Swimming with sharks is just a day in the life.

By By Kelsey Ogletree
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Photo: Danny Tayenaka / @saltedbeard

Four years ago, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors-the largest diving training organization in the world-noticed a pretty significant gap between men and women in scuba diving. Of the 1 million divers they certified annually, only about 35 percent were women. To change that, they launched a women in diving initiative, inviting women into diving in a way that feels welcoming, not intimidating.

"From my years of experience teaching, women are the best divers," says Kristin Valette, chief marketing and business development officer for PADI Worldwide. "They're so conscientious and focus on safety standards. They take it seriously, quite frankly, and I think they get more out of it."

Slowly but surely, PADI's efforts to bring more women underwater (including celebs like Jessica Alba and Sandra Bullock) are paying off. They've moved the needle about 5 percent, with women now making up 40 percent of diving certifications. "We're starting to see women's growth in diving outtake men's growth," says Valette. And that's good news not just for equality in sports, but because there are so many fun benefits to scuba diving that more and more women are getting the chance to experience. So before summer comes to a close (although, diving can be a year-round sport), take a deeper look at this underwater adventure activity and the badass women making waves in the sport. You might just catch the bug and want to get certified yourself.

Liz Parkinson

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Parkinson calls the Bahamas home these days, where she's a spokesperson for ocean conservation, a stuntwoman and an underwater photographer. She's also a lover and protector of sharks, frequently diving with them and managing Stuart's Cove Dive Bahamas' Save the Sharks.

Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson

This powerhouse team first met while earning their master's degrees in marine biodiversity and conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Together, they founded Blue Latitudes, a marine consulting program focused on Rigs to Reefs-all while also modeling swimsuits for Gap.

Cristina Zenato

In addition to loving sharks (she works with them in the wild and speaks on shark conservation at conferences around the world), this Italy-born diver is also obsessed with cave diving (or spelunking). In fact, she mapped out the entire Lucayan cave system on Grand Bahama island.

Claudia Schmitt

Half of the duo known as The Jetlagged, Claudia travels the world making underwater films with her husband, Hendrik. Their award-winning documentaries (on manta rays, reef sharks, sea turtles, and more) have been shown at festivals around the globe.

Jillian Morris-Brake

Remember that photo of Meghan Markle looking up lovingly at Prince Harry on their wedding day? That's how Morris-Brake feels about sharks. A marine biologist and shark conservationist, she lives in the Bahamas and is so passionate about the creatures, she has her own online store selling items like shark pillows and tote bags.

Got the bug to explore the deep blue? Here's what you can expect.

Scuba Diving As a Workout

Whether you can call diving a workout depends on the approach to your dive. If you choose to make it more difficult, like diving against the current or going deeper, that requires a higher level of athleticism (and you can burn about 900 calories in an hour!). Depending on the water temperature, the weight of your gear will also provide greater resistance, as colder water means thicker wetsuits.

That said, you can also take it easy on a shallow reef, cruising along to enjoy the beauty beneath the surface. From that vantage point, it can even become a zen-like experience. "Diving is one of those things that is truly transformational," says Valette, who's been diving for 30 years. "It has the ability to change fear into courage. I've been able to watch that thirst for excitement and adventure that people have when you show them this underwater world, and it changes their life forever."

Getting Certified to Dive

Getting your diving certification can literally open up a whole new world to explore on your next vacation. PADI divides diving certification into three parts. The first is academic, which can be in a classroom setting, reading books or watching videos on your own, or enrolling in an online e-learning system. The second step is getting in the water-but in a controlled environment like a pool, rather than open water, where you practice skills with an instructor. The final step is four ocean dives with an instructor to build your confidence. Once they feel you've mastered all that, you'll be issued a PADI certification. Pricing varies depending on whether you choose to rent or buy equipment, but expect to fork over at least a few hundred dollars for the process.

While pregnant women are advised not to dive, anyone else is fair game. Of course, a level of fitness and overall good health is necessary. People with asthma, ear, or equilibrium problems can have a tougher time adjusting to the pressure underwater, but it's possible to work through those, says Valette. "If you're an adventure seeker at all, and you want to look back on life and say, 'I really explored all my possibilities,' diving is the ticket to that," says Valette. Now, if that's not a push to try something new and out of the box, what is?

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