A Caribbean cruise in 2009 inspired Stephen Rothman to learn to scuba dive, which would lead him to pursue certification as a professional diving instructor. He had no way of knowing how important his new passion would become.
Rothman, a Vassar College graduate, worked in advertising in New York City before moving to Germany in 1989. He had studied German in college and thought it would be “an interesting adventure” to live in the heart of Europe – 31 years later, he still lives in Frankfurt. He worked for the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency for 17 years; his favorite account was Pampers, which allowed him to “travel the world, talking to moms and playing with babies in as faraway places as Russia, China, India, Japan, and closer to home in Germany and the U.S.”
Just finished Dive Instructor exam
In July of 2016, Rothman was able to take early retirement, which meant that he could dive more than just once or twice a year on vacation. He discovered a store called Happy Dive and pursued certification as a Dive Master (assistant diving instructor) and eventually a full Diving Instructor.
Hammerhead Sharks, Red Sea, Egypt
Happy Dive owners Pia and Christiane had created more than just a place where customers could buy diving equipment, take courses and sign up for diving trips. “Thanks to Pia’s outgoing and enthusiastic personality, customers became a part of a community, almost a diving family, and I became a part of that family,” he said.
The Happy Dive family was essential to Rothman when his partner Hans died of throat cancer in 2015. The following year, he became an unpaid partner in the business, and he continues to work there 2-3 times a week.
“I wouldn’t do it if it weren’t fun for me – after all, I’m retired!” he said. He advises customers on equipment, puts together dive kits, refills tanks, and performs many other daily chores.
“But by far the most rewarding part of my job are the evenings in the pool helping new students master the skills they need to become confident, capable divers and establish the foundation for years of safe and enjoyable diving,” he says. Some people are naturally nervous about breathing underwater through a regulator, and he loves helping them overcome those fears.
He becomes poetic when he speaks of the ocean: “It is not of our world, filled with creatures that are completely oblivious to our terrestrial human existence, societies, political tensions and conflicts.”
“One becomes truly in touch with the wonder of creation and develops a great sense of respect and recognition for this world, vastly larger and by some estimates much richer in life than ours on land, and the responsibility we humans have in ensuring its survival.”
In his decades of diving he has seen some lovely places – last February he dove in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, where “I have never seen more variety of undersea life, in such great numbers, or healthier coral reefs.” He’s been to the Maldives to see “the big stuff”: sharks and whale sharks and mantas, and he has dived in the Red Sea numerous times. “Depending on where you dive, you can see stunning coral landscapes, wrecks, big fish, or a combination of all three,” he says.
Increasingly, though, Rothman is dismayed by problems in the oceans. His biggest concern is the impact of global warming, which has put coral reefs around the world in jeopardy, adversely affecting the ocean’s entire ecosystem.
He has also witnessed a plague of plastics permeating the ocean environment and affecting all of its creatures. He saw this firsthand on a trip to the Maldives a few years ago, when their boat docked offshore at an uninhabited island. The divers and boat crew were able to walk around the island, and what they saw was horrifying.
“We discovered that the beach around the entire island was completely covered in piles of rubbish, plastic and junk of all kinds, literally from the shoreline to the vegetation’s perimeter, deposited by the ocean currents. And I mean piled high, without a speck of the beach visible.” He added, “It was one of the saddest and most disturbing things I have ever seen.”
Rothman is enjoying the opportunity to pursue interests and activities that were hard to fit in when he was working full-time. “It’s wonderful to have time to read again, to practice the piano seriously again after many years, to get out in nature and take walks, to take care of things around the house without stress, to tend to my little garden every year when spring comes around,” he said. He enjoys evenings playing board games with friends, attending concerts and the opera, and the ease of travel throughout Europe.
And, of course, diving. His days at Happy Dive don’t feel like work, so he plans to stay involved as long as he is physically able to do so. “None of us is in this to make money,” he says. “We’re in it because we love the sport and because we love the unique diving community that Happy Dive has been able to create.”