Today we’d like to introduce you to Madison Lawrence.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I’ve been into SCUBA diving for a decade now, starting in the chilly waters of Monterey after I moved from Oakland to Santa Cruz. My main gig was working as a bartender, and I would get off work in the wee hours of the night and sneaking in night dives after a 1.5-hour drive which was worth the wet rides back home as the sun came up. Obsession and sleep deprivation described my lifestyle. It went like this for a couple of years until I decided to pack up a u-haul, throw my 100lb black German Shepard in the truck and drive down to “sunny San Diego.” I use quotes because I’ve never been here before the impulsive move to warmer water. Turns out, it’s not much warmer than those dark Monterey nights, but I’ve never regretted the change of environment.
Once covid began and the shutdowns continued, only a few months after I arrived, I was out of my usual bar gigs which always was a steady way to earn money, travel, scuba dive, repeat, and that tore me up for a while as I missed the pattern. A year into sulking about the shutdowns, I decided, screw it! Let’s follow the passion and see what happens. So, I quit everything and took my scuba certifications to the pro level, and became a Dive Master. This particular certification took 6 months of training: stress tests, in-water rescue training, skill circuits, and navigation skills were some of the main topics. So, I worked as a Dive Master in a local shop outside of Pacific Beach taking people on guided dives are La Jolla Shores and La Jolla cove. I absolutely loved it, but the financial aspect wasn’t going to suffice living in one of the most gorgeous locations on the California coast.
So, I expanded even more. I quit everything, saved up every penny I had, and ate pb&js for longer than I’d care to admit (don’t worry, I still love pb&j’s) and left to Cozumel, Mexico, solo, for a month. I immersed myself into SCUBA. I trained to be an MSDT instructor which is a master scuba diver trainer instructor that is able to teach almost all certifications in the dive world. This was a challenge. 11-hour days training, mostly in the ocean that summed up to 6 written exams on topics such as dive theory and equipment and 3 days of in-water examinations all without a day off. I excelled and knew this was what I was meant to do: to teach others how to interact with not only marine organisms, not just the human impact on the oceans but how to overcome their fear the unknown and find calmness with the vulnerability.
I’ve volunteered and worked in amazing places, Birch Aquarium as a summer marine teacher, a whale disentanglement non-profit where we wore hockey masks in a dingy and cut ghost nets free from humpback whales. I volunteered with free to the public interactive marine institute with Monterey Bay Aquarium, and (still currently) teach marine biology to kids in field so they can experience the beauty and ecosystems within the San Diego County.
But nothing beats taking someone out of their comfort zone and submerging them underwater and allowing them to breath. especially those raised in San Diego who have never seen this particular side of the city. It’s an experience that never gets old and is never boring, and the thing is, the ocean is powerful and meaningful and healing yet different for each person. I personally find the blend of vulnerability of the unknown and the trust in myself and my gear to be such a powerful moment. The weightlessness, how I’d imagine flying would be like, and especially the bioluminescence’ at night to be something out of this world. I know this particular immersion of nature isn’t for everyone but if some people can be influenced by the magic I have, it’s a win.
Now, I teach. I share. I give back in a way I haven’t before. I’m working for myself and the locals and visitors of San Diego. I am able to provide instruction and passion anywhere from guided nature walks, snorkeling tours, discovery scuba diving, open water certifications, advanced rescue, dive master, and specialties including side mount, wreck, deep diving, night and nitrox.
Some would say (especially those warm water divers), why San Diego? And the truth is, we have marine organisms that come with the cold depths, we have kelp forests, we have the tiniest of brightly colored nudibranchs to the largest boney fish in the ocean, the Mola Mola! Yes, not as much brightly colored corals and fish and thicker wetsuits but we have an incredible biodiversity and upwelling that is only found here, locally in a “park and walk” situation in beautiful La Jolla canyon which is only 300 yards from shore. How lucky are we!
My obsession years ago has become my life. My daily abilities to share and encourage what positive impact the Southern California Pacific Ocean has for me, its healing powers. Taking that trusting “giant stride” out of my own comfort zone was absolutely a risk, but the reward has been shocking. I’ve personally never left the water to come back to shore and thought that wasn’t worth it. It’s always with a better mood and bigger smile than when I went in.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Has this been a smooth road? Ha! Of course not! Changing career paths, especially to something like “professional scuba diver,” isn’t an easy situation.
