When professional surfer Pacha Light, known for her prowess on the waves, decided to explore the depths of the ocean, she opened a new chapter in her already impressive career. This Ecuadorian-born, Australian-raised GoPro athlete and environmental activist took a leap into the world of scuba diving, achieving her PADI Open Water Diver certification. Her journey began off the picturesque Catalina Island, California, a place famed for its vibrant marine life and kelp forests, with the help of PADI Master Instructor, Zac Araneta, also known as Scuba Zac.

The Decision to Learn to Dive with PADI

The transition from the rush of surfing to the tranquility of the ocean’s depths was sparked by an opportunity that Pacha couldn’t pass up – an invitation GoPro Creator Summit in Fiji. In collaboration with GoPro, PADI offered participants to get certified before the trip so they could enjoy the wonders of Fiji‘s 390 coral species and 1200 species of fish. “I’ve always wanted to learn to scuba dive and take a PADI Freediver course. It was always like a very big dream of mine, but I never really had the time to do it,” Pacha shared. When the chance to learn scuba diving with PADI came up, she jumped at the chance.

Pacha Light and Scuba Zac training in the pool during Pacha's PADI Open Water course.
Pacha Light and Scuba Zac training in the pool during Pacha’s PADI Open Water course. Image: Zac Araneta

Pacha adds, “I was so stoked by the stars or fate that I landed with Zac as my instructor. It was the best experience I could have ever wished for.”

After a few pool sessions to learn the basics and get familiar with scuba diving gear, Pacha was ready to head out into the ocean around Catalina Island for her first breath underwater – an experience that stays with every diver for life. 

Professional Surfer, Pacha Light, and PADI Master Instructor, Scuba Zac, diving together off Catalina Island for her PADI Open Water Diver certification. Image: Zac Araneta

The First Breath Underwater: A Moment of Awe

Pacha’s initial descent below the waves was a moment etched in memory. “I remember we took a moment. We were like, ‘All right, this is it. You will never be the same,’” she reflected. “I was very, very excited and a little bit nervous about diving straight into this new relationship, a new way to see this place that I love so much. I’ve spent so much time on the surface, but now it’s like, ‘Oh wow, I am breathing underwater.’”

Catalina Island proved to be an enchanting classroom. The kelp forests and the marine life were more than a backdrop; they were active participants in Pacha’s transformation into a scuba diver. Pacha and Zac were lucky enough to spot some of the area’s famous marine residents, including giant sea bass, lobster and kelp on their first two open water dives. “I work with a few organizations that work on kelp rewilding, so I knew a little about kelp and its role in carbon sequestration and as a fish nursery. It was beautiful, and Catalina’s such an amazing community. It was an incredible place to learn,” she shared, her passion for environmental conservation shining through.

a giant sea bass in Catalina
A giant sea bass off Catalina Island.

The Instructor’s Perspective

For Zac, teaching Pacha was as much a journey for him as it was for her. “I think the moment we went down and submerged, you could just see from Pacha’s face how she was so amazed about the whole underwater world: the kelp, the fish coming in and just being neutrally buoyant and kind of like flying right there. It was amazing to see that. And also, when she surfaced, there’s all this excitement. And that’s unforgettable, you know seeing Pacha doing that,” Zac said.

As a PADI Master Instructor, Zac emphasizes the therapeutic and healing aspects of diving. “I think the ocean for me is like my happy place. It’s a sense of fulfillment for me to teach other people, introduce them, bring them to the ocean, to the underwater world,” he said. Yet, Zac’s role went beyond instruction, extending into mentorship as they discussed the importance of marine conservation.

plastic debris floats in the ocean
Every diver has a responsibility to look after our ocean.

Becoming a Torchbearer for the Ocean

Pacha’s dive was more than just an exploration; it was a pledge for conservation. As a passionate conservationist, environmentalism is a core thread throughout Pacha’s work. “It has to make sense to protect those places that you love. It’s impossible to turn a blind eye to all of these threats when you rely on that place for happiness and belonging,” she emphasized.

Zac echoed this sentiment, highlighting how every dive is an opportunity to make a difference. “I’m going to make every dive a cleanup dive,” Zac explained. “By making every dive a cleanup dive, if you see trash, pick it up. You don’t need to wait for the international underwater cleanup event. Pick up everything.”

Inspiring a New Generation of Divers

When asked about what they’d say to aspiring divers, both Pacha and Zac spoke of transformation and discovery. “It’s just absolutely life-changing,” Pacha stated. Zac added that you are just never the same after that first breath underneath the water, “It’s amazing to see, discover, and break the laws of nature by breathing underwater.”

Pacha Light enjoying her first experience breathing underwater in the ocean during her PADI Open Water Diver course.
Pacha Light enjoying her first experience breathing underwater in the ocean during her PADI Open Water Diver course. Image: Zac Araneta

Pacha Light’s journey from the crests of waves to the calm of the ocean’s depths is a tale of discovery, connection, and responsibility. As she continues to explore and advocate for the marine world, her story serves as an inspiration, proving that the journey into scuba diving can be as transformative as it is enlightening.

Want to learn to dive like Pacha? Click the button below for more information on enrolling in the PADI Open Water Diver course so you can learn to Live Unfiltered.

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