Cindy Ross was an unlikely person to found a scuba-diving school. Told by a commercial diving instructor at 19 that she was too small to scuba, Ross didn’t begin to explore the sport until she was in her 30s. Earning certification was a trial, and she spent her first four dives lugging 80-pound gear in the snow up and down a massive hill—and, adding insult to injury, the men’s equipment didn’t even fit properly. But the fifth dive changed everything. Held in Puget Sound, Ross felt a calling to the location's green waters and white anemones, and since then, the aquanaut has frolicked with such neighbors as a 1,200-pound sea lion, hundreds of Canadian seals, and a giant Pacific octopus.
Today, she and her team of sea-loving instructors grant students innumerable ways to get in the water. Discover Scuba courses get feet wet as beginners learn how to use their equipment and enjoy the freedom beneath the waves. Meanwhile, those determined to spend a life amid the reefs can earn their Open Water certification virtually anywhere—after preliminary classroom and pool sessions, the center's connections with Scuba Schools International allows students to finish their certifications in a number of locations, from the Puget Sound waters so beloved by the company's founder to oceans halfway across the world. GirlDiver also leads vacations to tropical destinations, ensuring that tourists are strong swimmers whether they're gliding with dolphins or fighting the currents in the resort's communal hot tub.