On the 15th July it was the Female Scuba Diver’s Day… Szilvia Gogh agreed to share her most exhilarating adventures as the youngest female PADI Scuba Course Director.
Scuba diver, stunt woman, photojournalist, jewellery designer and youth mentor Szilvia Gogh, has achieved more than most people can in an entire lifetime. She has been nominated as the youngest female in the world to become a PADI Course Director. She was also the first female PADI Scuba Diving Course Director in her native Hungary. She has travelled all around the world driven by her passion for scuba diving. Today she shares all her adventure stories and anecdotes with Adrenaline Hunter. In a profound interview, she tells us about her best scuba diving stories, how she started diving, the best places she has dived and how she made it to the Women Divers Hall of Fame . She openly shared her personal story as a breast cancer survivor and how scuba diving helped her fight breast cancer and stay strong through difficult times. Szilvia Gogh is pure inspiration! Read her interview on Adrenaline Hunter!
You started scuba diving at a very early age. What motivated you to start scuba diving? Were you always fascinated by the underwater world?
I was 13 years old when I started competing in a sport called “orienteering diving,” which takes place in lakes with almost no visibility. The object of the spot is to find pre-determined destinations using a compass, map and a distance accounting device. Plenty of my colleagues were superior swimmers, so I worked diligently to develop my navigational skills. In clear water my competitors could outswim me, but in bad visibility I would usually excel because of my ability to be fairly precise with my compass.
The military sponsored us, provided that we worked hard. I trained 4-5 times a week and spent every weekend and summer, camping by the lakes and rivers of Hungary with my teammates. I had about 500 logged dives in murky waters before I first saw an ocean. This occurred one summer when our team visited Corfu (Greece) for a diving trip (after the iron curtain fell). I was 18 years old, I remember my first dive in the clear waters of the ocean with a multitude of critters.
A real adventure seeker! Do you remember your first impressions and the initial feeling being underwater while scuba diving in Corfu?
Hungary was a communist country, and we were not allowed to travel anywhere except Mother Russia and East, so I never saw the ocean as a child. After the Berlin Wall fell, our dive club went to Corfu, for a week-long dive trip. That was the first time I saw the ocean; right then and there, I decided I would live in a place where there is no winter, and where there are palm trees, sunshine and an ocean to dive in!
Then, I experienced my first ocean dive. We dropped down into the beautiful, crystal-clear water with almost unlimited visibility. We saw sharks, turtles and octopus… When I came back from that dive, I knew I wanted to be a dive instructor! Other people often considered it a hobby and were skeptical when I told them I was going to make a living out of this. Every time they told me that I couldn’t do it, I just looked at them and said, “You just watch me.”
So that was when you decided to make a career out of scuba diving? Did your family and friends support you?
I grew up Hungary, which was a landlocked country with lakes and rivers that was under communist regime. It definitely wasn’t the pretty fish and reefs that attracted me to diving initially. We could not have travelled to the west until the Berlin Wall fell in 1990 (when I was 14 years old), so most of my friends and family have not experienced other cultures nor visited distant places.
I remember, my grandpa used to say “Just watch the Jacques Cousteau movies. It’s much less dangerous than breathing underwater.” But I did not want to watch his movies. I yearned to write my own story, directing my own movie and fulfilling my destiny.
What drove me to become a PADI Instructor and eventually a Course Director essentially were the people around me constantly saying “You cannot do it,” when I told them that I wanted to live and teach scuba diving in a place where there is no winter (always sunny) and there are palm trees and the ocean. My reply always was: Just watch me!
You have dived in various places around the world, which one would you say is your favourite place to dive?
Most memorable dive: With over 5000 dives on all seven continents it is really hard to just pick one dive. Today I’d pick one of my dives in South Africa while filming” Adventures with Miss Scuba”. If you ask me tomorrow, I might say Antarctica diving with penguins after camping out on ice one night. Yesterday I would have told you that it was the cave diving scene where I was eaten by piranhas while filming Piranha 3D in Arizona.
So… Rocktail Bay was exactly what I always pictured when I imagined myself in Africa. It was a 35-minute drive in a four-wheeler from the nearest highway, through forests and the burned orange terrain surrounding the lodger. Riding in the back seat of our open jeep felt like we were driving right off the map. Just when I was going to ask for the tenth time, “Are we there yet?” the driver announced our arrival.
As the wind picked up, the waves grew to 8-12 ft. and the swell was 20-30 ft. To be honest, it was borderline intimidating and quite scary. We wore orange life vests for our beach launch on the zodiac. Our skipper read the waves like a scholar and timed our launch through the surf perfectly. Crossing through the surf zone became a joy ride after the initial shock. People were screaming and jumping (mostly me) whilst we tried to hold onto the camera gear and tanks. I ended up wearing my mask for the 10-minute ride to the dive spot; otherwise I would not have seen anything with the seawater crashing into my face.
