The PADI story: How frustration and scotch helped create the world’s biggest scuba organization

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PADI founders

Frustration over the state of the diving industry in the 60s paired with long conversations over a bottle of Johnny Walker served as the springboard for what is today the Professional Association of Dive Instructors – or PADI as most of us call it.

Founders John Cronin and Ralph Erickson – a scuba equipment salesman and swimming instructor, respectively – both had major concerns about the industry. Basically, they thought it was unprofessional and made it unnecessarily difficult for new people to join the sport.

Over shared libations, a partnership formed and with $30 the pair started PADI. The goal was simple: provide people the chance to learn important scuba skills and enjoy the underwater world through modern scuba diving training. They wanted to reach people around the world, helping to create confident scuba divers who dive regularly and support the growth of the sport.

For how big PADI is today, it’s hard to imagine the days when the organization was a small community of passionate divers. In fact, the first couple years the organization struggled. By the late 1960s, PADI only had 400 members.

It was soon after that a few key milestones took place. First, Cronin went to a huge tradeshow in New York City and met with Paul Tzimoulis, who later became the editor of Skin Diver Magazine. Tzimoulis suggested divers’ pictures be placed on all PADI certification cards. The change was implemented and helped propel PADI’s global reach.Early Openwater C card

Starting in the late 1970s, PADI created its own multi-media student and instructor educational materials for each course, positioning themselves as the industry experts. This change parlayed significant growth, and differentiated it from other scuba organizations.

By the late 1980s, PADI was the industry leader, offering scuba diving training around the world. With the realization that so many new people were embracing the sport, the organization was compelled to embrace additional activities to promote protection of the underwater environments. Today there are numerous PADI initiatives to help protect endangered species, reduce pollution and increase understanding of humanity’s impact on our oceans and waterways.

Today there are more than 6,000 PADI Dive Shops and Resorts, and 400 employees in PADI corporate offices around the globe. The vision in the 60s remains the vision for the organization today: “PADI intends to be the world leader in the educational development of scuba diving professionals and enthusiasts.”