Calli Johnson: Sharing Her Diving Experience, One Dive at A Time

by | Aug 27, 2020 | Outdoor Activities

It’s human nature to fear, but to overcome those fears takes courage, strength and a talented instructor! As one gets older, your “hobbies” become less active. Connecting an educational environment along with a social community, Scuba Diving gives you the independence to explore the underwater world. Taking the correct steps in learning a new activity is important. Johnson shares her story of being a certified scuba teacher and diver, and the accredited way to enjoy the adventure.

Calli Johnson in pre-dive mode watching students enter the water in South Florida . PC: Pompano Dive Charters

 A leader, teacher and friend, Calli Johnson gives us a front row seat to her open water life. An avid enthusiast, asking for scuba lessons for her 12th birthday, Johnson has always been intrigued with the water. As any father would, accompanying his daughter to scuba class put a smile on his face. Little did he know that the same little girl would be starting the Scientific Diving Program at the local college, Florida Gulf Coast University; also known as FGCU.  

Johnson started her journey during college, taking dive classes at the University of Florida. Already having such respect for the water, her experience transitioned to become the born leader she was meant for and helping people in her natural environment. She went on to train as a dive master and spent a summer in the Florida Keys soaking up the island life while teaching. 

Moving to Sanibel Island after college, she connects the culture of what the islands offer to preserve the natural everyday wonders. The ocean is big, and we are small. The importance of what can carry over into your growth of a person might not always be understood until later on.

As her mom constantly inspired and developed her family’s love for the water, Johnson became fascinated by the simple things habitat related. Growing up with such a positive direction towards nature, she wanted to make an impact in her surroundings. The future of the environment is so important and Scuba Diving became her route to share this with as many people as possible.

A hobby to some, to others a job, and to all an experience; as the adventure of scuba diving lingers, one should ask if it’s for them. “Scuba is not for everyone” states Johnson. The training that goes into such an activity is very important. One’s fitness needs to be tested before submerging themselves into a position that can be misleading. A lot of steps need to be taken to appropriately know how to handle uncomfortable situations. Being underwater can be scary to some but with the right training, it can open up a world of excitement. From an instructor’s perspective, Calli Johnson shares her insight on what it takes to experience the marine universe.

Calling Johnson teaching advanced open water divers on a checkout dive in South Florida. PC: Pompano Dive Charters

What does scuba diving mean to you??

“I truly enjoy it. I am so rewarded teaching others that share a passion for the same thing”. Talking with Johnson, her voice attracted so much joy and animation that anyone would be able to tell how much she cares for what she does.

How would you describe your typical day out diving?

“Depends on who is with me and what the mission is”. Johnson is focused on safety all the time, but can let go of the reigns a little when diving with friends. She enjoys spear fishing and exploring known wrecks around the areas when able to.

Johnson states that while teaching,  “people learn better when they are engaged and having a good time”. Johnson strives to provide all students with a good quality of education; therefore keeping her classes to small groups really benefits the learning experience.  “Always be prepared for the unexpected and trust your training.” Johnson feels rewarded knowing she can share her passion with others.

What goes into a day of planning a dive outing?

“Living in Southwest Florida,the weather is almost never correct. Preparing to be wrong about the weather is the best thing to do”. Location, tidal currants, water clarity etc. are all things to be taken into consideration for anyone going out diving. Johnson studies each area thoroughly before each dive.

Water clarity is location specific. “The east coast of Florida and the Florida keys have a much greater water clarity then the west coast of Florida.”  Adjusting to your surroundings is really important.

Do you have to have a certification or go through a class to dive?

“You have to be certified to dive from a class or course and also to be able to rent equipment. Passing the open water assessment with an instructor grants you the certification.” The certification has no expiration but Johnson emphasizes that you should always refresh your skills every so often. “You want to feel comfortable with what you are doing”. 

Calli Johnson (right) Training O2ptima Rebreather divers at Peacock Springs. PC: Douglas Marcinek

What are the basic rules of diving in a nutshell?

“There are tons of them” Johnson laughs.

  1. Diving with a buddy

“That person has your emergency air supply on their back” says Johnson. You never want to be in the water alone. Knowing how to communicate with your buddy is extremely important.”

2. Always breath

“Sounds simple, but so important. Many people forget to do this and they can be at risk for a medical injury to their lungs”.