I was raised with the idea that what you earn is what you get, and it’s been a tough yet valuable lesson. I’ve been on my own since a very young age and worked extremely hard ever since, and because of that, everything I have, I’ve earned. I’ve lost a lot too and had many failures, but ultimately, those closed doors allowed this dream of pursuing ocean activities to open. So, without it, I would never be in the position I am today and what I aspire to be in the future.
To be completely honest, my biggest challenge is not having a particular mentor. Not having another strong female individual to look up to, ask questions, and bounce ideas off of. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of amazing people and dive leaders I look up to and get advice from, but it’s not quite the same as I’ve had in the past. Turns out, not many female instructors or course directors in San Diego. But ya know, there’s a good chance that’s why I’ve been working so hard. To be that mentor to someone in the future.
Other challenges are something out of anyone’s control. The weather. A bad storm or high waves quickly puts my work behind days, even weeks, and staying dry means a challenge in itself. Not to mention I have to break the news to those students that they will have to wait it out as well; never a fun conversation but inevitable and uncontrollable.
How to pay rent. Let’s be real, California is not known for their reasonable rent prices so working 7 days a week has been a usual for me since I started working in Oakland at 15. This hard work and physical labor I’ve endured over my life has trained me to do the work I’m currently doing. I don’t say no to work. I continue to work 7 days a week, mostly doubles, and lift tons of weights and tanks. The difference is now; I love to do it. I wake up excited to get in and meet the new students! I love the feeling as accomplishment and pride even on hard days, and I sleep well (maybe not much) but deeply for it. My heart and brain are finally in sync with sore shoulders and legs, my favorite.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Not only being a Scuba diver instructor, I am also master diver trainer for specialty courses. This means I am certified to teach Open Water, advanced diving, rescue diving, dive master course, side mount diving, night, nitrox, wreck diving, and deep. Not only that, but I’ve been trained to provide visual inspections for scuba cylinders and as an equipment specialist. I also love working with the kids, especially in the marine field which tends to be just full of fearlessness and a sense of “I can do it” that keeps me within that mindset too.
My accomplishments are beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. I’ve pushed myself mentally and physically and continuing to do so every day. Turns out, growth and knowledge doesn’t have a deadline or end goal. It’s pretty wild that the sayings are true; if you work hard and put yourself out there, anything you want is achievable.
I’ve traveled with my best friend since we were kids, risking multiple jobs and relationships (not to mention my poor credit card, ha!) to broaden our horizons. We have been to India, Nepal, Morocco, Indonesia, Vietnam, Spain, Italy, Costa Rica, Honduras, Belize, up and down Mexico, and a few more and I’ve worked my a** off to do so. We have been jungle trekking, hostel staying, and mostly SCUBA diving. I’m so proud of us for continuing this tradition as we age and especially the growth and learning from the land and oceans across the world.
Another experience I had was in Roaton, a small island off of Honduras. I read this book that mentioned a homemade submarine and instantly found myself in contact. Flew there, paid the man, and submerged down to depths over two thousand feet deep. I can go on and on about that particular 4-hour experience but it ultimately gave me a sense of humbling stillness. Almost like a trance. I thought, “if this is how I go, what an incredible obituary, “and continue living life with that mentality.
These experiences I can bring with me to San Diego and share my stories of both local and abroad adventures to prove it’s possible and worth the venture and money and time, all with a smile. Worth it all.
Any big plans?
Ah, this is ever-changing. Future plans are meant to be changed, developed, and morphed.
But as of now, I’m hoping to find a concrete store-front, brick and mortar, even storage unit or trailer to provide my services out of. My big old dog and partner keeps me in San Diego, and I like it that way. He is also in the same field with the same passion and enthusiasm, and I would love to have a partnership of which we can keep expanding and growing together. We know we can work together within the ocean field for the rest of our lives with our hard work, dedication, and keeping our heads “below” water (sorry about that one), and changing perspectives one dive at a time.