In today's episode, I speak with Sarah Richard founder of the world's largest community for female divers, Girls That Scuba, and the ancillary Girls That Free Dive.
With over 700,000 members in just under four years, the group has exploded onto the ocean scene and commands a powerful presence online. And much of that is simply because of Sarah's character and determination.
But having gotten to know Sarah over the past couple of years, we were able to speak a bit more deeply. And she shared how diving and free diving push her towards places she feels uncomfortable, the reactions, both positive and some not, to her forming a dive community focused on women, and how a simple moment on a dive in Panama still means much to her today.
Scuba Diving, Free Diving, Ocean Environmentalism, Surfing, and Marine Science.
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Jason Elias: (00:09)
Hi, and welcome to the Big Deep podcast. Big Deep is a podcast about people who have a connection to the ocean, people for whom that connection is so strong, it defines some aspect of their life. Over the course of this series, we'll talk to all sorts of people. In each episode, we'll explore the deeper meaning of that connection. Today, I speak with the woman. Who's the force of nature behind the world's largest dive community for women who shares how her passion pushes her towards being uncomfortable. Hello, this is your host, Jason Elias. Welcome to the Big Deep podcast.
Jason Elias: (00:52)
In today's episode, I speak with Sarah Richard founder of the world's largest community for female divers, Girls That Scuba, and the ancillary Girls That Free Dive. With over 700,000 members in just under four years, the group has exploded onto the ocean scene and commands a powerful presence online. And much of that is simply because of Sarah's character and determination. But having gotten to know Sarah reasonably well over the past couple of years, we were able to speak a bit more deeply. And she shared how diving and free diving push her towards places she feels uncomfortable, the reactions, both positive and some not, to her forming a dive community focused on women, and how a simple moment on a dive in Panama still means much to her today.
Sarah Richard: (01:34)
My name is Sarah Richard, and I'm the founder of Girls That Scuba, which is now the world's largest female dive community. It's been quite the journey, but it's still very much the beginning.
Jason Elias: (01:45)
I was doing some research before this interview. And Girls That Scuba and then Girls That Free Dive kind of exploded onto the scene, it seemed to really tap into something. What is it you think you tapped into?
Sarah Richard: (01:56)
I was so surprised when I first had the idea of setting it up, that there wasn't a female dive community. I wasn't expecting to be the one that did it. I think the reason it hit off so quickly is because it was needed. There was a gap there. So when I saw that opportunity, I thought, "Let's see where we can go and what we can create."
Jason Elias: (02:15)
Yeah. It's incredible what you've built and how quickly it's grown. So for you personally, where does the connection from the ocean come from and is that a passion you've had all your life?
Sarah Richard: (02:28)
I was brought up in the south of England, and we could see the ocean from our house, I would have to walk past the sea to go to school. I came to the school holidays. We would be in the ocean, around the ocean, looking in the sand. It was always the very normal to me and my brothers growing up. So scuba diving came very naturally to me, just because the ocean felt like a safe place. Even when I would be around the other side of the world, if I was in the ocean, it felt like almost close to home. I think that's why scuba diving for me has become such this huge passion because it's another way that I can connect to the ocean.
Jason Elias: (03:17)
Walking along the ocean is very different than actually getting in the ocean and going underwater. What made you get inspired to get in the water? Was it a class you took? Was it a teacher you had? Was it an experience when you first started scuba diving? Can you talk me through that?
Sarah Richard: (03:32)
I remember it so clearly. I was in the Maldives actually, just on holiday. I was around 19. The Maldives is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We always see those aerial shots of the atolls and the islands and that blue ocean. And as soon as I got there. I went for a little walk around the island, and I bumped into this English guy. He turned out to be the scuba dive instructor on the island. And I kind of wanted to know why he was so into it. So I was asking him some questions, "And what's made you become a scuba diving instructor out here?" And he told me a story about one of his first dives.
Sarah Richard: (04:14)
He was dancing with these three manta rays. And in that moment, he decided to quit his corporate job in the UK and move all of his stuff to a Maldivan island and become a scuba instructor. For me, that was super inspiring, because I thought about how this sport had changed this guy's life. And I almost just thought, "Well, I reckon it might change my life too." And it did.
Sarah Richard: (04:50)
I remember walking along the sand with my scuba gear on and it feeling normal. Putting in my feet in the ocean, it felt warm and it felt inviting, and it felt like something was about to change. Then I remember coming out and saying to myself, "In whatever capacity, scuba diving's been my life forever."
Sarah Richard: (05:25)
Then I started free diving about a year and a half ago, and It changed my life again. It was that feeling of, I don't know if I can do it. You first see that weight dangling at the bottom of light and you think, "I don't think I can reach that. I think I need to breathe."
Sarah Richard: (05:53)
And it's the most uncomfortable feeling, telling your brain and telling your body that you don't need to breathe. It's these emotions that I really enjoy, that you don't get in your everyday life, really. It's being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Most people don't get these kind of passion in their whole lifetime. And it's so lovely to have experienced that life-changing feeling twice now.
Jason Elias: (06:45)
Wow, well that certainly speaks to the personal connection side. Now let's talk about the business and community side. When you first started Girls That Scuba, did you have any idea what a force in the industry would become and how quickly it would become so popular?
