An offer by her sister-in-law to teach her how to scuba dive opened up a whole new underwater world for Margo Sanchez and freed her from another one.
“I was a program manager in IT, working for an insurance company,” says Margo, of San Diego. “I was tired of the corporate doldrums, working behind a desk.”
Now, the ocean is her office, underwater tourism is her business and encouraging other women to explore the deep is her passion.
Her new found love for diving prompted her to change her career, establishing, along with sister-in-law Stephanie Adamson as a partner, a company to take tourists diving and snorkelling off the coast of San Diego.
“We are guides. It’s a tourism business. Ninety-five per cent of the people we take out are from places in the United States other than San Diego, or from Canada or other countries all around the world. There aren’t many from San Diego because most of the divers here know the area.”
Originally from Wisconsin, Margo had never considered scuba until Stephanie, an instructor, suggested it. “We started diving together and we had some fun times. Then we met a couple of other women divers in San Diego.”
Soon, they started Scuba Diver Girls (http://www.scubadivergirls.com/), whose main thrust, says Margo, is to encourage more women to get into diving.
Scuba Diver Girls expanded quickly. There are now more than 17,000 people on its Facebook page, 25,000 Twitter followers and more than 220,000 viewers of its YouTube videos.
“We dive with guys, too, but because girls interact differently socially on top of the water, they interact differently under the water, too.”
More and more women joined them. “We started coming across women who told us they lived in San Diego, but didn’t have anyone to dive with.”
Often, they had learned to dive with another woman who decided to leave the sport. Without a diving buddy, they quit, too. They said they felt more comfortable diving with other women, so Margo and Stephanie invited them to join their group.
They shoot videos “to get women to see it’s (diving) a lot of fun.” They also do conservation pages on Facebook, helping organizations that are interested in protecting ocean wildlife such as sharks, rays, dolphins, whales and turtles.
On one dive featured on YouTube, they came across a horn shark that had become entangled in a lobster trap fishermen had lost. The trap had disintegrated somewhat and the shark swam into a hole in the bottom of it. It was “three feet (long) at most,” says Margo, who pulled it free by the tail after other methods failed. Then, they disabled the trap, as well as a couple of others that had been lost at sea after the lobster season had ended.
“That’s what we’re about. When our kids grow up and learn to dive we want them to be able to enjoy the ocean, to be able to see sharks . . . A lot of it is education and awareness. We post it and get involved as much as we can.”
Margo says it’s hard for her to know how much the push for conservation awareness is succeeding because the people she meets on a regular basis now have different experiences than those she used to work with in an office.
“I think scuba divers are a lot more aware than many other people. I know when I was in an office three years ago I was a lot less aware than I am now.”
Scuba Diver Girls is separate from their scuba/snorkelling tourism business. While it has attracted people from all over the world via, Facebook, Twitter and its web site, Scuba Diver Girls does not yet have chapters. Margo and Stephanie are exploring that possibility and hope to start this soon.
Scuba Diver Girls gets businesses that sell diving trips or equipment to offer discounts to members. And with the male/female ratio in scuba diving about 50:50, it’s not surprising scuba gear manufacturers are now starting to focus on women. “We do gear testing and we get a lot of questions from them,” says Margo.
If Scuba Diver Girls continues to expand at its current rate, the questions are likely to become more frequent.
“In the end, it is all about getting in the water and having fun. We want to share this experience with as many people as possible in hopes that more divers and non-divers will understand the importance of our oceans and take part in conservation efforts!”
Kathy Dowsett, PADI-certified scuba diver, http://www.kirkscubagear.com