Against all odds: Fulfilling a dream to become an SSI Divemaster

by   Profile Andi   When 19th August 2023
Edges of Earth team
The Edges of Earth team. Photo Credit: Andi Cross

Starting something new, especially later in life, can feel like an extreme challenge. There’s a lot of fear that surrounds stepping out of our comfort zone and accepting beginning from zero. We can get in our heads, letting “what if” scenarios govern our thinking. Common examples being, “what if I had started this earlier?” or “what if I’m not good at this?” or “what if something bad happens to me?” 

These questions are healthy in small doses. They keep us from believing we are more capable than we actually are in the early days. But, if this type of questioning persists for too long, it's debilitating, keeping us from achieving our goals. When starting afresh, we must let go of ego and self conscious beliefs in order to fully embrace the learning journey. And with time, if we stick with it, we might shift from student to teacher before we know it. 

From experience, I know this is much easier said than done. 

Five years ago, I set the goal of becoming a professional scuba diver. With no swimming background, never living near an ocean and having little athletic ability after a decade behind a computer screen, this effort felt not only ambitious, but monumental. And I was soon to find out how accurate that initial feeling really was. Training to be a professional scuba diver doesn’t happen overnight—let alone gaining basic ocean awareness after having zero exposure to it throughout childhood and early adulthood. It requires time, commitment and a significant degree of physical and psychological aptitude. 

To achieve this, I was going to have to work hard on a different level than I ever had before. Growing up in Corporate America, I was well-versed in professional hard work. But not once throughout my life had I exerted myself physically to this degree, nor mentally had I ever stepped outside of what I deemed as “safe.” My journey was going to require finding people to trust to work with, accepting any initial limits on my capabilities, being patient through a long process, and pushing myself in moments of rational (and certainly irrational) fear.

It doesn’t matter your age or background, trying a foreign extreme sport will require a level of self awareness and acceptance in order to succeed—especially one that has you fighting against every natural instinct to breathe underwater. With anything new, you have to start somewhere. For a while, my biggest question was how to even begin? 

I learned about the ocean only through books and aquariums in my formative years and had a deep passion for the marine life I was reading about. Living most of my life in Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and New York City, I was a certified city dweller, with actual ocean exposure limited only to my yearly 2-week vacations. It was quite obvious that my first step to becoming a professional diver was to relocate to a place that had unlimited access to the deep blue. So, I decided to take the whole “dive in head first thing” seriously, moving from the city that never sleeps to the most isolated city in the world. 

In 2019, I became Perth, Western Australia’s newest resident and properly started my life above and below the waterline. Snagging a tiny apartment one minute away from the ocean, it seemed like it was now or never in pursuing the goal. From the moment I touched down, every week was dedicated to learning the ocean—from understanding how to read its patterns, studying scuba diving theory, practicing in the water with experts, working on strength training with a personal trainer, and of course, learning to properly swim with my now mother-in-law. The first half of my thirties were dedicated to starting from scratch and being totally okay accepting my role as the token novice.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much I’d learn about myself through the process and how much my life would change. I arrived in Australia constantly second guessing myself, riddled with imposter syndrome and thinking that I was not capable of very much. Flash forward to 2023, and I’m a certified SSI Divemaster on a two-year global diving expedition, sharing untold ocean conservation stories—as well as stories of personal progress and growth from those who live and breathe diving. Falling in love with scuba opened up a world of possibilities that I never even thought were possible for someone like me. 

The best part of it all was realizing I was not alone on this journey of self discovery. There were many people just like me who found their passion in scuba and changed their situations to live the life they always wanted. Diving is equal parts about your own personal journey, as it is the people you meet along the way. The ones that have the potential of radically altering your life for the better through shared interest. Scuba is what brought each member of our expedition team together, although from very different corners of the globe. 

Marla Tomorug, our Creative Director and Lead Photographer, was living in Oregon and moved to Hawaii to get closer to the ocean and pursue her dreams of scuba and freediving. We met in an ocean event chat room and built a business together remotely over three years. Maddy and Jeff Wilson, our Content Creators and Social Media Leads, moved from Texas to Australia for the same reasons I did—becoming wilderness and adventure experts. We met at a restaurant in regional Western Australia and the rest was history. And Adam Moore, our Logistics, Equipment and Safety Lead, decided to leave his life in Australia to live out of a dive bag to further his freediving knowledge. In 2018 we met in Bali. Connecting over our love of the ocean, we haven’t missed a day of talking since, regardless of the distance that’s been between us at times. 

It’s easy to stick with the status quo—it’s comfortable and safe. But, if you’re willing to try new things, break down your own mental barriers, and chase passion, there’s endless opportunity that awaits you. You have to look deep within to find the confidence to step out and try. Becoming a scuba diver, and advancing my education, was single-handedly the best decision I have ever made. It allowed me to see the world from a completely different perspective, meet new people who have opened my eyes to alternative ways of living and proved that anything is possible if you decide to go all in. 

Becoming a Divemaster is not just about learning to dive. It’s about personal and professional growth that I was not able to achieve sticking with my New York City status quo. The journey to Divemaster is about truly understanding what it means to face yourself head on. Any fear surrounding diving had nothing to do with marine life or the raw power of the ocean. It had everything to do with my own capabilities. And when first-hand experience shattered that internal narrative, it allowed me to approach life much differently. No longer wondering “what if” but wondering “why not” with every single decision thrown my way. 

Why share this? If you are considering starting scuba or freediving, or going further with your training, there’s no question based on my own experience: do it. Setting a goal like this and achieving it might end up being one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You never know where and how far it might take you, and who you’ll get the chance to meet along the way. 

Today, our expedition team is partnering with Scuba Schools International (SSI), the premier professional business-based training agency, and Mares, one of the leading global brands in innovative dive gear. Our collective mission is to highlight the power of scuba, sharing stories like mine where people have overcome fear, chased a dream and found themselves in the sea. We invite you to follow us along our expedition to learn from those who have committed their lives to the ocean—from professional divers, scientists, conservationists, eco-operators and people who decided to take paths less followed to live their most authentic lives. 

But above all else, we hope our storytelling will encourage you to either further your scuba education or take the first step towards it. Every significant transformation begins with a singular, decisive action. The opportunity for discovery is limitless. And you never know, maybe we’ll find a way to dive the edges of earth together.  


Andi Cross is a growth strategist, divemaster, founder of impact consultancy WILDPALM, and lead of the Edges of Earth expedition, highlighting stories of remote ocean conservation communities and organizations in 50 destinations worldwide. To keep up with the expedition and see where the team is going next, follow the team on Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube and their website.

Written by
Profile Andi
When 19th August 2023
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