Wed, Oct 05, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Weight is not an issue anymore for some holidaymakers

Travel organizers are branching out and offering activities such as scuba diving, surfing and cruise trips for heavier tourists

DPA , SAN FRANCISCO

As waistlines grow, some in the tourist industry are catering to an expanding niche market.

PHOTO: AP

Travel guide Liz Nichols has two strict rules for people who sign up for her underwater diving course. First, no discussions about dieting are allowed and second, no nasty chatter about each other's size is tolerated.

Under the name Big Adventures, Nichols organizes underwater diving courses for people who are all too familiar with snide remarks about their weight.

Nichols herself is 1.69m tall and weighs 130kg, and when she discovered her love of underwater diving five years ago, nothing -- not even stares from slim participants or diving suits for slender people -- could stop her from pursuing it.

Being fat is not a death sentence, said the 43-year-old psychologist, who predicts growth in the number and type of vacation offers for overweight people.

Nichols works both in California and Hawaii, pairing up with diving equipment stores that followed her advice and began offering size-friendly service and diving gear. Those stores put more weights on diving belts to ensure overweight people do not have to struggle to keep from floating to the surface while on a dive.

Nichols has never had to refuse anyone because their bodies were too big for the suits. The only prerequisite is that her customers, most of whom are women, are able to swim 200m without losing their breath.

Overweight people have other vacation options designed just for them. Those with less athletic prowess can go to a party held every July in the US gambling paradise Las Vegas.

Joann Bellemore, founder of the Big Beautiful Women Network, started the event eight years ago with a handful of friends. It now attracts about 500 heavy men and women. The programme includes a belly-dancing course, a costume contest and a pool party.

Fun for fat people is what Barbara Salas promises on cruises for overweight people she has organized since 2003. In addition to her Caribbean excursions, she hopes to offer cruise ship tours next year off the coasts of Alaska and California.

When she books her cruises, she checks to ensure there are wide steps leading into the swimming pools rather than just narrow ladders. With assurance that such amenities are in place, participants are more than ready to enjoy themselves, Salas said.

When a fat person travels alone and sees 50 thinner people on the dance floor, it can make them feel bad, Salas said. But when a group of 20 or 30 fat people venture out together they all have fun.

Most of her customers are US citizens, but she's had some international participants from the Netherlands and Germany.

It's not surprising that vacations for overweight people are developing as a business in the United States because about one-third of the population is obese and another third is overweight, US health authorities have estimated. Many do not want to let their weight stop them from having a good time.

Debbie Machold's 110kg have not deterred the 35-year-old Californian from surfing or underwater diving.

"Fat people should not have to wait until they are thin to enjoy their lives," she said, admitting that she's not comfortable in a bathing suit, but her frustration quickly subsides when she's in a group with other overweight people.

The increasing number of leisure activities designed specifically for overweight people includes dance workshops in New York and Boston offered by the California group Big Moves.

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