Upon diving underwater our surroundings became serene and I became entranced with the sound of whales singing off in the distance. On this dive we swam over purple and pink hydro coral covered reefs. It looked like a colourful spring flower field. A giant marble ray swam around us for a while posing for our cameras.
Most meaningful dive: As a California based stunt woman and scuba instructor, I get to work on exciting movie sets with actors like Drew Barrymore, boss around LAPD Dive Team Leaders during training and swim with sharks in remote reefs around the world. Yet my most anticipated activity every year (for the past 10 years) is the Chance for Children Summer Camp that I organize with my Miss Scuba friends and volunteers for kids who live in poverty and around gang influenced violence. A Chance for Children focuses on kids who could easily choose the wrong path, without productive and creative outlets to help develop and discover their dreams. Their focus became the “at-risk” youth of inner city Los Angeles.
Do you have a favourite kind of dive (wreck, ice diving, cave diving)?
I love wrecks as well as ice diving… any diving to me is a GREAT diving. I get to be in a meditative quite peaceful world.
Back in 2003 you launched a website called Miss Scuba to empower women initiative and female scuba divers. How did you come up with the idea?
In the 90s, when I became a dive instructor, the industry was a very much a male-oriented business and female dive gear was usually pink. I hated the pink gear and I wanted to find a way for adventure-loving women to get involved in diving, share their experiences with other women and girls and find dive gear they could love!
I also want to empower women, because I know that diving is empowering. Once you become a scuba diver, you open up your horizons – not just to the other 70% of the planet, but also to other cultures, other people and new experiences.
www.Miss-Scuba.com is designed to bring women together from all over the world who share an enthusiasm for scuba diving, travel and adventure
You were the youngest female to become a PADI Course Director, and the first female PADI Course Director in Hungary. Do you think scuba diving is still a man’s world?
Not at all. Scuba diving is very sexy and fun and can be luxurious. Girls are totally in having a fantastic adventure too. Women are physically active, sporty and adventurous (some more than others).
As a Course Director you’re training the new Dive Masters. Do you see an increase in female scuba divers?
During a previous Instructor Development class I had five female candidates, including the two daughters of the dive center owner (the dive center I was managing at the time is Ocean Adventures Dive Co. in Venice CA). The two girls, Erika and Blaire Ladd, had been diving for about 15 years respectively and their father had owned the dive center for about 10 years. Yet neither one had any desire to become a dive professional until our paths crossed by chance. What inspired them to become PADI Professionals I believe was the fact that they saw me live out my dream. I get to do what I love and to me this means everything. My job is to change lives by opening up a new world to those who want to learn to scuba dive. After learning to scuba dive, people are never the same. It really and truly does changes lives.
My experience while working with women: I love empowering people in general, but in particular women. I lead by example and always remind them that if I could do it then they can too.
My mission in life is to find ordinary people and crack open their tiny view of the world. I do that as a scuba diving instructor as well as through my inspirational jewellery. By showing people what the world has to offer, I change lives and get the average Joan to visit the Middle East, Philippines and other places they might not otherwise visit. I encourage everyone to challenge themselves to go to a place where no one speaks English, but everyone understands the universal language of humanity.
Erika Ladd actually became the managing director of her father’s dive center.
Is there discrimination against female scuba divers?
Thankfully, not anymore, but it was a lot different in the 90’s.
Back in 2016, you were diagnosed with breast cancer. What helped you stand up and fight back? What was your inspiration and what empowered you?
I did not choose to have breast cancer. But then again, nobody does. I eat organic. I exercise every day. I am 39 years old. I teach scuba diving and have a relatively stress free life. Why me? However, I chose how I lived through that journey.
I could have been depressed, as I really did have a horrible year. My grandmother died of old age, which I accepted. My mother went through, and died of breast cancer. My first cousin died of breast cancer at age 39 and now I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 39.
But I chose to look at the bright side of things. My grandma was 97 and had lived a great life. My mom was 67 and had the chance to see me and my sister grow up. She was here when my son was born two years ago and when my sister had a beautiful little girl last summer. Fortunately, the doctors detected my cancer whilst it was still in its early stages.
I didn’t feel any signs, such as a lump and the only reason I got a mammogram was because the doctors advised me to get checked when my mum was diagnosed. Last year was all good. This year, after my routine check-up, I was called back for a follow-up ultrasound. I had a biopsy performed the day before I flew to Europe to see my mother one last time. She was sadly losing her battle with cancer.
I called my doctor for my results as soon as I landed in Budapest. She promised to give me the results on the phone, despite that the fact that this is not how they normally do things. But given my circumstances she made an exception.