3. Equalizing

“As depth changes, pressure changes. Always make sure the air spaces with your body (i.e. inner ears) are equalizing. Very important while you are descending and ascending.”

What are the most important safety measures that need to be taken while diving?  

Johnson says “Making sure your equipment is functioning properly before every trip is one of the most important safety checks that need to be taken”. You don’t want to have any unnecessary risks that could have been prevented.  

What type of equipment is used for diving?

“Masks, fins, snorkel, (sometimes booties), a Regulator (which includes the pressure gauge and inflator hose), air tanks and a buoyancy vest.”

A simply rule that Johnson recommends is “ you always want to start your dive with the most amount of air in your tank”. You should always fill your tank after use and properly maintain all dive equipment.

When is it worth it to purchase your own gear?

Personal preference, but “After about twelve dives, you are basically paying for your own gear. Once you have it, it’s yours and you don’t have to rent”. If you are planning to dive frequently then it’s worth it to invest.

Where do you dive at around the area?

“Southwest Florida has an incredible artificial reef program that includes bridge rubble, boats, and concrete structures. Ledges, which are natural changes in the ocean floor offer varying depths for divers to see different marine life as well.”

Johnson discussed the Blue hole off of Captiva that is a unique dive and experience here in Naples, Fl.  Johnson frequents this boat accessible destination located 30 miles offshore. Having these landmarks in her backyard is exciting to be able to access but when it comes to marine life,  “you should never forget that you are in their territory” Johnson states. Just respecting their home is important to remember.

Real and artificial wrecks that Johnson is accustomed to include:  The Edison, The Arc and The Mohawk. Johnson visits these a lot for her research with FGCU.

A fan favorite, The Baja California wreck off the coast of Naples, Florida; it has all of the original artifacts on it from when it sank.“You can see axles, medicine bottles, and a lot of history at this wreck. It’s fascinating to see it in person and knowing it was a real working ship.”

What do you want people to know about diving if they have never experienced it?

“As an instructor, more people are wanting to conquer a fear of water when they come to me. It’s very meaningful when people are wanting to overcome that and I get to assist in it.”

Do you think about diving as a risk sport?

“Yes, for people that are diving with out training. Involving themselves in dives outside their level of training (as with anything); one might feel comfortable but it will lead to making unsafe decisions.”

“That’s where most diving accidents happen, ” Johnson states. “The risks are mitigated when you are following your training.”

How should one go about the process of getting started with diving?

“They should get in touch with their local dive shops and look into what entry level courses they are offering.” Some colleges offer a dive class or program and that is also a great way to get started.

For more personalized attention, private lessons might be the way to go for some to assist them through challenges.

 “A lot of courses are offered over a short weekend. The longer you can spend, the more prepared you will be to dive independently” Johnson states.

What is to come with your plans for diving in the future?

“I look forward to continue developing the scientific diving program at FGCU. Being able to train future research divers so they can further the underwater knowledge in the research field.” Johnson reminds me that the water quality here in Southwest Florida is hugely impacted by Red Tide. She would like to make sure others are qualified to continue that research in hopes to make our local environment safe.

Growing up boating, going to the beach and studying shells, Johnson feels that scuba diving gives her the full circle of everything she enjoys. Knowing a lot of shells she grew up looking for are grown offshore, she gets excited to see species in areas where she doesn’t usually see them. The search for the unknown stimulates Johnson’s experience each time she explores.

Johnson looks forward towards her dream of diving the South Pacific. Conservation is trending in the French Polynesian and Fiji. “It would be a dream to live aboard a charter in Fiji and explore the coral reefs that might not be here in the future.”

Johnson continues to teach the Dive program at FGCU along with offering private lessons outside of the college. She makes a point to refresh her skills independently every chance she can with weekly dives.  Along with her summer compact class for grad students and staff, she definitely knows how to keep busy! Diving is a family affair and she is fortunate she will always have a diving partner with her circle of friends and family!

Fun Fact:

The most beautiful place Johnson ever dove was Dominica Island. After a couple plane rides, and a dirt road adventure, the best-kept secret in the Caribbean emerged. “Its also a great place for a honeymoon!” For anyone on that life excursion, you’re welcome!

“The Marine preserves were the most beautiful with their diversity and the size of the species were incredible”. Such an amazing experience most don’t get to see!

Take a look at the artificial reef locations, rules and frequently asked questions to grasp a better understanding of diving on the Florida Coast.

https://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/artificial-reefs/

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