Guest post by Jill Heinerth
In my predictable middle-class family, dinners were normally shared around the table and television viewing was limited, with strict parental supervision. But, every Sunday night we were permitted to eat in the family room and watch Jacques Cousteau don slick rubber neoprene, and descend into a world of wonder. He traveled the globe from green lakes in mountainous South America to the azure depths of Micronesia. I was mesmerized by the images of places that were so foreign, they could have been on faraway planets.
Beyond watching the adventures of Captain Cousteau, I preferred to play outside. In my suburban Toronto neighborhood, the boys played street hockey, while girls explored the local woods, or visited each other’s houses where we learned to cook and sew. When I declared that I wanted to scuba dive, it was met with a chuckle. “I don’t think girls do that honey. I don’t think anybody does that in Canada, the water is far too cold.”
My opportunity to dive into adventure finally came after leaving the family nest and striking out on my own. From the first instant that I submerged my face in the chilly Canadian Great Lakes, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In the shallows of Fathom Five National Marine Park in Tobermory, Canada, I caught my first glimpse of the wreck of the Alice G, and the remains of three other tug boats. In 20 feet of turquoise water, old wooden railings, a boiler and anchor chains disclosed the shapes of the long lost working vessels. Imagining myself as Cousteau, I floated in a gentle space walk of neutral buoyancy, drifting within a time capsule of wrecks. In that moment, I wondered why I had taken so long to make the plunge into diving. With the cool water of Little Tub harbor washing over my face, I realized that like many things in life, it was outside influences and perhaps a fear of the unknown that had kept me from pursuing my wildest dream.
These days, scuba diving experiences and lessons are far more achievable than they were in my youth. PADI has brought accessible, modern and professional training to the world. Some new divers start their journey in a scuba shop, but even more launch their adventure on their smartphone, logging in to informative videos and common sense educational materials that lead them towards their first transformational experience underwater. Old hindrances have fallen away and “start today” has become the marching order. There are no barriers for age, gender or culture. You don’t even need to bring a buddy to class because you can count on joining a diverse new community that shares a love of exploring new horizons. Whether you commit to an afternoon for a Discover Scuba experience or a couple of weekends to get fully certified, one thing is certain: Once you experience the freedom of floating neutrally buoyant in paradise, you’ll never turn back.
My first dives on the Alice G, the Sweepstakes wreck and Lighthouse Point were not just the start of an obsession. They transformed my life. As a professional underwater explorer and filmmaker today, I am forever grateful for the courage I found to take that first plunge. Since then, I’ve swam through giant icebergs, been surrounded by graceful humpback whales, and travelled further in deep caves than any woman in history and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Diving has opened the door to a remarkable career that will continue to lead me to new exotic destinations to document things never witnessed. But, to this day, I still get an excited thrill when I slip beneath the almost transparent, familiar waters of Fathom Five National Marine Park. I am immediately taken back to that first dive that changed my life.
Why don’t you join me there for Women’s Dive Day? I’ll be in Tobermory, Ontario sporting a smile as wide as a newly minted diver!