On the latest Filson Life, marine biologist Alyssa Adler shares with us her journey to becoming Undersea Specialist at Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic on Part I of our three-part series, Depth in the Field: Diving Deep with Alyssa Adler.
Story and Photography by Alyssa Adler
In cold water diving, sight is your strongest sense. Touch is inhibited by the thick exposure gear covering your body and hands. A hood, pulled tight over your head, leaves sound muffled and strange. The only smell you may experience is that of your breath as you occasionally exhale to equalize your mask. The rare slip of the regulator mouthpiece might allow a brief taste of your new environment, but nothing else. When I first removed my mask at 60 feet depth (upon my instructor’s request), forfeiting this last bit of normalcy in the human experience, allowing the cold water to engulf my face and fill my nostrils, I encountered the most intense battle of mind over matter I had experienced. I was immediately hooked; I felt strength pour out of my soul like I hadn’t before. If I could do this thing I had feared forever, I could do anything.
My name is Alyssa Adler, I am a 27 year old working for National Geographic’s eco-tourism travel sector, staffed by Lindblad Expeditions. I am deployed globally, but my specialty is exploring our world’s polar oceans with scuba diving. My goal is ocean conservation and education, which I work towards with a quiver of instructional tools including photography and videography.
Those very first dives were in Hood Canal, a fjord which forms the western lobe of the Puget Sound in Washington. Mike’s Beach Resort is renowned locally among weekend warriors for its diving accessibility and relatively nice conditions. At 19, having spent my whole childhood afraid of water, I prepared for an experience I would never forget. I had completed six consecutive Tuesdays learning about scuba, practicing safety protocols ad nauseam in the university pool, stomaching excitement for this one day; the culmination of my efforts. As I ripped the seven millimeters of neoprene over my already chilled body, I reminded myself of everything I knew I had to do in the next few hours, the skills I would display to earn my first PADI scuba diving certification.
Diving became the center of my universe from that point forward. I went on to earn my PADI Divemaster certification in the very same location I did my first dives, complete my Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Biology, and travel internationally working as a warm water diver before launching into my career as a biologist. The first position I held where I felt I was truly utilizing both my degree and diving skills was with University of North Carolina. Here I operated as a Scientific Diver, based beachside on a small island at the southern end of the Outer Bank’s chain, where I happily welcomed at least a little sand into my bed each night via my perpetually bare feet. The leader of my team was always fair and thoughtful, allowing my coworker and me time to travel in the winter to compensate for long days on the dive boat during the summer high season. This departure took me to Ecuador with a good friend who planted the seed of my current position in my mind, and after months of persistence and effort I was offered the job I had truly only dreamed of.
I had been somewhat strategic about my diving career from the beginning. Though I’ve never known where I may end up, I’ve always had a general idea of how to weave through avenues of opportunity; a skill often mislabeled “luck”. When I chose to earn my diving certifications in seawater boasting 48 degrees Fahrenheit, it wasn’t because I enjoy testing the limits of hypothermia, but rather to increase my range of comfort as a diver. When I began my current position as Undersea Specialist with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, my diving resume was as strong as it could have been for a temperate water diver. My heart raced and my palms were sweaty with excitement when my employer asked me over a Skype session, “Would you be interested in diving in Antarctica?”. My sandy toes jittered and my mile-wide smile grew as I answered with a resounding yes, realizing I found the most incredible avenue of opportunity yet.