Jason Elias: (07:02)
You've also spoken honestly about how, since it's had such an impact on the industry, you've gotten some pushback. Could you speak a bit about that?
Sarah Richard: (07:10)
I mean, it's funny that you say Girls That Scuba and business in the same sentence, because for me it never started out to be a business. And I have absolutely no experience in business, and I think that's actually what helps. Because I started Girls at Scuba because I wanted to create a community of female divers. And all I wanted was to find other girls to dive with.
Sarah Richard: (07:31)
I was working in Micronesia at the time in Chuuk Lagoon, wreck diving capital of the world. And with that came quite a lot of males, and I just didn't have the chance to connect too many female divers. And that was my first experience of the professional dive industry. And when I came back from that, I kept thinking, "I really would like to connect with more women." And that is why I started Girls That Scuba. And I remember just the first 100 members and just thinking, "Wow, this is amazing. I've found what I was looking for. I've got these girls to dive of. Now let's organize a trip."
Sarah Richard: (08:05)
I could never have ever predicted where it's come to now. And I try not to think of numbers because our network is nearly 700,000 now. And if I think about that, again, it just shows how much it was needed. And yeah, we've received backlash, and I even received backlash face to face. We get all sort of things like, why did girls need a group? From, why can't boys have a group?
Sarah Richard: (08:25)
And I'm simply like, "Well, they can.: And it's not everyone. Of course, it's not. There's so many amazing supportive men in the industry, but scuba diving originally came from the Navy, right? And in the Navy, back then was all men. So you can kind of see where it started.
Sarah Richard: (08:41)
[Patty's 00:08:41] latest statistics in 2019, there are 70% females to 30% female ratio in the professional industry. That in itself confirms why we need a female platform. It's just still a new industry that we haven't quite got that new generation. And having a platform with such large numbers, I get to meet so many people that are doing so much incredible stuff. And it makes everything seem a little bit better because you think that actually, there are people out there that could make a difference and sometimes they just need a platform that can actually raise their voice and make them seen. And eventually, we will have a brand new, fresh face scuba diving industry and it will be a lot more positive.
Jason Elias: (09:24)
So that's the business side. Now for the personal side, I'd really love to hear one story where you felt deeply moved underwater.
Sarah Richard: (09:37)
I was back in around Central America, and I was on a super, super tight budget, $5 a day budget. But I was kind of saving in a little bit of money on the side to do some scuba diving. So when I got Panama, I went to Coiba National Park. It's an amazing place. They have their own species, and it's incredible. Not too many people dive there.
Sarah Richard: (10:08)
I was out on the dive boat. I was probably around 24 or 25 at the time. I've been diving for five or six years, and I'd never seen a shark. I'd always wanted to, and I felt like I'd put enough time into the ocean for it to give back. I was researching destinations that I would hopefully see sharks. And this was one of the places.
Sarah Richard: (10:36)
I remember going on this tiny little boat. There was me and a couple of other divers. And I had all rented equipment. I didn't own any of my own equipment. I was super excited to jump in, and I was asking, "Can we see sharks?" And they were saying, "We don't know. Let's see."
Sarah Richard: (11:01)
I was diving around. So I was having a great time, and I hear the DM frantically banging on the tank, looking for me. He tells me to come over. And as I'm swimming towards him, I can kind of see a little shadow. I look down and there's a shark. My first shark. And my immediate reaction was just a cry. It was so much joy. It was just such a lovely moment. And the funniest thought went through my mind, that the shark looks like a jelly shark, a piece of candy that we have over here in the UK.
Sarah Richard: (12:00)
I don't even remember what shark it was, but it was the way it made me feel, how it made me cry and how it made me laugh. When you dedicate your life and you spend all of this money, it's for moments like that. And I've been so lucky to go to some amazing destinations. Now I've seen sharks all over the world, but none of them quite match up to that candy shark.
Jason Elias: (12:47)
Finally, we end every interview and every episode with a single open-ended question, we ask everyone, we talk to, what does the ocean mean to you?
Sarah Richard: (12:58)
Connection. The ocean makes me feel connected to a lot of things. It makes me feel connected to myself. It makes me feel connected to the environment, to the people I share it with. The ocean is like a story. I can tell you stories for the rest of my life about the ocean, but I don't think I can do that so much about other parts of my life.
Jason Elias: (13:23)
Thanks for listening to the Big Deep podcast. Next time on Big Deep.
Speaker 3: (13:29)
I find it rewarding because the skills that you need to do almost anything in the ocean, you can't fake it. You have to earn it. And I love that.
Jason Elias: (13:41)
We really appreciate you being on this journey into the Big Deep as we explore an ocean of stories. If you like what we're doing, please make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, please like, and comment because those subscribes, likes, and comments really make a difference.
Jason Elias: (13:58)
For more interviews, deeper discussions with our guests, photos, and updates on anything you've heard, there's a lot more content at our website, bigdeep.com. Plus, if you know someone we should think we should talk to, let us know at our Big Deep website, as we are always looking to hear more stories from interesting people who are deeply connected to our world's oceans. Thanks again for joining us.