I was told that I have breast cancer. After the initial shock, I needed to come up with a game plan. First, I had to fly back to Los Angeles and meet my doctors. My experience over the last year taught me that time is of the essence.
During my 11-hour flight, I was reflecting how ironic it is that I have been making inspirational jewellery for years and now I really needed one of those sayings to help dig in and start my fight with the big “C” word. “Never, Never, Never Give Up!” said Winston Churchill more than 70 years ago. Yes, that’s a good place to start.
As soon as my boots touched the ground at LAX, I headed to see my oncologist. He said he had bad news and good news. “I already know I cancer, so give me the good news,” I said. Luckily, my cancer is one that responds to hormone therapy. Unlike my mother’s. She had the triple negative. The largest of my three tumours were 19mm, which was considered still stage one.
After talking with a few plastic surgeons, I decided on having a double mastectomy even before I knew that was a genetic cancer (from my father’s side). This way I could avoid radiation and get a nice “boob job” out of it.
They got all the cancer out during the surgery and fortunately it had not spread to my lymph nodes. My doctor however, recommended chemotherapy based on the personality test of my cancer. It turned out that I had one of the most aggressive cancers. When I had my operation a month later, my tumour had grown to 24mm, bouncing over into stage 2 cancer.
Chemotherapy was not fun at all. One of the things that hit me the hardest during the whole journey was the hair loss. I considered my options and decided to be bold and be bald. My lifestyle is not really adapted for wigs anyway. Scuba diving and wigs don’t mix well. Most importantly however, I did not want to pretend that everything was “normal.”
I have had good days and I have had bad days over the last few months. Every good day I made a point of going outside for a walk, practicing yoga, swimming and eating well. Every bad day I reminded myself that this is only temporary. They caught my cancer early and now I am on my way to recovery. I watched movies and slept a lot.
My husband, son and friend’s support and loving care gave me the strength to feel better on good days, and feel that I will get better on bad days.
A week after my last chemo I organized a Miss Scuba day to Catalina island to celebrate PADI Women’s Dive Day by doing yoga, scuba diving and sharing a chocolate circle with 20 wonderful female adventure enthusiasts (2016).
It is important to have things to look forward to when going through hard periods of life. Being underwater is my happy place, so naturally I plan scuba diving trips to look forward to. At the end of 2016 we celebrated my new bikini body (after reconstructive plastic surgery) and the regrowth of my hair with a scuba diving trip to the Maldives.
I had to go through a total hysterectomy early this year (2017) to reduce the chance of ovarian cancer. My oncologist suggested this based on the personality test of my cancer and the fact that my cancer was genetic (BRAC2).
We arranged a family dive trip to Fiji in April so we had something to look forward to during my recovery period after the removal of my ovaries, tubes and womb. We filmed a Miss Scuba marketing video for Beqa Lagoon Resort.
My family and I could feel sorry for ourselves with everything we’ve been through. But I choose to feel grateful. Cancer brought us closer together and made us stronger.
In 2017 you made it to the Women Divers Hall of Fame as a PADI Course Director, Dive Trip Leader, Underwater Stunt Woman and Youth mentor. What’s next to come?
The best thing about my life is that I get to share these adventures with my husband, Hilaire Brosio. We met on a dive boat in 2002 in Anacapa, California. We’ve been diving together in several countries and after a few years of travelling together we realized that we were becoming more than just dive buddies and best friends.
He is the camera operator and director of the Adventures with Miss Scuba series. Together we travel filming exotic adrenaline pumping dive destinations from Sudan, to Antarctica and South Africa, shooting sharks, diving around ice bergs, and riding camels. Sharing the most exciting things in life, with someone you love, is priceless.
Now, that we have a son (Enzo; named after the freediver) we choose our destinations based not only on water adventures, but also land adventures. Enzo cannot yet swim and I do not want to constantly have to worry about him jumping overboard as he already loves the water.
Hilaire and I produce multi-platform marketing packages for scuba destinations. We produce, shoot and edit short videos for websites, long videos to creating DVDs to send out to potential clients, write articles and post influential pictures and articles on social media and the internet.
What’s your motto in life?
Luck comes to those who stay busy while waiting.
What would you say to all the young divers out there?
Being healthy is everything you need to be able to live your dreams. You first need to figure out what it is that you want to do and what makes you feel fulfilled. The rest is easy. Do not give up on your dreams and aspirations. Remember, if it were easy, everybody would do it 😉
I love empowering people in general, but in particular women. I lead by example and always remind them that if I can do it, they can too.
My mission in life is to find ordinary people and crack open their tiny view of the world. I do that as a scuba instructor as well as trough my inspirational jewellery.
Top Photo Credit: Matt Hardy