With the flip of the calendar, we often feel like there’s a chance for a fresh start and new adventures. So, how about some with family and diving?

Here at PADI, we’re focused on scuba diving as a great way to learn, bond, explore and get outside in nature with your family. Therefore, I invite you to get to know three of my favorite diving families from the Florida Keys

Cortney and Justin Benson: Siblings that Dive and Work Together

Two divers smile near a dock at sunset
Cortney Benson and her brother, Justin, have worked together in dive shops around the world and enjoy diving together for fun. Justin Benson

Meet Cortney and Justin Benson. Cortney is the Operations Manager and Marine Conservation Coordinator at Key Dives in Islamorada, FL, as well as an MSDT Instructor. Her older brother, Justin, later joined the shop as a PADI Staff Instructor and a U.S.C.G. 100-ton Master Captain. It is a ton of fun seeing them interact with each other and clients. 

Justin actually earned his Open Water Certification in Cairns, Australia with Pro Dive in 2012. Later, when Cortney visited him, she snorkeled above as he dove the Great Barrier Reef. 

“It was one of the most jealous moments of my life,” she shares, and, because of that, she decided to get certified, too. Now, they share this passion and work and dive together regularly around the world. 

Two divers use lift bags to bring up marine debris.
Cortney and Justin Benson spearhead a PADI Aware Dive Against Debris with Key Dives in Islamorada, FL. Kurt Tidd

Having Each Other’s Back

“I absolutely love diving with family,” says Cortney. “Diving with my brother, there’s no dive buddy on the planet I’d feel safer with.” 

Justin agrees, adding, “Whether it’s working together or planning dive trips, the memories and experiences made are unforgettable.” 

Previously, they also worked together in Utila, where Justin managed Bay Islands College of Diving and where Cortney received all her certifications from Advanced Open Water through Instructor. He says, “Seeing family members’ growth in and excitement for diving increase is truly amazing!”

Justin recently moved to Key West to work as a boat captain, so the pair no longer work together. However, he says their experiences have inspired them to plan even more adventures and dive destinations together. The duo even shares a dream of eventually owning a conservation-focused dive shop together.

“I think our passion for the ocean and sharing that experience with others can make a difference in the future of our beloved ocean,” Justin says.

Two divers hold up a sign for PADI Aware while floating in the water column
Cortney and Justin Benson hope to eventually own a dive shop together that is focused on conservation practices and training. Kurt Tidd

Kurt and Jackie Tidd: a Shared Father-Daughter Sport

Jackie and Kurt Tidd smile on a dive boat with the ocean in the background
Jackie Tidd and her father, Kurt, volunteer together on a Dive Against Debris with Key Dives in the Florida Keys. The father-daughter pair often dive together for fun and to help the local reefs. Tiffany Duong

PADI Divemaster Kurt Tidd first learned to dive in 1974 as a Midshipman in the U.S. Naval Academy. He loved it and even qualified as an Instructor in June 1978, but stopped diving a few years after his graduation from the Academy. 

“Life has a way of interfering with a good dive schedule,” he jokes, recalling the start of his Navy career and multiple deployments and moves around the country. “I gradually stopped diving altogether.”

That was, until his daughter Jackie was “pretty matter-of-fact” with him. She had earned her PADI Open Water, Advanced Open Water, and a few specialty certifications through a summer program and asked her dad why he no longer went diving. 

Rekindling Old Passions

“Great question and great motivation for me,” Kurt admits. To refresh his skills and to acquaint himself with how the sport had changed in the decades since he’d taken a giant stride, Kurt “started over from scratch” with Rainbow Reef in Key Largo, FL.

Two divers take a selfie underwater
Jackie Tidd and her dad, Kurt, take an underwater selfie while diving together in the Florida Keys. Kurt Tidd

“After a couple of dives, I realized that my long-suppressed love of diving was back in full bloom, and I was hooked again, maybe even harder this time,” he admits. “I simply love it. I feel like I’m making up for decades of lost time.”

Now, Kurt finds any excuse to get in the water and cherishes the time that he and Jackie spend together on and under the water. He beams as only a proud dad can talking about her passion for the marine environment, her skills as a diver and Coast Guard Officer and, of course, his gratitude for how she got him back into the water.

