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Celebrating PADI Women's Dive Day: An Exclusive Interview with Katie Thompson

Published: July 5, 2024 - 08:57
Updated: July 5, 2024 - 08:57
Celebrating PADI Women’s Dive Day: An Exclusive Interview with Katie Thompson
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Interview with Katie Thompson: PADI’s Senior Director of Environment & Sustainability PADI Women’s Dive Day

Today, we are pleased to interview Katie Thompson, the Senior Director of Environment & Sustainability at PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors). PADI is renowned globally for its commitment to ocean conservation and sustainability, making Katie’s role pivotal in shaping how divers around the world engage with and protect the marine environment.

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Katie brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her position, driving initiatives that ensure our oceans remain vibrant and healthy for future generations. In this interview, we’ll dive into her journey, the challenges and triumphs she faces in her mission, and how every diver can contribute to the preservation of our underwater worlds.

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day
  1. What was the main reason for initiating PADI Women’s Dive Day?

Most put – to get more females into the water! The PADI Women In Diving Initiative, and its flagship annual event PADI Women’s Dive Day, were identified as a solution to increase the inclusivity and belonging of females in the dive industry. When we dove into the data a decade ago, we saw an opportunity to do something to alleviate what we considered as a significant gender gap in certifications, which increased as you went further up the recreational tract, and most certainly, the professional one. With PADI’s scale and influence in the industry, how could we help break down barriers and make diving more welcoming for women? The gender gap in diving can be attributed to multiple factors, including cultural and social norms, perceptions of physical demands, and representation in the industry. We took stock of the messaging and imagery that women were exposed to in and around the entire dive industry (if they were seeing it all) and started making some quick changes to our marketing and communications to make it more inclusive. PADI started speaking to her and aimed to empower females everywhere by inviting them to explore the underwater world. When you don’t see your likeness represented, whether that pertains to gender, race, age, or ethnicity, it can create the perception that you don’t belong in that space or will not be welcomed there females need to be represented in our materials, as divers and instructors, participating in all aspects of diving, from diving on holiday with her family to exploring caves on sidemount.

PADI Women's Dive Day  
Photo PADI – Jay Clue PADI Women’s Dive Day
  1. What’s the biggest change in diving you’ve noticed throughout these 10 years?

One of the most significant changes that I have witnessed since the start of PADI’s concerted effort to reduce the gender gap in diving is that female divers have a larger presence in diving and are being celebrated and recognized for dive-related achievements in marine conservation, education, visual arts, science and technology, robotics, technical diving, social and cultural community leadership, health and wellness…the list goes on and on. We must take a moment to look back at the female pioneers and diving legends like Valerie Taylor, Dr. Eugenie Clark, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dottie Frazier, and Lotte Hass who have inspired countless others to follow in their paths. These trailblazing ladies of diving helped break down barriers and open opportunities for divers today.

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day

We at PADI Women’s Dive Day are committed to passing the torch to a greater percentage of female divers who will serve as role models and mentors for generations to come. What I see now when I look across the diving landscape is women creating change in their community. Using diving as a vehicle to do good –both socially and environmentally, like Rose Huizenga, founder of Gila Shark Conservation is doing in the Gili Islands with Coral Catch which focuses on making diving careers accessible to all women in Indonesia, or Francesca Trotman, the Managing Director and Founder of the marine conservation organization, Love The Oceans, based in Mozambique whose mission is to establish a Marine Protected Area in Jangamo.

There is now a larger, more inclusive platform for women around the world to amplify their voices and collectively, they have triggered a growing movement of other females to join them in their passion to dive, protect, and celebrate the ocean. Community, rather than competition, is a major way that women connect and approach the outdoors and by its very nature, diving is a great connective tissue for women. Female-led groups like Girls that Scuba and Scuba Diver Girls have filled a critical gap and established diving communities that successfully connect women divers worldwide to the sport and to each other.

  1. What’s the goal for the next 10 years?

Now equipped with a decade of inspiring female scuba divers to start their diving journey, we aim to empower more women to continue their education and earn their PADI Rescue Diver certification. It is such an important level for all divers to reach to develop confidence and competence in their skills and their ability to assist others when needed. Many women claim that what they learn in their rescue course makes them the best diver they can be and builds confidence that becoming a Professional is a real possibility for them. The great news is that women are already responding to this approach. There has been a dedicated effort over the past two years to increase the number of female Divemasters globally. Only 21% of active (renewed) PADI Divemasters are female. However, we’re seeing a shift in this trend among new professionals with the 2024 year-to-date new Divemaster gender split now 28.5% female and 71.5% male. The launching pad for Instructor Development, PADI Divemasters is essential to generating more female Instructors and Course Directors and creating gender parity in the dive industry. Long-term ambitions would certainly include better ratios across all the professional levels through to the highest rating of PADI Course Director, dive business owners, as well as boat captains and crew – women serving as mentors to younger females and effectively proving that women are as capable as men in all these roles.

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day

In a broader sense, since the launch of PADI Women’s Dive Day initiative 10 years ago, the dive community has rallied together to encourage divers of all genders, ages, races, backgrounds, and abilities to confidently explore and protect the underwater world. PADI Members around the world have embraced the initiative and continue to host PADI Women’s Dive Day events each July on the most celebrated day of diving on the planet. We are committed to supporting our PADI Dive Centers and Instructors as they continue to expand their efforts to embrace diversity, inclusion, and belonging at their dive centers so that more and more people have access to experience the underwater world and the opportunity to become stewards of the ocean.

