lipkin: Loads! My favorite was during a night they took our phones away (something they commonly did at dinner). At this really nice Chinese food restaurant, we were having the time of our lives, laughing hysterically (probably talking about boys), and stuffing our faces, and I guess we were so loud and having such a good time together, they actually gave us our phones back so we would calm down and be quiet at the dinner table. I just thought this was hilarious.
What was the competition like?
Tabitha Lipkin: The competition was fierce. Every single one of the other girls I competed against deserved to win. They were all beautiful, talented, and great divers. It never really felt like a competition though. It felt more like making new friends for two weeks.
How will winning the contest help you spread your love of the ocean and desire to protect it to others around the globe?
Tabitha Lipkin: The exposure that I’ve gotten from this contest has been out of this world. I now have a platform to stand on and speak openly about the adventure in scuba diving and the importance of marine conservation. From now until this time next year I will be traveling the world and working to educate populations on all aspects of marine conservation. The discussion is on-going. The world needs to understand the effects of things like overfishing, trolling, polluting, and everything in between. The ocean is no longer a blank space— we’re already seeing the effects of our negligence in the past.
Tabitha Lipkin: Next, I get to travel the world and share my knowledge of marine conservation. I think a big focus will be working with Shark Savers and the program, I’m Finished with Fins, as well as focusing on the effects of pollution and misconceptions about marine life. In January, I go to Paris, Barcelona, and Dusseldorf for a variety of diving trade shows. My dream job is to have my own travel show, like Anthony Bourdain meets marine conservation. Considering my background as a TV reporter and adventurer, I really think I could be successful in drawing attention to what’s happening, but also at the same time focus on marine conservation and the true depths of our seas.