The Gneisers: Diving is a Family Affair

A family huddles together, smiling with the ocean in the background
Jeff, Finn, Tally and Cynthia Gneiser (Left to Right) love to enjoy the ocean together by boating, scuba diving and adventuring. Gneiser Family

“The first time I dove, I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing ever.’ Actually, I still think that!” says Finn Gneiser, 13. 

In 2018, when he was 10, Finn learned to dive along with his older sister Tally, now 15. The siblings are naturals underwater. Of course, it’s in their blood. Their parents, Cynthia and Jeff Gneiser, have a shared 5,000 dives at least. They also ran dive boats and expedition companies together around the world for years. Moreover, Cynthia’s wedding band is even engraved “My scuba love bug.”

A woman hoses down a BC while a man looks on in a 1995 ad for a diving company.
Cynthia and Jeff Gneiser worked together in the Mediterranean as dive instructors. Here, they’re shown in a 1995 ad for their expedition company. Gneiser Family

“For me, being underwater is like nothing else we do,” says Jeff. “It’s like the water envelops you — like the perfect blanket…. The act of being underwater is like going home.”

Cynthia finishes his thought: “The ocean is like a hug.”

A Mother’s Dream

The pair clearly connect deeply to each other and the ocean. Therefore, they were thrilled when their kids asked to learn to dive. 

“On the first dive I did with the kids, Finn wanted to be my buddy,” recalls Cynthia. “The whole time, he stayed near me and kept giving me the ‘I love you’ hand signal and hugging me, loving his experience.”

She continues: “Then Tally took my slate and wrote, ‘I live for this,’ and I just started to cry because I remember being awake at 3:30 a.m. holding my babies. I was rocking them and nursing them in the middle of the night, thinking about when I’d take them diving — whispering about how amazing the ocean is and how someday mama would take them to see the fish. And there we were, in that moment, and they were totally in love. It was the moment I’d dreamed of.”

A family poses together before a dive adventure in Mexico.
For Cynthia Gneiser’s birthday, her family took a dive vacation together to the cenotes in Tulum, Mexico. Gneiser Family

Connecting With Family Through Diving

Currently, the Gneisers live in Key Largo, FL. They are the new owners of the legendary Amoray Dive Resort in Key Largo, FL. They’ve rebranded with a “Peace, Love & Diving!” attitude and excel in family-focused dive experiences. 

Moreover, they actually practice what they preach, enjoying being on and below the water together as much as possible. 

“It’s quite fun diving with my family,” Finn says. “It’s a great bonding experience and super fun.” 

To kids thinking of getting certified, he says, “Definitely bang it out! Once you’re done, it’s totally worth it.” To parents, considering diving in, too, he encourages, “Go for it!”

Paying It Forward

Overall, Jeff and Cynthia know that diving has brought them closer as a couple and with their kids. Therefore, they gladly share their experiences with clients who come to get certified as a family. 

“This is a great way to share the world with your kids,” Cynthia says. “For parents, especially, this is a way to connect with your kids in a world where it’s already so hard to connect.”

“And there’s no screens and no texting,” Jeff adds, winking. “Just time to really connect over something magical.”

A family of divers enjoy a dive together
Diving as a family can be a great bonding experience to share.

Advice for Families Considering Diving Together

Our diving families had some final advice for people hoping to dive more with their families in the new year. Here’s what they had to say: 

  • Cortney Benson: “Do it! Being able to share a particular passion with someone you love is such a special thing.”
  • Kurt Tidd: “No single member of the family can force any other member to love and appreciate recreational diving. Each needs to find their own ‘why’ for this incredible pastime. [But,] once [the sea] grabs you, it grabs you for life!”
  • Jeff Gneiser: “Don’t push — play! Make it fun. Try not to get too attached to an outcome. Let the kids enjoy themselves on whatever level fits for them at the time.”
  • Cynthia Gneiser: “Don’t have an agenda. You don’t want your kids feeling like failures about this. If they’re having fun, it’s a success and you’re getting your money’s worth.”

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