  1. If you could send one message to young females thinking of starting a diving journey, what would this message be?

If you had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with your older self, what would her advice be, what would you want her to tell you? If pursuing a career in diving, or even leaping to rescue or master scuba diver is something that has sparked an interest, why not listen to what your heart is telling you? You can start small – research the opportunity, speak to other females that have gone down a similar path, and ask for help and advice from the local dive center. You will not be alone in your decision – there are so many women (and men) out there who will support you on your journey. Ultimately, the decision you make will be the right one, but my advice would be to imagine the possibilities that stand in front of you and which path carries the greatest amount of fulfillment and the least regret.

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day
  1. If you could invent one piece of dive kit, what would that be?

A small sensor that could easily attach to a piece of equipment, like your BCD, that is designed and programmed to collect critical ocean data on every dive that is directly uploaded to the underwater citizen science database hosted by the PADI AWARE Foundation. This open-source database can then be used by marine researchers and policymakers for conservation. Essentially, if every diver could passively engage in underwater citizen science every time they get in the water, it would be a game changer for marine conservation with the potential to accelerate conservation objectives and sustainable development goals for countries across the planet.

  1. We get very hungry after surfacing from a dive, what’s your go to meal?

 Chips, Salsa and Guacamole. And maybe a cold Mexican beer with a lime.

  1. Which sea creature/animal has touched your heart the most?

 The Garden Eel and the Humpback Whale…from the very small to the very tall!  

  1. What is the place in the world you’d still like to explore and why?

In the spirit of Women’s Dive Day and celebrating the ocean with the ones you love, I want to explore the Dry Tortugas with my mom. She couldn’t complete her dive training like my dad did last year and, due to health reasons, was unable to return to the ocean until recently. I say ‘return’ because she was born and raised in Jupiter, Florida, where being on, in, or near the water is a way of life. This is where all my first memories are of the ocean and going to the beach – always with her. Snorkeling the Tortugas is a dream of hers, and now it’s mine. My ultimate travel ambition is to explore all of the National Parks in the United States. Because it’s only accessible by seaplane or boat, Dry Tortugas is the least visited park in the United States! With less than 1% of the Park being dry ground, the best way to see this remarkable national treasure is by getting in the water.  

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day

Dry Tortugas National Park is situated at the southwest corner of the Florida Keys reef system, the third largest in the world. Due to the remote location, and easterly flowing gulf current just south of the park, you are sure to discover a much greater abundance of marine life and often much larger versions than anywhere else in the Florida Keys.  

  1. Why diving?

I would say a combined passion for exploration and conservation led me to diving. Protecting nature has always been a constant in my life. My parents instilled this value in my brother and I from an early age and it was a catalyst for wanting to explore and experience Earth’s last remaining wild places-and eventually, a deep-rooted desire to keep them that way. I distinctly remember a summer vacation in Colorado, looking out at a swath of the Rocky Mountains that had been ravished by the White Pine beetle. I was thirteen years old and heart-broken by the devastation. This early memory undoubtedly rooted in my self-conscious and I attribute moments like this one to cultivating a protectionist mindset in myself that I want to share with others. 

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day

70% of this planet is covered in water. From a mountain trail to a coral reef, the ability to explore what lies above and below the surface of the waves is core to who I am, and a privilege that I don’t take for granted. Experiencing the world from these different perspectives increases my appreciation of the natural world and the interconnectedness of life – and undoubtedly serve as a reminder of how human systems and behaviors have profound impact on the delicate balance critical to maintaining it.  

Why diving? How else can you experience the sound and sensation of thousands of fish moving in perfect unison through the water while freediving in a bait ball off the big island of Hawaii? or understand the scale of a Whale Shark as everything goes shades darker as you hover in his shadow? or witness the beauty of several species of sharks, circling according to their retrospective hierarchy in the ocean kingdom? Essentially, these experiences increase your bond with nature and awaken your senses to the wonders of this planet – I would not want these kinds of moments absent from my life’s journey.  

  1. If there’s one message you could give to the benefit of the oceans, what would it be?

Establish a relationship with the natural world around you, that can be the ocean or the closest green space in your community.  Develop the awareness that we are all connected and that your actions can impact this relationship with nature in a positive or negative way. You have the choice to live in harmony with the world, to keep a child’s heart and a willingness to understand that you are not separate, or above, but a part of the natural world. Each day, we can choose to be better. We can make choices that add value to ourselves and to others. We can navigate our personal and professional lives with the intention of wanting to make the world better, always acting with integrity, grace, and striving for the highest standard across all aspects of our lives to be a positive influence on the people and the community in which we breathe, above and below the surface. 

PADI Women's Dive Day
Photo: PADI – Jay Clue | PADI Women’s Dive Day
  1. What hobbies do you do outside work? Diving?

My husband Cale and I love to travel and listen to live music! We had to adjust our agenda when our daughter, Shyla, was born 4.5 years ago. She brings me more joy than anything else in the world. Spending time with her, answering her questions and watching her respond to things is incredible. I love to be on the local trails, running or riding my mountain bike, hiking with my Irish Golden Doodle Hobie, longboarding at Doheny, and of course, exploring the underwater world every chance I get.

Full interview Katie Thompson –  PADI Women’s Dive Day

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About author

Marcin Pawełczyk
Marcin’s journey with diving has been an adventure. Starting as a recreational diver, he soon found himself drawn to the fascinating stories and mysteries of Baltic wrecks. After gaining experience, Marcin decided to go beyond just leisurely exploration and took his training up a notch by completing the TMX course, allowing him to explore even deeper and uncover the secrets of inaccessible places. His next challenge has been cave diving, where he is honing his skills to become a certified diver. Not content to simply take in the breathtaking beauty of underwater life, Marcin has also embraced underwater photography since 2018, capturing stunning shots that bring these worlds alive for those who are unable to experience them first-hand. Marcin’s passion for the underwater has taken him far and is sure to continue doing so as he dives into new depths and captures breathtaking images.
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